How to set up lights for bearded dragon

Setting Up Bearded Dragon Heating and Lighting

Heating and lighting for bearded dragons is brought together to imitate days and nights, seasons and the suns interaction with the environment, specifically UVA, UVB and heat. Imitating these elements in a captive environment is where your skills come into play and will have a direct impact on the future of your bearded dragon.

UVB is not required over the entire length of an enclosure. Bearded dragons are capable of regulating their own UVB requirements and should be provided respite from it when they have decided that they have had sufficient.

If the basking temperature is to low, it will force them to remain under the UVB longer whether they need it or not (or lower their metabolism enough to reduce activity including eating). If it is too hot then they may not bask long enough to get sufficient UVB; or will force themselves to remain under the UVB and risk overheating. Excessive heat may also send them off to seek shelter and excessive UVB may well cause cancer.

Do not separate the heat and UVB sources. Spreading the heat and UVB across the enclosure will no longer replicate the sun beating down on a concentrated area such as bearded dragons will seek in the wild when basking and likely to cause confusion which can result in abnormal behaviour (i.e. hiding, lack of appetite, sluggish behaviour) and/or development of illness where the environment is inadequate.

Different light and heat sources require slightly different placements to produce the best possible outcome. In all setups a thermostat should be used to maintain consistent temperature and improve comfort of the enclosure occupant.

For tanks or any other types of enclosures where the heat source will sit on top of the enclosure there will typically be some form of mesh screen top that helps protect the bearded dragon from directly touching the heat source. However the mesh screen itself can become used to climb on and hang upside down by the bearded dragon. This could result in burnt toes and other body parts too close to heat sources.

Bearded dragon heating and lighting setup with thermal gradient.Where lighting and heating is fitted internally (usually hard wired), protection must still be provided from directly touching any heat source. Placing accessories in a manner that does not allow elevation towards heat sources will help. Mesh guards can be fitted to help prevent direct contact but can themselves be used as a climbing object.

No matter which choice is taken, there will always be some danger with bearded dragon heating. Place accessories wisely and choose a good sized enclosure to reduce risks.

Ceramic Heat Emitter Wattage

What wattage heat lamp is required is dependent on the temperature/climate the setup is in. Lighting and heating setups will be far more flexible for the seasons, and perhaps even on the power bill, if it is adaptable for different wattage. For example, a 60 watt ceramic heat emitter may produce enough heat for summer months where as in winter 100 watt may be required. To ensure you have flexibility, purchase a high wattage lamp fitting. The bulb can always be a lower wattage than the fitting, but it can never be higher.

Placement of bearded dragon lighting and heating

CHE and Mercury Vapor UVB

Enclosure Setup with mercury vaporWhere a ceramic heat emitter (CHE) is used with a mercury vapor UVB bulb (UVB with additional heat source) and a UVA basking bulb (UVA with additional heat source), the placement is simple; all the elements are placed as close together as possible.

The CHE should be placed on a thermostat to maintain consistency in temperature and avoid overheating. Do not place lights on a thermostat, their continual turning on and off as the thermostat maintains the temperature will significantly shorten the life of the bulbs and likely cause disruption to the reptiles environment.

The CHE can be placed in between the two light sources or placed closest to the center. If placed central it will assist in providing the ambient temperatures required for night time.

CHE and fluorescent tube UVB

Enclosure Setup with fluorescentFor the ceramic heat emitter (CHE) and fluorescent UVB combination place the CHE and the UVA basking light to one side of the UVB light. This setup provides maximum heat and lighting in a concentrated area with sufficient white light provided to encourage activity.

The fluorescent lighting should not be the length of the enclosure. Bearded dragons are capable of discerning when they have had sufficient UVB and remove themselves from it given the right conditions (i.e. temperature gradient) in the enclosure.

Setting up Bearded Dragon Lighting and Heating Mistakes

In these two setups, the heat and light is spread across the tanks. In the first image the  UVB tube lighting is spread across the entire enclosure leaving the bearded dragon with only a burrow to seek respite from it. The thermal gradient was almost non existent with the spread of heat. Prior to resolving the type and placement of lighting and heating in this case, the bearded dragon spent a lot of time in the enclosure.

enclosure set up mistakes

In the second tank the thermal gradient was non existent with the ceramic heat emitter on one end, the UVB mercury vapor on the other and the basking light in the middle. This resulted in behavioral issues, particularly lack of appetite. The correction was as simple as placing the fittings with their existing bulbs together.

Bearded dragon heating setup mistakes

Heat Sources for the Bearded Dragon’s Habitat

Heating is required both during the day and at night. During the day sufficient levels of heat may be gained if a Mercury Vapor UVB and UVA basking light are used together.

A ceramic heat emitter (CHE) on a thermostat is ideal for use during the day and night. Placed on a thermostat the CHE can be maintain the environment at a reasonably consistent temperature. The thermostat will cut the CHE out once the right level of heat has been attained and turn it back on when the temperature cools from the desired range.

