We’ve all probably had a stint in our lives where the sun didn’t come out for days or we spent a significant amount of time indoors. You were probably left feeling lethargic and upset, but giving yourself some time in the sun probably boosted your mood.
For reptiles, the change is far more pronounced. Our scaly friends aren’t able to regulate their own temperature, relying instead on external sources of light and heat. Without the proper light source, your reptile will have trouble eating and sleeping, lose valuable nutrients, and become depressed.
That’s why having the right terrarium lights for your reptile habitat is crucial for maintaining the happiness and health of your pet lizard.
In this guide, we’ll break down the following:
- Vivarium vs Terrarium Lights
- Traits of the Best Terrarium Lights
- Understanding Vivarium Lighting
- Types of Terrarium Light Bulbs
- Lighting Terminology
- Choosing the Right Light For You Reptile
- Terrarium Lights FAQs
Vivarium and Terrarium Lights: Is There a Difference?
There are a lot of people online talking about the differences between vivarium and terrariums, so we’re going to set the record straight.
A vivarium refers to an enclosure where you keep a reptile or amphibian that also contains plants.
Terrariums typically only contain plants.
However, this distinction is hardly ever honored, so if you’re looking for “terrarium lights” online, you’ll most likely get results for reptile habitat lighting.
If your terrarium only has plants, it likely won’t need any special lighting. As long as the terrarium gets an ample amount of sunlight, your plants should be healthy.
The same principle does not apply to vivariums that contain reptiles and amphibians. They require specific types of lights to help them regulate their temperature, absorb nutrients, and simulate nature.
Traits of the Best Terrarium Lighting
Buying terrarium lighting might seem like an easy task, but if you’re not careful, you could end up with a fixture that’s not built to operate in moist conditions, runs at a lower wattage than your terrarium requires, or is just poorly made.
That’s why for each of our recommended lighting options, we like to run through a simple checklist to ensure they’re the very best.
Among the factors we consider:
- Sturdy, quality materials
- Accessible replacement bulbs
- Easy positioning options
- Run at the correct Wattage
Here’s an in-depth examination of how we rank terrarium lighting options.
Of course you want a vivarium light that’s going to last for a long time. We all do! Your terrarium lamp should not only be made out of safe plastics to protect your pet, it should also operate efficiently throughout its whole lifespan.
While it’s more important for heat lamps (because they have a very direct impact on your reptile’s health), terrarium lights should run at the designated Wattage and intensity up until the end of their life. No sputter, no decreased brightness.
Another consideration is moisture. If you’re keeping a light on the inside of your vivarium, it should be able to handle high temperatures and higher levels of humidity. If your light isn’t rated for the inside of a terrarium, using it there could result in electrical failure, which can harm your pet.
Instead, use an LED on the inside of your terrarium, and make sure the lamps with bulbs remain outside the terrarium. That way you’re not running the risk of electrical shock or starting a fire.
Accessible Replacement Bulbs
Before you commit to buying a terrarium light fixture, make sure you’ll be able to buy replacement bulbs easily. If the bulbs for your light are always out of stock, perhaps consider purchasing a different light fixture that has more accessible replacement bulbs.
Sometimes you’re able to slap in any old 60W bulb into your terrarium light, but that doesn’t mean you should. Only use bulbs that are designed for terrarium use.
What’s even better is to stock up with two or three replacement bulbs when you first buy the light. That way you know you’ll have extras if you break one during setup, or if your bulbs go out of stock.
For some people, they have limited space for their terrarium or vivarium, which means it can be hard to clear up a spot to angle a light into the tank.
One of the most important traits of good terrarium lights is that they have multiple, easy, attachment options. You can get a traditional lamp that has a stand and a flexible shaft, or you can get a lamp with a clamp so you can attach it to a table, wall, or the vivarium tank itself!
You won’t find this feature on all terrarium light fixtures, and it’s not necessary for all terrarium setups, but it is useful if you’re tight on space!
Run At The Right Wattage
You might not have to worry about this trait all that much, but it’s still an important factor.
When purchasing a terrarium light, you’re going to need to match the Wattage of the bulb with the Wattage of the light, just like with any other fixture. But, not all terrarium lighting options make this information easy to find.
