Proper Reptile Care–A 3 Part Series: Part 1

Written by Dr. Amy Nicewonger

For the next 3 posts we will be doing a series on the proper care of reptiles. We will discuss recommendations for lighting, food, and overall care.

Lighting Recommendations for Reptiles

Why do reptiles need special lights? 

Reptiles require both UVA (315-400nm wavelength) and UVB (280-315nm wavelength) for metabolism of Vitamin D3 (the active form of Vitamin D).  Vitamin D3 is essential for reptiles to absorb calcium from their food.  Calcium is vital for bone growth and maintenance, muscle function, and metabolism.  When blood calcium levels are low (hypocalcemia), reptiles may have muscle twitches, lack of appetite, and lethargy.  If this condition is chronic or severe, metabolic bone disease (a condition in which the bones become soft and are prone to fractures) may develop.

How do I use a UVB light? 

While there is no substitute for natural, unfiltered sunlight, there are several options available for reptiles kept as indoor pets.  When choosing a light, make sure that “UVB” is specifically listed on the label.  These lights will usually be more expensive than regular basking lights.  The UVB light needs to be placed in the habitat so that it does not pass through glass or plastic before reaching the reptile.  There are typically recommendations for the strength of the UVB light and the distance from the reptile on the packaging of the UVB light.  UVB light bulbs will also lose the ability to produce the proper UVB wavelengths before the light bulb burns out.  It is important to replace your UVB lights about every 6 months, even if the light still appears to be working.

If you do choose to take your reptile outdoors, it is a good idea to have an enclosure to keep your reptile safe from predators and other pets.  Also, reptiles may be more active and fast-moving in natural warm sunlight and may be more difficult to catch.

Do I need any other lights? 

UVA lights are typically used for heat/basking.  It is important to pick the proper wattage of UVA to provide the correct amount of heat for a basking area in the habitat.  It is imperative that the UVA light be placed in the habitat so that the reptile cannot come in direct contact with the light, as this can cause serious burns.

While providing the correct UVA and UVB light is extremely important, it is also necessary to provide a reptile with time in the dark for proper sleeping and rest.  Many reptile owners will use a red light at night to provide enough darkness for a reptile to sleep while also allowing the pet owner to see their reptile in its habitat.