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Heat & Lighting

Main Points:
■ Heat & light are essential to nearly all reptiles, and frilled dragons need plenty. 
■ Create a temperature gradient with solid high temps.  Use proper UVB lighting.


To summarize, it is recommended to minimize ventilation and use low-wattage bulbs to create a hot gradient

    Daytime temps should consist of a heat gradient from 85°-120°F  Most of the enclosure should be around 90°-100°F, with access to a cooler area, and at least one hot area reaching 110°-120°F.  An appropriately sized cage (3-4 feet tall) will inevitably have cooler temperatures near the ground, this is fine, but keep in mind temps should optimally not go below 80-85° F.  The high temp basking area should not just be measured as a space directly underneath a light.  They will rarely want to sit underneath a high wattage bulb for very long, since it will overheat their skin.  A cage with a solid top (not screen) and mounted lights will prevent heated air from escaping and a gradient from top to bottom can easily be establish.  High wattage bulbs (over 100 Watts) and focused/narrow beamed bulbs can lead to burns and dehydration and should be unnecessary in a good enclosure.  Ambient air temps as high as 120° F near the top of the cage appear to be greatly enjoyed.  High temp areas that are not directly under a light can be maintained by minimizing ventilation.  To quote Allen Repashy in one of his articles, "A reptile cage designed with spot heat and air recirculation is not a lot different to a commercial dehydrator that turns meat into beef jerky!"  Something to keep in mind.


► Enclosure should be bright & well-lit from top to bottom.  Vary the wattages depended on how much heat you need to supply to achieve proper temps.

    All visible light contains UVA rays.  The majority of daytime heat and light can be provided by UVA rays produced by generic light bulbs.  Regular house bulbs will suffice; the wattage you need will depend on the size and set-up of your enclosure.  Flood lamps (not narrow beamed) are great to use particularly in large enclosures, since they provide a lot of light and are more water resistant.  "Reptile basking bulbs" sold at pet stores provide no advantage of any kind, cost more, and have short life-spans.  Depending on your climate, season, enclosure size, and cage insulation, additional heat requirements will vary for nearly everyone.  When choosing light bulbs, look for bulbs that produce high lumens to give them a bright enclosure.  Vary the total wattage depending on how much heat you need to produce.  Feit brand bulbs are good to look for, sold at most Home Depot stores.


► Special light bulbs are required.  Use either a high-quality MVB or a 10.0 fluorescent tube.

UVB light is essential for proper development.  It aids in Vitamin D3 synthesis and calcium absorption which is necessary for proper growth.  Without adequate UVB light, reptiles can rapidly develop MBD (metabolic bone disease).  Symptoms display as malformed bones (such as a twisted or humped spine), swollen or broken legs & tail, a soft or flexible lower jaw, and stunted overall growth.  

    UVB requires special bulbs.  In a smaller enclosure (less than 3 ft tall), a long tube fluorescent bulb may be best, such as the Arcadia 12.0 or the Reptisun 10.0 UVB bulb.  These do not produce much heat or bright light, so definitely add a regular UVA light (generic house light) or two in addition.  In large adult enclosures, MVBs (mercury vapor bulbs) are a good choice because they provide large amounts of quality UVB, light, & heat.  These should be used in conjunction with a non-uvb basking light.  MVBs can often be bought online for less than they cost in pet stores.  MegaRay has a good reputation and T-rex Active & SolarGlo are also viable options.  Check current reviews on bulbs before buying since the quality and available of certain brands seem to fluctuate - see links below.

    Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are tempting because their price is cheaper than the long tubes, but their quality is questionable, so avoid using these.  Used incorrectly, they can quickly (day or two) lead to a condition called photokeratoconjunctivitis, which is caused by excessive exposure to UVB light.  Symptoms include swelling of the areas around the eye, decreased appetite, lethargy, and even burns.  Here is a great informative blog with additional information on the topic.  MVB bulbs can also lead to the same condition if basking areas are placed to close (<12 inches).  Be sure to follow the information provided with any bulb.

    Vitamin D3 can possibly be supplied through alternate means in addition to lighting.  Dusting feeders using Calcium with D3 provides them the essential vitamin.  Whole food prey with bones, such as mice, have a high Ca:P ratio and are great for preventing MBD.  Proper UVB lighting should always be supplied in addition to these supplemental methods.  Some accomplished keepers have achieved good results by using alternative methods in place of UVB light, but this is best left to the experts until more information is available.

Night Time Heat:

If temperatures drop below around 70°F at night, a heat source should be supplied.  Ceramic heat emitters work well.

    A regular photoperiod is important, so the nighttime heat source should not emit any visible light.  The best and safest method is to use a ceramic heat emitter.  It functions similar to a basking bulb, but the porcelain bulb does not produce any light, only invisible infrared heat.  These are most useful when used in conjunction with a thermostat, rheostat, or dimmer switch to produce exactly the amount of desired heat.

   • Other heat sources include heating pads, and red light bulbs:
    Heating pads are alright for small hatchling enclosures, but they aren't very useful in adult enclosures.  Heating pads (and even more so heating rocks) can be dangerous if not used correctly.  Most reptiles are accustomed to receiving heat from above (via basking in the sun) so they sometimes don't realize when they are getting too much heat on their underside.  The lizard can get severely burned before it realizes it needs to move.  In smaller cages, heating pads can be used on the side of the enclosure to prevent the reptile from laying on top of it.  They can also be used underneath the enclosure if a few inches of substrate are provided, but most heat produced from this method would be wasted on an arboreal reptile. 
    Heat rocks may only be safely used as a decorative feature inside the enclosure once the power cord has been severed at the base and discarded, pet stores shouldn't sell these - they will almost assuredly burn your reptile.
    Red light bulbs are regular incandescent bulbs either coated with red tint or made from red glass.  Since reptiles cannot see red light, this does not bother them at night.  However, ceramics are generally considered more heat effective and have much longer life spans.

Helpful Links:

Mercury Vapor UVB Bulbs:
Radiant Heat Emitters: (for day &/or night)