UV Light in the Terrarium: Why It is So Important

The importance of high-quality lighting technology and UV light in the terrarium is often underestimated. But unsuitable lighting often leads to serious problems and serious illnesses in terrarium animals. Find out here why suitable lighting is so important and how you can implement adequate lighting.

The Purchase

Let’s take a bearded dragon as an example of the purchase of terrarium animals. The price for a young animal is often less than $40. A terrarium is available for around $120. For the furnishing as well as the decoration can be expected with about another $90. When it comes to lighting and measuring technology for the required climatic conditions, however, you will notice that the price differences are enormous. Simple heat spots start at around four euros and adhesive thermometers are available from three euros. Should be enough, actually …! Or…?

Origin of the Bearded Dragon

The Australian outback is home to the “dragon lizards” and it is known to be hot there. So hot that even desert animals seek shade during the day. Temperatures between 40 ° C and 50 ° C are not uncommon there. The solar radiation is so intense there that even natives put on skin protection made of clay. Bearded dragons adapted to this climate many years ago.

Disease-promoting Climate

In the terrarium, however, the originally species-appropriate climate of the animals is often neglected. 35 ° C instead of 45 ° C should be enough, after all, that saves a few euros on the electricity bill. It is also bright, after all, there are two spots of 60 watts each installed. So why shouldn’t that be enough for the desert lizard to do well – and in the long run? The answer: Because it is not enough! The metabolism and the production of vitamins in the body are tied to the ambient temperature and the amount of UV-B rays present. 10 ° C less than necessary in the terrarium is enough to cause colds. The digestion of protein-rich food also comes to a standstill when it is “cold”, so that food remains in the digestive tract for too long and cannot be fully utilized. The maintenance of the bony skeleton depends on sunlight. The vital vitamin D3 is only formed when UV light reaches the cells in the terrarium through the skin. This is responsible for the fact that calcium can be stored as a building block in the bone tissue. If this process is disturbed by inferior or too old illuminants, bone softening occurs, which can cause irreparable damage and even death. This “disease” caused by a lack of UV-B is also called rickets. It can be recognized by very soft bones (armor), broken bones, “corners” in the limbs, or very little activity of the animals in connection with signs of weakness or unwillingness to eat. Sometimes you don’t notice anything in advance, until at some point the jawbone breaks while eating in the joint or falling from a raised decorative stone is enough for the spine to break.

To Remedy the Situation

How do you prevent this excruciating suffering? By installing the right UV light in the terrarium for the respective animal. Those who want to care for diurnal and light-hungry reptiles will not be able to avoid orientating themselves to price ranges of at least 50 €. The reason lies in the lighting technology, which is necessary to generate the correct wavelengths. Only a very special area of ​​light is responsible and determines health and illness.

High Tension

Since these lamp systems emit intense heat, they must be made of special material and have an “igniter” that creates a very high electrical voltage. Light sources, which are very popular with professionals, have an external ballast that is connected between the socket and the mains plug. It ensures stable voltage and prevents the lamp from overheating. The energy efficiency of these UV-B lamp types is very good. A 70 watt UV-B lamp with ballast generates light energy that is comparable to that of a standard UV-B lamp of around 100 watts. The acquisition costs are only marginally higher.

The brightness is also higher for lamps with an external power supply. And since our example animals, the bearded dragons, come from areas with around 100,000 lux (a measure of brightness) and conventional terrarium spots in connection with additional fluorescent tubes create perhaps 30,000 lux, one recognizes the importance of light-efficient UV-B emitters to the natural territory only to make it almost suitable.

There are also good UV-B spots without a ballast, but these are mechanically a bit more susceptible, as they have internal “detonators” that are susceptible to vibrations or voltage fluctuations in the house power line. The usability of the solo spots is also limited because the UV-B component decreases faster than with the combination of spot and separate electronic ballast (electronic ballast).

UV Light in the Terrarium Has Many Advantages

A UV-B spot should be changed at least once a year if it is of good quality (= high price). Another decisive advantage of the spot / EVG variant is that the light source is significantly smaller and therefore takes up less space in the terrarium. This is particularly useful if the overall height is not great. It should be noted that the minimum distance between the lower edge of the spot and the animal’s place in the sun under the lamp should be around 25-35cm or more. In the case of lamps with internal electronic ballast, the lamp body is significantly longer and is therefore excluded as an example for rather flat terrariums of the size (LxWxH) 100x40x40.

Higher Prices Pay Off

The slightly higher price for UV light in the terrarium is definitely worth it. The added value of UV-B performance is even measurable. Up to 80% difference can be achieved in comparisons. At the latest when you know how expensive a visit to the vet can be, you will know that the extra price is useful! For the sake of your animal …!

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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