Opt for vivarium lights that clearly display the wattage. You don’t want to end up buying a fixture and bulbs only to find out that the fixture isn’t rated for the bulbs you bought. Check twice, buy once!
Understand Vivarium Lighting
To properly understand what kind of lighting your vivarium needs, we first have to take a look at the various kinds of lighting, how they’re used, and important lighting terminology.
Each kind of lighting is determined by the wavelengths they emit, which is measured in nanometers. Ultraviolet light, like the light in tanning beds, is harmful to humans in large doses, but it’s a critical part of a reptile’s health. UV light allows them to absorb vitamin D3, which strengthens their bones and prevents various diseases.
For the purpose of lighting your terrarium, UV light is divided up into three different categories:
UVA light is the primary kind of light responsible for sunburn. UVA light can range from 320 to 400 nanometers, and is the strongest of the UV light types. While most UVB light is absorbed by the ozone, UVA light can penetrate clouds and reach the Earth’s surface. UVA light is categorized by longer wavelengths and low energy levels.
UVB light is the mid-range of the UV light spectrum, operating at about 280 to 320 nanometers. Most reptiles use UVB light to get necessary nutrients, even though only about 5% of UVB light ever reaches the Earth’s surface. This kind of light is categorized by short wavelengths and high energy levels.
UVC light is the most dangerous to humans, but direct contact with it is rare because 100% of these rays are filtered through the ozone. UVC light is categorized by very short wavelengths and higher levels of energy, higher even than UVB light. UVC light ranges from 200 to 280 nanometers, and UVC bulbs are often used to clean terrariums because of their germicide effects.
For the purposes of building a reptile terrarium, UVB light is the most important. It helps our cold-blooded friends get vitamin D3, as well as providing heat and light for their enclosure.
UVA light also should be used to help your reptile naturally regulate their biorhythms. Without UVA light, reptiles might start to eat irregularly, lose interest in their surroundings, or become depressed.
UVC lights are also used for terrariums because they can help keep the tank clean from bacteria, but you have to be careful with them. Staring at a UVC bulb can damage your eyes, and prolonged exposure can permanently mar your skin.
Types of Terrarium Light Bulbs
There are many different types of terrarium light bulbs. Some of them are easily accessible, and can be ordered online for a few dollars, or bought at pet stores.
Others require a bit more preparation, with the right fixture, thermometers to gauge the heat, and many replacement bulbs.
The most common types of bulbs used to illuminate a terrarium include:
- Linear fluorescents
- Compact fluorescents
- Mercury vapor bulbs
Linear Fluorescent Bulbs
Linear fluorescent bulbs are commonly used in commercial office spaces, and they’re the long tubes lights. However, some linear bulbs are specifically designed for use in reptile tanks. They come in a variety of sizes, so you will need to get the right size for your tank.
Common sizes used for reptile enclosures include T5 (95 lumens per Watt) and T8 (75 lumens per Watt) bulbs.
The T5 bulbs produce the most heat, while the T8 produces less, but still provide an ample amount of heat.
Linear fluorescent lights are ideal for long enclosures because they disperse light across an even plane. Compact fluorescents work best with small enclosures, but if you have a tank that’s more than 24″, you should use linear bulbs.
- Provide a more even distribution of light
- Can be used as heat lamps in certain scenarios
- Comes with UVB options
- Bulbs are expensive
- Ballasts for these bulbs have to be rated for the exact Wattage
Compact Fluorescents Bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs have become popular for everyday household use because they’re better on energy, even though they might cost a bit more than normal light bulbs. You should only use compact fluorescent bulbs for reptiles that don’t mind a lot of heat. Even though CFLs run fairly low, at about 65 lumens per Watt, they do produce a significant amount of heat.
They’re good to use for purely lighting purposes, but they don’t provide the necessary UVB rays most reptiles require. However, there are some CFLs that do put out UVB rays, and these are sold almost exclusively by pet stores and reptile suppliers online.
The most popular ones are the 15-watt and 26-watt bulbs. These bulbs will give off enough light for most terrariums. If you have a larger terrarium, you may need a higher wattage bulb or multiple bulbs to light the whole space.
