Lizard Terrarium Equipment and Accessories

To create a suitable living space for lizards you must use equipment such as heaters, filters, lamps, and the ventilation equipment.

Lizard Terrarium Equipment


Reflector Lamps
Many lizards associate the warmth that is so necessary for them with light; they do not respond to warmth by itself. Therefore they need a heat source that gives light at the same time. For these animals you can install incandescent lamps. They are sold in stores as reflector spotlights. The wattage and the potential surface temperature you need depend on the requirements of the particular type of lizard. Spotlights are available in wattages of 25 to 150 and with a beam angle of 30 to 80 degrees, so the right spotlight is available for every size terrarium and for every possible construction. Wherever there is splashing water to contend with, you must use a safety-glass reflector lamp. The thin-walled glass reflector lamps will not survive water splashes.

Infrared Lamps
For the less light-dependent lizards, such as geckos, infrared lamps (60 to 250 watts) can be installed for heat sources. They don't burn out as fast as spotlights and are therefore cheaper in the long run. Installing the heat supply: Spotlights and heat lamps must be installed in such a way that the lizards can't reach the heat supply and get burned. Sunny islands or spots can be created with the heat source, without illuminating the whole terrarium.

Bottom Heating
If the terrarium is placed in an unheated room or if at night, after the heat is turned down, the necessary minimum temperature is not maintained, you must install a source of bottom heat (heating cable or heating mat, available in an electrical-supply, hardware, or appliance store.)

Gentle floor heating is also recommended if the necessary degree of humidity can't be maintained by frequent spraying of the plants. You can then spray the floor, and evaporation of the dampness will produce the proper humidity.

Caution: Observe to the letter the instructions for installing the heat source. Cover the heating cable with wire mesh made of stainless steel (wire gauge 0.2 to 0.4 inches [5 to 10mm]). This will avoid movement of or injury to the cable if the lizards dig in the ground. Only heating cables with low surface temperatures should be used. The roots of the terrarium plants are extremely sensitive to stored heat. To be on the safe side, you can wall off or insulate the plants with Styrofoam.

Heating in a Water Terrarium
Heating the terrarium floor from outside is simple, but so much energy is lost that it is very inefficient. However, you can install a heatable filter or an aquarium heater. The heater must be mounted under the water surface in a perforated clay pipe or a hollow tile. The lizards can't move the equipment and thus can't lift it out of the water or destroy it entirely.


The diurnally active creatures of tropical climates will only be comfortable where there is sufficient bright light: Light as brightness has both a stimulating and a regulating effect on the nervous system. But light is not only brightness. It is composed of different colors, which are known as the range of the spectrum and which are measured in nanometers (nm). The visible spectrum lies between 380 and 780 nanometers; for plant growth a red portion of 650 to 700 nanometers is necessary, and lizards require radiation in the ultraviolet range (280 to 315 nanometers) for their metabolism of calcium. Since plants and animals have different light requirements, often the lighting of a terrarium can only be a compromise.

Fluorescent lamps are suitable as standard lighting for terrariums up to 28 inches (70 cm) in height. They are inexpensive to install and economical in use of power. Recommended are lamps that are high in the red end of the spectrum (for example Philips TL 83, OSRAM L 36, Vitalight, or Chroma 90 series). Such lamps produce satisfactory plant growth, and the color reflection of both plants and animals is satisfactory. Fluorescent lamps give off scarcely any heat. They should be changed after 6,000 hours. From this point on their light intensity decreases and the plants in the terrarium can no longer grow properly.

Spotlights (reflector lamps) are most appropriate as warming-light sources but not for lighting the whole terrarium. The high heat output is damaging to lizards and plants. The ideal is a combination of fluorescent lights and spotlights. Using the spotlight you can create “sunny isles,” distinctly warmer zones that are sufficiently far away from the plants.

Mercury vapor and halogen vapor lamps are only recommended for very large terrariums (at least 1.4 cubic yards [1 m^3] in area). The light and heat output is so great that for the protection of plants and animals a space of at least 40 inches (1 m) must be allowed between the light and the contents of the terrarium. Furthermore, the colors will reflect unnaturally.

