Reptiles have so many more special care considerations when compared to other pets. Most dogs and cats can exist happily in the same environments that we humans do. As mammals, dogs and cats are their own sources of heat and are fairly cold-tolerant. Reptiles on the other hand are not. Reptiles rely on external elements to heat up or cool down. They need a range of temperatures available to stay healthy and happy.
So, are there any reptiles that don’t need heat?
Depending on various factors, most reptiles need an additional heat source. Where you live and the species of your pet will determine how much additional heat your reptile needs. Luckily, there are a few species of tortoises and turtles that can thrive without a heat lamp or a basking lamp.
Now, let’s discuss which pets don’t need additional heat.
Reptiles That Don’t Need A Heat Lamp
It’s important to note that the need for heat is all relative. In the wild, reptiles generally live in pretty controlled environments. Many lizards and snakes come from deserts or jungles where they’re used to the full sun and high temperatures.
A few reptiles are hardier and can survive without a heat lamp. However, this entirely depends on where you live, where you’re keeping your pet, and how extreme your seasons are. Anyone who lives in an area with harsh winters will almost always need to offer their animals an additional heat source.
Tortoises are one type of reptile that may not always need a source of heat.
Because most tortoises are desert dwellers, they’re used to long hot days and cold nights. Tortoises use the daytime to take in heat so they can survive throughout the evenings in the desert. Most tortoises living indoors will need some source of heat unless you plan on keeping your rooms pretty hot. But, outdoor tortoises may be a different story.
If you have a tortoise that lives outdoors, like a sulcata tortoise, you might be able to get away without heat. This really depends on where you live. If your evenings don’t drop below 45F, your sulcata tortoise will do fine without an additional heat source. But, if the temperature starts to drop, especially in winter, you’ll need to find some way to heat their outdoor enclosure. Check out this video that gives a tour of what an outdoor enclosure might look like for a tortoise living in cool weather.
One other group of reptiles that might be able to thrive without additional heat are some aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles.
Aquatic turtles have a similar situation to tortoises when it comes to heat requirements. Aquatic tortoises spend most of their days in the water but need a warm dry area to haul out on. Even though they eat and live in the water, they love to bask and need to sun’s UVB rays to produce essential vitamins and minerals.
If you are keeping your aquatic turtle indoors, you’ll probably need to provide them not only with a heat lamp but also with a UVA/UVB lamp. But, if your turtles are staying outdoors, you might be able to skip these lights. Turtles living outdoors in a large tank or a contained pond don’t usually need additional heat. These turtles will take advantage of the sun and bask and get warm when it’s out.
Obviously, you shouldn’t keep your aquatic turtles outside if your pond isn’t temperature controlled and you live in a cold area. But, in the right climate, you may be able to get away without offering any additional heat.
Why Do Most Reptiles Need Heat?
So, if turtles and tortoises are the only reptiles who MIGHT survive without heat, what about all of the other reptiles?
Almost every other reptile kept in captivity is going to need a heat source. At the very beginning of this article, we talked about how mammals and reptiles are different when it comes to synthesizing heat. Mammals are warm-blooded or endothermic and their bodies produce the heat they need to survive. Reptiles are cold-blooded or ectothermic and can’t produce their own heat. Instead, reptiles use various behavioral techniques to warm up or cool down as needed.
Heat is so important because all organisms need heat for reproduction, circulation, digestion, and other biological functions. Without heat, an animal’s body will slowly start to shut down.
Since we as humans live in pretty temperature-regulated environments, it’s easy to see why our pet reptiles would need more heat than we would generally want.
How Do You Know When Your Pet Is Cold?
Reptiles aren’t able to tell us directly that they’re cold. Instead, we might be able to observe some behaviors that give us a hint of their temperature and comfort levels.
Often, when a reptile is just starting to feel cold, it’ll try and get warm! This means you might notice your reptile spending a lot of time on the warm side of its enclosure. In extreme cases, your reptile might even climb up to the top of its cage to try and get closer to the heat source. Other reptiles may hunker down and hide in burrows, conserving their body heat until they see a warmer day on the horizon.
If your reptile is dangerously cold, you’ll notice that they become lethargic. They’ll start to move slowly and sometimes will just lay flat on their bellies. To avoid having a cold pet reptile, you always want to check the heat requirements for your species and make sure you’re monitoring the temperature.
How Can You Provide Your Reptile With Additional Heat?
Luckily, if you haven’t given your reptile heat yet, it’s not hard to start! There are an unlimited number of ways that you can heat your reptile’s enclosure.
Heat lamps are probably the number one way to give your reptile warmth. With heat lamps, you can choose the best type of bulb for your pet. Ceramic blubs provide heat all day and night long without emitting light. These bulbs can be great for nocturnal animals who don’t need any UVA or UVB lighting. You can also choose a basking bulb that emits heat or an infrared bulb.
Heating pads can also be used in a reptile enclosure. For snakes who don’t like to bask, heating pads can be placed beneath the enclosure and heat it from the ground up. You can also use elements like heating cables or heated rocks. Just keep in mind that any heated elements within the enclosure have the potential to burn your pets.
Reptiles That Almost Always Need Additional
Despite what you may read online, most reptiles need additional heat. Unless you live in their native area, you’ll always need to adjust a pet reptile’s environment so that it fits them perfectly!
Almost all snakes require a source of heat.
Snakes come from all over the world but many of the snakes we see as pets come from warm tropical areas. These snakes will often need a warm and humid environment that probably won’t be found inside your house. Plus, even if your snake isn’t from a tropical location, they’re still ectothermic. This means they’ll need external sources of heat to stay alive.
Ball pythons are a tropical species of snake that always need a source of heat. Even though these snakes love to burrow, they still need to be provided with a heat gradient in their tanks, so they can adjust as needed. Burrowing snakes can be provided with a heat mat or pad beneath their enclosure. Desert snakes that like to bask may enjoy a heat lamp more than a pad.
Lizards are another species of reptile that always need additional heat.
You may see some sources online that claim that bearded dragons, leopard geckos, and crested geckos don’t need heat. Unfortunately, this just isn’t true unless your house gets to be about 90F! A leopard gecko for example needs a range of temperatures from 75f-90f in their enclosures. Usually, the only way to achieve this gradient is with the use of a heat lamp.
Depriving your pet lizards of heat could cause them to become sick and lethargic, so make sure you’re always giving your pet exactly what they need.
Even though it’s a nice idea to try and keep a reptile without additional heat, it’s not always practical. Some species of hardy outdoor turtles and tortoises may do well all year long without heat. If you live somewhere where it doesn’t freeze over in the winter, you might have even more options!
But, most pet reptiles that come from hot environments are going to need extra heat in their tanks. Being a reptile pet owner means taking responsibility for things like temperature and humidity. Luckily, with a few small tweaks, it’s easy to make sure your reptile is cozy and comfy!