Full Spectrum Fluorescent Lights
This section is primarily for diurnal (daylight living) reptiles. Reptiles that are active at night have developed different ways of processing vitamin D. However, you cannot really go wrong if you maintain a full spectrum lighting system for any reptile you own. I have a house gecko that has a full spectrum light. I rarely see it during the day – but every so often it is out and I would believe the light is beneficial.
No lamp is truly "full spectrum", but some get closer to this ideal than others. The pet trade today has responded to the need of adequate care and has responded by developing a wide range of fluorescent tubes that are specifically designed for use with reptiles. Some of course are better than others in both intensity and quality of light emitted. There are three main properties that are needed for healthy reptiles and they are as follows:
UVB output – necessary to vitamin D3 synthesis and the calcium metabolism;
Color temperature - nothing to do with heat, but rather the color from 'warm' red to 'cold' blue expressed in degrees Kelvin. Daylight at noon is typically estimated at 5,500 K. At the tropics, or in a desert, the color temperature can reach 6,500 K.
UVA output - many reptiles are believed to be able to see into the UVA range (320-400 nm), and this is likely to have a profound effect upon behavior, and specifically, how they see.
Color Rendering Index: Color rendering is the degree to which a light source shows the true colors of the objects it illuminates. This is measured on a color rendering index, rated from 0-100. A normal fluorescent lamp, for example, rates 54 on the CRI scale. High quality fluorescent lamps designed for reptile use will rate 80-90 on the same scale. Color rendering is very important as many reptiles rely upon color signals for reproductive and feeding purposes.
The combination of sufficient UVA content and a 'natural' >5,500°K color temperature is most probably the reason why so many keepers report a marked improvement in activity patterns and feeding when high quality full spectrum lighting systems are utilized in enclosures. In addition to the quality of the lamp, its proximity to the animal, its output intensity and duration of use are also critical.
The illumination intensity of tubes is primarily dependent upon their size. A 24" tube producers less than half the light output of a 48" tube. Do not expect to be able to provide adequate levels of lighting in a large cage using a single small tube. Also, do not fall into the belief that a “high-quality” pet store lighting fixture is necessary to properly operate a full spectrum tube, that florescent fixture that works with shop florescent lights works equally as well for your pet
It is important to understand that there should really be as little blocking the light from the bulb. UVB is greatly affected by aquarium glass, light covers, even screening, all of these cut down on the amount of quality light getting to your pet. The amount of UVB received is also affected by distance – and it does not take a lot of distance to diminish the quality of the UVB. It is generally recommended that full spectrum lights be no further than 18" away from cage bottom – or area that your pet resides. Examples – our bearded dragon is a cage floor dweller – so the measurement is to the cage bottom, the same holds true for turtle etc. We had a veiled chameleon that usually was somewhere at mid-cage range so we measured to mid-cage to judge the distance. Also, UVB lights do not really give off heat – so there is no real danger of an animal burning itself. It may be necessary to install lights in the cage if the cage is large and tall. If this is the case, you should place a screen cover to keep your pets from damaging the tube.
Full spectrum lights have a life that is probably less than the actual life of the tube itself. You should change the tube at least once each year. Doing this every spring is good practice and you never need to “remember” when the tube needs to be replaced.
Full spectrum UVB tubes produced for reptile use are often classified according to their percentage UVB output. Tubes are available offering from 2% UVB to 8% UVB. The most popular tubes offer 3% or 5% UVB. In the vast majority of cases the 3% tubes are perfectly adequate, provided they are correctly sited, changed regularly, and a sufficient number of hours exposure permitted. For a 3-5% tube, 10-12 hours daily has proved a satisfactory level of exposure for most species. Concerns have been expressed about the safety of tubes with outputs greater than 5% - in particular, there may be a possibility of eye damage occurring with some tubes in some situations.
UV-B Heat Lamps (Self-Ballasted Mercury Vapor)
It is not often that a genuine revolutionary product comes along – but these lamps have proved a major hit with lizard keepers, and now tortoise and turtle keepers are also reporting excellent results. Superficially, they appear similar to a regular incandescent reflector lamp, but unlike a regular incandescent spot lamp, they also emit very significant levels of essential UV-B. The color of the light they emit is also much whiter, and brighter than a normal spot basking lamp. Not only that, but they also emit a very useful amount of heat. The levels of UV-B and UV-A produced by these lamps is extremely impressive. At 30 cm, it approximates that at midday in the Mediterranean. At 60 cm, it produces far more than even the best UV-B fluorescent tubes can manage at half the distance. The lifespan of these lamps is also excellent, with very useful levels of UV-B being produced even after 3,000 hours of use (by this time, tubes are virtually dead in terms of UV-B production). As the levels of UV-B and radiant heat produced are extremely high, you must install them carefully and follow the maker’s instructions to the letter. A heat resistant lamp holder is essential, for example. Two sizes are generally available, 100W and 160W in spot or flood. These are the only readily available lamps that combine appropriate radiant heat output with high quality visible spectrum and UV-A/UV-B output