To create the correct temperature range for Leopard geckos, heat often needs to be supplied. Heat can be supplied by using electrical heating equipment.
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Being reptile(49), Leopard geckos are considered poikilothermic(68) (having a variable body temperature) and ectothermic(68) (dependent on heat from sources other than their own). Originating from savannah and desert areas, Leopard geckos have adapted to relatively high temperatures.
The recommended temperature range for pet Leopard gecko is 25–30 ºC / 77–86 ºF(23) with or without a drop to room temperature in the evenings. If these temperatures cannot be achieved naturally (e.g. living in colder parts of the world), heating equipment will be required.
In many parts of the world, including parts of South Africa (personal observation), little or no heating equipment will be required. Heating needs to be installed when average room temperature drops to below 25 ºC / 73 ºF. Nighttime temperatures should also be controlled in the case where it is monitored to be below 18 ºC / 64 ºF.
It is better to supply Leopard geckos with a temperature gradient ranging from high to low temperatures. This will enable them to choose the exact temperature their body needs at a specific time. To achieve this, heating is typically installed on one side of the enclosure to allow a gradient towards the other side.
In larger enclosures, one or multiple basking areas heated to the higher temperatures in the recommended temperature range will be perfect. Heating equipment should not cover more than about a quarter to a third of the enclosure’s floor space.
With Leopard geckos, heat is supplied by using commercially available electrical heating equipment such as under tank heating or overhead heating. Overhead heating should not be confused with lighting. Although some light bulbs can be used for both purposes, heat bulbs are generally for their ability to emit heat.
Temperatures can be better controlled using a thermostat and/or are measured using a thermometer (also discussed in this article).
Heating equipment for Leopard geckos
Heating equipment will be required where the recommended day and night temperature ranges cannot be maintained naturally. Various forms of heating equipment for Leopard gecko are available online (e.g. Amazon.com), from specialised pet shops and general hardware stores.
Most types of heating equipment for Leopard geckos will be in the form of an electrical device connected to an electrical socket. When choosing electrical devices, the voltage rating (V) that should be selected will be determined by the standard voltage output of the country you live in (e.g. 220V or 110V). The cable length should be long enough to reach the desired power socket. Note that the default power plug is suitable for your country too.
Used electrical equipment, their wiring, switches and plugs should be inspected and tested by a professional electrician at least twice a year, or it needs to be replaced. Reliable sources should be consulted before modifying electrical equipment, their power plugs or their wiring.
Depending on the type of and size of the enclosure that is used, under tank heating or overhead heating can be used. In both cases, heat is supplied by creating a warm area for Leopard geckos to lie and bask upon. Although their use is generally discouraged for Leopard geckos, electrical heat rocks or hot rocks are also commercially available and frequently used. Heat rocks and hot rocks can lead to ventral burns(30).
Nighttime temperatures are most often achieved by simply disconnecting the heat source. This is often done by using an electrical timer switch.
Under tank heating for Leopard geckos
Under tank heating will supply heat from the bottom of the enclosure. It is done by using heat pads/strips/mats and are popularly preferred in cases where overhead heating can not be installed (e.g. in the case of glass and plastic tanks) or where the enclosure is too small to be heated from above.
Because Leopard geckos are crepuscular(50)(51)(59) (mostly active at dusk and dawn) to nocturnal(49)(69) (active during the evenings), overhead heating (simulating the sun) is not as important as with diurnal reptiles. Although Leopard geckos have been observed basking during the day(34), it is more important that heat is supplied from below in order for basking to take place.
When looking at heat pads/strips/mats, the important properties to know about include its size and power rating. Being hidden, the colour is generally not considered important but might range between black, silver and white. Various sizes are available, typically ranging between 4 x 7 ″ / 10 x 18 cm and 8 x 18 ″ / 20 x 45 cm.
he area of the enclosure that is covered by heating should not exceed a quarter to a third of the enclosure’s total floor space. The power rating (given in Watts or W) is a property that will determine the amount of heat that will be produced.
Larger heat pads usually have higher ratings than smaller ones. Higher power ratings (watt values) will result in more heat and lower power ratings in less heat. Typical power ratings of heat pads range between 4 and 30 Watts.
The amount of heat that is transmitted can also be controlled by exposing more or less of the enclosure surface and/or by using a thermostat.
When under tank heating is used, it can either be installed inside the container (under the substrate) or under the container. Heating equipment and their wiring that is installed on the inside of an enclosure should be covered and contact by Leopard geckos should be prevented. Electrical equipment should also be kept away from moisture.
