Summary: Lighting for Russian Tortoises (and most others)

biochemnerd808

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I've seen a lot of questions pertaining to lighting lately. I wrote up a little summary in March for a FB group, so I'm copying it here, just to have a nice summary here that might be useful. :)

Russian tortoises need heat and UVB (and UVA, but that's easier). The heat helps their bodies reach the necessary core temperature to function, digest, etc. The UVB helps their bodies produce vitamin D3, which is necessary for absorbing calcium into strong bones and a strong shell. Most of the UVB is absorbed through the skin of their legs and head, but their shell does need UVB also.

Ideally, a tortoise gets to spend the warm months outside in a safe enclosure with hiding opportunities and good plants to eat. If you are not able to provide an outdoor enclosure, even 30 minutes a day (or a few times per week) are beneficial. Even the advanced artificial UVB technology cannot replace real sunlight.

Heat and UVB can be provided via an all-in-one Mercury Vapor bulb (MVB) that produces both heat and UVB. It is very important that the MVB is suspended at a straight-up-and-down angle, not at a slant or on its side. These bulbs are balanced, so they will have a shorter lifespan if they aren't installed correctly. Save your receipt, as most companies will replace the bulb if it burns out before a year is over. Depending on the brand, an MVB gives off UVB for 6-12 months. After that it gives off light, but no longer UVB. ZooMed Powersun and ExoTerra SolarGlo are good brands in the US. I would love to hear which brands are recommended in the UK and elsewhere.

Both the MVB and the regular heat lamp should be installed in a ceramic fixture (to prevent overheating) with a dome. Make sure the fixture is rated for the Wattage and Volts of your lamp. You can often find good fixtures at the Feed store (in the baby chicks section) for a lot cheaper than at the pet store. Hardware stores also often carry them. Make sure to use a chain or wire to install the lamp, rather than the clamp. The clamps notoriously fail, and I personally know several folks who had small or large fires as a result.

Alternatively, you can provide heat and UVB separately: -The heat can be provided with any regular (old fashioned) 100W household bulb, or the 125W brooder lamps used for baby chicks. Those cost about $3, which is a lot cheaper than buying a 'reptile' bulb, which often has a shorter lifespan before it burns out. -The UVB can be provided with a tube-style light. Do NOT use the curly/coil style UVB light. These are cheaper, but are known to harm tortoise's eyes and cause other problems. ZooMed Reptisun and ExoTerra Repti-Glo are good brands in the US. Both of the 18" versions of this will fit in a standard T8 under-cabinet fixture. No need to buy the over-priced and badly made pet fixture. GE makes one that is sold at the Home Depot or Amazon for $13 . Make sure you get the kind that is 'plug in' not for hard-wiring. I would love to hear more about reliable brands in the UK and elsewhere. The UVB tube lights will radiate UVB for 6-8 months. Since my tortoises spend the Summer outside, I replace the bulbs every September. That way the torts start the indoor season with good fresh UVB sources. I put a small piece of masking tape with the date I switched the bulb onto the inside of the fixture.

Russian tortoises need a basking spot temperature (measured right under the lamp at shell height) of 95-100 degrees F (about 35 Celcius). Make sure that it is not hotter, or you can burn your tortoise's shell. Make sure it is warm enough, too, or your tortoise will have trouble digesting his food.

Russian tortoises do NOT require nighttime heat, unless the room they are in drops below 58 degrees F (15 Celcius)at night. In fact, your RT will be more active if he is not heated at night. The temperatures drop in their wild habitat when it gets dark, so they are wired to dig in for the night, and come back out when it warms up and gets brighter. No red nighttime light necessary. If the room is really cold, you can use a CHE (ceramic heat emitter), but keep it on a thermostat to prevent overheating. A CHE does sap a lot of electricity, and the cheap brand ones can get hot spots of 600+ degrees, so don't skimp.

I highly recommend shopping around when you are getting a new bulb. Pet stores are usually the most expensive. Online stores are often a good source, but keep the shipping cost in mind. Big Apple Herp and Carolina Pet Supply are 2 I've bought from. Amazon also often has good deals - sometimes really incredible deals. Last year I bought 10 Exo Terra Repti Glo 10.0 UVB bulbs in a pack that ended up being $13 per tube, with free shipping. Sometimes eBay has good deals too.

