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All reptile parents can make life easier with this essential heating-lamp hack

When you bring home a reptile or amphibian, you sign up to put a lot of work into temperature control. Nearly all reptiles need heating lamps or pads but they also need a cool spot, meaning you must have a setup that allows for both, with plenty of thermometers to confirm. Add in UV or other lights for a night/day cycle and you basically have a full-time job just keeping your buddies warm. But there are ways to cut down on the number of man-hours required, especially by installing timers and smart controls that adjust themselves with little input from humans. This is our heat-lamp hack to make the whole process a lot easier. 

Two bearded dragons sunning
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What do I need for my reptile’s enclosure?

Reptiles hail from everywhere in just about all habitats, which means you’ll need to adjust your specifications based on what species you have. Even among lizards or snakes, for example, you could have one creature that needs warm and dry while another prefers hot and wet. Still some turtles spend almost their entire lives completely underwater. Your tank will take on an array of gadgets and gauges to keep your animals in optimum health, controlling temperature, light, and humidity. Maintaining these three things will be crucial to keeping your scaly pet alive. 

How do I automate my system?

When taking your tank to the next level, consider each piece separately. You don’t want to treat the humidity the same as the lighting and both of those will be very different from heat. That means you’ll likely be investing in multiple gadgets, each with a specific purpose to maintain optimum levels in your enclosure.

Light

We’ll start with the easiest because you can mostly set it and forget it for this one. Each animal has a slightly different sleep schedule and different lighting needs. Remember, many reptiles also want UV or specially colored bulbs. However, no matter what creature you have, you’ll most likely want to simulate night and day, though not necessarily to correspond with the actual clock. That’s because many reptiles, such as most geckos, are nocturnal and so you could have some of their “night” happen while it’s waking hours for you. This only works if you can control the environment very closely of course. Regardless, many herpers keep their lamps on a timer that goes off and on at specific times or intervals. This will ensure that everything stays really consistent and there’s no such thing as forgetting to turn the light off and keeping your animal up for too long. You will periodically need to check on it to make sure it’s functioning properly, but this definitely qualifies as the easiest piece to get settled.

Snake in his habitat with water and heat
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mist

Lots of reptiles must keep their skin moist and therefore need their habitat misted periodically both for grooming and to drink. For starters, you might use a simple spray bottle and check it carefully. But once you’re ready to dive into a more advanced array, consider setting up an automatic mister. These handy machines allow you to control how quickly the fog comes out and will tell you when there’s none left, using an indicator light. It’s essential for traveling since you won’t always be around to keep your pet properly wet. 

Heat

Perhaps the most challenging piece of the puzzle to automate, the heat lamp is one you can go basic with. A simple heating lamp or pad will do the trick (we don’t generally recommend rocks as they can burn pets if they get too hot), but it’s much better to include a thermostat that helps you control the temperature. Some products come with this built in, but you get a lot of mileage out of building one for yourself as well. You can even set up two units in one to control two separate sides of the tank or control it with your phone from afar

Trust us: after you’ve fully automated your system, you won’t ever be able to go back. While it takes the stress out of constantly checking, you do need to keep an eye on each piece periodically and refill your water tank as necessary. This becomes even more important if something disrupts the arrangement like a power surge or outage. At that point, you likely need to do a full reset. Still, it’s amazing how much time and stress you’ll save once your handy appliances are taking care of your reptiles for you.

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Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
5 best reptile heating pads to keep your little friend warm
Lizard suns on a rock under a heat source

Lizards, snakes, turtles, and tortoises are all reptiles, which means they have a few specific needs you'll want to think about before bringing them home. Most importantly, most reptiles are cold-blooded, meaning they can't make their own body heat and instead need to absorb heat from the environment around them. As you might guess, this means they like warm, sunny places to bask in order to keep their temperature (and therefore their energy level) up. When you bring home a reptile, it's important to make sure you have a heating pad or your animal will quickly get too cold and might even slip into hibernation. Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best reptile heating pads. 

