guide to the best turtle basking light wattage

Indoor pet turtles need more than a small bowl with a few cups of water poured inside. They need an adequately sized tank, a basking spot, good food, clean, filtered water and the right lighting.

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There are a few things you need to get right with said lighting, such as; making sure it's positioned at a proper distance from the basking spot, making sure the light has both UVA and UVB lighting, and, what this article is concerned with, the best turtle basking light wattage.

Maybe you've looked around, but you're still unsure about this whole "wattage" thing.

Fear not, because this article is going to quickly, and easily sort you out! 

What's the Best Turtle Basking Light Wattage?

If you've been shopping around for a basking light for your turtle, or you're just interested in the subject, you've probably that most reptile lights have a wattage listed typically from 50, 75, 100 and 150 watts.

Let's get straight to the point and answer your most pressing question.

Watts, or wattage is a measure of electrical power. It's easy to visualize. The more watts = the more power. Or, the higher the wattage = the more electricity is being used. 

So, simply put, a 100 watt turtle light bulb is going to be much more powerful (and use a lot more electricity) than a 50 watt bulb. 

Which begs the question, then what's best for my turtle? 

The answer is that it really doesn't matter

Wait, how can this not matter?

Here's why:

A 50, 75 or 100 watt bulb will be fine. What's really important is that:

  • your light bulb contains both UV-A and UV-B light 
  •   your turtle's basking area (for most common species) is between 85 to 90 degrees (29 to 32 degrees Celsius)

The second of these requirements is what is really important when it comes to your basking light wattage.

Why?

Because one of your most immediate, pressing goals when setting up a proper habitat for your pet turtle is to get the temperature inside the tank or tub right. This is why you need a good thermometer.

How do you do this?

Through your lighting. 

Here's a closer look. 

The difference is in the details. Meaning, depending on your circumstances, you may opt for a 100 watt instead of a 50.

turtles need uvb light
The difference is in the details. Meaning, depending on your circumstances, you may opt for a 100 watt instead of a 50.

Do you have a smaller aquarium (around 55 gallons?) 

Do you have 1 or 2 turtles?

Do you have a smaller basking area? ​

If you said yes to any of the above questions, a 50 to 75 watt is perfect

Do you have a bigger aquarium (over 100 gallons)? 

Do you have more than 2 turtles?

Do you want a larger basking area? ​

If you said yes to any of the above questions, you should opt for a bigger, more powerful 100 watt bulb

Since a 100 watt turtle basking light would produce a bit more energy, it would also be able to produce more heat, as well as have a larger basking diameter. Thus, you would be able get a bigger basking area that is around 90 degrees a lot easier with a 100 watt basking light than a 50 watt basking light. If you've got a larger tank, say from 75 to 100 gallons, it's going to be much more difficult to get the basking temperature right with that extra space.

best turtle basking light wattage 2

​With 1 or even 2 turtles this is normally not much of a problem with a 50 watt, especially with a smaller aquarium, or if you've got a smaller basking area (that is perhaps, 2-3 lengths of your turtle).

Another practical difference is how close you will need to place your basking light. Because your goal should be to maintain a basking area with a temperature of 85-90 degrees, you will certainly need to place a 50 watt light closer than a 100 watt light.

Depending on how your tank is set-up, that may or may not be problematic. 

Generally speaking, usually this distance is between 8-15 inches, however, you will need to both check the instruction manual on any light you purchase as well (and more importantly because the actual tank conditions are differ) as manually take the temperature of your basking area once it's all set-up.

Typically, a 50 watt light will need to be placed around 5-7 inches away from the basking area.

  • A 75 watt light will need to be placed around 7-9 inches away. 
    A 75 watt light will need to be placed around 7-9 inches away. 
  • A 100 watt light will need to be placed 10 to 12 inches away. 
    A 100 watt light will need to be placed 10 to 12 inches away. 
  • A 150 watt light will need to be placed over 12 inches away.
    A 150 watt light will need to be placed over 12 inches away.

Again, these are general rules of thumb, as things such as the surface of the basking area, material, etc. will all play a role in how close or far you need to position your light.

But that's not all:

One thing that absolutely, positively, needs to be mentioned here, purely for safety concerns, is that although your light wattage doesn't really matter, you must check that your light fixture matches and can handle whatever light wattage bulb you have.

  •     You don't want to screw in a 150 watt light bulb into a fixture that is only rated for up to 50 watts. It will likely burn the fixture, and worse, can potentially start a fire.
    You don't want to screw in a 150 watt light bulb into a fixture that is only rated for up to 50 watts. It will likely burn the fixture, and worse, can potentially start a fire.

