Thermometers are used to read temperatures. They are valuable and necessary for Leopard gecko owners and are used to make sure it's not too hot or too cold.
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A thermometer is a testing apparatus that measures temperature — in other words, how hot or how cold it is. For most people, the temperature is indicated in either degrees Celsius (°C) and/or degrees Fahrenheit (°F). Leopard gecko owners need thermometers to measure the inside temperatures of keeping enclosures, egg incubators and to test water temperatures.
The temperature reading on a thermometer is calculated through a sensor or probe. Some thermometers have an extendable probe which can be placed further away from the body of the thermometer itself, while others have the sensor built-into it.
Thermometers with extended probes can, for example, be placed on the outside of enclosures while reading the temperature on the inside. Those without needs to be placed on the inside of the enclosure.
Thermometers come in different types, sizes and reading abilities — which needs to be paired with its specific function. They are available from Amazon.com, electrical suppliers, general-purpose stores, specialised reptile pet shops and other online shops.
Thermometers can also be combined with hygrometers to measure the relative humidity and/or thermostats to control electrical heat sources such as heat pads, overhead heating and heat rocks. Without proper temperature control, heat rocks can overheat and lead to serious ventral burns(30).
Choosing the right thermometer for Leopard geckos
When choosing a thermometer to be used for Leopard geckos, the first factor that needs to be considered is how it will be used (i.e. its function).
The function of the thermometer will establish the temperature range it needs to be able to read. Additional thermometer factors include the quality, price, aesthetics/size, reliability and durability.
Function, temperature range and aesthetics
For Leopard geckos, thermometers are most commonly used to monitor the temperature of the keeping enclosure. Other uses include measuring the temperature of egg incubators and water for bathing.
Although the requirements might differ slightly between these functions, the thermometer used needs to be able to measure the general recommended temperature range of Leopard geckos (25–30 ºC / 77–86 ºF(23)). To play it safe, the temperature reading ability can be extended to 5-45 ºC / 41-114 ºF.
To be a little more inconspicuous, smaller sized thermometers are generally favoured over larger ones — causing less interference with the aesthetics of display enclosures. Thermometers with an extendible probe can be hidden away.
A commercial, digital or analogue desert reptile thermometer, with or without a probe, will suffice in most cases where the temperature of the keeping enclosure will be measured. To be able to use a thermometer in humid environments, i.e. inside an incubator, an extendible probe or water resistance comes highly recommended.
Water temperatures can be measured using the probe of any thermometer, but traditional medical thermometers are the easiest to use. Aesthetics are often not that important.
Quality, price, reliability and durability
The quality of a thermometer will give an indication of how well it can read the temperature (reliability) and how durable it is. 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 owners.
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 an LCD screen while analogue thermometers have numbers printed on them. Nowadays, digital thermometers are the most commonly used type of thermometer.
Chemical thermometers use a chemical substance, e.g. mercury or alcohol, to indicate the temperature on an incremental scale.
All three 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 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.
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). On the upside, digital thermometers are generally considered more accurate, easier to read and have 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.
The temperature reading of analogue thermometers is indicated by the location of a dial on a scale.
Whereas digital thermometers need a power source, analogue thermometers do not. This means they can be used for longer periods without having to replace their batteries.
The downside to analogue thermometers is that they generally do not have an extendible probe.
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, incubator or water where the temperature is being measured. Fortunately, most chemical thermometers are safe to use in moist environments.
Using thermometers for keeping Leopard geckos
To be able to get the most accurate reading, thermometers needs to be used correctly. Depending on the type of thermometer, they can either be placed directly on top of the surface that is being tested, in the approximate vicinity of the area being tested (e.g. air temperature), or by placing it inside the substance being tested (e.g. water temperature).
Temperatures need to be tested while installing heating equipment such as heat pads or overhead heating lamps. This will ensure that enough, and/or not too much, heat is supplied. During this time, the contact areas of the basking spots and the air temperature of the entire enclosure needs to be tested.
While heating equipment is in use, the environmental and direct temperatures will also need regular ongoing testing to make sure all electrical equipment is still working. Some keepers will permanently mount a thermometer or two somewhere inside the keeping enclosure to keep a constant eye on things.
The average incubation temperature is a very important factor in determining embryo viability, mould growth and the overall incubation period. Thermometer are used to test the overall air temperature inside incubators.
In cases where Leopard geckos are being soaked in water, the water temperature needs to be tested. This is done by placing the probe of the thermometer inside the water.
Thermometers are very handy and commonly used by Leopard gecko keepers. There are different types of thermometers, each suited for a specific function.
Commercial thermometers for Leopard geckos and other reptiles usually include the correct temperature range and are available online.