Reptile Lighting: A Current Perspective
©1997 William H. Gehrmann PhD, The Vivarium 8(2):44-45, 62
recently called a store to inquire about a lamp (lamp A) which I wanted
to examine for this article. I was told that they didn't have lamp A but
they did have lamp B which was far superior, especially for iguanas. After
a bit more discussion it transpired that the clerk had never heard of lamp
A, but he knew lamp B was better. Unfortunately, this anecdote can serve
as a metaphor for the general state of affairs in selecting lamps for reptiles;
a clean-cut resolution to this problem based on experimental data is not
Although various investigators have explored the effects of light on a variety of physiological processes in reptiles (see Gehrmann, 1994A for a review) it was Joe Laszlo who called the attention of the herpetocultural community to the importance of temperature (Laszlo, 1979) and light quality (Laszlo, 1969) for health and reproduction in captive reptiles. He consulted representatives in the lighting industry and found a relatively new lamp by Duro-Test Corp. with the brand name of Vita-Lite® which was a close match to natural light. The reptiles he exposed to these lamps seemed to fare better than those illuminated with cool white tubes or incandescent lamps. His brief publication in Intemational Zoo Yearbook quickly led to the almost universal use of Vita-Lite® which held sway until about 1990. Joe was especially interested in ultraviolet (UV) light and for a number of years until his untimely death in 1987, we collaborated with a view toward designing a reptile lamp with a greater but safe level of ultraviolet B (UVB) or midwave UV than found in Vita-Lite® and other lamps (Gehrmann, 1987). During this time in the 1980's, two students of Duane Ullrey at Michigan State University, Mary Allen (1989) and Joni Bernard (1995), began studies exploring the importance of vitamin D and UVB to the health of reptiles, with particular reference to calcium metabolism and bone formation. These studies contributed to the development of the variety of reptile lamps available today.
The purpose of this paper is to clarify some issues related to lamp selection and reptile lighting. I particularly refer to lizards, perhaps the reptile group most sensitive to lighting conditions.
What is Full-Spectrum
As used today, "full-spectrum" applied to fluorescent tubes generally implies that all colors (wavelengths) of the visible spectrum at similar energy levels contribute to the emitted light; UV irradiance is no longer implicit in the definition. Tungsten filament lamps, with glass that contains neodymium, are often referred to as "full-spectrum." The light emitted from these lamps is the same as that emitted from a household tungsten bulb but with the yellow colors removed. This "brightens" the light but the SPD is considerably different from natural light and full-spectrum fluorescent light. As herpetoculturists, we want the colors of our charges shown to best advantage. However, short or long term health benefits attributable to the use of full-spectrum light have not been experimentally demonstrated.
How Important is
Ultraviolet A (Blacklight)?
Do Reptiles Need
How Much UV and Visible
Light is Emitted by Lamps Used in Herpetoculture?
Are All Wavelengths
of UVB Equally Effective in Promoting Vitamin D3 Synthesis?
Does This Mean the
Lamps are Ineffective in Promoting Vitamin D 3 Synthesis?
Is There a Reptile
Lamp That is Safe and Specifically Designed to Maximize Vitamin D3 Synthesis?
What do the Numbers
Sometimes Used to Describe Reptile Lamps Mean?
Can Metal Halide
Lamp Systems be Used for Reptiles?
Will Reptiles Regulate
Their Exposure to Ultraviolet Light?
Is There a Component
of Natural Light That May Be More Important Than Light Quality?
Allen, M. E. 1989. Nutritional Aspects of Insectivory. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University.
Bernard, J. B. 1995. Spectral Irradiance of Fluorescent Lamps and Their Efficacy for Promoting Vitamin D Synthesis in Herbivorous Reptiles. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University.
Ferguson, G. W., Jones, J. R., Gehnnann, W. H., Hammack, S. H.,.Talent, L. G., Hudson, R. D., Dierenfeld, E. S., Fitzpatrick, M. P., Frye, F. L., Holick, M. F., Chen, T. C., Lu, Z., Gross, T. S., and J. J. Vogel. 1996. Indoor husbandry of the panther chameleon Chantaeleo (Furcifer) pardalis: effects of dietary vitamins A and D and ultraviolet irradiation on pathology and life-history traits. Zoo Biology 15:279-299.
Gehrmann, W. H. 1987. Ultraviolet irtadiances of various lamps used in animal husbandry. Zoo Biology 6:117-127.
Gehrmann, W. H. 1994A. Light requirements of captive amphibians and reptiles. In Captive Management and Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles. J. B. Murphy, K. Adler, and J. T. Collins (eds.) Soc. Study Amphib. Reptiles (SSAR).
Gehrmann, W. H. 1994B. Spectral characteristics of lamps commonly used in herpetoculture. The Vivarium 5:16-2 1.
Gehrmann, W. H. 1996. Lizard-saver light support. The Vivarium 7:49.
Jones, J. R., Ferguson, G. W., Gehrinann, W. H., Holick, M. F., Chen, T. C., and Z. Lu. 1996. Vitamin D nutritional status influences voluntary behavioral photoregulation in a lizard. In, Biologic Effects of Light. 1995. M. F. Holick and E. G. Jung (eds.) Walter de Gruyter, N. Y.
Laszlo, J. 1969. Observations on two new artificial lights for reptile displays. International Zoo Yearbook 9:12-13.
Laszlo, J. 1979. Notes on thermal requirements of reptiles and amphibians in captivity. In 3rd Annual Reptile Symposium on Captive Propagation and Husbandry, Knoxville, Tennessee.
MacLaughlin, J. A., Anderson, R. R., and M. F. Holick. 1982. Spectral character of sunlight modulates photosynthesis of pre-vitamin D, and its photoisomers in human skin. Science 216:10011003.
Sievert, L. M. 1991. The influence of photoperiod and position of a light source on behavioral thermoregulation. Copeia 1991:105-1 10.
Acknowledgments: I thank Gary Ferguson for his helpful comments and Patricia Hemmings for processing the manuscript.
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