What is UV (ultraviolet) lighting and why is it important?
Red-eared slider turtles are just like any other reptiles. They require a good amount of sunlight to survive and thrive in their environment. Wild turtles can get as much sunlight as they need outdoors, as well as domesticated ones if they live in a pond in your backyard. Indoor captive turtles, however, do not have that luxury. Hence in this article, we will discuss on all the different alternatives to best simulate sunlight for your turtles.
Red-eared sliders require three main type of light: UVA, UVB & Heating light. Turtles need the warmth from sunlight to regulate their body temperatures to help metabolism, fight germs as well as improving their mood. Sunlight is also essential to Vitamin D3 production for shell and bone growth and prevention of Metabolic Bone Diseases. Heck, my mood will be much better off if you put me in the beach under the sun!
Ultraviolet lighting (a.k.a UV Light) is made up of three different wavelengths: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVC, is a harmful carcinogen that is produced by direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure can lead to skin diseases and skin cancer. The other two UV wavelengths, UVA and UVB, are the wavelengths that is beneficial to turtles for survival.
UVA helps with the turtle’s daily activities and body functions like metabolism as well as digestions.
UVB light is key component in the production of vitamin D3, which is vital for a red-eared slider’s calcium metabolism. Vitamin D3 can be naturally produced by a turtle’s skin when exposed to sunlight. There are several other ways for red-eared sliders to obtain Vitamin D3. However, natural sunlight is always the best method.
Without adequate lighting from UVA and UVB, Red-eared sliders cannot produce the necessary vitamin D3 for digestion.
What are the different types of UV bulbs?
There are several different sources to obtain UV lights. Needless to say, natural Sun is always the best. However, if your turtle is kept indoors it may be very difficult and inconvenient constantly let them be exposed to the sun.
UVB bulbs are generally classified into the following 3 main types:
UV-B Tube fluorescents are one of the simplest and most reliable ways to give off UV-B. the Zoo Med T8 ReptiSun 10.0 UVB is very popular among hobbyists as it is one of the most reputable brands for reptilian utilities. Bear in mind that these tube fluorescents only gives off UV light and does not produce any heat. So you will need to pair it with an incandescent type bulb to give out the required heat.
Another important point to note is that if you are using over the tank hood as fixture for your fluorescent tubes, be sure to remove the glass or plastic panels from the hood as UV light cannot penetrate them. If you do that though, make sure that the water level is not too high to the point there splashes can get to the tubes and cause hazards.
UV-B Coil Fluorescents are a relatively newer form of UV bulbs that uses a small coiled fluorescent bulb. The main advantages of such coil fluorescents is that is can be screwed into any standard bulb socket. This means that you do not have to spend extra money to buy additional fixtures if you already have a socket laying somewhere at home. Another benefit to coil fluorescents is its flexibility. It can be clipped at the side of your turtle tank, or you can also use a stand like this.
- UV-B Mercury Vapor Bulbs–
UV-B Mercury vapor bulbs incandescent bulbs which means it glows when it is being heated. There are 2 main type of mercury vapor bulbs : Flood & Spot lights. Floodlights produces beams that are broad across a larger surface and illuminates the tank. Spot bulbs on the other hand, produces a narrower and more intense UV-B. Flood lightbulbs would be more suitable for red-eared sliders as they do not require such intensive UV-B rays like other reptilian pets such as bearded dragons.
The Exo Terra Solar-Glo High-Intensity Self-Ballasted Uv/Heat Mercury Vapor Lamp effectively simulates sunlight and is a popular choice of pet keepers as it offers a healthy balance of both UV-A & UV-B. The Exo Terra also produces good visual lighting and heat required for your turtle. It can be fitted into a standard ceramic socket without the need for any ballast.
What do I need to consider when getting a basking lamp for my Red-eared Slider?
Wattage & Temperature
UV bulbs for turtles come in many different voltages from as low as 13 watts like the Exo Terra Repti-Glo 2.0 to as high as 160 watts like the Exo Terra Solar-Glo High-Intensity Self-Ballasted Uv/Heat Mercury Vapor Lamp. The amount of wattage needed for a basking lamp depends on many different factors. UV bulbs utilizing higher wattage produces more energy and heat. Hence if you have a larger basking platform or your basking lamp is of considerable distance away from your turtle, a bulb with higher wattages would be more suitable.
