Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp? This is What Happens if They Don’t Have One

Apr 14, 2021

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp

Hardy shells and a solemn personality – it’s easy to confuse turtles for low-maintenance pets. While that’s true to an extent, there are few specific things that you can’t afford to get wrong. And one such thing is heat. 

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp? 

Yes, turtles need a heat lamp, which in fact, are crucial to their wellbeing. Turtle are cold-blooded animals—their body temperature changes with change in environment. For instance, a 1°C increase in their surrounding will increase their body temperature by 1°C as well. 

Like us, they don’t produce heat through shivers, digestion, and so on. As ectotherms, which is essentially another word for cold-blooded, turtles derive a negligible amount of heat from physiological sources. 

And since turtles depend on the environment for heat, they are usually more sluggish at night and in the early mornings. They’ll need to heat up to kick up the bodily functions and start the day.

That’s why heat lamps are essential for a turtle’s survival and health. 

But simply knowing the answer to do turtles need a heat lamp isn’t going to be enough. There are a few dos and don’ts to it. 

So, let’s start with: 

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp At Night?

In most cases, turtles don’t need a heat lamp at night. It’s best to promote a natural cycle of keeping lights on in the daytime and off at night. However, if you live in a particularly cold area, you might have to turn on the heat lamp. 

Then again, I’d advise relying on heaters and Styrofoam sheets instead of bright lights. 

Can Turtles Live Without A Heat Lamp?

Baby red-eared slider

By now, you’ve probably guessed it. 

No, turtles cannot live and thrive without a heat lamp. That’s awfully detrimental to their heath. Although they can survive for a few days or weeks, the absence of a heat lamp will invite several health complications like indigestion, weakened immunity, and respiratory infections. 

The effects are even serious for baby turtles. An adult turtle can adjust to lower temperatures despite its deteriorating outcomes. On the other hand, baby and juvenile turtles cannot. 

From healthy shell formation and fighting pathogens to regulating body temperature and elevating mood, the benefits of good lighting are many. A good source of UVB, it also produces vitamin D3 that’s responsible for a healthy metabolism. 

As diurnal creatures, turtles also need a day and night cycle known as circadian rhythm. And disturbed sleep cycle only means more health issues for your reptile pet. And in many cases, these problems prove fatal. 

How Long Should You Keep The Heat Lamp On For The Turtle? 

The main goal of heat lamps is to mimic the natural day and night cycle crucial for turtle’s wellbeing. Thus, you can keep the lights on for around 10 to 12 hours. Another great option is to mimic the sunrise and sunset’s time if possible.

While placing the light, make sure that’s it’s not too close or too far from the basking surface. 

The standard recommendation is a 12-inch distance for a 2.5 UVB light and an 18-inch distance for a UVB 5 lamp. 

Usually, the manual contains in-depth information on this topic. So, make sure to read that first.

What’s The Best Wattage For A Turtle Heat Lamp?

There’s no one magic number when deciding the best wattage for a turtle heat lamp. It often boils down to your pet’s age, species, health, and tank size. For most tanks, somewhere between 50-100 watts should be enough.

If you have a turtle about 4-6 inches long in a mid-sized tank, a 50 watts lamp should be enough. For larger tanks that are about 70 to 125 gallons in size, you’ll probably need a 100 watts lamp or something more powerful. 

While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss the ideal temperature setting for different popular species so you’ll have a better idea. 

Suggested Readings:

Why Is My Red Eared Slider Not Eating? 8 Reasons Why Your Turtle Isn’t Eating

My Turtle is Bleeding. What Do I Do?

How Old is My Red Eared Slider Turtle? 6 Ways to Know it

What’s The Best Temperature For Your Turtle?

Once again, there’s no one ‘best’ temperature. Usually, the temperature fluctuates between 75°F to 95°F depending on factors like age, health, tank size, etc. However, in almost all cases, the water temperature should remain at least above 75°F. Also, baby and juvenile turtles need slightly higher temperatures to boost their growth. 

Here’s a quick table for reference:

Turtle Species Temperature (Celsius)Temperature (Fahrenheit)
Box Turtle 80-90°F26-32°C
Juvenile Box Turtle 90-95°F32-25°C
Red-Eared Slider 90-95°F32-25°C
Juvenile Red-Eared Slider 95-100°F29-37°C
Painted Turtle75-80°F23-26°C
Juvenile Painted Turtle 80-90°F26-32°C
Snapping Turtle 90-95°F32-35°
Juvenile Snapping Turtle 95-100°F29-37°F
Cooter 80-85°F26-29°C
Juvenile Cooter 90-100°F32-37°C

As you can see, juveniles need tad bit higher temperatures. This is quite important for their metabolism and growth. 

What Kind Of Light Do Turtles Need?

