When we first start thinking of buying a pet tortoise, we want to provide them with the best possible home. With anything new, we have many questions and need to answer to provide our tortoise with the best possible home.
Do we go with a tortoise table or vivarium, and what type of substrate do we use? These are all commonly asked questions. Next, we move on to the lighting and heating, and the most common question is, do you need a heat lamp, and will a tortoise survive without a heat lamp.
Tortoises need warmth to survive as they are cold-blooded reptiles, so they will not survive without a heat lamp. Without heat, they would fall into hibernation and eventually die. You can provide a source of heat with mercury vapour bulbs that offer warmth as well as the needed UV to keep your tortoise healthy.
There is a good chance you will be keeping your tortoise in a part of the world that is vastly different from their natural habitat. Learning about your tortoise’s natural habitat can help you better care for them. I will cover some of the basics about heat lamps and heat in general below to help you better understand how to care for your tortoise.
Adult Adaptations To Heat
Adult tortoises cope well with climate differences from their natural habitat and may not need a heat lamp all the time. Many adult tortoises can live outdoors in temperatures that don’t get as high as they would in their natural habitat without the need for a heat lamp.
However, you will need to ensure that the temperature doesn’t get too low that your tortoise falls into early hibernation. The temperature will vary between species, so this is well worth checking if you are housing a tortoise outside without an artificial heat source.
Offering them an outside home to retreat from the rain to keep dry or shelter when they feel it is necessary.
The only real-time you have to offer an adult male tortoise a heat lamp is if the temperature where you live falls below their requirement. If you are overwintering an adult tortoise, you will also be required to offer them a heat lamp and UV so they can take in all the vital vitamins.
Baby tortoises are a different ball game altogether than their adult counterparts. Their small undeveloped bodies require much more care as they are going through the growing stages. Heat is a must for a baby tortoise to keep them healthy during the first five years of their life.
How Long Can a Baby Tortoise go Without Heat and UV?
Let’s first be clear before answering this question that heat can come from different sauces. So while a baby tortoise may survive without a heat lamp, they will be getting heat from various sources.
Heat is crucial to the development and growth of baby tortoises aiding their ability to take in metabolic processes, including food digestion. Without a heat lamp, a baby tortoise would struggle to survive more than a couple of weeks.
We use heat lamps to heat our tortoise enclosures down to them being cheap and easy to use. Not only providing heat put light to the enclosure, but they also encourage your tortoise to bask. An instinct that they would do in the wild under the sun.
There other methods of supplying your baby tortoise with heat that people use, and they are:
- Ceramic Heat Plates
- Heat Mats
Ceramic heat plates will go in the socket that your heat bulb goes into, making them easy to try out. Offering you plenty of heat for your tortoise enclosure; however, they don’t provide light, so not the best option.
Heat mats should only ever be used in certain circumstances as they go under the enclosure, offering heat from the floor. There is no light shown from heat pads that is one extra poor point about them. But the worst part about heat pads is they don’t encourage your tortoise to bask, which is necessary to take in vital vitamins through their shell.
The heat mat debate is a long-running one within the tortoise trade, and we have joined the discussion answering in more detail should tortoises have a heat mat?
UV Light Or Heat Lamp? (You Need Both)
I often see confusion regarding tortoise heating, and I believe this is because tortoises need lighting, heating, and UV to thrive. While a heat lamp can offer heat and light, it does not provide the UV our tortoise requires.
UV bulbs are entirely different from a heat lamp and an ordinary bulb. As the name suggests, a UV light emits UV rays; they are taken in through the tortoise’s shell. Never a heat lamp or bulb offer the needed UV to your tortoise.
You need to offer your tortoise a UV bulb to take in the required vitamins; not offering this will lead to your tortoise becoming ill. The UV is a vital component for the healthy growth of your tortoise’s shell and bones.
A UV bulb will break around the eight-month mark; they break this often because it’s a component that is always on. There is no panic for a couple of days while you get a replacement; your tortoise will survive just fine until it is replaced. However, it is always advisable to replace it as quickly as possible.
Not providing your tortoise UV is not something that will be immediately life-threatening. However, not proving your tortoise heat can quickly lead to your tortoise falling into a habitation state.
How Long Should a Tortoise’s Heat and UV Lamps be on Throughout the day?
Our aim when keeping tortoises indoors is the replicate their neutral habitat as close as humanly possible. Trying to replicate the sunrise and sunset as close as possible will be the perfect amount of time throughout the day.
