Ask a Vet

Do Pet Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

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Turtles spend a lot of their time basking in the sun or hiding under logs in the wild and in captivity.

However, if you’re interested in keeping a pet turtle, you might be wondering: Do turtles need a heat lamp?

Turtle swimming in a tank

In this article, I will cover some key information on a turtle’s temperature, including whether turtles need a heat lamp.

Keep reading to find out more.

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Yes, turtles require an external heat source, which often comes in the form of heat lamps.

Turtles are cold-blooded creatures and cannot regulate their body temperature themselves. Therefore, they need some form of the external heating source to survive.

The main purpose of a heat lamp is to provide warmth to the turtle, making them essential for your turtle’s health.

Heat lamps are used to warm up the environment inside the tank. This helps the turtles to stay comfortable during the winter months.

Why Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

The primary reason why turtles need a heat lamp is that they’re cold-blooded reptiles. As a result, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures and must rely on external sources to keep them warm.

Most reptiles live in environments with low ambient temperatures, and the majority of turtles live in tropical regions with tropical climates. Therefore, in captivity, they need some sort of heat source to keep them warm.

However, in captivity, it’s hard to replicate these conditions without the addition of a heat lamp. As a result, heat lamps help you to meet the specific needs of your species of turtle so that they can live a happy, healthy life.

Generally speaking, the air temperature should be kept somewhere between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

That being said, it’s important for the turtles’ health that they don’t get too hot.

Bearing this in mind, it’s essential that you get a reliable thermometer for your turtle’s tank to ensure that you can closely monitor the temperature of the tank.

How Hot Should Your Turtle’s Tank Be?

This largely depends on the species of turtle that you have! For example, tortoises and terrapins can tolerate higher temperatures than freshwater turtles.

On average, a turtle needs their environment temperature to fall in the range of 85 to 95 degrees F to maintain its body temperature.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. Some turtles are able to withstand much lower temperatures. For example, many saltwater turtles can survive temperatures as low as 50 degrees F.

The water in your pet turtle’s tank should generally fall between 75 and 85 degrees F, and you can get water heaters to achieve this.

At night, it is recommended that you allow the temperature in your turtle’s tank to drop about 5 to 10 degrees.

How To Use A Heat Lamp

Turtle in an aquarium

To use a heat lamp, place it near the bottom of the tank, preferably above a rock for your turtle to comfortably bask.

You will need to make sure that the lamp doesn’t directly touch any water surface. There are many different brands of heat lamps available today. Some of these include:

  • Aquaclear® Heat Lamps
  • ReptiLux™ Heat Lamps
  • Zoo Med® Heat Lamps

When choosing a heat lamp, it is important to choose one that has an adjustable thermostat. This allows you to control the temperature of your turtle’s tank with ease.

Once you have chosen your heat lamp, you need to ensure that it’s directed toward the basking area at a perfect distance. This will prevent your turtle from becoming too hot.

The lamp needs to be positioned so that the basking area temperature is a minimum of 12 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the tank’s water temperature.

The hottest part of your turtle’s basking area can be at the higher end of the temperature range.

For instance, if the hottest part of your turtle’s basking area is 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, then the water can be 12 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit lower.

This way, your turtle will be able to easily regulate its temperature by moving to different parts of its tank.

The Benefits Of Using A Heat Lamp

Heat lamps provide several benefits to your turtle. These benefits include but are not limited to:

Keep Your Turtle Active

When your turtle becomes too cold, their activity reduces significantly and they can even go into a state of brumation.

Having a heat lamp in their tank can help your turtle to stay active during the day, which means that they won’t become lethargic or sluggish.

Helps Combat Seasonal Changes

In their natural habitats in the wild, turtles are at the mercy of the changing seasons around them. However, luckily for your pet turtle, this isn’t the case in captivity!

Controlling their environment using a heat lamp can help your turtle to cope with seasonal changes.

