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Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp at Night? Lighting Guide For Your Pet Turtle

Nicole Cosgrove

June 23, 2021

If you have a pet turtle, you will need to provide them with an environment suitable to their needs. This includes a tank with enough space for them to move around, land and water access, places for them to hide, and the correct amount of heat and light.

It can be confusing to figure out how much heat and light is appropriate for your turtle. Many turtle owners wonder if they need to keep the light in their turtle’s tank on at night. Luckily, the answer to that is no. Your turtle will be just fine if the light is turned off during nighttime hours. It is actually recommended that they are exposed to a natural amount of light and darkness each day. Let’s dig into the details.

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What Are Your Turtle’s Light and Temperature Needs?

a turtle on a log_Capri23auto, Pixabay
Image Credit: Capri23auto, Pixabay

Turtles are reptiles, which means they are cold-blooded. They are unable to regulate their internal body temperature. They need heat from an outside source to stay warm. If your pet turtle is kept indoors, as most pet turtles are, you will need to provide them with a source of heat and light.

While all species of turtles will have different heat and light requirements, there are general guidelines for keeping your turtles comfortable and healthy. The air temperature should be kept somewhere between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (F). The water should be between 75 and 85 degrees F. At night, it is recommended that you allow the temperature in your turtle’s tank to drop about 5 to 10 degrees.

Turtles also need a light source throughout the day. It is best to mimic the natural pattern of light and dark in your turtle’s tank. Therefore, having approximately 12 hours each of light and darkness each day should be sufficient. Turning your turtle’s tank light off at night will give them the proper balance of light and temperature control.

What Kind of Light Does Your Turtle Need?

red-eared slider in the aquarium_Pixabay
Image Credit: Pixabay

Your turtle needs UV light to closely mimic the quality of light it would get from the sun in the wild. They need a UV lamp specifically made for reptiles. This light should provide them with both UVA and UVB rays.

There are several choices when it comes to lighting your turtle tank:
  • Mercury vapor lamps – You can buy one lamp that provides UVA and UVB light and heat. These 3-in-1 lamps can be convenient as they eliminate the need for multiple bulbs. However, they do use a significantly higher amount of electricity than other options.
  • Two Lamp System – Another option is to use two separate lamps, one with UVA light and the other with UVB light. Typically, the UVA light will be from a basking lamp which will provide heat for your turtle as well.
  • Optional Lighting – You may also want to add other lighting options to your turtle’s tank. Two popular options are viewing lights and nightlights. Viewing lights help you see your turtle during the day if your turtle spends a lot of time in the water. Nightlights are typically red or purple and allow you to see into the tank at night. They are not bright enough to keep your turtle awake so they won’t interrupt their natural sleep pattern.

Why Does Your Turtle Need UVA and UVB Light?

Aquarium light_TIPAKORN MAKORNSEN_Shutterstock
Image Credit: TIPAKORN MAKORNSEN, Shutterstock

Turtles need both UVA and UVB light to be healthy. UVA light provides them with warmth and the comfort of sunlight. They need to maintain the correct body temperature to regulate their metabolism, breed, and support their immune system.

UVB light is also critical for a turtle’s health and wellbeing. They need UVB light to produce vitamin D3. This vitamin is necessary for turtles to metabolize calcium. Without it, their shells and bones will not grow properly. Without enough UVB light, turtles will suffer from metabolic bone diseases that are painful and fatal.

Turtles also need UVB light to properly digest their food. Without it, turtles can suffer from malnutrition and die.

Some UVB Light Tips

Turtle tank light_PublicDomainPictures_Pixabay
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

There are a few important things you need to know about buying a UVB light for your turtle’s tank. These include the following:

  • Check the amount of UVB light in the bulb you purchase. The best range is between 2.5% and 5%. 10% is too high for most turtles. Check the proper distance on the packaging to ensure you are placing the light in the correct place.
  • UVB bulbs need to be changed at least every 6 months. They do not last very long and the amount of UVB will begin to diminish, putting your turtle’s health at risk.
  • UVB rays cannot penetrate glass or plastic, so you cannot use a UVB light with a glass or plastic tank cover. Mesh with large holes works best.
  • UVB lights get hot! Be careful when handling the light so that you don’t burn your hand. They can also damage your eyes, so do not look directly into the light at any time.

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Conclusion

There are many things to worry about when you have a pet turtle, but keeping the heat lamp on overnight is not one of them. They will get enough heat and light during the daytime if you have the proper bulbs and lighting in the tank.


Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.