Check your light fixture's wattage rating before screwing or purchasing any reptile light.

So, the main point here is to get the temperature of the basking area right. That's the sole focus here.

This is extremely important, as: 

  • your turtles will avoid a basking area that is too hot and not get their needed UVA and UVB light
    your turtles will avoid a basking area that is too hot and not get their needed UVA and UVB light
  •    your turtles will not get enough UVA and UVB light under a basking lamp that is too cold, which could lead to very deadly respiratory infections
    your turtles will not get enough UVA and UVB light under a basking lamp that is too cold, which could lead to very deadly respiratory infections

The Temperature is More Important than the Wattage

Thus, the important part isn't the wattage, it's the UVA light, the UVB light, the temperature and the light itself (that mimics actual sunshine, this is better for species that are active during the day). The wattage is only important in terms of how big your desired basking area is, and how you intend to set up your tank.

Helmeted Turtle

The two main factors in ensuring that your basking area is 85 to 90 degrees are:

  • check
    the wattage of your light bulb 
    ​the wattage of your light bulb 
  • check
    how far away your light bulb is from the basking area 
    how far away your light bulb is from the basking area 

Only after adjusting these 2 factors should you pop out your thermometer and ensure that the temperature is between 85 to 90 degrees.

Only after adjusting these 2 factors should you pop out your thermometer and ensure that the temperature is between 85 to 90 degrees.
The two main factors in ensuring that your basking area is 85 to 90 degrees are: 

So, you need to do 2 or 3 things: 

  • 1
    Take the temperature at the bottom of your turtle's basking
    Take the temperature at the bottom of your turtle's basking
  • 2
    If it's too cold, you need to either buy a light bulb with a higher wattage or move the light closer to the basking area
    If it's too cold, you need to either buy a light bulb with a higher wattage or move the light closer to the basking area
  • 3
    If it's too hot, you need to either downsize your bulb by decreasing the watts or simply move the light further away from the basking area
    If it's too hot, you need to either downsize your bulb by decreasing the watts or simply move the light further away from the basking area

Wattage isn't Important, UV-B Light IS

​Remember, the wattage doesn't really matter, the temperature of the basking area does.

However, just having a basking area that is around 90 degrees isn't enough. Whatever turtle light bulb you choose, please make sure that it also emits UVB light. This is crucial. You don't need 1 light bulb to have everything, you can use 2, 1 for warmth and 1 for UVB (and UVA light), but you do need to ensure that UVB light is at least hitting your turtles, daily.

However, just having a basking area that is around 90 degrees isn't enough. Whatever turtle light bulb you choose, please make sure that it also emits UVB light. This is crucial. You don't need 1 light bulb to have everything, you can use 2, 1 for warmth and 1 for UVB (and UVA light), but you do need to ensure that UVB light is at least hitting your turtles, daily.
Remember, the wattage doesn't really matter, the temperature of the basking area does. 

This is why: 

  •      your turtles need UVA light (which is emitted naturally from most light bulbs) for healthy mood, feeding and breeding, as well as general light that mimics the sun for most of the day
    your turtles need UVA light (which is emitted naturally from most light bulbs) for healthy mood, feeding and breeding, as well as general light that mimics the sun for most of the day
  •       your turtles also need UVB light for the healthy production of the vitamin D3, which helps with their bone and shell growth; turtles that do not have access to UVB light often develop chronic bone diseases, which are painful and slowly kill them
    your turtles also need UVB light for the healthy production of the vitamin D3, which helps with their bone and shell growth; turtles that do not have access to UVB light often develop chronic bone diseases, which are painful and slowly kill them
  •      your turtle is relying on you to provide a safe, warm, healthy, secure living environment. Everything, from the temperature of the basking area, to being able to access UVA and UVB light, is up to you. 
    Your turtle is relying on you to provide a safe, warm, healthy, secure living environment. Everything, from the temperature of the basking area, to being able to access UVA and UVB light, is up to you. 

So, as long as whatever light bulb you opt for can achieve these 3 things, you are well on your way to ensuring that your turtles live a long, healthy and prosperous life.

If you'd like to check out a good light for your turtle, check out my article on the Best Turtle Light Bulb.

If you'd like to check out a good light for your turtle, check out this article on the Best Turtle Light Bulb.
So, as long as whatever light bulb you opt for can achieve these 3 things, you are well on your way to ensuring that your turtles live a long, healthy and prosperous life.

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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