Q&A: Heating and Lighting

Jennifer writes with a question about heating and lighting:

I just recently brought home my garter snake from my father’s house and I’m just not sure about the lighting situation. I read the Heating and Lighting section of your care guide, but was not sure about the lighting and heating at night. I currently have a heating pad underneath the cage and a 60-watt red-glass lightbulb in a 20-gallon long tank. The temperature generally stays in the lower 70s, but at night I’m afraid it may get too cool for him. I read that the snakes generally need certain hours of light and darkness, but does the red light bulb count as light (I’m pretty sure it just may provide heat)? Or should I get two bulbs, one for light and the red bulb, and turn the white light off at night? I just want to give Bubba the best care I can give him. Thanks for your time.

I wrote back:

You don’t have to be super-precise with temperatures: garter snakes are pretty robust; they can usually handle cooler temperatures than, say, boa constrictors; and it’s okay if it cools off a bit at night. They don’t need, in other words, to be at 80°F at all hours of the day.

Unless your house gets well into the 60s overnight, an incandescent light bulb during the day is probably enough. If it does get cooler than that, then add a heating pad. I wouldn’t worry about the red bulb. I’d only worry about a red bulb overnight if I was keeping tropical or heat-loving reptiles (lizards, mostly) and the house was drafty in winter and/or air conditioned in the summer.

My home isn’t air conditioned and is plenty warm during the summer without any additional heating; during the winter, which has been profoundly cold (as in below -30) here this winter, cages outside the heated snake room are on heating pads 24/7, and some of them have overhead lights.

Hope that helps. I’m probably overdue in updating the care section.

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