CHEs are reasonably cheap therefore keeping spares, and preferably in a range of different wattage, will ensure coverage when one ceases to work anymore. These bulbs are generally pretty hardy and do not need replacing until they cease to work. By having a small range of different wattage’s available, increasing or decreasing the level of heat throughout the season changes becomes easier and ensures there are spares when one fails.

Heat can also be provided by red and black lights. Red lights are likely to cause disturbance to sleep and should not be used. If there is some reason that it is absolutely necessary to provide light at night (certainly not for the bearded dragons benefit) then use a black light.

See Setting up heating and lighting for temperature guidance. Temperatures as low as 65 Fahrenheit or 18 Celsius at night are simply dangerous to captive bearded dragons. Experiencing such temperatures with an overload of parasites or disruption to digestion can be fatal. Living in captivity is not the same as living in the wild where these animals have the means to protect themselves with natural elements. They may burrow or climb into trees where they can achieve significant differences in temperature dependent on the height of the tree, alternatively they may die. The natural environment can only be partially replicated in captivity and therefore comparing exposure to extreme environmental elements in the wild has limited use.

Basking and UVA Lighting

UVA lighting is the same light that we humans have in home lamp fittings. However for bearded dragon lighting specially purchased basking bulbs are used, not household bulbs. The level of UVA provided impacts the bearded dragons behavior in its environment. Low levels of UVA or poorly placed UVA will likely slow activity down and could impact other behaviors such as eating.

UVA basking bulbs provide an additional heat source, set alongside a mercury vapor UVB bulb the two may provide sufficient heat for the daytime in summer. The UVA lighting is left on for the same time as UVB bulbs.

When selecting basking bulbs consider the intensity of light. It should not emit a clear white light but not so bright that it may irritate the eyes when being looked at.

Environment Temperatures

Summer Day Time Gradient (Temperature)setting summer day temperatures

The temperatures provided during the day for the basking are around 38°c (100°f) to 40°c (104°f). The cool area can be anywhere above 20°c (68°f) to 24°c (75.2°f). This range of temperatures between the basking and cool areas is called the temperature gradient. Small enclosures will not provide a good gradient range.

Setting summer night temperaturesSummer Night Time Ambient Temperature

A single temperature is offered at night time, this is referred to as an ambient temperature. The night time temperature should be significantly lower than daytime and can be as low as around 20°c (68°f).

The young, ill or parasite infected bearded dragons should not be kept at low temperatures. Maintain temperatures above 24°c (75.2°f) and consult your vet for temperatures appropriate for the situation.

Brumation Temperatures

Where a large enclosure has been provided with a good thermal gradient range the temperature of the environment does not necessarily need to be brought down anymore since the cool side can be kept constantly cooler than a small 4 foot enclosure, i.e. the temperature at the cool end may be kept at a constant 16-18°c. For small enclosures the temperatures can be brought down to 20°c (early 70°f) or so on the cool end for the duration of brumation. There is some flexibility on the temperature, however if it is too cool then there are greater risks during brumation, especially if a health check with the vet has not been attended prior to winter, and too high then brumation may not occur and if it does it is likely to be broken rest.

Real UVB for Bearded Dragons

UVB lights can never truly match the real thing, the sun. Real sunshine is the best thing you can provide your bearded dragon with, even if it is only for a few half hour stints in a week. UVB cannot penetrate glass, plastic or solid objects. A bearded dragon basking at a window is not receiving UVB, simply heat and light. If a window is the only means to provide UVB then open it (if it has flywire) and allow what light can come in to do so.

Since for most the outdoors offers a lot more freedom in terms of space, large enclosures can be provided outdoors. Adding climbing accessories, rocks and hiding areas will make for a more stimulating environment and protection when feeling threatened. After all it only takes a bird to fly over to feel threatened.

Shedding Light on Bearded Dragon Lighting (UVB)

Bearded dragons locating themselves at different basking levels in direct warm sunlight.

Setting up your bearded dragon lighting correctly will provide greater comfort and reduce potential health issues caused by poor setups. The type and location of UVB bulbs, will directly impact the effectiveness of the whole environment. UVB is required to provide the means for the bearded dragon to synthesize vitamin D3 which is absolutely vital to their health. For bearded dragons, vitamin D3 cannot be replaced by providing it orally through supplements, which has its own set of risks in doing so. Don’t waste money on calcium with vitamin D3 supplements.

Mercury vapor bulbs

UVB bulbsThe Mercury vapor bulbs will produce both light and heat which will contribute to the heating of the environment. This can make them ideal for areas that require additional heat sources and certainly encourage basking since the heat and UVB are focused directly over the same spot. The Mercury vapor bulbs are extremely unlikely to take the heat of the environment to the required levels on their own except perhaps in summer or hot climates.

Mercury vapor bulbs should not be hooked up to a thermostat. A thermostat will quickly ruin the bulb and cause the light to turn on and off when heat rises above the desired settings turning the light on and off interfering with the environment.

