Best Ways to Heat Your Reptile Enclosure

Proper heating of reptiles in captivity is crucial to the health and well-being of our cold-blooded friends!!  Understanding their ecosystem, and microclimates help us mimic their natural environment in our husbandry and enclosure setup.   Reptile Husbandry has come a long way and it is our goal at Toad Ranch to help you succeed in your endeavor for better reptile keeping!  This short heating guide will help you understand how to set up the best habitat for your pet!


Always Use a Thermostat Control for Reptile Enclosures

First off, if you don’t have a thermostat control, GO GET ONE!!  There are thermostat control options for any budget.  From simple on-off thermostats to units that let you control night cycles, dawn and dusk, temperature ramping, humidity, cooling, and more they are a must-have for safe, proper husbandry.  By running your heating device on a thermostat, you ensure that your reptile won’t overheat... believe it or not, over heating in reptiles will be more devastating faster than not keeping them hot enough!  I could write a dedicated blog on thermostats and their benefits… and maybe I will =)  So having said that, please run any heating device on a thermostat control! 


Bringing the HEAT- Best Heating Options for Reptiles

“It’s easier to train someone who has never shot a rifle before than to re-train someone that learned the wrong way. And yes, your pappy’s way was wrong!”  When I was in the Marine Corps, I heard this as a basic training recruit and later this became much more evident as a range coach.  What does this have to do with heating enclosures or reptiles at all?  Well for years and years people have been keeping reptiles in TANKS... glass tanks, sub-par home-made tanks, and all styles of inadequate housing, yuck!  Cue PVC enclosures… these all-plastic enclosures are the new gold standard for reptile housing and are BETTER in every way for facilitating the correct heating, lighting, humidity, and all-around care that our reptiles require!  BUT we need to re-train ourselves as reptile keepers to utilize them to their full potential!  One of the best benefits of PVC enclosures is that they hold heat really well!  This is great for your electricity bill as you can use lower-wattage bulbs and heating devices... BUT… you HAVE to use lower-wattage heating devices, or you will have trouble with keeping your temps in the desired range.  I’m not talking, like, really low but if you were using a 150-watt bulb on a glass tank you’ll probably only need a 75-watt in your new PVC enclosure (that’s a 50% savings!!)  What kind of bulb?  Projector style or “flood” bulbs are best as they direct the heat down to where you need it and don’t just mass heat the whole enclosure (and ceiling panel).  This is where die-hard glass tank enthusiasts will say “But I can’t get high enough basking temps” WRONG!  Achieving proper basking temps has more to do with your BASKING PLATFORM than your heat bulb.  A bare floor is NOT a proper basking platform, the substrate is NOT a proper basking platform, and a hammock, albeit cute, is NOT a proper basking platform!  Natural stone is what most reptiles seek out in nature for basking… why?  Stone absorbs the sun’s heat and radiates it naturally providing a natural underbelly heat!  A proper basking platform eliminates the need for heat tape and heat mats (in MOST) circumstances!  I’ve used the word natural a lot here… if you’ve noticed that then you’re getting the idea!  Elevating that stone surface to be closer to your lower-wattage bulbs is the secret to proper basking temps, proper hot side temps, proper heat gradients, and ambient temps!  I’m going to add a little spiel right here but only for educational purposes!... our Bask-N-Hides are THE perfect basking platform, with a NATURAL stone top that is elevated which allows your reptile to thermoregulate properly and best of all your reptile will thank you for getting one!  We even have GIANT Bask-N-Hides for your extra-large scaley friends!  Well, that’s it, you now know the secret… but please keep reading!


How to Heat Snakes and Other "Non-Basking" Reptiles

Whoops!  What about non-basking reptiles?  Well, most reptiles actually do bask and will benefit from a basking-type set up and the same principles can be applied even when using radiant heat panels!  Just make sure you monitor the basking temp with an infrared temp gun and adjust the wattage to keep it in an acceptable range.  But WAIT!  What about those dreaded heat rocks that would burn snakes?  Will I burn my snake with this setup?  Remember the NATURAL underbelly heat we were talking about?  Because the stone is being heated from above and most reptiles sense heat better from above, they will be able to thermoregulate on their own and move away from the heat when they need to (plus you're not letting them sit on top of an electrical heating device!).  And while we're on the topic... always use safety baskets over internal heat lamps, especially for snakes!  Arcadia Heat Lamp Cages are perfect for this!

So now with your basking temps dialed in with lower wattage bulbs and a proper basking platform, we can hone in on the rest of our temps.   Your hot side temperature should pretty well fall in line after setting up your basking platform and ideally, your cool side temp should too!  If you aren’t achieving the temperature gradient that you would like and your cool side is still a bit too hot, never fear, there are fantastically awesome ways to help with this!  That’s weird… “fantastically awesome”??  YES!  The remedies I am about to explain are beneficial even if you don’t have trouble with your cool side temps!


Staying cool on the cool side- Keeping a Proper Thermal Gradient in Your Enclosure

Your reptiles need a retreat from the heat!  Proper hot side temps for most animals are HOT so how do you keep cool on the cool side?  By mimicking NATURE!  In nature, reptiles escape the heat by burrowing down where it’s cool and damp (yes even in arid environments).  To replicate this in your enclosure you can add a deep substrate or even go “Bioactive”.  Adding plants and hides on the cool side also creates microclimates that your herp can escape to, and, at the same time adds security for them to feel comfortable in their home!  While the air ambient on your cool side may still be a bit warmer than you would like (which sometimes is natural during the hot times of the day) the microclimates you just created are sure to be several to many degrees cooler!  But that’s not all you can do!  We have used enclosure fans in our husbandry for years and they are super beneficial on so many levels!  Traditionally we have used them on our leaf-tailed geckos which need high humidity and cooler temperatures we noticed that as soon as the air started moving so would the geckos.  By running the fans for short periods throughout the day we stimulated their activity, and they would actually come out and hunt for food!  So how can you use this for your bearded dragon, ball python or other favorite reptile?  Well pretty much the same, by mounting an enclosure fan on the outside of one of your vents with the fan direction pulling air out you are bringing fresh air in from all the other vents and openings in the enclosure cooling your enclosure AND stimulating NATURAL activity!!  What could be better??  Different positioning of your fan can focus on decreasing humidity, cooling, or keeping your bioactive substrate from stagnating!  You can read more about setting up your fan and purchase one on our website HERE!


We're Always Happy to Help- Contact Us!

We’ve just barely skimmed the surface here and I could go on forever but hopefully you have a better idea of how to NATURALLY and safely heat your reptiles!  Toad Ranch Enclosures were designed to help facilitate proper husbandry conditions and we are always happy to collaborate and share our knowledge with fellow reptile keepers like you!  Also, check out our “Species Specific” collection of enclosures that we have already configured to help your scaley friend live a long happy life!


So long and stay cool!... or hot!

Until next time,

Jared Gray

Toad Ranch Reptile Expert and Reptile Afficionado



Also…… PLEASE DO NOT USE CERAMIC HEAT EMMITERS (CHEs).. they are an outdated and unsafe heating element that can reach extremely high surface temperatures!!  Use Arcadia Deep Heat Projectors for SAFE, no light, heat!  That’s all =)