Tortoise table lighting - what equipment do I need?
Tortoise tables are a bit different to the standard wooden vivarium set ups, and so the equipment required for them will also be different. Tortoise Tables are brilliant for tortoises, and in most cases work out to be much better than vivariums’ for tortoises, mainly due to the larger floor area, as well as the great ventilation that they provide.
If you have purchased your tortoise table, the lighting that you go for tends to be the same for almost every shape and size. The main important factors to provide is the heat and the UVB. UVB bulbs must be located directly above a reptile, and should never be angled or level with them. If they are not directly above, the reptiles are firstly unable to absorb the rays in the same efficient way, but also at some angles the rays can cause damage to the eyes of your reptiles.
With this in mind, your bulb needs to be directly above, which is hard to achieve with a fluorescent tube on a table, be it a T5 or T8. So, the more popular choice is the combined mercury vapour bulb, which provides UVA (visual light, that provides a day and night cycle), UVB (for health) and heat (for thermal gradient). These bulbs are the perfect answer, with just one bulb hanging above a table, providing all their needs.
To start you will need a stand to hang this bulb. Ensure that you stand is height adjustable, as you will need to be able to move the bulb closer or further from the table – some tortoise tables have fixed stands already built on them, but please check to make sure that you will still be able to adjust the height of the bulb, or consider not using this and getting a separate stand instead. Some stands come in different sizes and we would recommend to go for the larger size, giving you more flexibility in the hanging range. Swell Reptiles have a Large Lamp Stand, which is suitable for almost all table sizes.
Next you will need a bulb holder, in which you will fit your chosen bulb. There are many types of bulb holder, all of which are essentially the same. You want to choose one with a ceramic holder (almost all holders are these days), but then choose between a silver, black, matt or glossy – this is completely personal choice. Next, you will need to choose the size of the holder – they usually come in a choice of small, medium or large, and each size will have a maximum wattage rating on it, of the largest size bulb that you can use with it. Personally, I would recommend to always get the larger holder – even if you only need an 80 or 100w bulb now, who’s to say that in the future you wouldn’t need a larger 160w bulb, so it would be frustrating to have to buy a new holder at a later date, so just purchase the bigger one now. The Reptile Systems Ceramic Reflector comes with a guard on the end, if you choose to use it, and also with a handy hook for easy installation on the stand, and also comes in shiny silver or matt black.
So now you have your stand – height adjustable and completely flexible for what you need. And you have your bulb holder, nice and big to accommodate any future changes. Next you need your mercury vapour bulb. There are lots of different brands of these, all of which will vary in terms of the warranty they offer, and the frequency of which they recommend replacing them. You will probably find that your bulb is still working long after the manufacturer recommended period, however the UVB does deplete over time, so always ensure you are replacing them as recommended.
The new generation Arcadia MVB D3 bulbs have a 12 – 18m lifeline and comes with a 1-year warranty.
As these bulbs produce both UVB and heat, they are unable to be used with a thermostat, as would normally be recommended with any heat source in your enclosure. If you put a thermostat on them, they will visually seem to be working perfectly, however the UVB will be limited, and you could risk causing serious health issues for your tortoise, such as MBD.
This is where it is so important that your stand is height adjustable, as you will need to set it up at a standard height, of around 12 – 16” distance from the shell of the tortoise, and then measure the temperature that is generated, with the use of a good quality digital thermometer. If the temperature is too low, then move the bulb down, towards the table, to a distance of no closer than 8”, checking the temperatures as you do so, until it is correct. Similar, if the temperature is too hot, adjust the stand to have the bulb further away, to a maximum distance of 16” from the shell of the tortoise. If you find that the temperatures are too cold at an 8” distance, you will need to look to move to a higher wattage bulb. If the temperature is still too hot at a 16” distance, then you need to move down a wattage bulb.
Most brands offer bulbs in 80w, 100w/125w, and 160w, giving you flexibility to get the correct one. Unfortunately, there is not a set rule to help with choosing the right wattage, as a particularly cold house will need a higher wattage, a warmer new build should be fine with a lower wattage. The good news though is that bulbs retain their lifespan when not in use, so if you set up your tortoise table in the winter, using a 160w bulb, but then find in the summer you need to move down to a 125w, make a note of the length of time the 160w bulb was used before you pack it away, and just plan to swap them over again once it gets cold. As long as you don’t go over the recommended lifespan in total, then the bulbs should be fine to use in this way.
You still need lots of other items for your perfect tortoise set up, but at least your lighting will be perfect!
If you would like to learn more about tortoises, you can check out our guide on the Horsfield tortoise.