Fluorescent tube lights

UVB fluorescent tube lights will provide a greater area of coverage. The Arcadia T3 D5 has earned a reputation of being one of the best UVB lights available particularly when coupled with a reflector.

Arcadia Reptile Introduction to our brand from Arcadia Reptile.

The heat produced by UVB fluorescent  lamps is so insignificant that it will not support the temperature of the environment to any degree.

The fluorescent tube light should not run the entire length of the enclosure. Bearded dragons are quite capable of regulating their own UVB exposure in a correctly set up habitat. Restricting the UVB to the basking spot or half the enclosure width will allow the bearded dragon to move in and out of the UVB as it requires.

Compact fluorescent lights

Compact fluorescent lights have been known to cause issues and are best avoided. Their inadequacies at distributing UVB are clearly highlighted in this video by Frances Baines, M.A., Vet.M.B., M.R.C.V.S which also shows the distribution of the the tube fluorescent and the Arcadia D5.

Should the compact fluorescent be used the setup will be similar to that with the mercury vapor bulb however the basking level will need to be elevated close to the UVB bulb given its very limited UVB spread. This may cause issues with the bearded dragon being positioned too close to the heating and subsequently may resulting in the animal being exposed to burns to simply get adequate UVB.

Selecting the UVB light

The type of UVB light to be used will depend on the enclosure size and other requirements. Hot climates will need to avoid additional heat during summer months and therefore the mercury vapor is unlikely to be a good choice during those months. Mercury vapor lights are an excellent choice with a focused distribution of UVB. Large enclosures may be better fitted with fluorescent tubes that can cover a larger area and aid lighting levels.

There is no scientific evidence to suggest exactly how long UVB lighting should be on for. However in captivity UVB is typically provided for 12 hours during summer and 8-10 hours during winter. The reduction in lighting in winter provides a more natural environment and may induce brumation.

Light Fittings for the Habitat

The appropriate lighting determines the type of fittings to be used, however the type of fitting may also influence the decision on the type of lighting. The choice of enclosure should be heavily influenced by the lighting setup that will be provided. For example, an enclosure short in height, i.e. 2 foot, will not accommodate light fittings on the inside of the enclosure, instead they will be placed on top and so a dome type fitting is likely to be more suited. Other influences include preventing the animal from directly touching the elements.

Light lampRemovable fittings (ready to plug in) made specifically for reptile habitats typically have benefits such as reflector shields and are certainly easy to move around. Regardless of which type, care should be taken to purchase porcelain fittings that will cope with the heat the bulbs will generate. If the ready to plug in fittings are to be hung within the enclosure then wire shields can be purchased for some of the more popular brands.

To ensure the fittings are flexible with different bulb wattage’s, purchase the fitting with the highest wattage rating that you are likely to use, i.e. a 100 watt fitting will allow the use of 50 watt, 75 watt and 100 watt. By purchasing for flexibility different wattage bulbs can be used as seasons change.

Guards may be placed over light and heat fittings to protect the reptile from burns should it jump up onto the light fitting or get too close. However the guards themselves can be attractive to climb. Ensure the fittings provide sufficient room to bask underneath with climbing accessories around (such as branches) are angled away from the lights.

Objects inhibit UVB penetration

UVB does not penetrate objects like metal, plastic or even glass. If the lighting must be fitted on top of the enclosure, which will normally have a wire screen if it is a glass enclosure, then consideration must be given to the effectiveness of the UVB lighting since the screens will block out some of the UVB. The tighter the screen mesh, the more it is blocked out. Tanks will typically have quite a tight metal mesh screen, just another reason that glass tanks do not make for ideal enclosures.

Replacing UVB lights

All UVB lights will require replacing according to the manufacturers instructions. Check the box for replacement frequency which will typically be around every 6 months. Always keep a spare UVB light on hand, it will not be wasted even if the current bulb does not fail since it will serve as a replacement for the existing light once it must be replaced. But there is nothing worse than having a light blow and trying to find a replacement the same day.

Beware of mesh screens and heat

For glass tanks, or any other types of enclosures where the heat source will sit on top of the enclosure, there will typically be some form of mesh screen top that helps protect the bearded dragon from directly touching the heat source. However the mesh screen itself can become used to climb on and hang upside down by the bearded dragon. This could result in burnt toes and other body parts too close to heat sources.

Setting up for a thermal gradient.

Where lighting and heating is fitted internally (usually hard wired), protection must still be provided from directly touching any heat source. Placing accessories in a manner that does not allow elevation towards heat sources will help. Mesh guards can be fitted to help prevent direct contact but can themselves be used as a climbing object.

No matter which choice is made, there will always be some danger. Place accessories wisely and choose a good sized enclosure to reduce risks.

Get your bearded dragon lighting right, before you introduce your new pet.

Changing reptile lighting to Arcadia Reptile D3 T5 The RSPCA in Brighton have changed their lights to the Arcadia Reptile D3 T5. R.S.P.C.A reptile rescue

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