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Think it's a Simple Yes or No When it Comes to UVB Lighting and Your Reptile? Think Again

09 June 2016

UK - UVB lighting for reptiles has advanced at an unprecedented rate over recent years and consequently much of the conventional best practice advice on the subject, frequently relayed to those new to the hobby, has become outdated.

Intensified research efforts into numerous aspects of reptile lighting have uncovered information that means reptile keepers can provide an improved UVB lighting set up, habitat and ultimately better care for their pet.

UVB lighting is exceptionally important for reptiles as they synthesise vitamin D in their skin when exposed to UVB light. Vitamin D is utilised across the body by the liver, the kidneys, the immune system, and the brain. It’s main use however, is to control calcium and ensure development of healthy bone structure.

When it comes to UVB lighting for nocturnal reptile species, it often is assumed that all nocturnal species as well as snakes simply do not need UVB lighting at all. Taking snakes as an example, if we look at their natural habitat it quickly becomes apparent that they actually live in very similar environment to many other reptile species that are classed as needing UVB light.

Research conducted by veterinarian and researcher, FRANCES M. BAINES, M.A., VetMB, MRCVS in the latest publication of the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research utilises Gary Ferguson’s concept of Ferguson Zones to explore the levels of UVB lighting that each reptile species is naturally exposed to in the wild, and how best to replicate this in captivity.

The Ferguson Zones concept aims to estimate the natural UV exposure of different reptile species and segment exposure levels into four different zones as outlined below:

Zone 1
Crepsecular or Shade Dweller, thermal conformer. Suggested UVB: Shaded Method: gradient UVI 0-0.7.

Zone 2
Partial Sun/Occasional basker, thermoregulatory. Suggested UVB: Shaded Method: gradient UVI 0.7-1.0 (or Sunbeam Method: UVI range 1.1 – 3.0 in basking zone).

Zone 3
Open or partial sun basker, thermoregulator. Suggested UVB: Sunbeam Method: UVI range 2.9 – 7.4 in basking zone (or Shade Method: gradient UVI 1.0 – 2.6 over larger area).

Zone 4
Mid-day sun basker, thermoregulator. Suggested UVB: Sunbeam Method: UVI range 4.5 – 8.0 in basking zone.

References to the ‘Shaded Method’ or ‘Sunbeam Method’ have been made to provide guidance as to the different ways of supplying UVB to those reptiles kept indoors. The ‘Shade Method’ describes low level UV light that is more of a background light and covers the majority of the enclosure. Meanwhile the ‘Sunbeam Method’ refers to high levels of UV experienced by those species that naturally bask in direct sunlight.

The research conducted by Baines as well as other leading researchers has resulted in a list, detailing the relevant Ferguson Zone for a huge variety of reptile species commonly kept as pets. It is a comprehensive list that includes basking temperatures as well as ambient night and day temperatures and is an incredibly important resource for reptile keepers.

For example, by utilising the list, we can better understand the lighting requirement of Crested Geckos which are a nocturnal species and often deemed as not requiring UVB lighting. The list highlights that Crested Geckos actually fall into Ferguson Zone 1. This means that in the wild, they are exposed to low levels of UV throughout the day and consequently would benefit from background UV levels.

Moreover if we look at individual snake species, we can see that Corn Snakes, Royal Pythons, and Boas have Ferguson Zones of 2. This can be reproduced with a background UV level of approximately 1.0 which can be achieved by using mid-level UV T8, such as an Arcadia 6% or ExoTerra 5.0 at a distance of between 25 and 30cm.

New research continues to yield greater insights into reptile UVB lighting and the hobby in general. As reptile keepers, by taking advantage of this expanding knowledge pool we can do away with the one-size-fits-all approach and ensure that we are able to care for our individual specie of reptile that much more effectively.

For more information about reptile UV lighting and suitable UV lighting products please visit the Swell Reptiles website.


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