Turtles need a good light source in imitation of the sun to keep their bones and shells healthy. This includes light for heating as well as UVA and UVB lights which provide them with what they need to produce vitamin D3 which gives them healthy bones. Without these lights sadly your turtle will slowly grow sick and eventually die if they don’t start getting the light nutrients that they need
Here you can learn all about the reasons why turtles need proper lighting for their tank as well as some of the dangers to watch out for. There will also be reviews of the different kinds of lights available and their pros and cons. So lets begin!
What Kinds of Lighting Do Turtles Need and Why?
Turtles need UVA and UVB lights, without them they can’t produce an essential vitamin for shell and bone health, vitamin D3. Our goal when providing lighting for our turtles habitats is to try to imitate the qualities of the sunlight they would get out in the wild.
Sunlight consists of a spectrum of rays that include infrared, the visible spectrum and ultraviolet rays. Human eyes can only perceive light rays that have wavelengths between 400 and 700 nano-meters. This is what humans think of as visible light since it’s all that our eyes can perceive. However, this light is just a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum which produces much more than just that which you and I can perceived.
Light consists of radio waves, microwaves, infrared, the visible spectrum, x-rays, gamma rays and what is important for turtles, ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet light consists of light waves with a wavelength between 10 and 400 nano-meters, just outside of what our eyes can perceive though some people in certain situations can perceive some UV rays, but in general it is invisible to us.
Turtles such as the red-eared slider can actually perceive with their eyes a much larger amount of the electromagnetic spectrum. The rainbow for a turtle is much larger consisting of colors that we have never seen before. But more importantly ultraviolet rays give turtles what they need to produce vitamin D3, which is essential for keeping their bones, including their shell, strong and healthy.
Ultraviolet rays are absorbed through a turtles skin, the UV rays convert certain cholesterol in the turtles skin to the necessary components for their body to produce vitamin D3. For this reason it becomes essential that you provide the turtles under your care with lighting that contains UV rays. You must check that stats of the light carefully though because some light bulbs that are advertised as full spectrum actually do not provide UV light.
UV Light Safety Precautions
While UV lighting is a must for your turtle there are some important dangers and precautions that you need to be aware of.
UV lights can be very dangerous to human eyes, especially if you look right at them. So try to never look right at a UV light bulb that is turned on and try situate in a way that innocent bystanders wont look directly at it or see reflected off of anything.
The way you space your light in your turtles tank can be very important as well. You don’t want the light to be too close to the turtle or it could very easily start to become too hot. Turtles are cold-blooded animals which means that their bodies can not self regulate their temperature luckily for us nature has provided them with the self knowledge to move to different parts of their habitat to help keep their temperate in the right zone. We as turtle keepers can help with this by giving their habitats a good temperature gradient. So we want to place their lighting where the light hits a certain part of their tank, most likely their basking area while also giving them some space to get out of the light if they want too. This way they can bask under the light when their feeling too cold but if their body temperature rises to much they also have good places where they can go to cool off.
Then the last but perhaps the most important is too make sure you unplug the lamp before you do any significant adjustments as water and electricity can be an extremely bad combo. You don’t want to get you or your turtle accidentally electrocuted because the lamp fell in the water while plugged, so please for your safety as well as that of your turtle unplug before you mess with the tanks lighting.
What Kind of Turtle Lamp to Get?
There are several options to consider when getting lamps for your turtles habitat. You can either get a mercury vapor lamp, these provide both UV light and heat for your turtle, or you can get two lamps one being a halogen basking lamp for basking heat and a fluorescent UVB lamp. Both of these two options have their respective pros and cons, which one you want to use may be up to your personal situation and that of the turtles under your care.
Mercury Vapor Lamp
A mercury vapor lamp provides the extremely nice pro of being two lights in just one. It will provide heating for your turtles basking area as well as their essential UVB needs. Instead of having to deal with two different bulbs and fixtures you only have to work for one. Obviously to many turtle keepers this would be extremely attractive.
But it is not a completely sunny day with this kind of turtle light however. Mercury vapor lamps can use up a surprisingly large amount of electricity and depending on power prices in your area this may make it expensive. A mercury lamp will use approximately twice as much electricity as a fluorescent lamp and halogen basking lamp combo.
Another problem that you might face with mercury vapor lamps is that they can become very hot very quickly. If you have a smaller tank for your beloved turtle friend then you may find it hard to give them a good temperature gradient when using a mercury vapor lamp. Remember providing your turtles habitat with a variety of temperature zones is very important so that they can self regulate their body temp.
Despite these disadvantages if you have a large enough habitat and power prices don’t intimidate you then the convenience of only having to deal with one light can not be denied.
Fluorescent UVB Lamps
If you don’t like the mercury vapor lamps you can also give your turtle a fluorescent UVB lamp. These generally come in two styles of tubular (sometimes called linear) and compact. The tubular lamps are straight and come in a variety of sizes to fit different lighting fixtures. The compact usually have a squiggly spiral shape to them and are generally shorter in length thus why their called compact.
If you decide to go with a fluorescent lamp remember that you’re also going to need to get a separate basking lamp or a combo package of both. Replace the bulb about every 6 months even if its still lighting up as the amount of UV light it produces will degenerate over time.
Basking Lamps for Turtles
If you go with a mercury vapor lamp then this section isn’t as important but if you go fluorescent then your turtle is also going to need a good basking lamp to provide them with some nice heat to imitate the rays of the sun. Turtles just love soak up some rays so you shouldn’t skimp in this department.
These are usually your every day incandescent light bulb that can screw into an ordinary light socket that produce bot light and heat for your little shelled friend. You can also get a halogen basking lamp that will use less electricity if you find that thats very important to you. For most aquatic turtle species they need a part of their habitat that is about 90 to 95 degrees fahrenhieght in their basking area. So try to place the light where a part of their tank heats up to that level but also has areas that are a bit cooler.
The best way to determine the temperature gradient of the habitat is not to guess but instead use a reptile terraium thermometer that will give you good accurate temperature readings. Providing a good temperature gradient is important to your turtles long term health so try to give it all you got. If the light is placed poorly it could make it too hot for your turtle and burn them but also if its too cold they could develope a serious resperitory disease and no one wants that.
Combo Turtle Lights
There are also come turtle kit lighting combos that are available to buy. These provide both a fluorescent UV lamp as well as a basking lamp as a single kit with lighting fixtures included. This can make life much easier for a turtle keeper especially one just starting out. But they can sometimes have quality issues and their have been complaints that the bulbs don’t last as long as they should. Also when you replace them you usually have to get the same kind of bulb that the kit proscribes or else there can be difficulties.