- Bulbs are cheap
- Fit in most fixtures
- Available in multiple colors
- Produce a lot of heat
- Need replaced frequently
- Small bulbs won’t cover large terrariums
LED bulbs are another type of light bulb that you can use in your terrarium. LED bulbs use less energy than fluorescent bulbs and they last a lot longer. They don’t produce as much heat as fluorescent bulbs, so they’re a good option if you’re worried about your reptile getting too hot.
LED bulbs come in different colors, so you can choose the right color for your terrarium.
A lot of reptile owners choose to use fluorescent bulbs simply because LEDs don’t provide UVB rays, so they’re not the most cost-efficient option (you’ll need a UVB light plus the LEDs).
- Last a long time
- Come in a variety of sizes, colors, and Wattages
- Don’t provide heat or UVB
- Need paired with a heat lamp
- Can be expensive
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs are a type of light bulb that you can use in your reptile terrarium. They work by giving off a lot of light and heat to keep your terrarium warm and bright. This is the type of light that is used in most hospitals and scientific research labs.
Mercury vapor bulbs come in different sizes, so you will need to get the right size for your terrarium. The most common sizes are the 50-watt and 100-watt bulbs.
Mercury vapor bulbs give off a lot of light, so they’re good for larger terrariums. They also provide UVB rays, which is important for reptiles.
The downside to mercury vapor bulbs is that they produce a lot of heat. You will need to use a thermostat to control the temperature in your terrarium.
- Provide necessary UVB rays
- Come in different sizes and Wattages
- Produce a lot of heat
- Need to be used with a thermostat
- Can be expensive
Terrarium Lighting Terminology
Diurnal – A term used to describe reptiles who are most active during the day. Opposite of nocturnal.
LED – Light-emitting diode. LED lights are commonly only used for aesthetic purposes because they don’t offer heat or the essential UV rays reptiles need.
Lumens – A unit of measurement used to describe how bright a light source is.
Kelvin – A unit of measurement used to describe the color scale of light. 9500K is blue light, while 3500K is an orangish light. 5500K is white light.
Nanometers – A unit of measurement used to describe the wavelengths of light.
Nocturnal – A term used to describe reptiles who are most active during the night. Opposite of diurnal.
UVA Light – Ultraviolet A light, good for helping reptiles regulate their biorhythms.
UVB Light – Ultraviolet B light, the most common kind of light used for reptile terrarium, provides reptiles with a source of vitamin D3, an essential nutrient that helps them absorb calcium.
UVC Light – Ultraviolet C light is the most powerful on the UV spectrum, and UVC bulbs are designed to help keep tanks free from bacteria.
Wattage – The measure of electrical power of a light bulb.
Choosing The Right Light For Your Reptile
Different kinds of reptiles and amphibians will require varying levels of light. Some, like the bearded dragon, will need high levels of UVB light to remain healthy, while frogs primarily need natural light without UVB rays.
Here’s a handy chart to help you figure out what kind of bulbs and lighting is right for your pet.
|Reptile||Type of Light||Diurnal/Nocturnal||Light Cycle|
|Bearded Dragon||UVA 8-10% UVB||Diurnal||14-16 hours of UV light in the summer, 12-14 hours of UV light in the winter|
|Leopard Gecko||UVA, natural lighting||crepuscular||Leopard Geckos don’t require UVB lighting, natural light will work|
|Frill-Necked Lizard||UVA10% UVB||Diurnal||10-12 hours of UV light each day|
|Chameleon||UVA6-12% UVB (depends on species)||Diurnal||12 hours of UV light, 12 hours of darkness|
|Anoles||UVA5% UVB||Diurnal||14 hours in the summer, 10 hours in the winter|
Terrarium Lights FAQs
This largely depends on the kind of reptile you’re housing. Some reptiles from arid climates, like bearded dragons and monitor lizards, require 12 or more hours of light each day. Other reptiles like leopard geckos are nocturnal, so they don’t need as much light during the day. Reference the chart above to find out the optimal light cycle for your type of reptile.
If you’re looking for an aesthetically pleasing terrarium, you can add some soft-light LEDs, similar to the ones you’ll find in gaming computers. But, your reptile requires UVA and UVB light, and LEDs won’t provide that kind of light.
If you only have plants in your terrarium, then natural light–like from a window or skylight–will be sufficient. But, again, reptiles require more direct UV light, so you’ll have to invest in specialty terrarium lights.