Happy basking!

DSC_9289+-+Copy.JPG
 
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cynthia_085

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Thanks great article.

I must say that owning a reptile, especially in a cold state (USA), the electricity bill goes up. lol
Thanks for the ideas some of the domes and bulbs are overpriced so thanks for including alternatives.

I see that in your picture you have two Russians; this might not be the best place to ask, but can you have more than one Russian together in a pen?
 

Shakudo

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The Netherlands
Thanks great article.

I must say that owning a reptile, especially in a cold state (USA), the electricity bill goes up. lol
Thanks for the ideas some of the domes and bulbs are overpriced so thanks for including alternatives.

I see that in your picture you have two Russians; this might not be the best place to ask, but can you have more than one Russian together in a pen?

Read :

http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread...together-a-lesson-learned-the-hard-way.94114/
 

Whayla

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Mar 26, 2014
Messages
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I need a slight amount of advice on basking temp for my redfoot tortoise (I know some would say they do not need a basking area, but my Tortuga loves her basking rock). For Russian tortoises, basking areas should be around 95-100 - is this the same for a redfoot tortoise? Or can their temps be higher/lower?
 

John Ramos

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San Jose, CA
I need a slight amount of advice on basking temp for my redfoot tortoise (I know some would say they do not need a basking area, but my Tortuga loves her basking rock). For Russian tortoises, basking areas should be around 95-100 - is this the same for a redfoot tortoise? Or can their temps be higher/lower?
Have Russians, don't have a clue on Redfoots.
 

pfara

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I need a slight amount of advice on basking temp for my redfoot tortoise (I know some would say they do not need a basking area, but my Tortuga loves her basking rock). For Russian tortoises, basking areas should be around 95-100 - is this the same for a redfoot tortoise? Or can their temps be higher/lower?

Basking temps for my reds are around 92F. They don't seem to like high end temps (94F and up). This is just my experience.
 

emma ♥

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This was literally so so helpful! I've just gone from an all-in-one bulb to a seperate heat bulb and UV light, as my all-in-one kept blowing! I was unsure what the ideal basking spot temperature was, worrying I was going to burn my tortoise - but this was perfect and my basking spot is just the right temperature!
 

ILuvDogz

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Dec 6, 2014
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I've seen a lot of questions pertaining to lighting lately. I wrote up a little summary in March for a FB group, so I'm copying it here, just to have a nice summary here that might be useful. :)

Russian tortoises need heat and UVB (and UVA, but that's easier). The heat helps their bodies reach the necessary core temperature to function, digest, etc. The UVB helps their bodies produce vitamin D3, which is necessary for absorbing calcium into strong bones and a strong shell. Most of the UVB is absorbed through the skin of their legs and head, but their shell does need UVB also.

Ideally, a tortoise gets to spend the warm months outside in a safe enclosure with hiding opportunities and good plants to eat. If you are not able to provide an outdoor enclosure, even 30 minutes a day (or a few times per week) are beneficial. Even the advanced artificial UVB technology cannot replace real sunlight.

Heat and UVB can be provided via an all-in-one Mercury Vapor bulb (MVB) that produces both heat and UVB. It is very important that the MVB is suspended at a straight-up-and-down angle, not at a slant or on its side. These bulbs are balanced, so they will have a shorter lifespan if they aren't installed correctly. Save your receipt, as most companies will replace the bulb if it burns out before a year is over. Depending on the brand, an MVB gives off UVB for 6-12 months. After that it gives off light, but no longer UVB. ZooMed Powersun and ExoTerra SolarGlo are good brands in the US. I would love to hear which brands are recommended in the UK and elsewhere.

Both the MVB and the regular heat lamp should be installed in a ceramic fixture (to prevent overheating) with a dome. Make sure the fixture is rated for the Wattage and Volts of your lamp. You can often find good fixtures at the Feed store (in the baby chicks section) for a lot cheaper than at the pet store. Hardware stores also often carry them. Make sure to use a chain or wire to install the lamp, rather than the clamp. The clamps notoriously fail, and I personally know several folks who had small or large fires as a result.

