The Essentials of Turtle Care: Do Turtles Require a Heat Lamp?

Pets make great companions to humans, and one of the pet choices that is becoming increasingly popular is a turtle. They have an interesting demeanor, are easy to take care of, and have beautifully adorned bodies and shells. It is no wonder that their popularity is increasing day by day.

Turtles are adapted to the wild environment where there is natural warmth during the day. To thrive in captivity, they need conditions such as providing warmth as they would get in the wild. So if you are looking to adopt a pet turtle, you might be wondering;

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp?

Yes, turtles need a heat lamp. They can’t survive in captivity without this source of warmth. Turtles are cold-blooded, which means that the temperature of their bodies changes with that of their environment. Unlike the wild, where the warmth and light occur naturally from the sun, these reptiles have limited access to such in captivity. Therefore, turtles need an artificial source of heat to provide the required warmth and lighting. This is where a heat lamp comes in.

Ideal warmth is one of the vital requirements of a well-taken care turtle. When you provide your turtle with the right living conditions, its health will flourish, and the animal will live for a long.

Why Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp?

Turtles are cold-blooded or ectotherms as they are referred to as times. As with most reptiles, they are unable to regulate their temperature. It changes with that of their surrounding environment.

In their natural environment, which is the wild, they rely on the sun’s warmth. This is why most turtles bask during the day on floating logs, protruding rocks, and other wild basking spots.

When it gets cold, turtles become sluggish, and if the cold persists, they can get sick or even die. Therefore, warmth is vital for a turtle to thrive, whether in the wild or captivity.

Turtles need a heat lamp to get the required warmth. In captivity, these animals remain indoors most of the time. This means that they have limited access to heat and light. Even where you take the turtle out to bask, they still don’t get as much heat as they would in the wild. A heat lamp compensates for the heat deficiency in captivity.

What’s more? The heat from the lamp helps these reptiles fight germs. This is because bacteria, fungi, and other harmful micro-organisms can’t thrive in high temperatures.

There exist over 300 turtle species, and they have varying heat requirements, but the unifying factor is that they all need a heat lamp. Now that a heat lamp is vital, does this apply to all turtle species?

Do All Turtle Species Need a Heat Lamp?

All turtle species are ectotherms. As such, they all need a heat lamp. The difference is that some require more heat than others. It is essential to research your pet species’ heat requirements to provide optimal warmth conditions.

Aquatic turtles are adapted to living underwater, but they too need heat. This is why most aquatic species are fond of habitats with basking spots. It is not uncommon to see turtles basking on banks, floating logs, protruding rocks, or even areas in the forest where sun rays penetrate. Therefore, aquatic species need a heat lamp.

Some turtle species like the painted ones don’t need high temperatures to thrive. But they, too, need a basking spot with the appropriate level of warmth. All turtle species thrive and grow better when their habitat is well heated.

Others have become adapted to surviving under low temperatures, especially when grown. As such, they can survive without a heat source, but this is only for a few days. Prolonged exposure to cold environments would increase the chances of them getting sick.

What About Tortoises? Do Pet Tortoises Need a Heat Lamp?

Unknown to some people, tortoises are turtles. They are turtle species living on land, also referred to as terrestrial turtles. Because tortoises are turtles, they too need a heat source in their enclosure.

Types of Turtle Heat Lamps

Now that we know that these creatures need a heat lamp, let’s look at the types of turtle heat lamps to choose from.

1. Basking Lights

Basking lights are versatile. You can use them for the basking area and in the enclosure too. Further, they produce both heat and UV lights. However, these lights are not an ideal heat source because over-exposure to the UV lights can make the pet imbalance their internal system.

2. Coiled Heat Lamp

Coiled heat lamps are more of basking lights but with low wattage. They produce enough heat, and some also produce light making these lamps versatile.

However, be cautious of the older coiled heat models because they cause blindness due to the high light intensity. If you decide to buy coiled heat lamps, look for modern models.

3. Mercury Vapor Lamps

Mercury vapors are one of the latest editions of heat lamps. They provide heat, light, and also UVB rays all in one unit, therefore, saving your money. Because of this high output, these lamps are only available in high wattages. First, confirm that your lamp can support this.

Mercury vapor lamps need porcelain ceramic sockets because they can melt plastic ones.

4. Compact UVB Lamps

These lamps are a perfect choice for small terrariums. Also known as compact fluorescent bulbs, these heat lamps are small-sized. They are hence able to emit concentrated UVB light for your turtle.

On the negative side, there have been claims of them damaging the turtle’s eyes.

5. Ceramic Heat Lamps

These turtle lamps only emit heat with no light. As such, they are an excellent 24-hours source of heat because they will not interfere with your turtle’s sleep pattern.

Also referred to as ceramic heat emitters, they are excellent for large tanks because they can overheat small ones. Due to the high amounts of heat they provide, these heat lamps should only be used with porcelain sockets.

6. Night Lights and Timer

As the name suggests, these lamps come in dark colors, mainly purplish-blue or red. They produce a dull color that allows your turtle to sleep at night. Further, they also emit heat and come with a timer to control how long the lamp stays on.

7. Combination Heat Lamps

If you are keen on an all-in lamp that provides heat and UVB rays, a combination heat lamp is your best choice. It saves you space as you don’t need to have two lights in the enclosure. What’s more, it saves your money; you only need one lamp.

To manage to switch between heat and light, you can install a timer. With these lamps, you need to be cautious of the screen type below your heat lamp.

If it is halogen, incandescent, or a mercury vapor lamp, avoid splashing water because it can explode. To be safe, you can opt for combination heat lamps made of fluorescent or LED.

We now have a good understanding of the types of turtle heat lamps to choose from. But what makes the best turtle heat lamp? We get to answer this below in our detailed buyer’s guide.