Overhead heating for Leopard geckos
Overhead heating will supply heat from above. It is done by using heat lamps (also called reptile lamps or basking lamps, lamp fixtures).
Note: In some cases ‘heat lamp’ is used to refer to the actual bulb, which is strictly incorrect. This article refers to a heat lamp as a unit.
Heat lamps can either be mounted, on the inside, on one of the sides or onto the roof of reptile cabinets. Ones that are mounted on the inside of enclosures should be mounted securely and placed high up to prevent direct contact with Leopard geckos. Heat lamps can also be placed on top of screen lids or mounted onto a lampstand. Heat should never be supplied by being emitted through glass or plastic.
Heat is emitted from above, therefore heat lamps are typically directed downwards towards rocks or other elevated areas that absorb heat.
Heat lamps consist of different parts — including the screen, socket, bulb and the cable. Depending on the brand, some will also include a power switch and/or build-in thermostat. The screen is the main part of the lamp. With its dome shape and reflective inside, it concentrates light waves towards one direction.
Screens with larger openings tend to spread heat over a larger area, and the converse is true. The screen is attached to the socket (also called the fitting or the connector) — which is used to connect the bulb itself. The most important property of the cable is its length.
Important heat lamp properties include its type, size, socket type, maximum power rating and colour. The bulb that will be used also needs to be considered.
Lamp types include mountable (e.g. to the wall or a lampstand), hanging and resting lamps. Heat lamps that are not made to be mountable can either be rested on a mesh screen or hanged by using a hang support clip.
A common overall lamp size is 5.5 x 7.3 ″ / 14 x 18.5 cm. Larger and smaller sizes are available too, but make sure the overall size fits well in the area that it is needed for. The area of the enclosure that is emitted by heat should not exceed a quarter to a third of the enclosure’s total floor space.
Heat lamps are generally sold without a bulb. Bulbs can either be used for emitting normal light, ultraviolet (UV) light or infra-red (IR) light (i.e. heat). Incandescent light bulbs (those with a wire filament that is heated until it glows) produces heat in addition to light. Ceramic bulbs that emit heat, but no light, are also available.
To supply heat to Leopard geckos during the day, ceramic or incandescent IR or normal daylight bulbs can be used. At night, specialised reptile night bulbs can be used. The cap of the bulb used needs to fit the heat lamp’s socket type — which includes screw mount (most common) and bayonet mount.
To make it easier, socket types and bulbs are distinguished by codes. The most common code used for reptile lighting is E26, which is an Edison screw cap. E26 and E27 caps are often interchangeable. Bulbs can be in the form of light bulbs or ceramic bulbs.
The maximum power rating (in Watts) indicates the maximum power of the bulbs that can be used. In other words, a 40 Watt bulb can be used on a 100 Watt heat lamp, but a 100 Watt bulb cannot be used on a 40 Watt heat lamp. Power ratings of heat lamps range between 40 Watts and 200 Watts.
The amount of heat can be controlled by moving the heat lamp further or closer to the surface, by moving it more to one side of the enclosure, by using a thermostat and/or changing the power of the light bulb. 40 to 75 Watt light bulbs are typically used in larger enclosures. In smaller enclosures, heat pads should rather be used.
Heating accessories for Leopard geckos
In order to make the use of heating equipment easier to use, there are various accessories that can be used. They include thermometers, thermostats and electrical timers.
Thermometers come in different shapes and sizes and are used to measure the temperature. Before the installation of heating equipment is finalised, daytime and nighttime temperatures should be measured in various areas of the enclosure. A thermometer can also be installed permanently on the inside of the enclosure to keep a constant watch on the temperatures. The probe of the thermometer should preferably be inserted into or under the substrate(32).
A thermostat is an electrical device that is used to control temperatures. After the desired temperature range has been set, it acts as an on-off switch that will turn heating equipment on if the temperature is too low and off if it is too high.
Thermostats consist of a temperature-sensitive element that is often connected to a probe. Some heating equipment, such as heat pads and heat rocks, has its own built-in thermostats. Stand-alone thermostats can also be connected to heating equipment.
As with thermostats, electrical timers (or electrical timer stitches) can also be used to switch heating equipment on or off, but instead of acting on heat, they act on time. They are often used to replicate the natural environment of Leopard geckos by creating a drop in temperature during the evenings.
In cases where not enough heat can be supplied naturally, electric heat sources such as under tank heating and overhead heating can be used. Their types, sizes and output are mainly dependant on the size of the enclosure.
Additional electric accessories can ease the process of supplying heat to Leopard geckos.
Various forms of heating equipment for Leopard gecko are available online (e.g. Amazon.com), from specialised pet shops and general hardware stores.