Ultraviolet Light
Ultraviolet (UV) lights stimulate biological responses. Essential for lizards are UV-B rays (280 to 315 nanometers), which control calcium metabolism, and UV-A rays (315 to 400 nanometers), which are very important for formation of pigment and vitamin D synthesis in the skin.

The combination of two fluorescent tubes with U V lamps — Philips TL 09 and TL 12 (20 and 40 watts) — has been proven good for maintenance and especially for the rearing of young lizards. The delivered strength of the combined rays is comparatively small. The fluorescent lamps can therefore be installed in the roof of a terrarium at least 20 inches (50 cm) high without danger of burning the lizards.

The OSRAM L/79 fluorescent light bulbs (20 to 100 watts) are especially effective in the UV-A band. The OSRAM Ultra-Vitalux (300 watts) is only appropriate for very large terrariums with a volume of at least 7 cubic yards (2 m^3), where it is possible to maintain the necessary distance between light source and lizards.

Important: A period for getting used to UV radiation is absolutely necessary. Begin with an exposure of one minute only and lengthen the time daily by very small amounts, until after two months a time span of one hour has been reached.

Regulation of Temperature and Light

Most lizards must be kept cooler at night than during the day. For this reason you should install a thermostat and a timer in the terrarium. Choose a safe place for it, one where the animals can't touch it, thus changing the setting or damaging the instrument. The thermostat should not be placed in the direct path of beams from a warming lamp. It's advisable to couple the terrarium lighting mechanism to the timer as well. If the terrarium is located in a completely dark room, you should install a dimmer switch, otherwise, the sudden darkness or sudden light will frighten the lizards. With this type of setup, an adept lizard-keeper can control the light so that the “daytime activities” can be observed in the evening.

Temperature control
Thermostats wear out with use and fail. Therefore the temperature in the terrarium must be monitored constantly. A simple indoor thermometer is satisfactory for this purpose and it can be installed inconspicuously. A minimum-maximum thermometer is recommended for temperature monitoring. This is especially important when the temperature of the terrarium can be influenced from outside, for example by sun streaming in.

Small and especially poorly ventilated terrariums can become overheated in such a short time that the animals inside die of heat prostration. If the danger of overheating cannot be ruled out absolutely, you must provide shade and a place for swimming.

Humidity Control

The degree of relative humidity is measured by a hygrometer. Humidity is particularly important for lizards from regions of climatic extremes. This is as true for lizards from the tropical mountain forests, which nightly cooling makes damp and misty, as it is for lizards from the desert areas, which exhibit considerable humidity as a result of the nightly cooling — for short periods of time as much as 100 percent — and thus substantially more than can be achieved in most dry terrariums. The necessary humidity must be achieved through watering and spraying the plants or through moistening a gently heated ground surface.

Maintaining Water Purity

For mechanical filtering of large volumes of water (in water terrariums or bathing pools with brooks as inlets and outlets) you should install a motorized filter, which can be obtained in a pet store. The filtering materials usually supplied along with it are not necessary. Only the floss or the layers of various porous foam materials must be placed in the filter canister. As soon as the filtering is finished, clean these materials by rinsing thoroughly in hot water. Use of a filter does not make changing the water unnecessary, however. Even clear water can be heavily polluted by the feces of the lizards.

Avoiding Electrical Accidents

You must use caution when dealing with electrical equipment and wiring, which are especially dangerous when used in connection with water. The following precautions should be carefully observed at all times:

  • The electrical equipment described in this book must carry the UL symbol.
  • All lamps used must be isolated from water or spray.
  • Equipment that will be operated in the water portion of a terrarium must carry the notice that it is suitable for underwater use.
  • Pull the main plug before you do any work in a water terrarium or remove any equipment. This will not only ensure your own safety but will also avoid injury to the heater.
  • It your electric current does not already pass through a central fuse box or circuit-breaker, it is advisable to install a suitable fuse in each switch box. The fuse will interrupt the flow of current as soon as there is any failure in the equipment or wiring. You can buy variable fuses or circuit-breakers or other power-failure safety controls in an electrical-supply or hardware store. A central fuse box or circuit-breaker system can only be installed by a licensed electrician!
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