1. Welcome! Are you interested in tortoises? If so, we invite you to join our community! Our community is the #1 place for tortoise keepers to talk online. Once you join you'll be able to post messages, upload pictures of your tortoise and enclosure, and discuss any tortoise topic with other tortoise keepers. Get started today!

Lighting - UVB/UVA, Tortoise and Plants

Discussion in 'Russian tortoises' started by Blueberry272, Jan 11, 2018.

  1. Blueberry272

    Blueberry272 New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    Hello,
    I see a lot of posts about lights but I'm still missing one piece.

    It sounds like I need something that gives UVB for tortoise health (Russian tortoise in this case) and something that allows for a basking spot that gets about 95-100 degrees.

    It is also my understanding that UVB does not necessarily put off the light requirements for a tortoise, nor does it support plant life (putting spider plants in the enclosure).

    Does this mean I need something that produces UVB, something that produces heat, and something that produces UVA (for plants, right?) ?

    Obviously wattage will depend on the enclosure size... I usually rely on looking at the back diagram of the little box to tell me how far things will reach.
  2. Blueberry272

    Blueberry272 New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    (These ads do not appear for registered members.)
    Oh, also, lets assume the tortoise doesn't go out side.

    He does in the summer, but for limited amounts of time as we have to supervise. We are hoping to afford to build him an enclosure this spring, but our roof is leaking so fixing that is taking financial priority and we're putting most of our money into his new&improved indoor enclosure.
  3. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2011
    Messages:
    15,822
    Likes Received:
    29,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Kent, South East England
    Basking
    A Russian needs a basking lamp that hangs vertically and can be adjusted up and down so you can get 95-100F

    For this you need a reflector bulb ... an ordinary 100W household one does the job, but they're getting harder to buy so you may end up buying one from a pet store.

    UVB
    Your tort needs light in the correct spectrum, so you must buy a reptile specific UVB lamp to get this. There's no escaping the pet brands here.

    Do not buy a compact, CFL type (looks like a low energy light bulb) as they frequently cause eye problems in tortoises. The long fluorescent tube type is fine.

    You must not have glass, perspex or wire mesh between the lamp and your tort as UVB will not pass through them.

    Two bulbs or MVB
    You can get a bulb that combines basking and UVB called a Mercury Vapor Bulb (MVB). This works out simpler for some people to manage. However, you do need to be aware that the UVB output of bulbs declines long before they blow. MVB bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months unless you also get a UV meter to test it. The fluorescent tubes seem to last much longer and you can probably go a couple of years without replacing them.

    Plants
    You kind of have to accept that plants are not long lasting in a tort enclosure. They get eaten or stomped on long before the UVB becomes an issue. Grow them in pots and sink the pot into the substrate. The plant will grow better like that and is easier to switch out when your tort has demolished it.

    Timers
    Timers make managing lights much simpler. You don't have to be there to switch them on and off. Your tort gets regulated day time and you get a lie in or to go out for the evening without worrying.

    Cold nights
    Russians are pretty hardy and adult torts can cope with temperature down to 65F at night; most heated homes are fine at night even in very cold weather.

    However, very young torts need ambient temperatures at a constant 80F minimum day and night. To provide this you will also need a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) that gives off heat, but no light. You must use this with a thermostat. It can be left on 24/7 and will only cut in if the temperature drops.

    Coloured Bulbs
    Are not suitable for tortoises. Your tortoise needs complete darkness at night. Coloured bulbs color decor and tortoises aren't very bright. They associate red and purple with tasty foods and start eating the decor or substrate. Do not use a coloured bulb.

    Lamp holders
    Do not use the clamp type fixings. They fail and the lamp drops. They're a fire risk.

    Hang your lamps from a secure stand - you can make your own or buy them from pet stores.
  4. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Messages:
    2,586
    Likes Received:
    3,559
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
    UVB is necessary for a tortoise to make vitamin D3 in their skin - which is necessary for calcium absorption and a lot of other organ functions in the body.

    Yes, you do need a basing spot for the tortoise to heat its body. It is also necessary for them to heat their skin in order for the D3 to be fully manufactured.

    A good reptile UVB bulb puts out UVB and UVA plus visible light. Because of the focus on manufacturing to produce UV, the fluorescent bulbs puts out a spectrum towards the shorter wavelengths (blue) or in the 5500 - 6500K range. MVBs tend to put out a "redder" color as so much of the energy is producing heat and that is the longer wavelengths, including near-IR. So a fluorescent UVB is good for growing plants. Not the UV portion, but the blue portion. A MVB will tend to burn plants because of the IR. Plants used blue light principally in developing new growth and vigorous, sturdy growth. Plants use red light in flowering and seed production. So the blue portion is what we would need most in our enclosures for good plant growth.

    So, if you are trying to grow plants along with your tortoise's needs, I like a good fluorescent T5 HO UVB for light. I use a double fixture and also have a T5 grow light along with the UVB bulb. I then use a standard incandescent flood bulb for basking heat, and for adding more of the red end of the spectrum.