How to Choose the Best Turtle Heat Lamp

There are many heat lamps in the market today but do they all deliver the expected results? Here are the things to consider when choosing a turtle heat lamp.

1. Temperature

Different turtle species thrive under different temperatures. The most suitable for most of the turtle species is 90 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Within this range, the turtle’s body temperature will remain at an ideal warmth for thriving health.

As for the basking area, 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the water is a suitable choice. The table below lists some of the most popular pet turtle species with their corresponding temperature needs.

Turtle SpeciesBasking Spot Temperature (in Degrees Fahrenheit)Warmer Part of the Enclosure (in Degrees Fahrenheit)Cooler Part of Enclosure (in Degrees Fahrenheit)
Yellow-bellied Slider90 – 9572 – 8572 plus
Red Eared Slider82 – 8876  – 8275 plus
Painted Turtles85 – 9080 – 8575 – 80
Box Turtle80 – 8575 – 8070 plus

First, check the enclosure temperature when setting it up. You can place a thermometer or rheostat inside or use a digital heat gun.

It is advisable to place the heat lamp on one end of the enclosure because if placed in the middle, the turtle might not get a cooler side which they require.

2. Wattage

This is one of the essential factors you to consider when choosing a heat lamp. The final choice will depend on the lamp’s height above the basking area, the number of turtles in an enclosure, and their sizes.

Heat lamps come in varying wattages, often ranging from 40 watts to 160 watts. A bulb of 75 watts can emit heat of varying temperatures depending on how far or close the bulb is above the enclosure. This is why bulbs are not labeled based on wattage and not temperature capacity.

The closer the bulb is to the turtle, the more heat will reach the turtle. Avoid placing the lamp closer than 4″ to the turtle. With proximity, there is the risk that your turtle may get burnt. Turtles take a long to heal owing to their slow metabolism. Thus, all types of illnesses, including burns, should be avoided as much as possible.

In essence, place a 50 watts heat lamp 6″ – 8″ above the basking area, 7″ – 9″ for a 75 W lamp, and 11″ – 14″ for a 100 W bulb. Adhere to the lamp’s instructions on setup.

As for the size of turtles, a 50 W lamp is suitable for juveniles and species with a length of six inches and below. 75 W or 100 W will be a good choice for bigger ones or keeping multiple turtles in the same enclosure.

3. Red Heat Lamps vs. Incandescent vs. Mercury Vapor

Red heat lamps can be switched on at night because they barely emit light. However, they are highly effective in warming the turtle’s tank.

Some incandescent lamps produce UVA and UVB light. However, their light doesn’t interrupt the turtle’s sleep. If you need a heat lamp for use even at night, precisely buy an incandescent heat lamp that does not emit UV light.

On the other hand, Mercury Vapor heat lamps emit superior amounts of both UVA and UVB light which are crucial to the overall health and growth. However, mercury vapor lamps can’t be used at night because they don’t produce light separately from heat.

4. Material of the Emitters

Some heat lamps are made of glass shell emitters, while others feature ceramic materials. Ceramic is a more suitable choice because it comes from clay.

Another advantage of ceramic material is that the heat lamp can be left on for 24 hours straight. It is a good choice if you are looking for a heat lamp to use during the day and night. Ceramic heat lamps are also sturdier, more durable, and less likely to crack.

5. Color

The majority of heat lamps come in either white, red, or black. The color often depends on whether it is incandescent, ceramic, or halogen. A black ceramic heat lamp will provide more heat than a white one.

6. Reviews

Reviews are one of the most reliable ways of knowing whether a product performs as expected. From reviews, you can tell the strengths and weaknesses of the product even before you purchase it.

If your family or friends have pet turtles, ask them to refer you to some of the best turtle heat lamps they have come across. You can also check online reviews to get a rough idea of what to expect from the heat lamp you intend.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Turtles Use a Heat Lamp at Night?

If you live in a place where temperatures remain moderately normal at night, you can opt to switch off the lamp during the night. The essence of a turtle heat lamp is to try to replicate the turtle’s natural environment in the wild. In general, you should switch on the light in the morning and turn it off in the evening. On average, 10 – 12 hours of heat daily are enough.

If you do not help your turtle hibernate in winter, then you may consider leaving the heat lamp on for a little longer than you would during warmer days.

How Long Can a Turtle Survive Without a Heat Lamp?

A heat lamp is critical to the survival of a turtle in captivity. However, a turtle will not die if it doesn’t have a heat lamp for a few days. A turtle can go for days without a heat lamp, but it increases the chances of the immune system weakening.

If your pet turtle goes for an extended duration without a heat lamp, it might become lazy, weak, or even sick, and the death of the situation persists.

What Kind of a Heat Lamp Do Turtles Need?

A heat lamp is mandatory for the well-being of a turtle in captivity. Therefore, you should choose to take time when selecting one. Some of the lamps will provide more warmth and UVB light than others.

If you require a heat lamp for the basking area, then your best choice is an incandescent bulb since it emits heat rather than UVB radiation.

How Can I Keep My Pet Turtle Warm Without a Heat Lamp?

All kinds of indoor turtle enclosures need a heat lamp. Even with an aquarium heater, you would still need a heat lamp. In addition to providing the turtle with the required warmth, a heat lamp also encourages it to bask.

What Is the Best Wattage for a Turtle’s Heating Bulb?

If your turtle enclosure is small, a wattage of 50 – 75W is an ideal choice. For bigger ones meaning that they are more than 55 gallons, you will need around 100 W. When you go for high wattages, get a rheostat or thermostat for regulating the temperature to prevent overheating.

Check Our 10 Recommendations For Turtle Heat Lamps Here

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