Alternatively, you can provide heat and UVB separately: -The heat can be provided with any regular (old fashioned) 100W household bulb, or the 125W brooder lamps used for baby chicks. Those cost about $3, which is a lot cheaper than buying a 'reptile' bulb, which often has a shorter lifespan before it burns out. -The UVB can be provided with a tube-style light. Do NOT use the curly/coil style UVB light. These are cheaper, but are known to harm tortoise's eyes and cause other problems. ZooMed Reptisun and ExoTerra Repti-Glo are good brands in the US. Both of the 18" versions of this will fit in a standard T8 under-cabinet fixture. No need to buy the over-priced and badly made pet fixture. GE makes one that is sold at the Home Depot or Amazon for $13 . Make sure you get the kind that is 'plug in' not for hard-wiring. I would love to hear more about reliable brands in the UK and elsewhere. The UVB tube lights will radiate UVB for 6-8 months. Since my tortoises spend the Summer outside, I replace the bulbs every September. That way the torts start the indoor season with good fresh UVB sources. I put a small piece of masking tape with the date I switched the bulb onto the inside of the fixture.

Russian tortoises need a basking spot temperature (measured right under the lamp at shell height) of 95-100 degrees F (about 35 degrees C). Make sure that it is not hotter, or you can burn your tortoise's shell. Make sure it is warm enough, too, or your tortoise will have trouble digesting his food.

Russian tortoises do NOT require nighttime heat, unless the room they are in drops below 58 degrees F (15 degrees C) at night. In fact, your RT will be more active if he is not heated at night. The temperatures drop in their wild habitat when it gets dark, so they are wired to dig in for the night, and come back out when it warms up and gets brighter. No red nighttime light necessary. If the room is really cold, you can use a CHE (ceramic heat emitter), but keep it on a thermostat to prevent overheating. A CHE does sap a lot of electricity, and the cheap brand ones can get hot spots of 600+ degrees, so don't skimp.

I highly recommend shopping around when you are getting a new bulb. Pet stores are usually the most expensive. Online stores are often a good source, but keep the shipping cost in mind. Big Apple Herp and Carolina Pet Supply are 2 I've bought from. Amazon also often has good deals - sometimes really incredible deals. Last year I bought 10 Exo Terra Repti Glo 10.0 UVB bulbs in a pack that ended up being $13 per tube, with free shipping. Sometimes eBay has good deals too.

Happy basking!

DSC_9289+-+Copy.JPG
Thank you so much! This was very helpful!
 

dreamtortoise

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May 20, 2015
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Virginia
Thank you! So helpful. I am getting a Russian hopefully soon and I had NO idea what the lighting situation should be like. Thanks again!!
 

jdattilio

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Jun 30, 2015
Messages
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Hi I have been recommended that 10.0 reptisun curly bulbs would work while there little until I put them outside what do you think?
 

JoesMum

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Hi I have been recommended that 10.0 reptisun curly bulbs would work while there little until I put them outside what do you think?
I recommend that you do not. Those curly bulbs, as you call them, are the compact coil type bulbs known to cause eye problems. Time and again we have new keepers on here with torts with eye problems and time and again getting rid of those bulbs fixes it. Pet stores keep recommending them, but they are not suitable.

I don't know how long it will be until you have outdoor UVB available, but indoors we only recommend MVB or tube UVB for good reason. If your tort gets outside for an hour every day then you don't need a bulb at all.
 

jdattilio

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Hello I was recommended by a pretty good reptile store (serpentariun) I have an outdoor closure now but there the size of a half dollar but you think if there out for an hour a day I don't need UVB at all In their cage
 

JoesMum

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Hello I was recommended by a pretty good reptile store (serpentariun) I have an outdoor closure now but there the size of a half dollar but you think if there out for an hour a day I don't need UVB at all In their cage
If @Tom is about I am sure he will give you the low down. However, our experience on this forum is that very few pet stores give accurate and up to date information on the care of torts... and lighting has to be amongst the worst consistently.

When I say an hour, I do mean an hour.
A day means every day

Skip more than the odd day because it's rainy, cold, you're away, you're sick, you're at work or whatever and you should have a UVB indoors. Just do not get a coil type.
 
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