The heat lamp provides warmth when the weather gets cold, helping to prevent your turtle from brumating unnecessarily for months at a time.

Reduces Stress Levels

Turtles naturally experience stress levels throughout the year as the weather changes. Unfortunately, some of these stresses may cause your turtle to develop health problems.

A heat lamp helps to reduce stress levels in your turtle because it keeps them warm all year round.

How Long Can Turtles Live Without A Heat Lamp?

There’s no getting away from the fact that a heat lamp is essential for keeping your turtle’s tank at an ample temperature.

A pet turtle, generally speaking, shouldn’t go for longer than a week without a heat lamp.

However, this can vary hugely depending on the season, so it’s not worth the risk.

It’s also important to mention that turtles don’t deal well with sudden environmental changes. Therefore, it’s best to replace their heat lamp as soon as possible if it breaks.

A heat lamp or an external heat source is essential to your turtle’s health. Without one, the absence of a heat lamp would welcome a wealth of health issues for your turtle.

What Kind Of Light Does A Turtle Require In Captivity?

Couple turtles swimming in an aquarium

Your pet turtle requires UV light to closely mimic the quality of light it would get from the sunlight that it would receive in the wild.

You will need to purchase a UV lamp that is specifically designed for reptiles. This light will need to provide your pet turtle with UVA and UVB rays.

These rays are essential for keeping your turtle as healthy as possible and affect everything from their metabolism to their body temperature.

If your turtle doesn’t get enough light from their heat lamp they’ll find themselves unable to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D and they might develop a vitamin D deficiency.

Without adequate vitamin D, your turtle will have difficulty absorbing calcium. As a result, they’ll struggle to build strong bones and teeth.

UVA and UVB rays also help to support your turtle’s immune system. Without them, your turtle will quickly become very sick.

For instance, UVB light is crucial to allow your turtle to digest their food properly.

Without the addition of UVB light in their tank, your turtle will likely become malnourished and become very unwell. This could even be fatal if you’re not careful.

What Happens If You Forget To Turn Your Heat Lamp On?

If you forget to turn your heat lamp on for a day or two your turtle will be absolutely fine.

However, if your heat lamp is broken, you will need to make sure that you find a suitable alternative to replace their heat lamp as soon as possible.

As I’ve already discussed, without a heat lamp, your turtle won’t be able to regulate its temperature and its health will begin to deteriorate.

Do Turtles Need A Heat Lamp On At Night?

No, generally speaking, you should switch your turtle’s heat lamp off at night.

This comes down to the fact that it is a good idea to promote a natural sleep cycle whilst your turtle is in captivity, providing light during the day and dark during the night.

That being said, there are obviously exceptions to this.

For instance, if you live in a particularly cold climate, you might require another method of keeping your turtle’s tank at the appropriate temperature throughout the night.

This could include a heater instead of their heat lamp, as it will provide them with the necessary darkness to be able to rest and sleep properly.

Turtles are diurnal creatures that are awake and the most active during the day. That being said, it’s not uncommon for them to be active occasionally throughout the night, too.

How Long Should You Keep The Heat Lamp On The Turtle?

The primary purpose of investing in a heat lamp is to mimic the natural day and night cycle that is crucial for a turtle’s wellbeing.

As a result, you can keep the lights on for around 10 to 12 hours. Another option that many people choose is to mimic the sunrise and sunset’s time if you have the means to do so.

This often helps to ensure that your turtle has a good night’s sleep.

Which Turtle Needs A Heat Lamp?

All turtles require an external heat source to remain healthy. Ones that require a heat lamp include but are not limited to:

  • Red-Eared Sliders
  • Yellow-Bellied Sliders


Turtles require a heat source to keep them healthy as they aren’t able to regulate their temperature by themselves.

Hopefully, after reading this article you have a better understanding of turtle heat lamps and why they’re important for your turtle’s health and wellbeing.

Good luck taking care of your pet turtle!



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About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.