Figuring out the proper
environment for your pet reptile does not have to be
hard. First, you need to know what part of the world
the species comes from. Once you have that information,
you can search for data on climate, temperature,
rainfall, humidity, and other atmoshperic
conditions. This will give you an idea of normal
temperature and humidity ranges for your reptile.
If you know where your reptile comes from, a
climate map like the one to the right will give
you a good idea of what sort of overall
conditions your habitat should have.
Reptiles come from every continent except
Antartica, and requirements vary widely from
cool temperate forest to the world's hottest
deserts. Most areas of the world will
exhibit some seasonal changes in temperature and
precipitation. Almost everywhere in the
world the temperature will fall by 10-20 degrees
or more at night. Most reptiles do not
need any supplemental night time heat.
Room temperature is more than enough for almost
all reptiles overnight.
Weather websites can provide an
easy and quick source for finding valuable real-time
data on environmental and atmospheric conditions for
your reptile's part of the world. Many
government agencies will also provide this information,
such as the
NWS in the United States.
Bookmark your favorite meteorological reporting website
and you can get instant real-world temperature and
rainfall data with the click of a mouse.
If you wish, you can even
duplicate the natural environment by adjusting your
temperatures and humidity up and down seasonally to
match. Rainy seasons can be imitated at the correct
times of year. Keep in mind that the northern and
southern hemispheres have opposite seasons.
For the average pet reptile you do
not have to go all out and attempt to duplicate natural
swings in climate and temperature. Simply figure out
what type of environment the animal needs, and determine
the lows and highs of that animal's native habitat.
Avoid temperatures near those extremes and never exceed
them. Find a nice comfortable middle ground, provide as
much of a gradient as possible in the cage, and allow
normal night time cooling by turning off the heat. Some
owners may need to leave on low heat overnight due to
cooler temperatures where the cage is located, but even
then the cage should be allow to cool somewhat from
daytime temperatures. Most owners keep their homes
sufficiently warm enough at night that for most species
no heat is needed.
Your habitat should have a
thermal gradient and not be a constant temperature
throughout. The easiest way to accomplish this is
to move the heat source to one side. Placing a
rock under a heat light will give your reptile a nice
basking area. Hide boxes and shelters should be at
the cool end of the enclosure as a retreat from the
heat. Measure the temperatures in your reptiles
habitat on a regular basis at both the warm and cool
ends. Turn off the heat at night and allow the
cage to cool.
If you are finding it difficult to maintain temperatures
or humidity at desired levels, or achieve an adequate
gradient, there are a number of solutions you can try.
Humidity can be maintained using equipment such as
humidifiers and dehumidifiers for large areas or entire
rooms; individual cages can have screens and openings
partially covered to trap in moisture and use live plants or
waterfall features inside the habitat.
Recirculating pumps or aerating stones attached to an
aquarium air pump placed in a large water bowl can also
help. In addition, you can make a humidity box for
your reptile. A plastic rubbermaid or food container works well. Keep the
lid on and cut a hole in the side of the container large
enough for your reptile to get through. Place
sphagnum moss, coconut husk, or other substrate in the
container and wet until uniformly damp. The substrate
should be allowed to dry at least once per
day, should never be completely saturated when
dampened, and should be changed regularly. When very high humidity levels are
needed, manually spraying with a misting bottle can be
done multiple times per day or a cool mist humidifier
found in most pharmacies works well.
Temperatures can be
achieved by changing wattage of heat bulbs,
adding or removing additional heat sources, and
even wrapping the cage with a blanket or foam
insulation in extreme cases. Sometimes
moving the cage to another location or room will
help if there are drafty doors or windows
nearby. Direct sunlight can also be an
| Reptiles in the wild
bask in the sun to warm. Therefore, we
prefer overhead heat for our reptiles.
Many owners will need heat pads in addition to
heat lamps, depending on species and room air
temperature. Heat lamps can cause burns,
so ensure your reptile cannot come into contact
with or get too close to their heat source.
Measure your temperatures often and do your
research into the temperature requirements of
your species of reptile.
Don't be discouraged by foreign units of
measurment. Free conversion calculators
can be easily found on the internet. See,
there's one right there. No excuses.
Also provided for you at the bottom
of this page are global monthly temperature and rainfall
maps. The climate map above will
dictate what sort of environment you need to duplicate,
whether tropical rainforest, sub-Saharan desert, or
Mediterranean. The temperature and rainfall maps below
can give you an idea of the ranges you need to be in
once you have done your homework and research and find
out about where your reptile is from and what your pet
Below are some commonly used acceptable heat sources for
reptiles and amphibians. Arrowhead Reptile Rescue is
not endorsing or recommending any particular products or
companies. There are many versions and styles of
similar products. We don't use or recommend "hot rocks"
or rock heaters. Shown below are several styles of heat
pads, ceramic heat emitters, reptile bulbs, and room
We recommend only using ceramic socket and metal
fixtures for heat elements. Be sure the
fixture is rated appropriately for the wattage
bulb or heat being used. Avoid any lamps
or fixtures with plastic housing or sockets as
these can often be a fire hazard.
aquatic pet owners automatically think reptiles
should be in water that is heated to tropical fish
tank temperatures. While there are many equatorial
and tropical species that do require warm water,
most reptiles from other regions of the world do
not. Heating the water to 80 degrees (F) or more for many species will promote rapid bacterial
growth and can cause
As you can see from the ground water temperature map
below, aquatic turtles, amphibians, and other
reptiles native to the United States are cold water
species. There can be a lot of fluctuation in
natural temperatures related to depth of water,
daytime vs night, proximity or connections to larger
bodies of water, so it is not exact. Here
again, a gradient is beneficial so the reptile may
seek their comfort level, although this is much
harder to accomplish in a small tank full of water.
You should not need to use an aquarium fish tank
heater for these cooler-climate species which should
not exceed 70 degrees.
Tropical species DO require heated water and warmer
water temperatures closer to 80 degrees and above.
Average Ground Water
Using the knowledge of what
part of the world your reptile is from, look up
water temperature charts on weather and
atmoshperic websites and find the annual
fluctuations or averages to determine if you
need to warm the water. For most North American
aquatic turtles and reptiles, water at standing
is more than adequate. Chilling the water
to below a normal standing temperature is not necessary for your pet reptile. Do
not use oceanic or coastal water temperature
reports unless you have a reptile that came out
of the ocean. You do not want surface
sea temperature reports. You want ground
water, lake, and/or river temperature reports.
NWS will have this information for US
Examples of common species
that generally DO NOT need heat, but are often give
it by owners, are: US native red eared and most
pond sliders, map turtles, painted turtles, river
cooters, common snapping turtles, softshell turtles,
and diamondback terrapins.
Species that DO require heat would include: helmeted
and side neck turtles, mata mata, alligator snapping
turtles, southeast Asian pond turtles, snake-neck
turtles, and all crocodilians. For these
species ensure your water heater is in an enclosed
protective case as many reptiles will damage them.
Example of Freshwater River Temperatures
for select areas in the northeast United States
Temperature and Rainfall Maps