Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp? Complete Lighting Guide

Yes, turtles do need a heat lamp. It's vital that you provide your pet turtle with a heat and a UV lamp if you want to keep your turtle healthy and happy.
Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?
Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Why Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Turtles are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their own body temperature. They have to use the environment around them to do this.

In the wild, they swim to cool down and bask in the sunlight for several hours per day to warm themselves.

Basking raises a turtle’s body temperature and drys them off fully, preventing fungal infections and algae build-up on their shells.

Another key benefit of basking is absorbing vitamin D3 which helps metabolize calcium in their diet to keep their shell and bones healthy.

As your pet turtle will (I presume) be kept indoors and won’t have access to direct sunlight,  you’ll need to simulate this by providing your turtle with a basking area where your turtle can get out of the water to warm up, dry off and absorb both UVA and UVB light.

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp At Night?

Not necessarily. It all depends on where you live and the ambient temperature in the turtles’ enclosure.

Turtles are diurnal, just like us, meaning they are more active during daylight hours. It’s important they have a daytime and nighttime routine.

They are subjected to cooler temperatures at night in the wild, so It’s best to replicate your turtles’ natural conditions as much as possible.

If you find that you need to keep your heat lamp on at night you might be better off using a ceramic heat emitter or a night heat lamp.

These products only emit heat so you won’t disturb your turtle’s sleep pattern by giving off light through the night.

If you have a turtle that sleeps in the water, your turtle tank water heater should keep them warm enough through the night.

Do Baby Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Do Baby Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?
Do Baby Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Yes, heat is essential for baby and juvenile turtles while they are growing.

Basking under a heat lamp allows them to absorb vitamin D3 which lets them metabolize calcium from their diet, which in turn promotes healthy bones and shells.

If their bones and shell don’t develop fully your turtle is at risk of not living to its maximum life expectancy and will have serious health problems.

Do Tortoises Need A Heat Lamp?

Do Tortoises Need A Heat Lamp?
Do Tortoises Need A Heat Lamp?

Yes, tortoises need a heat lamp too, for the same reasons as a turtle.

How Long Can Turtles Survive Without A Heat Lamp?

An aquarium turtle can survive for a long time without a heat lamp, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide them with one.

Depriving a turtle of heat will subject them to a miserable existence and lead to all sorts of health problems.

What Can Happen If You Don’t Have a Heating Lamp?

A turtle deprived of heat over a prolonged period will be at risk of:

  • Calcium deficiencies
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Respiratory infection
  • Shell rot

Should your turtle become sick you can find your local turtle vet here

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

Your turtles’ basking lights should be on for 10-12 hours per day.

Like us, turtles are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day.

As most pet turtles are kept indoors you need to turn your lights off for at least 12 hours per day to establish a day and night cycle.

It’s best to use a light timer so that you don’t forget to switch them off.

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

For most turtle tanks a bulb between 50-100 watts should be more than enough.

The wattage rating of a heat bulb is straightforward. The higher the wattage, the more heat it will give off. But, the wattage of the bulb isn’t the most important factor to consider.

It’s far more important to place the bulb at the correct distance from the basking area to maintain a consistent temperature of 80°-95°F, depending on the age and species of your turtle.

There are a few factors that will dictate how far from the basking platform your lights should be, including tank size and ambient temperature, etc.

Top Tip: You shouldn’t have your lights too close to your turtle as you risk burning them.

Use the chart below as an approximate guide for the distance between your basking area and lights:

Bulb WattageApprox. Distance
From Basking Area
50 watts5-7 inches away
75 watts7-9 inches away
100 watts10-12 inches away
150 watts12 or more inches away

IMPORTANT: You must keep checking the basking area is kept at the optimum temperature for your species of turtle, if it’s too hot/cold they will not bask.
To increase the temperature, move lights closer or buy a higher wattage.
To decrease the temperature, move lights further away or buy a lower wattage.

I advise using a digital thermometer to monitor your basking area temperature and have found the Etekcity Infrared Thermometer to be ultra-reliable.

Etekcity Infrared Thermometer
Etekcity Infrared Thermometer

What’s The Best Temperature For A Turtle?

The best basking temperature for a turtle all comes down to the tank size, age, and species of your particular turtle.

The chart below will show you roughly what temperature your turtles’ baking area should be:

TurtleTemperature
In Fahrenheit
Temperature
In Celcius
Box Turtle80-90°26-32°
Juvenile Box Turtle90-95°32-35°
Cooter80-85°26-29°
Juvenile Cooter90-100°32-37°
Map Turtle75-80°24-26°
Juvenile Map Turtle80-90°26-32°
Mud Turtle90-95°32-35°
Juvenile Mud Turtle90-100°32-37°
Musk Turtle85-90°29-32°
Juvenile Musk Turtle90-100°32-37°
Pond Turtle85-95°29-35°
Juvenile Pond Turtle90-100°32-37°
Red Eared Slider90-95°32-35°
Juvenile Red Eared Slider95-100°35-37°
Snapping Turtle90-95°32-35°
Juvenile Snapping Turtle95-100°35-37°

What Kind Of Light Do Turtles Need?

You will need to provide your turtle with heat, UVA, and UVB lights.

