In the wild turtles bask to thermoregulate, which is a fancy way to say that they regulate their body temperature by using outside sources (the sun). Turtles in the wild are able to get both UVA and UVB light from the sun, both of which are essential for their health.
In captivity, the responsibility lies on the owner to provide a setup that offers both UVA and UVB light. In today’s article, I will explain whether or not your turtle really needs a heat lamp.
Why Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp?
Heat lamps help provide your turtle with UVA light which is essential to their health. UVA light helps regulate your turtle’s natural behaviors such as feeding, mating, and sleeping.
Do all turtles need a heat lamp?
Turtles kept in an indoor enclosure do need a heat lamp. Turtle’s kept in outdoor enclosures with access to the sun do not need heat lamps.
The only way your turtle can survive without a heat lamp is if they have direct access to sunlight.
Now you might be wondering how your turtle can survive without a heat lamp.
How can a turtle live without a heat lamp?
There are two main ways that your turtle can live without a heat lamp:
- You can keep your turtle in an outdoor enclosure, or in a bucket inside a screened in porch if you live in a warm environment
- You can keep the room that your turtle is kept in very warm (but this will likely cost you a lot on your energy bill). Your turtle will also need some sort of light for a basking spot.
The key to keeping your turtle healthy without a heat lamp is to ensure that their environment is warm enough. Most aquatic turtles require an air temperature of around 85 degrees fahrenheight, while the water temperature needs to be around 75 degrees fahrenheight.
You can learn more in my article on What Temperature Should a Turtle Tank Be?
Even if you keep your turtle warm enough, they will eventually need access to a light that emits UVA rays, or the sun.
Why are heat lamps good for turtles?
Heat lamps are good for turtles because they help your turtle regulate its body temperature. Turtles are cold-blooded animals, which means that they do not produce their own body heat. Instead, they rely on external sources to provide them with warmth.
Buried in mud or water, turtles absorb the warmth of sunlight through their shells during the day and then keep warm by staying still under the surface at night. However, because they are captive animals, they do not have the opportunity to do this in an aquarium. For this reason, keeping turtles in an aquarium requires providing them with external sources of warmth.
Heat lamps help provide turtles with the heat they need, especially when they are in early stages of life. Heat lamps also help turtles digest their food, and can help them sleep.
How do I know if my turtle is too cold?
For starters, you should always keep a thermometer inside your tank. I suggest having one above the water to monitor air temperature, and one below to monitor water temperature. If you notice any of these temperatures dropping below 70 degrees fahrenheight, your turtle is probably in trouble.
Secondly, you should keep your eye out for strange behavior.
A turtle that is too cold will exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Swimming a lot less
- Overall sluggishness
- Change in appetite
- Weird sounds or trouble breathing
- Discharge around their face
What happens if my turtle gets too cold?
If your turtle’s environment is too cold, it can lead to a long list of problems. If turtles get too cold, they will become limp and unable to move or swim well. Their muscles will also likely become stiff and rigid.
They might have difficulty breathing properly, and this can result in low levels of oxygen in the blood. Your turtle might also develop a respiratory illness, which can cause discharge and white film over your turtle’s eyes.
In extreme cases, your turtle might develop pneumonia. They could also develop metabolic bone disease or shell rot.
For this reason, I recommend that everyone get a heat lamp for your turtle. However, if it is emergency and you can’t get a heat lamp right away, there are some steps you can take.
You can temporarily move your turtle’s tank into the sun, or you can frequently put warm water into the tank.
How long can turtles live without a heat lamp?
While it is dependent on many factors, your turtle will likely develop a fatal diseases after a couple months of living without a heat lamp. Of course, I am only referring to turtles that are kept in indoor enclosures without access to the sun.