    If you really want to get technical - I have two timers - the flood (basking) bulb comes on for 14 hours each day. The fluorescents come on for 10-12 hours each day. So there is a morning "sunrise" period (before the fluorescents come on) that is redder and starts heating for about an hour before the bright lights come on. The reverse happens in the evening giving a "sunset" period. Timers are cheap and its easy to do!!
    JoesMum likes this.
  5. Blueberry272

    Blueberry272 New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    Should I be concerned about the light being too close to the tortoise? I got a 4ft long tube light thing, and it says it gives uvb/uva up to 20 inches away. The cage is 18 inches deep, not including dirt room. Originally I was going to put the light on the top of the lid but I think it might be better under, but the holder is like another 1-2 inches wide so depending on dirt depth it may only be 14 inches away from him.
  6. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2011
    Messages:
    15,822
    Likes Received:
    29,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Kent, South East England
    Up to 20 inches away is 14 inches and yes it could be too close, but getting it as high as possible should be fine. You can get different output tubes ... 5.0 10.0 etc

    5.0 is lower intensity than 10.0 so if height is a real issue then drop the intensity. I prefer the 5.0 in any case
  7. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Messages:
    2,586
    Likes Received:
    3,559
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
    Yes, you should be very concerned about getting a UVB blub too close. UVB is dangerous. I think most people really discount, or aren't aware, of how potentially dangerous UVB is. It is what is referred to as the "bioactive" wavelengths. So it will tan (and burn) your skin is useful and needed for starting D3 production in the body. But it also will damage cells. Overexposure causes sunburns, "snow blindness", and more serious damage to the eye, as well as cancers. Kind of like heat - we need it and the right amount is necessary, but too much can burn and kill. So we all have thermometers to monitor and get our temperatures correct, even though with heat, we can actually feel temperature and can often give ourselves warnings if it feels too hot. With UVB, you cannot feel or see it. In natural sunlight it always comes with the heat of the sun. So the heat of the sun gives us warnings when we start feeling to hot - and get out of the sun. With artificial UVB, that is not the case. I cannot imagine not having a good solarmeter to check the well-being of our tortoises. They need UVB, but it must be provided in the right amount.

    So many immediately jump on the possible problem of a compact fluorescent, even though I see no evidence of that problem still existing. However, we say its OK to just "wing it" and go by the very general guidelines on the box for placing a UVB light!! Placing a UVB light too close can cause just as serious a problem as the old defective compact bulbs! The worst of those bulbs were putting out a UVI of 15-18 at the "recommended distance" because they were measured by intensity. The found out that the UVB portion of those bulbs were much greater, so at the same intensity, they were producing far too much UVB for the recommended distance. Because they also run cool and do not produce heat, lizards in particular, could climb right up to them and totally overexpose. The T5 HO bulb you probably are referring to is a great bulb. But it "normally" produces about a UVI of 5 at about 18". But at 8" it could be just as potentially dangerous as those old, defective, compact bulbs! Just watch the leaves of a plant growing under a UVB. As the plant grows, the leaves that get too close to the UVB will have the cells destroyed - and die!

    So we do have the recommended distances now printed on the boxes for our UVB blubs. Manufacturer websites also have charts and information for their bulbs. Definitely do not disregard that and do not place closer. Better still, get a solarmeter and ensure your tortoise is being subjected to proper exposures.

    I also am careful about the placement of UVB bulbs so that when I reach into an enclosure, I am not looking directly into and too close to the bulb myself !!!!
  8. Blueberry272

    Blueberry272 New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    I couldn't get the bulb to mount on the outside of the cage, and it is a 10.0 I believe. I'm just concerned about switching to the 5.0 because that one says 14 inches, which means I would have to have at least four inches of dirt consistently around the cage. Right now I have anywhere from one to five or six on the mound portions.

    I'm getting a little frustrated. I had to mount the UV light on the inside and I'm worrying that it's too close, and I had to mount the basking light on the outside and I cant find a bulb that will produce enough heat at an 18-inch distance. Do you know of any heat bulb recommendations, or signs that the tortoise is getting too much UV?
  9. Blueberry272

    Blueberry272 New Member

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2017
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    I believe the box said to not put closer than 6 inches. I should have at least 14 inches in there...
  10. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2011
    Messages:
    15,822
    Likes Received:
    29,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Kent, South East England
    It should be fine
  11. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    Messages:
    2,586
    Likes Received:
    3,559
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
    What bulb do you actually have. Lots of conflicting info given so far.

    Is it indeed a T8 10.0 4 ft bulb? What brand? First you said the box said 20" - which is what the manufacturer recommends for a T8 10.0 Reptisun. Zoomed recommends 10-18" for their T8 10,0.

    You later said the box said 14" for a 5.0 and then said you thought the box said 6" for your 10.0. that is totally backwards and doesn't sound right at all. A 10.0 would need to be further away than a 5.0. The brand of bulb makes a difference too. As well as how old the bulb is. Also, if you have a reflector hood, that can double the amount of UVB and distance needed for proper installation. If you have a screen the bulb is having to shine through can cut the amount dramatically as well. A simple fly screen will filter out as much as 60% of the available UVB. The type and color of enclosure walls/ceiling and distance from walls of the enclosure will also change the reading.

    IF you could give as much of that info as possible, I can give you a much better guess as to what the proper distance "should" be. Sorry to make this sound more complicated, but I am careful about UVB exposure and don't take giving advice for the well being of our tortoises lightly. Without a UV meter, everyone is just making a best guess.
Similar Threads: Lighting UVB/UVA
Forum Title Date
Russian tortoises Lighting - is it bright enough May 25, 2018
Russian tortoises Lighting and heat Jan 17, 2018
Russian tortoises Heat and lighting advice Dec 7, 2017
Russian tortoises Need recommendations for Russian tort indoor lighting Nov 26, 2017
Russian tortoises Lighting and heating times Aug 4, 2017

Share This Page