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Which Heating Should I Use In My Viv?

Which Heating Should I Use In My Vivarium?

There are several different ways to heat a vivarium, which one is right for you depends on the species of reptile or amphibian you will be keeping, but below are some general guidelines to the different heating options available.

If you are unsure which heat source to use or have a specific question about heating, then you are welcome to contact us for further advice.

Heat Mats

Heat mats are mainly used with nocturnal animals which don't require light and are a good option for many smaller snakes, and nocturnal lizards such as leopard geckos and other lizards which like underbelly heat. For many invertebrates, amphibians and even nocturnal mammals such as micro squirrels a heat mat under their enclosure or on the side, is often the best way to provide the necessary heat.

It is always recommended that any heat mat is run through a thermostat to control the temperature and prevent overheating, which can result in burns to the animal. An on/off thermostat (such as a matstat or ministat) is a good option for heatmats, and the thermostat probe should be in contact with the heat mat to accurately control the temperature of the mat.

Heat mats should cover a third to half of the floor space in the enclosure, to allow the animal to choose whether it wants to be on the heat mat or off it thus providing a thermal gradient. The size of the heat mat should therefore be tailored to the size of the enclosure or vivarium.

It should be noted that heatmats are designed to provide contact heat (i.e. the animal sits on the mat for warmth). They do not do a good job of raising the ambient temperature in an enclosure, so if a higher temperature is required throughout the vivarium, a ceramic heater would be better suited to the job.

Ceramic Heat Emitters

Ceramic Heat Emitters (also called ceramic bulbs, or just ceramics) are a good option for animals which don't require light, but which are too heavy to use a heat mat due to the issue of thermal blocking, or because they need a higher ambient temperature than a heat mat can provide. Thermal blocking occurs when heavy bodied animals such as large snakes sit on a heatmat and block the electrical flow causing hotspots and potential burns.

A ceramic bulb gives off heat but no light, so are good option when overnight heat is needed, as they still allow a clear day/night cycle. Ceramic bulbs come in a range of wattages, with more heat provided the higher the wattage is.

It is vital to always use a ceramic with a thermostat (pulse thermostats are usually used with ceramics) to prevent overheating of the enclosure. The thermostat probe should be positioned directly beneath the ceramic bulb, and the ceramic is usually sited at one end of the enclosure to provide a thermal gradient (i.e. one end of the enclosure is warmer than the other).

When using ceramic bulbs, they get incredibly hot (far hotter than a light bulb), so it is essential to use a ceramic bulb holder rather than a plastic one, as plastic bulb holders would be likely to melt. It is also essential to keep your animals from being able to come into contact with the ceramic bulb, so an appropriately sized bulb guard should always be used. These come in a range of shapes and sizes dependant on your specific requirements.

Heat Bulbs

Heat bulbs (also called incandescent bulbs) are light bulbs which emit light, often in a spectrum very similar to daylight. They are usually used for diurnal (day active) animals such as bearded dragons, tortoises and other lizards which come from warm places and appreciate sunshine. They are very often used in combination with a second bulb or tube which is used to provide UVb light. Heat bulbs provide heat and light, but do not provide UVb light.

It is important to use an appropriately sized (i.e. correct wattage) bulb for your enclosure and to control the temperature of the bulb with a thermostat. The best thermostat to use with a heat bulb is a dimming thermostat. The thermostat probe is placed directly underneath the bulb and the bulb is placed at one end of the enclosure to provide a thermal gradient. The thermostat then gradually dims or brightens the bulb to provide a consistent temperature.

Although not as hot as ceramic bulbs, it is still important that your animals cannot come into contact with the heat bulb. It is therefore essential to arrange the vivarium/enclosure in such a way as to prevent this. In the case of animals which can climb or jump, itís always better to use a bulb guard.

Mercury Vapour Bulbs

Mercury Vapour Bulbs are a combined bulb which also produces UVb in addition to heat and light. They are only useful for specific situations as they cannot be used with a thermostat and this makes them unsuitable for enclosed spaces due to overheating issues.

They are great in some instances though as they are a large bulb and therefore give off heat and light over a wider area. Animals with more open enclosures (such as tortoises in open tables, and chameleons in mesh vivariums) benefit from the use of a mercury vapour bulb and they could also be used effectively in very large enclosures.

Reptile Radiators/AHS Heaters

Both of these products are good for raising the ambient temperature, especially in large enclosures, and providing background heat where light is not required. They are not good at providing a basking spot, and so they are usually used in conjunction with another heat source.
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