Guide How to Arrange the Lighting in Your Tortoise Table or Vivarium

Guide How to Arrange the Lighting in Your Tortoise Table or Vivarium

When it comes to setting up your tortoise’s table, or vivarium, the lighting is where most people make a mistake. Placing your tortoise water bowl or hide is much less critical to get right than the lighting.

Getting your lighting setup wrong can lead to your tortoise being lethargic and leading to them becoming ill. Many issues tortoises have, like not eating in most cases, will be down to incorrect lighting; it is vital to get it right.

What lights do you need for a tortoise table?

Before we get into positioning our tortoise lighting, we first must discover what type of lighting a tortoise needs in its enclosure. Getting this step wrong is where most beginners into keeping tortoises make their first mistake. Some just add a standard bulb; however, a standard light bulb in the enclosure just will not cut it.

Tortoise lighting needs to cover three main components. The first being light so they can see to move about in their enclosure. Second, we have heat for the tortoises to metabolize; without heat, your tortoise will become sluggish and potentially death. Thirdly we have a light source that offers UVA and UVB, which helps your tortoise with synthesis and take on minerals like vitamin D3.

All components are vital to getting the lighting set up correctly, but the UVA and UVB are what some neglect. Beliving a few days a month in the sun will be adequate.

Sadly they are wrong, and inefficiency in UVA and UVB can lead to metabolic bone disease. Were there shell becomes brittle and soft, causing your tortoise not to move due to pain. Eventually, the likely outcome would be fatal to your tortoise and the reason why UVA and UVB are so important.

Now that might seem a little scary and complicated. Let me assure you the lighting system is simple. It is just essential to understand why each component in your tortoise lighting system is needed.

There are many different ways to arrange your lighting and offer your tortoise the three main components. Below I will provide you with the best and easiest ways to give your tortoise all it needs in lighting.

Mercury Vapour Bulbs

The mercury vapor bulb has only been available in recent years, and they are tortoises owner’s dream. They offer you all the lighting needs of your tortoise packed into one bulb, making set up a breeze. The heat, light, and UVB are all packed into a single bulb without the need for other items.

When they first hit the market, reptile owners, tortoise owners were skeptical about their effectiveness in the mercury vapor bulbs. However, we soon discovered that they are perfectly workable and now an industry standard and recommended.

There is one point to keep in mind is light. Make sure your mercury vapor bulb is giving your tortoise table or vivarium with lots of light. With a larger enclosure due to it being a single bulb, the section can be left dark. If this is the case, you will need to add a bulb to give the required light.

Where do you put a mercury vapor bulb in a vivarium?

I recommended that you place the mercury vapor bulb at the opposite end of the tortoise hide. You are allowing your tortoise to quickly escape the heat when they don’t want to bask.

Position the bulb around 14 to 18 inches above your tortoise; this is optimum for the mercury vapor bulbs to work and give your tortoise the most benefit. You also need to position your bulb at a vertical angle to protect the high power connections inside.

In some cases, tortoises seem adamant not to bask in certain areas of their tortoise table or vivarium. If you ever find this, you will need to move your mercury vapor bulb to a place they frequent more often.

Heat Lamp, UV Light, and Light Bulb

If, for any reason, the mercury vapor bulb doesn’t seem right to you, and many tortoise owners prefer the individual approach. Then you will want three different lights, heat, UV, and light bulb, to get the correct setup.

Many people still prefer this route because they can better control their tortoise needs’ three main components. For instance, If your tortoise table or vivarium gets too hot, you can switch the heat lamp off.

Where do you put UV light in a vivarium?

Each UV light will come with individual instructions on the height the light will need to be hung. Around 14 to 18 inches is a good starting point if you have no instructions. The best area for the bulb is the opposite end of the tortoise hide.

Your tortoise will ably take cover from the light when they want a break. Keep the area that you dedicate a basking area free from other obstacles.

What type of UV Bulb Should I Use?

Tortoise needs a bulb that offers UVA and UVB; you don’t want a bulb that also offers UVC as this can harm your tortoise. Any standard reptile bulb will show the UV the bulb offer, but you must avoid any with UVC.

Where do you put heat light in a vivarium?

I would always situate my lighting at the opposite end to the tortoise hide. The tortoise can then slowly move in and out of the heat when needed. Situating the heat lamp next to the UV bulb is a perfect setup to complete the basking area. Keeping the UV and heat lamp in one section is seen as a good pracice.

For both the UV and heat bulbs, you can get covers to direct all the UV and heat directly into the enclosure. If you have an open enclosure and struggle to keep it warm, these covers can help direct the heat. They also help to stop the light lighting up the whole room and getting in your eyes.

What Type of Heat Bulb Should I Use?

Any type of reptile heat bulb will work perfectly well for a tortoise table or vivarium. However, you must be careful of unscrupulous traders who offer a standard red bulb as a heat bulb. These will not do the job and will not keep your tortoise warm and cause harm.

How long can a tortoise go without a heat lamp?

How long a tortoise can live without a source of heat will depend upon the age of your tortoise. A juvenile will only survive around one month without a heating lamp in a tortoise table or vivarium.

However, this is a hard question to answer because a tortoise will be getting heat from its UV lamp.

Do tortoises need a heat lamp at night?

No, you will not need to leave your heat lamp on overnight in most cases. However, if your tortoise table or vivarium is in a cold room that the temperature drops, you may need to have it on a little to bring the heat to around 15-18°C (60-65°F).

Is it safe to leave a heat lamp on all day?

Yes, it is perfectly safe to leave your heat lamp on all day. It is recommended that you buy any electrical item from a reputable supplier to have all the safety checks complete.

Can a heat lamp catch fire?

It is very rare to hear about heat lamps catching fire in tortoise tables or vivarium. Carry correct protocols like keeping your heat lamp away from the substrate, and you should be fine.

I say it is rare. I have been in this game for 20 years and never heard of a tortoise table or vivarium catching fire. However, we should always follow the safety tips that the bulbs come with and avoid getting the heat lamp too close to your substrate.

How Many Hours of Lighting do Tortoises Need?

The general censures are that a tortoise needs around 10 hours a day of three different lighting UV, Heat, and Light bulbs. If you don’t offer your tortoise access to lighting, they will become sluggish and eventually ill.

Heat lamps and UV lamps commonly break, and I expect to buy a new one every 10/12 months. It is to be expected when you have to leave them on for so long each day.

Do Tortoises Require Heat and UV Lamps For Their Whole Lives?

Yes, if your tortoise can’t access UV and heat naturally, then you will need to supply them with it their whole lives artificially. If they can’t get UV and heat naturally and don’t offer it to them, they will soon become sick, and soon it would be fatal.

However, this is a hotly debated subject, and some say as your tortoise gets older, they need less access to UV and heat bulbs. The reasoning being older tortoise are much better at controlling their heat,

I agree somewhat with this statement, and an older tortoise will cope far better outside than a juvenile tortoise. Being able to take in more UV and heat than the natural environment offers everything including ventilation. However, unless you live in a place with perfect weather conditions for your breed, you will have to offer some UV and heat their whole lives.


Getting your tortoise table or vivarium lighting setup when you first get going will put you on a firm footing for caring for your tortoise. The correct lighting will eradicate many problems you may run into over the years of owning a tortoise.

The mercury vapor bulb is what many people choose to go with as it’s such an easy way to set up your table or vivarium. I would only point out that the whole table or vivarium needs light, so that extra light may be required.