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    Lighting for young tortoises

    Please advise how I can fit a T5 hybrid system to a tortoise table?

    Lighting for reptiles is a science that is now advancing at a quicker rate than ever before. Some of the old ways of thinking and old fitting methods are simply not valid any longer, so this is how I would currently suggest incorporating a solar re-creation system above a tortoise table, that will be both effective for the tortoise and also cost effective for its keeper.

    High output T5 reptile lamps are revolutionary and relatively new products that produce a safe, energy-efficient but upper level or index of ultra-violet light (UV) over a wide and usable area. When thinking about lighting the indoor accommodation of reptiles, we must ensure that the footprint or the usable area of illumination is big enough for the animal to make proper use of it.

    UV lamps have inherent limitations, with the most concerning being the decrease in power that results as light travels away from the lamp. The further away the lamp is from the animal, so the weaker will be its exposure to the UV output. It is therefore important to ensure that the minimum UV index is available at the furthest point. You will then need to adjust the décor, so as to allow the animal to self-regulate to the maximum Index.

    Practical difficulties

    Lighting a table has always been a struggle, as it is difficult to mount lamps tidily over an open topped enclosure, and they must be securely held in place. In the past, keepers have typically just relied on combi lamps alone, but these provide a restricted usable area and are quite an expensive method of providing heat, light and UV together.

    So how is it possible to take advantage of the latest technology, and also to save a few pounds on running costs in the process? A hybrid system is the key. Start by building a colour-matched “goal post” aff air over the table horizontally. This will provide a frame from which to mount lamps. By matching the laminate colour, you will ensure that it does not look out of place.

    Choose a lamp that is roughly two-thirds of the length of the table. This becomes your photogradient. Fit the lamp and refl ector under the framework off set into the hot end.

    Ideally, you need to mount the lamp 38-46cm (15-18in) over the fl oor of the table. And then use the decoration of the table to adjust the photogradient from minimum to maximum.

    Why it is necessary to do this? Your photogradient needs to match your heating or thermogradient. This is essential for good regulation and will ensure the proper function of the Vitamin D3 cycle. It is also now a good idea that the hot end is the opposite end to the hide.

    Shade and cool is essential to the D3 cycle as well, and if the main heat output is occurring close to the hide, then the tortoise will not be able to regulate between the two extremes. A heat mat controlled through a suitable thermostat can serve to provide night-time heat in a hide, but this should not act as the enclosure’s hotspot.

    Use your substrate to build up the fl oor level within the enclosure, beneath the basking point, so that the tortoise is 30cm (12in) from the lamp at the strongest point, dropping off to the lower level at the start of the cool area.

    Seeing where they want to be

    Your tortoises will be the real lighting experts, and they are more than able to self regulate between heat and cool, plus light and shade. Being able to see 99 million more colours than humans including UV and its power gradients means that your pets will be able to find their optimum position in their quarters at any time very, very well.

    We then need to find an efficient and potent method of heating and boosting the UV. A lamp like the D3 basking lamp can then be used to provide a hot, UV-rich boosting zone. If you set the system as follows, you will save lots of money on running costs and provide a targeted basking area that is not only potent, but is far more usable for the tortoise! Mercury vapour lamps are wattage heavy, and so cost quite a bit to run.

    Use the basking lamp to create a boosting zone in the centre of the hot area. Fit a reliable timer so that this lamp is running for two hours in the morning and then for a similar period in the evening. The tortoise can then place itself in this hotspot and energise quickly. In the winter, if the tortoises are not hibernating, the running time of the lamp can be safely increased. This can also be useful in appalling summers, as we had in 2012.

    But what about heat on its own for the daytime? Use a lamp-like 75W halogen heatspot and run this ideally through a reliable thermostat like a Habistat. These energy efficient lamps get very hot, very quickly and yet they do not draw as much current as a tungsten or ceramic lamp.

    In fact, a 75W halogen heatspot will give off a similar amount of heat to a 150W tungsten bulb purchased from a diy store. The stat will maintain your ambient temperature. As the heat is maintained, so the lamp switches off or dims down, depending on your choice of thermostat. This means that you have measurable heat in a set thermogradient where current is only supplied when needed. A thermostatically controlled, wall mounted or roof down mounted heat mat can then be used to maintain the required night time temperature.

    This hybrid system is far better than just running 100w or 160w mercury vapour lamp for 12 hours straight, as you provide a UV rich, high LUX (light) living space that is wide enough for the tortoise. The dedicated heat source and boosting lamp then can be fitted in the centre of the basking area.

    © John Courteney-Smith
    Taken from “Practical Reptile Keeping” magazine

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