Okay. So you know you need to keep your box turtle nice and warm. And to do that you need some kind of heat source. An overhead source is best, because that mimics the sun. So that means some kind of heat bulb.
But there’s so many different kinds of reptile heat bulbs. Is one better than the others?
For the most part, the bulb you choose will depend on your habitat setup and your needs.
Now, most of these bulbs give off both heat and light. So one bulb can work to both heat your pet and allow you to see him.
But with the exception of mercury vapor bulbs, they only give off visible light, not ultraviolet (UV). So you’ll need a separate bulb to provide the UV that your pet also needs (unless he gets time outside).
Incandescent Light/Heat Bulbs
This is basically your standard bulb. It’s the same kind you use in your own lamps … or more likely used to use, before the switch to fluorescents.
In fact, you can easily use a regular household incandescent bulb to heat your boxie’s home. You’ll need to pick a wattage based on the size of the habitat and how far above the top you’ll be putting it (never hang bulbs inside the habitat).
You can’t use white light at night, because that will disturb your pet’s day/night cycle. So if your home gets too cold at night (below about 60° F/15.5° C), you’ll need a different heat source overnight.
Reptile supply companies also make a variety of incandescent bulbs, and you might prefer one of those. Some give off different wavelengths of light (which affects how you/your pet sees the habitat). Others focus heat onto a small area for basking.
Daylight blue bulbs: These bulbs are, as the name suggests, blue. They can make your pet’s colors look more vibrant. Beyond that, they’re not really any different from regular incandescents.
Nighttime red bulbs: These bulbs give off a soft red glow. The red light doesn’t disturb your pet’s day/night cycle, so it’s good for overnight use. Some red bulbs are still pretty bright, so if the habitat is in your bedroom, it could still disturb you.
Basking lamps: These are specially shaped and coated incandescent bulbs that focus light and heat onto a small area. That way you can get a basking spot that’s several degrees warmer than the rest of the habitat. (Some basking lamps are mercury-vapor, which is a different kind of bulb). You can even get red basking bulbs for nighttime use (this is not really necessary for a box turtle).
One note: You can often find household incandescent bulbs in red or blue, too. They’re sold for decorative/novelty use, but can also be used for your pet. The only possible problem is that they’re often low wattage bulbs, so they may not give off enough heat.
These bulbs are basically modified incandescents, often with a shape that’s similar to the incandescent basking bulbs. The halogens usually give off more heat, so you can use a lower wattage bulb and still get the same amount of heat.
The light they give off is also brighter and whiter than regular incandescents.
They get their name from the fact that they contain halogen gas. This gas helps them last longer than regular incandescent bulbs.
But … there’s always a but, isn’t there? … although the halogen helps the bulb last longer in theory, in real life people tend to find they have a shorter life span than incandescents. That’s because they are especially fragile and vulnerable to bumps and jostles. Especially when turned on.
Learn more about halogen bulbs.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
These are basking bulbs that produce both heat and UV rays (and visible light). So they can be a great multi-purpose bulb.
But (again with the buts!) since they focus heat on a small area, they’re unlikely to create a good heat gradient in a large habitat.
On the other hand, they get very hot. One could overheat a small habitat.
Their high heat production also means you have to be very careful when using them. Use only lamp fixtures with ceramic sockets and only use them when you’re home. These steps help reduce the fire risk.
Learn more about mercury vapor lamps.
Ceramic Heat Emitters (CHEs)
A ceramic heat emitter is one bulb that does not give off light.
These bulbs also get very hot but the heat doesn’t travel too far from the bulb. So, similar to mercury vapor bulbs, one probably can’t heat a large habitat.
But because of the high heat, it could overheat a small one. Unlike mercury vapor bulbs though, you can use CHEs with a dimmer or rheostat. So if you are having habitat overheating problems, you can turn down the power.
Also, make sure you use these only in ceramic sockets to reduce the risk of fire.
Yes, choosing a heat bulb for your pet can be confusing. But thinking about how/when/where you intend to use them, and understanding what each bulb actually does, can help make it just a little easier.