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Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp? Vet-Reviewed Guide

Visnja Radosavljevic

By Visnja Radosavljevic

red-eared turtle in a home terrarium sitting under a heat lamp

Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos  Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lauren Demos

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles are commonly kept in many homes around the world. People love these reptiles due to their docile personalities and low-maintenance needs, making them the perfect pets for first-time animal owners.

However, people who’ve never had turtles before may wonder how to properly care for them. For example, turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, so they need a heating element to stay warm when kept indoors. Your turtle will also need a source of light. So yes, a heat lamp can create the optimal environment that your turtle needs for proper development.

In this article, we talk more about turtles, their heat and light needs, and why turtles need a heat lamp, and we also provide tips on purchasing a suitable product for your turtle.

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A Turtle’s Heat & Light Needs

Turtles are reptiles, which are cold-blooded animals that rely on external heat sources to help them regulate their body temperature. Since pet turtles are typically kept in tanks indoors, they will need an external source of light and heat, like a heat lamp.

Every turtle species is different, meaning they all have different requirements for heat and light to live healthy and comfortably. However, there are optimal guidelines that should be suitable for almost all turtle species:

  • Keep the temperature in the turtle’s environment between 85°F and 95°F.
  • Keep the temperature of the water between 75°F and 85°F.
  • Lower the temperature inside the tank at night, making it 5°F–10°F lower.
  • Mimic the natural day and night patterns in their tank; provide at least 12 hours of light per day and sufficient darkness.
galapagos tortoise basking under a heat lamp
Image Credit: KARI K, Shutterstock

Why Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp?

Turtles need heat lamps in order to survive when kept indoors. These cold-blooded animals rely on outer sources to help them regulate their body temperature and stay warm. While turtles living outdoors can rely on actual sunlight to regulate the temperature of their bodies, pet turtles need a heat lamp for this process.

Besides regulating body temperature, light is crucial for regulating the turtle’s circadian rhythms, impacting their overall health and immune systems. Light also promotes the development of serotonin and norepinephrine that your turtle needs for proper growth.

What Kind of a Heat Lamp Does Your Turtle Need?

Turtles need heat lamps that mimic the sunlight that they would receive in their natural environment. The heat lamp should be suitable for reptiles and release two types of light:

  • UVA light
  • UVB light

If you’re looking to purchase a heat lamp for your pet turtle, there are several options to choose from:

  • Two lamp systems — A dual lamp system has one UVA light and one UVB light. Although both are necessary for proper development, the UVA light is what typically provides heat to the turtle.
  • Mercury vapor lamps — These lamps often have combined features that provide UVA and UVB light and heat, thus eliminating the need for multiple bulbs, and they have lower initial costs. However, these lamps also use a decent amount of electricity, so you’ll have higher monthly bills.
  • Optional lighting — Popular options for optional lighting for turtles include nightlights and viewing lights. Nightlights are usually purple or red, so your turtle can see at night, while the viewing lights help the turtle see during the day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Turtles Need UVB & UVA Lights?

To grow healthy and strong, turtles need both UVB and UVA lights to help them survive and keep them in good shape. UVA lights are in charge of maintaining a turtle’s body temperature, supporting their immune system, and providing them with warmth. They stimulate the sun and provide comfort, similar to if your turtle was exposed to direct sunlight.

UVB lights are also essential for the proper development of turtles; they affect the way that these critters digest their food and their overall health and well-being by helping their bodies produce vitamin D3.

Turtles need vitamin D3 for metabolizing calcium; without enough of this vitamin, they can experience various health problems, as their bones and shells won’t be able to grow properly. It’s also possible for turtles that don’t get enough UVB light to experience metabolic bone diseases, which can often cause pain, discomfort, and even death.

Yellow-bellied sliders gather on heat lamp
Image Credit: Isabel Eve, Shutterstock

Tips About UVB Lights for Your Pet Turtle

Here’s a list of tips that will help you make the best choice of UVB light for your four-legged companion and teach you how to use it:

  • When purchasing a UVB light, check the amount of UVB per bulb.
  • The distance between the UVB light and your pet turtle should be at least 10–20 inches.
  • Ensure that there’s nothing between the light and your turtle, as UVB lights can’t pass through materials like plastic or glass.
  • Change the UVB light bulbs every 6 months.
  • Be careful when handling UVB lights, as they can be hot.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without a Heat Lamp?

All turtles enjoy basking, as it’s a way for them to absorb UV rays while lying and resting on a particular surface. This activity is critical and beneficial to their health, which is why many people wonder how long turtles can go without heat lamps.

Turtles are generally durable and can go for extended periods, even weeks, without heat lamps, but there may be severe consequences. Just because a turtle can go a long time without a heat lamp doesn’t mean they should.

Without getting the needed UVA and UVB lights from a heat lamp, your turtle could easily experience various health problems, and their overall health would quickly deteriorate.

Red Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) Basking on a Dock in a Turtle Tank
Image Credit: Tippy Tortue, Shutterstock

Do Turtles Need Heat Lamps at Night?

Turtles in captivity need to be in an environment that is almost identical to their natural environment, which means they should get at least 10 hours of sunlight per day. However, turtles also need darkness, which means they don’t need heat lamps at night.

Using the heat lamp during the day will be enough to keep your little friend happy and in good shape.

Final Thoughts

Turtles need heat lamps because these little reptiles depend on external sources of light and heat to regulate their body temperature and function properly. When using a heat lamp, ensure that there’s nothing blocking the light from reaching your turtle, and feel free to turn the lamp off at night. Your little buddy will appreciate it and show gratitude by basking all day long.

Featured Image Credit: Liubov Sydorenko, Shutterstock

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