Setting up a relatively inexpensive timer will be the perfect solution to replicating sunrise and sunset. Turning your lighting on at dawn and off at sunset hands-off would be an ideal solution.
However, if you want to do this manually, 10 to 12 hours of heat and light should be provided to a tortoise throughout the day. You want an enclosure with a hide or some sort of shelter from the light and heat so that your tortoise can take a break from it as and when they require.
Tortoises are very intelligent and do a great job of regulating their heat and taking in the necessary UV. Having the hide or cover will replicate their wild instincts to take cover when they are getting too hot. It is advisable to have the cover or hide at the opposite end of your enclosure to the basking area.
How Do I Know if My Tortoise Is Too Hot?
When you are first setting up your tortoise enclosure, you can inadvertently get the setup wrong. This can cause not having an area that your tortoise can move to for a cool down, so they don’t become too hot. Knowing the signs that your tortoise is to hot can save your tortoise’s life.
If your tortoise has a gaping mouth, drooling, or showing signs of listlessness and struggling to walk, these are all signs your tortoise is to hot. It is essential to act immediately by taking your tortoise out of the enclosure to cool. You will also want to move the lighting around, so they have a cool area in the enclosure to avoid overheating.
We have a guide on how to arrange the lighting in your tortoise table or vivarium to help you get it right the first time around. Getting the lighting correct will dramatically decrease the chances of your tortoise overheating.
Heat Lamps At Night
While the night is a call for concern for many tortoise owners, it is nothing to worry about in most cases. The temperatures during the night in tortoises natural habitat will drop, so they are built to cope with the drop without causing too many problems.
You should only be concerned if your enclosure drops to cold levels that your tortoise is not built to withstand.
Does a Tortoise Need a Heat Lamp at Night?
In most cases, a tortoise will not require a heat lamp at night as they are adequately adapted to cope with drops of temperature during the night. A tortoise also needs darkness to sleep and follow its instincts, so all lighting will need to be switched off during the night.
There is only ever a call for concern when the temperature drops out of the ideal range.
What Temperature Should My Tortoise Be at Night?
Room temperature during the night should be the perfect temperature, and no heat lamp or UV will need to be offered. You will need to make sure that the temperature doesn’t drop below 15°C to 20°C. These temperatures will come naturally to a tortoise as they replicate the wild they originate.
How Do You Keep a Tortoise Warm at Night?
If you are having problems keeping your tortoise enclosure between the recommend 15°C to 20°C, we will need to look for solutions.
As we want to keep it dark so your tortoise can sleep, the best solution to keep your tortoise warm at night will be a heating mat. With a heat mat, the enclosure will remain dark, but the temperature will be raised. However, you do need to be careful that it doesn’t make your enclosure too hot, interrupting your tortoise sleep.
How Long Does a Tortoise Need a Heat Lamp For?
Something people new to keeping tortoise is how long a tortoise will require a heat lamp and UV. If you are keeping a tortoise indoors, you will always have to offer them lighting, heating, and UV.
No matter your tortoise’s age, whether that be a baby or adult, you will need the three main things light, heat, and UV while there indoors and can’t get them naturally.
Suppose you live in a colder climate that is dramatically different from the tortoise’s origins. Keeping them outside may require you to offer them heating on cold days, even more so if your garden gets very little sunlight.
If you live in a cold area or have a cold garden with little light, I have seen one method to create a mini greenhouse. Cover the construction in bubble wrap to insulate it even, and this should offer your tortoise a nice warm place to keep warm.
Wherever you keep your tortoise there enclosure should be kept between 15 to 20 degrees celsius so your tortoise can take cover from the warm end that should be held at 32 to 38 degrees.
You should try to replicate this as best as possible; some inexpensive heat strips should allow you to keep an eye on the temperatures. Some species will want slightly different temperatures, and you should always check that these are correct for your tortoise species.
Having the different areas at different temperatures will allow your tortoise to move around and regulate their body temperature as they would in the wild.
So summing it all up, no tortoises will not survive without a heat lamp; they need heat to stay healthy. However, there is a lot more to keeping tortoise than just heat; you need to offer UV to have a complete setup.
In most cases, you will be offering tortoises heat without actually having a heat lamp in the form of UV bulbs that provide some form of heat. However, to provide them with the best setup, you want a heat lamp as well as a UV bulb.