Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Winter Advisory

Get your herps prepared for winter before problems arise

©1997 Melissa Kaplan


I just thought I'd take a moment to remind old timers of some things they may have forgotten, and to share some information with new reptile keepers about things they may not know about or may not have thought of yet.

During the colder winter months, the colder outside temperatures will result in a drop in the temperatures inside your house or apartment, which in turn will make it more difficult for your reptile's heating equipment to attain and maintain the required temperatures for the species throughout the day and night. The only way to find this out is to monitor the temps in the enclosure, in three spots (the basking, warm and cool areas), several times during the day and night to see what's going on. If you also record the room air temperature and outside temps, you can begin to see the correlation between the three, and in the future you will know, just by listening to the weather forecasts, when it's time to add the additional lights or reset the enclosures' thermostats for the increased heat needed. You can buy thermometers that will record the daily high and low, and thermometers that will measure temperatures inside and outside of the house, by use of a probe placed outside; the probe is attached to a thin wire that connects with its dual thermometer base in the house.

If you have a thermostat that regulates your central heating, then maintain that schedule on a day off so you can monitor room and enclosure temps to find out what happens to them when you are at work...just doing it on your day off when you have the heat blasting is not going to give you an accurate picture of what's going on when you are not home... ;)

Watch your power demands...if you are using more heating equipment, you may overload your outlet, power strip or fuse box. Check the equipment ratings, and be safe. Check out the article on fire safety to get some ideas on how to avoid being a grim statistic this holiday season.

Check temperatures throughout your house to see what the warmest room is, and where the warmest part of a room is...and locate your herp enclosures there for the winter.

Power Failures
There is only one thing to say: be prepared. If you live where power outages are common due to snow or ice storm, floods or high winds, lay in back up before you need it. Generators are the best way (assuming you have kept it primed and know how to work it! See vet Susan Donoghue's article on her fun time during the winter of 1993-94 in the Emergency Preparedness cluster at my site). People with wood stoves that are not reliant on electrical starters are also okay....assuming someone can be home to keep the fire going and the reptiles can be moved into the well-insulated room to benefit from the heat. Small reusable and disposable heat packs can be purchased from camping/outdoor stores which in a well insulated tank will be useful for small reptiles. White gas or kerosene heaters can also be used but be very careful using them with animals and kids...and be sure the room is well ventilated. Propane heat fixtures can also be used - you can even rent them from party suppliers (they are often used to heat outdoor dining areas). Follow all the manufacturers safety recommendations with these types of heaters.

You can insulate tanks by constructing them with double walls; otherwise, lay in a supply of extra thick towels and blankets to swathe tanks with...obviously, you need to be *very* careful if you do this with the tank lights on! The inside may overheat, and externally mounted lights may set the fabric on fire, so be very, very careful and smart about how you do this. Swathing is especially good at night.

Speaking of power, are your electrical/gas bills killing you? Talk to the power company to see about alternative pricing structures for which you may be eligible.

Food and Water
For non-hibernating herps, you still have to feed and water them. If you live where you may be socked in for days, or longer, not only do you need to lay in a supply of food and water and medications for yourself and your human family, but you must do the same for your animal family, as well. Figure out what their water needs are - drinking and soaking water, water for cleaning enclosures, and food and water bowls - per day or week, and lay in at least a weeks supply. Ditto with food. For snakes and many carnivorous, omnivorous and insectivorous reptiles, they can probably do fine for a week or so without food, even when being maintained at their proper environmental temperatures, so long as they are in good health and well fleshed to begin with. For herbivores and some insectivores and omnivores, they may need to eat during that time, especially if you are nursing any sick ones, so be prepared with a supply of food for them. As with meat-eaters, however, a healthy herbivore can go several days or week or more with little food.

If any of your herps are on medication, make sure you have enough on hand, with any necessary supplies, to get you through periods of being homebound. Assuming you still have power but just can't get out easily or at all, also make sure to have an adequate stock of cleaning supplies and garbage bags, substrates, etc...

If, despite all your preparations and contingency plans, your herps get hypothermic, do not just ram their heat up to 100 F or put them in a hot bath to warm them up quickly. Doing so may literally kill them. Instead, warm them up gradually, such as by wrapping in a couple of towels and putting in a warm, not hot, enclosure, on a heating pad, and gradually over the next several hours, remove the towel, layer by layer, and boost the temps to normal range. Or, start with a tepid (70-75 F / 22-24 C) bath and slowly replace the cooler water with warmer water, until the water is in the normal bath range for that species (80 F / 27 C for temperate species to 90 F / 32 C for tropical ones).

The air in our homes tends to dry out during the winters...especially if you are using your heating system most or all of the time. Consider running a humidifier at least during the day. You may find that the increased humidity helps the humans and other animals, too.

Uninterrupted Power Supply Can Prolong Power and Protect Equipment During Outages
Herper Gus Gywnn wrote to suggest the following:

Have your Vitalite® or other expensive lighting and electrical equipment for your iguana or other lizard on at least a surge protection circuit, and at best an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).  In the case of power surges, the lights can be blown out - but with a surge protector, they can be safeguarded.  If you invest $100+ in UVB and heat lights, spending an additional $10 to safeguard them against power surges is probably worth it.  With an UPS, in the case of a short blackout, your heat lights can be kept on for at least a short while (some systems are really only good for 5 minutes, but others can last several hours) - which can end up important in such things as a major blizzard or ice-storm (where temperatures can drop incredibly rapidly and even an hour of extra heat can make a HUGE difference).  You can even turn a UPS battery on and off, so that you can conserve the power over a period of a day or more, running a heat lamp or two just enough to keep the temperature from dropping radically in a well-insulated lizard enclosure.

Related Articles:

Heating - Not Simply A Matter Of Watts

Lighting & Heating

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