A thermometer is a testing apparatus used to measure temperature. It is a valuable and necessary accessory that can be used to indicate the immediate or environmental temperature of Leopard geckos and their incubators.
Thermometers can either give readings in degrees Celsius (°C), degrees Fahrenheit (°F) or both. Leopard geckos owners often need thermometers to measure the inside temperatures of the enclosure. Thermometers are often used in combination with hygrometers to measure the relative humidity and/or thermostats to control electrical heat sources such as heat rocks and heat pads.
The temperature reading on a thermometer is calculated through a sensor or probe. Most thermometers have an extendable probe which can be placed further away from the body of the thermometer itself (see later), while others have the sensor built-into it.
Thermometers are available from Amazon.com, electrical suppliers, general-purpose stores, specialised reptile pet shops and other online shops.
Choosing a thermometer for Leopard geckos
When choosing a thermometer to be used for Leopard geckos, factors that need to be considered are the quality, price, function, size, reliability and durability.
The quality of a thermometer will give an indication of how well it can read the temperature. Characteristics that can indicate good quality is the brand the physical appearance and sometimes the price. Zoo Med and Exo-Terra are known for their reptile specific thermometers and other products. More expensive thermometers from known companies usually have better quality. The same goes for reliability and durability. In most cases the popularity of a thermometer will be an indication of its quality, reliability and durability, so make sure to look at reviews and ask other Leopard gecko keepers.
Smaller thermometers are generally favoured over larger ones. This means it is less visible and does not interfere with the aesthetics of display enclosures.
Design and function go hand-in-hand. The operating humidity must also be considered. For example, thermometers that are going to be used in incubators will either need to be waterproof or will need a probe. In these cases, aesthetics are often not that important. Also see the correct humidity for Leopard geckos for more information.
Types of thermometers
There are mainly three types of thermometers – digital thermometers, analogue thermometers and chemical thermometers. Digital thermometers will show the temperature reading on a little screen while analog thermometers have numbers printed on them. Chemical thermometers use a chemical substance, e.g. mercury or alcohol, to indicate the temperature on an incremental scale. All these thermometer types can be used to measure temperatures in a Leopard gecko enclosure, but each of them has their strengths and weaknesses.
Digital thermometers will need some form of power (e.g. batteries or electricity) to operate. They are larger (often bulky) and somewhat more expensive when compared with chemical thermometers (see later), but they are generally considered more accurate, easier to read and has a wider temperature reading. Care must be taken when using digital thermometers in moist environments, e.g. inside incubators, whereas chemical thermometers are generally made to be waterproof.
Digital thermometers work with electrical components. The temperature is measured by a very small sensor inside the body of the main unit, telling an electrical microchip how to display the reading on a screen. Digital thermometers can be designed with or without a probe. A probe is basically a part connected to the sensor via a wire which can collect the temperature further away from the body of the thermometer. This allows the main unit of the thermometer to be placed outside, while the temperatures can still be measured on the inside of the enclosure or incubator.
Whereas digital thermometers need a power source (see earlier), analogue thermometers do not. This means they can be used for longer periods without having to replace their batteries. The temperature reading of analogue thermometers is indicated by the location of a dial on a scale.
The temperature reading from chemical thermometers is directional to the expansion of the chemical composition inside the main body of the unit. It works on the principle that heat will expand this composition which makes it occupies more space. The inside of chemical thermometers is designed and calibrated so that the expansion of the chemical composition represents a temperature reading. The majority of the chemical used is placed on one side of the body – usually representing the lowest temperature reading while higher readings are indicated with lines further away from it. Higher temperatures will cause more expansion, which will push the position of the chemical composition to higher readings.
Because the chemical composition basically measures the temperature, chemical thermometers need to be placed inside the enclosure or incubator where the temperature is being measured. Fortunately, most chemical thermometers are safe to use in moist environments.
Using thermometers for keeping Leopard geckos
Thermometers are very handy tools for Leopard gecko keepers. They are used to measure temperatures inside keeping enclosures and incubators, and the temperatures of heating equipment such as heat pads and overhead heat lamps. Depending on the type of thermometer used (see earlier), they can either be placed directly on the surface that is being measured or in its approximate vicinity.
Heating equipment should be tested during installation to make sure they supply the correct/desired amount of heat and then regularly/routinely throughout its use. While setting up a keeping enclosure it might be worth the effort to, for example, test the heat pad temperature or the temperature of a heat/hot rock is trusted. While the heating equipment is in use, the environmental and direct temperatures will also need regular testing to make sure all electrical equipment is still working. Some keepers will permanently mount a thermometer or two somewhere inside the enclosure to keep a constant eye on things.
Thermometers are also frequently used while incubating Leopard gecko eggs. The average incubation temperature is a very important factor in determining embryo viability, mould growth and the overall incubation period. Most incubators will have their own built-in thermometer, but an external one will work just as well for custom made incubators.
Temperature requirements for Leopard geckos
Some thermometers are limited with regards to their temperature readings. A thermometer made for measuring temperatures in, for example, a freezer will have no use if it can’t read temperatures of around freezing point. When choosing a thermometer to be used for Leopard geckos, higher temperature readings will be required (20 – 45 ºC / 75 – 114 ºF). Leopard geckos will thrive in temperatures of 25 – 32 ºC / 77 – 90 ºF with a drop to room temperature during the evenings.