Special Lighting for Reptiles/Amphibians

Most Reptiles and Amphibians require natural sunlight for good health. The ultraviolet rays are especially important for vitamin D synthesis and calcium metabolism. We take this away when we place a reptile indoors. Many say "but his cage is by or is in a sunny window," — ultraviolet light does not penetrate normal glass. For the same reason, people do not get sunburn through a window.

  1. Proper Exposure of Ultraviolet Light (UVB)

    • Increases/stimulates appetite
    • Increases/stimulates activity
    • Increases reproductive/mating behavior
    • Allows for normal vitamin (especially vitamin D3) and mineral metabolism (especially calcium)

  2. Fluorescent {= Ultraviolet} Works Better than Incandescent {= Heat}

    Remember, Plexi-glass/plastic/glass between the light and the animal filters out the ultraviolet (i.e., UV-B) wavelengths. Screens are OK, but they do filter some UV light.

  3. Name Brands

    Research shows that the following fluorescent tubes emit UVB light of similar wavelengths as natural sunlight. Research costs money, and so these bulbs cost more, but you are getting a proven product. Special glass in the tubes allows the ultraviolet to be emitted. These tube lights should be replaced every 6-12 months.

    • Vitalite (available through the Chicago Herpetological Society)
    • Repti-Sun 5.0 (Zoomed) & Iguana-Lite 5.0 (Zoomed, Tubes or Twisted]
    • Nature's Heat (both full spectrum UV and significant heat, so beware!)

  4. Generic "Plant Lights"

    These throw off a purplish light, but no research exists to show whether the proper UVB wavelengths are emitted or not. Many pet stores and hardware stores recommend these, but they are unproven products. I recommend you use one of the three I recommend above, but again be careful with the Nature's Heat as it does produce a significant amount of heat.

FAQs on Tank Lighting for Lizards and Turtles

What is "UVB" lighting?

UV radiation from the sun, as well as from artificial lighting is broken into three wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA is the portion of the ultra-violet spectrum that in reptiles helps induce "normal behavior" such as feeding, climbing, mating, etc. We like to say UVA is responsible for the "psychological well being" of reptiles. Zoos have experimented with UVA bulbs for years (i.e., BLB black lights) and found that exposure to high levels of UVA lighting for 2 hours daily induced mating/breeding behaviour in many species of lizards.

  • UVB is in the non-visible spectrum of light. UVB in humans is what gives us suntan or for others, sunburn! In reptiles, UVB begins the process/synthesis of vitamin D3 which allows reptiles to process/absorb calcium in their system, thus preventing/reversing MBD Metabolic Bone Disease.

  • UVC is in the non-visible spectrum and is highly reactive to the point of causing damage to most forms of life it contacts. UVC is used for ultraviolet sterilizers, which kill harmful bacteria. This wavelength is very dangerous to all animals as it can damage DNA.

Do all reptiles need UVB lighting?

No, snakes derive their D3 from the liver of the prey they eat (mice, rats, etc.). Amphibians and nocturnal lizards (such as leopard geckos) also do not need UVB lighting. Nocturnal lizards are more efficient at utilizing available D3. However, all the above animals benefit greatly from UVA lighting (i.e., ReptiSun 2.0) which helps induce normal behavior in all reptiles.

Should/must all diurnal (daytime) reptiles, turtles and tortoises have UVB lighting?

Yes, either from natural sunlight or a good quality UVB tube (i.e., ReptiSun 5.0 UVB or Iguana Light 5.0 UVB). Green Iguanas will start to show signs of Metabolic Bone Disease at 6 months of age (i.e., rubber jaw or dragging of hind legs) if not given UVB lighting.

Is a full spectrum bulb the same thing as UVB bulb?

No, full spectrum, by the "new" definition, is a bulb that gives off all colors (wavelengths) of the visible spectrum or 'white light' (400-750nm). While a full spectrum may produce some UVA (320-400nm) because they overlap at 400nm, it does not produce any UVB (260-320nm).

Can my reptile have too much vitamin D3?

An animal has the ability to regulate the amount of preD3 it synthesizes with a UVB bulb or from natural sunlight. Therefore, it is not possible to overdose an animal with a UVB lamp or natural sunlight. You can, however, overdose an animal when you are supplementing vitamin D3 with drops or supplements. Vitamin D (D3) is a fat-soluble vitamin stored in the liver, and for that reason, an animal cannot reduce the amount of D3 in its body if there is too much. This is one reason why UVB lighting is a safer, natural way to deliver vitamin D3 to your animal than dietary supplementation.

Does glass filter out UVB?

Yes, glass filters out 95%+ of all UVB rays. Aluminum/metal screen can filter out roughly 30%. Make sure the fluorescent lamp has only 1/8" screen (or larger) or nothing between the UVB bulbs and your reptile. Also make sure your reptile can get within 12" of the UVB bulb.

Always consult with with us at Animal House of Chicago, we will inform you on correct lighting and the right procedures that should be taken when lighting your pet's cage.