Tikaton Reptile Heat Pad - Temperature Adjustable Under Tank Heater
A versatile heating pad, this one can go under the tank or stick to the side to diffuse heat. It's important to note, though, that placing any heating pad on top of furniture could cause permanent damage as they're really only made to go on glass or another temperature-resistant material. There are also two different sizes you can choose from depending on your housing and setup. We do recommend putting the heater on one side rather than the front or back, which allows a more secluded basking area that warms a section of the tank rather than the whole thing. A user loves the fact that it can be adjusted to different temperatures, remarking, "Works great! Nice heat control. Purchased this to use with our leopard gecko, works great for a 10 gallon tank. Highly recommend!!!"
FREESEA Aquarium Heater Fish Tank Submersible Heater (50W/75W/100W) with LED Temperature Display
We know it's for fish, but hear us out. This one works great for any marine reptiles that really need a heater that can be immersed in the water to heat it a little better. While you absolutely want warmer and cooler areas, you do need a baseline water temperature that won't get too low and cause your aquatic turtle to go into a stupor. Unlike other heating pads that don't do well in water, this one has to be submerged. It runs very efficiently, shutting off when the water reaches the desired temperature and turning back on when it drops, just like the thermostat in your house. Commenters mention that even though it's really designed for fish, it's still "Turtle approved," and one fan even remarks, "My hatchlings love to float over top of it, and they even sleep on it sometimes!"
KABASI Reptile Heating Pad, 14W / 20W Waterproof Reptile Heat Pad Under Tank Terrarium with Temperature Control
This highly energy-efficient and energy-saving heating pad "Works perfectly," according to one reviewer. It goes underneath the tank but does a good job of warming the substrate and delivering heat into the housing. While the pad cannot go in the water itself for long periods of time, you can feel free to clean it with a damp rag since it's mostly waterproof. Your beardie, leopard gecko, or tortoise will thank you for keeping them safe and toasty. Remember to include a thermometer and hygrometer so you don't overheat or under-moisten your habitat.
The best reptile heating pad with thermostat: iPower Reptile Heat Pad 4W/8W/16W/24W Under Tank Terrarium Warmer
The ultimate in a thermometer and heating pad mix, this one's temperature is controlled so you can choose your setting and monitor your tank as needed. It displays the temperature as either Fahrenheit or Celsius and has a range between 40 and 108 degrees, which means you can warm to just about any level that you need for your animal (and make sure that it stays there). You'll also have better insulation across the mat so it works well if you need something a bit more uniform or want to heat a larger area. A happy corn snake owner highly recommends this heating pad and says, "The heat pad hasn’t fallen off & provides good heat throughout the night."
Repticare Rock HeaterMini
More than just a heating pad, this "Awesome Secondary Heat Source," as one happy reviewer puts it, will look good and add a little warmth to your tank. Keep in mind, unlike many pads, it doesn't have any form of temperature control and some users mention that they cover it just to make sure it doesn't wind up burning their pets. One extra bonus is that you can add it as part of the decor and it won't burn your furniture or block your view of your animal as some others will. Even birds and mammals like this, and it's great for bearded dragons or box turtles too (although it is not a good fit for marine reptiles).

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Why are reptiles cold-blooded? The reason is so simple
Sea turtle swims underwater

It's common knowledge that reptiles aren't exactly like us. Humans, after all, are mammals and have some special and distinct differences from other members of the animal kingdom, namely fur (and a few others). That extra hair actually represents an important part of the biological contrast between us and our reptilian counterparts.

You'll notice that birds also have a skin covering in the form of feathers, which (in addition to being for flight) keep them warm, as our hair does for us. But reptiles don't need any of that. So, why are reptiles cold-blooded? They have their own method for regulating temperature and it's pretty interesting. 

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Have you ever wondered how reptiles breathe? It’s pretty interesting
Lizard looks out while swimming in a tank

While our pets are a lot like us, you'll notice some key differences when you spend enough time with them. Sadly for humans, we can't fly like our parakeets or swim underwater like our betta fish. Reptiles, such as lizards, turtles, and snakes (also crocodiles, but we don't recommend owning one of those as a pet), all have some pretty cool tricks too.

You can't change colors like a chameleon, slither like a snake, or live 190 years like a tortoise. Our reptilian cousins also have special metabolisms, which means they heat their bodies and respirate slightly differently from how we do it. But how do reptiles breathe? Keep reading to find out.

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