We all know that the ideal red-eared slider’s basking platform temperature should be higher than the water. However, it does not necessarily mean that the more heat produced the better it is. Too much heat will hurt your turtle’s skin and causes undue stress. A good temperature range for your turtle basking platform should be around 29 to 33 degree Celsius. For water temperature, it can be easily measured using a digital aquarium thermometer such as the Zacro LCD Digital Aquarium Thermometer Fish Tank Water Terrarium Temperature
UVB bulbs from different manufacturers often vary in lifespan with some claiming to last for as long as a year. In general, 6 months have been the standards across turtle owners to replace their bulb. Unfortunately, it is really difficult to know exactly how much UV rays the bulb is outputting unless you own a high-tech UV tester like this. The money though, can be much better spent on other equipment for your turtle, or even buying several replacement bulbs! Stick with the reputable brands such as Zoomeds and you’d be alright if you replace them every 6 months or so.
We can’t stress this enough: Don’t ever buy secondhanded UV lights!
Red-eared slider tank setup
The setup of your turtle tank also affects what type of bulb and placement. For example, if you have a cover on top of your turtle tank or if you are using an overhead filter such as the AE SHOP Aquarium Filter Fish Tank Upper Trickle Box Filters System, there may not be enough space for Tube fluorescents with fixtures like this . You would probably be much better off with clamp-on UV bulb holder where it takes up much lesser space.
Alternatively, you can also get an independent stand for your UV bulbs like the Blue Spotted deluxe lamp stand.
The Blue-spotted lamp stand is very useful for reptilian pets and terrariums like red-eared slider turtles. It features suspended lamps with Safely stabilizers which is great at preventing any accidental tipping. This height of the lampstand is adjustable from 20 – 38 inches and the length can stretch all the way to 15 inches long to fit most turtle tanks regardless of your habitat setup.
2 in 1 kit
One of the most popular and convenient way adopted by pet owners to provide lighting to red-eared sliders are the 2 in 1 kits such as the Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle UVB & Heat Lighting Kit
This particular kit features very high quality polished aluminum domes that increase both light and UV output to up to 30% and also ceramic sockets that provides up to 100 wattages of output on each socket.
This is a dual fixture which allows you to use 2 bulbs concurrently without the need to buy 2 separate fixtures. Providing heat, lighting and UV sources for your red-eared slider turtle all at once! The best part is that each bulb is on a separate switch. This meant that you would have the flexibility to choose which lighting you want to turn on at any time. At the top of the lamp, the covers also have vents for air circulation, allowing effective heat dissipation and thus maximizing your bulbs lifespan.
Do take note though, this kit does not come with any clamps so it can only sit on top of a screen cover like the Zilla fresh air screen cover or hang it using the Blue Spotted deluxe lampstand. Do note that if you are letting it sit on top of your turtle tank, do not use a glass cover as UV rays cannot penetrate through glass.
Other considerations with your turtle basking lamp.
Do not look directly into the light.
This should be common sense. However, we still feel the need to stress that under no circumstances should you be looking directly into the turtle light when it is turned on, no matter how dim it is. They can seriously hurt your eyes and cause permanent damage or even blindness under excessive prolonged exposure.
All lamps and fixtures should always be secured firmly. No matter how slim the chances are, having the lamp fall into the water something that you will never ever want to risk. If you are using a hanging fixture, ensure that all screws and knobs are tight enough. If you are using clamps, always do a quick check whenever you are performing tank maintenance to make sure that the springs are still strong. A good way to check is to gently push the lamp with one finger. The clamp should be still and should not move or slide in any way. The rubber pads should also not be worn out.
You can always use zip ties or duct tape to provide additional security to the fixture. However, we do not advise on using suction pads as they can be unreliable.
Lights should be off at night
Like humans, turtles are also subjected to circadian rhythms. “Circadian rhythms”, in simple words, means your body clock. Circadian rhythms are mental, physical, as well as behavioral changes that follow a daily routine cycle. This is usually in response to light in the turtle’s environment. This means that your red-eared sliders are conditioned to sleep and rest at periods of the day in the absence of light. Keeping your lights turned on when it is time to sleep will greatly disrupt the turtle’s sleep habit, inducing stress and negatively affect its health.
- It is very useful to invest in an automatic aquarium timer such as the Zoo Med AquaSun Aquarium Timer. The aquarium timer will automatically turn your turtle basking lamp lights on and at specific timings.
It features a 24 Hour Programmable timer that works well with all types of aquarium lamps, providing a natural day/night cycle for your red-eared slider.