Like all reptiles, turtles need a combination of regular sunlight, UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB (Ultraviolet B) lights. While most heat and basking lamps provide stimulated daylight and UVA light, UVB is still a relatively newer concept. So, make sure to find a heat lamp that emits all three of the light essential for your turtle. 

While there are many benefits of UVB light, the most crucial one is the production of Vitamin D3. This nutrient is responsible for proper shell and bone growth. 

And long-term deprivation from this light can lead to malformation, disabilities, and potential death. 

I’ve come across many brands that say ‘full spectrum’ or ‘sun spectrum’ on the package but doesn’t mention anything about UVB light. 

So, be careful about what you buy. 

I have a separate UVB light for my turtles. While researching this article, I came across an excellent option that satisfies all of your turtle’s light needs – Mercury vapor lamps.

These lamps are designed to provide heat, daylight, UVB and UVA – everything from a single product. 

Affordable, compact and functional – I highly recommend using these kinds of light sources, especially if there’s not enough space in your tank area. 

Here are two I picked from Amazon:

The first one is from LUCKY HERP. 

This is jampacked with premium features. 

For starters, this bulb boasts a 6,000-hour lifespan and a six-month warranty. And since it is self-ballasted, you don’t need to induce external ballast. 

But above all, what swayed me towards this product are the great and genuine reviews on Amazon. 

And here’s the second one from TEKIZOO that comes in 3 variations: 80 Watts, 125 Watts, and 160 Watts. 

It’s also compatible with different kinds of enclosures like tanks, terrariums, vision cages, and more – giving you ample flexibility. 

And reportedly, each bulb is strictly tested to ensure effective UVA and UVB lights for a healthy reptile. 

Heat Lamp Alternative: Can You Use Heat Pads For Turtles? 

Heat pads are a brilliant source of heat for other reptiles like snakes and lizard. However, the way they disseminate heat is not suitable for turtles. Thus, the answer is no, you can’t use heat pads for turtles. 

For a turtle, the heat needs to come from the top so that it falls on the shell. 

Any heat coming from below will only be about 35% efficient. 

So, according to math, for a turtle that needs an average of 90°F, the heat pad will have to reach temperature of 200°F. And before you know, your turtle will end up with burnt skin.

How To Position A Heat Lamp For Your Turtle?

When placing any kind of heating lamp, you need to be mindful of its position. It should be placed in such a way that your pet has easy access to retreat to cooler sections of the terrarium or basking area at any time. The lamp should also only be installed in a vertical position.

And you should keep a minimum distance of approximately 10-15 inches from the reptile. 

When installing the light for the first time, don’t keep it turned on for a long time. Your turtle needs to slowly adapt to the radiation. 

I’d recommend starting with just a 30-minute radiation session during the first week for the heating lamps I suggested above. And over the next two to three weeks, you can keep it on for longer durations depending on your turtle’s needs. 

Just make sure that the reptile has suitable areas it can withdraw to in an event of overheating. 

When it comes to reptiles and temperature settings, there’s no room for guesswork.

That’s why I’d also suggest you get a reptile thermometer if you don’t already own one. These devices don’t cost much but go a long way in terms of functionality and accuracy. 

Here’s one by JLENOVEG with an alarm function that looks super handy to me. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Light bulb
Light bulb

Do All Turtles Require A Heat Lamp?

If you have a semi-aquatic or a terrestrial turtle, which is often the case, the answer to do turtles need a heat lamp is a big yes.

What Will Happen If I forget To Turn The Heating Lamp On For My Turtle?

If you forgot to turn on the lamp or it’s not working, your turtle will be absolutely fine for a day or two. So, you need not worry. However, that doesn’t mean you can carry on without a proper heat lamp for any longer. 

As we have already discussed above, from digestion to shell formation, the perks of a good heating lamp are many. 

Can I Use A Regular Light Bulb For My Turtle?

All lights shine bright and emit light. But no, you can’t use a regular light bulb for your turtle. These lights do not emit vitamin D3 as UVB light does. And without this vitamin, your pet won’t be able to harness the power of calcium in its body. 

Thus, it’s imperative to invest in a good heating lamp that provides full-spectrum light for your pet.

Conclusion On Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp

Thanks for reading it all the way to the end!

A quick recap: Yes, turtles need a heat lamp. 

Since these cold-blooded reptiles depend on the environment for warmth, you need to ensure a safe and durable heating arrangement for your pet. 

And just any light wouldn’t do. 

Like you already know, you need to make sure there is natural light, UVA and UVB, among others. These lights aren’t just used to brighten the area but transfer Vitamin D3 and stimulate calcium’s functions.

And if you need a heating lamp that combines the best of all 3 – light, UVA, and UVB, I hope the recommendations I mentioned above will be helpful!

Relevant Articles:

How Often Do Turtles Poop? Everything You Need to Know About Turtle’s Poop

What Do Box Turtles Do in the Winter? Here’s How You Can Help

Are Turtles Smart? They Are Smarter Than You Think

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.