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Home > Turtles > Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp at Night? Vet-Approved Lighting Guide for Your Pet Turtle

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp at Night? Vet-Approved Lighting Guide for Your Pet Turtle

red-eared pond slider under the heat lamp

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Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

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

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If you have a pet turtle, you will need to provide them with an environment suitable to their needs. This includes an enclosure with enough space for them to move around, land and water access (depending on their species), 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 on in their turtle’s tank at night. Luckily, the answer is no. Your turtle will be just fine if the light is turned off during night time 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.


What Are Your Turtle’s Light and Temperature Needs?

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 young or small 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, individual species can be researched to know their temperature requirements. For example, if you have red-eared sliders, their tank should be maintained between 22–27 °C (72–81 °F). The temperature of their basking spot should be approximately 32 °C (around 90 °F), whereas nighttime temperatures should not fall below 17 °C (63 °F).

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.

pentecost tortoise under heated lamp
Image Credit: ADDYad, Shutterstock

What Kind of Light Does Your Turtle Need?

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 can, however, disturb your pet’s sleep.
an adult turtle on a rock
Image Credit: I Ketut Tamba Budiarsana, Shutterstock

Why Does Your Turtle Need UVA and UVB Light?

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 may suffer from metabolic bone disease. Turtles also need the correct heat and UV to properly digest their food.

In outdoor enclosures (such as a pond), lighting isn’t required, as turtles have access to sunlight. It is recommended to allow your turtles access to a secure outdoor enclosure for at least part of their year (the summer months). If you live in an area that is tropical all year long, they can be housed outdoors in a secure enclosure year-round.

turtles gathering for nesting
Image Credit: SJPHOTOSNAP, Shutterstock

Some UVB Light Tips

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 290–300 nm. 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.


Final Thoughts

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: Liubov Sydorenko, Shutterstock

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