A great all-in-one kit is the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB Heat Lighting Kit.

Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB Heat Lighting Kit
Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB Heat Lighting Kit

The only thing the above kit doesn’t come with is something to hang your lights from.

There is the Zoo Med Reptile Lamp Stand available to purchase separately, which comes in small and large sizes.

Alternatively, you can check out the following posts for many more lighting options:

Can I Use A Regular Light Bulb For My Turtle?

IMPORTANT:  DO NOT USE A REGULAR HOUSEHOLD BULB.
They don’t give off anywhere near enough heat or UVA light.
They’re also prone to shattering if they’re splashed with water.

Alternatives To Heat Lamps

There is an alternative to having separate heat and UV lamps if you’re short on space or electrical outlets.

Mercury Vapor Bulb For Turtles

A mercury vapor bulb is an all-in-one bulb that gives off heat, UVA light, and UVB light.

I’ve selected 2 of the best options available for you here.

First up is the Mega-Ray 100 Watts Mercury Vapor Bulb

Mega-Ray 100 Watts Mercury Vapor Bulb
Mega-Ray 100 Watts Mercury Vapor Bulb

The Mega-Ray isn’t the lowest priced MVB, but it’s way more durable than other MVB’s on the market so is actually cheaper in the long term.

Also available in 70 watt, 160 watt, and 275 watt ratings.

You will need a shade fixture for this bulb and I recommend the REPTI ZOO 8.5 inch Reptile Light Fixture.

If the Mega-Ray is a little too pricey, the next best MVB is the TEKIZOO 80 Watt UVA UVB Super Sun Lamp.

TEKIZOO 80 Watt UVA UVB Super Sun Lamp
TEKIZOO 80 Watt UVA UVB Super Sun Lamp

It’s more budget-friendly, but the durability isn’t as good as the Mega Ray.

Also available in 100 watts, 125 watts, and 160 watts.

This MVB must be mounted vertically so I recommend these bulbs are used with the TEKIZOO 8.5 Inch Deep Light Dome Reptile Lamp Fixture Aluminum Optical Reflector.

If you need something to hang your lamp on there’s the TEKIZOO Reptile Lamp Stand available.

Can You Use Heat Pads For Turtles?

No, you can’t use heat pads for turtles. While they’re great for snakes and lizards by providing heat from below, a turtle needs its heat provided from above to dry off its shell.

Where To Position Turtles Heat Lamp

Something to be mindful of when setting up your turtle tank is where to position your turtles’ lights.

You need to allow your turtle to move around its tank and basking area to warmer and cooler parts as and when it wants to.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be good to go.

Focus The Heat & UV Lights On The Basking Area

Focus The Heat & UV Lights On The Basking Area
Focus The Heat & UV Lights On The Basking Area

Your heat lamp and UV lamp must be directly above the basking area, preferably at one end. 

Your turtle will move around the basking area to a cooler or warmer part of it as and when they need to cool off or warm up.

Don’t place them away from the basking area as your turtle won’t absorb as much heat and UV light as it needs to.

Use Deep Dome Light Fixings

Deep dome light fixings don’t allow UV radiation to spread outwards toward you when you’re watching your turtle.

They also focus the light and heat on a smaller spot of the basking area creating warmer and cooler spots.

This will allow your turtle to adjust their position within the basking area as and when they need to cool off or warm up.

Maintaining Your Turtles Heat Lamp

Your heat lamp will naturally deteriorate over time. Once it starts to struggle to maintain 80°-95°F you need to replace it.

The general rule of thumb is to change it every 6-9 Months

The same applies to your UV bulbs. You can buy a Solarmeter 6.5 to measure UV levels to check if your bulbs are still emitting enough UV light.

Solarmeter 6.5
Solarmeter 6.5

Although this is an excellent product, it is on the pricey side, so I’ve recommended a much cheaper alternative below.

The Fischuel Quick Test UVB Cards are super cheap and you get a pack of 2. Each card will test your bulb up to 500 times so offers you great value for money.

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp FAQ

I’ll go over a few frequently asked questions to wrap things up.

Do All Turtles Require A Heat Lamp?

If you have a semi-aquatic turtle, land turtle, or a tortoise, then absolutely yes you need to provide a heat lamp.

Do Red Eared Sliders Need A Heat Lamp?

Yes, like all semi-aquatic turtles, a red-eared slider will need a heat lamp.

How Do You Keep A Turtle Warm Without A Heat Lamp?

If you want to keep a pet turtle without a heat lamp, you should keep it outdoors in a pond so it has access to direct sunlight. 

Turtles kept indoors should always be provided with a suitable heat and UVB lamp as it’s so important to their long-term health and wellbeing.

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

Your turtle would be fine for a couple of days if you forgot to put your heat lamp on. 

For the many reasons covered in this post, I don’t recommend leaving a turtle without a heat lamp, unless your turtle lives outdoors and has access to sunlight.

Closing Thoughts…

I hope this post has answered all of your do turtles need a heat lamp questions and you are now aware of why it’s so important to provide a heat lamp for your turtle’s health and wellbeing.

Check out my turtle’s section for in-depth product reviews and tips on keeping your pet turtles happy and healthy.

For the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of your old bulbs, please visit https://lamprecycle.org/en/