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Lighting Your Tank

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 21 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Tank Lighting Pets Aquatic Tropical Fish

Lighting your tank can help turn a simple container into a focal point in the room, but that’s not all it does. Depending on the type of pets you keep, it can also help you enjoy watching them behaving in a near-normal way and for some kinds of animals, lighting plays a vital role in their health and well being.

General Lighting

Many tanks come with light fittings in their lids to take standard sized fluorescent or similar tubes and this type of lighting can be perfect for many kinds of pets. It’s a particularly suitable arrangement for aquatic species, since the tropical fish enthusiasts have developed aquarium lighting options to a very high degree and what works for guppies and tetra works just as well for caecilians and axolotls.

The same approach can be used to light a tank containing amphibians which tend to shy away from direct sunlight preferring shady places, so remember to give them somewhere to hide. This kind of lighting is also good to provide a background level of lighting in tanks which require more specialist types of light too.

“Hot Spot” Lighting

In the wild, many reptiles like to bask in direct sunshine to warm themselves up – especially first thing in the morning. Replicating this in captivity requires you to provide them with an artificial pool of sunshine – though it’s the heat rather than the light they’re really after. The most common way to achieve this is to use a heat lamp or spotlight – often aimed at a rock within the tank – to make a particular area significantly hotter than its surroundings, allowing your pets to thermo-regulate in a very natural way.

Using spot lamps in the tank however does need care – not least to ensure that there is no way a heat-seeking reptile can burn itself on the bulb; good, securely fixed covers are a must!


Many kinds of lizards, tortoises and terrapins need to receive a daily dose of ultra-violet (UV) light to ensure that they can make vitamin D3 in their skin. With this vitamin being crucial for controlling their bodies’ use of calcium and phosphorous, serious health problems can result if their tanks are not fitted with the sort of lighting they need.

Although it is possible to provide a vitamin supplement to help overcome the deficiency, there is strong evidence that even so, the UV in sunlight stimulates their appetite. Clearly if your pets aren’t eating well, it doesn’t matter how much vitamin powder you add to their food!

A number of different manufacturers produce UV lighting which is designed for vivarium use, either as spotlights – some types can be used to provide hot spots – or fluorescent tubes in a range of sizes, so there’s bound to be something suitable for your tank. One thing you do have to be aware of is that the amount of UV light being given out drops quite quickly as the tubes get older, so check the manufacturer’s instructions and replace your tubes accordingly.


Black-lights are a fairly new development for exotic pet keepers – though they’ve been used very successfully for some time by entomologists and other assorted “bug-hunters” for watching the activities of nocturnal insects and other similar animals.

As the name suggests, they produce very little visible light, but they have a high UV output. Obviously you’ll need to use ordinary bulbs or tubes to light up your tank if you want to see anything, but black-lights have a lot to offer not least because they allow the UV to be delivered independent of the general illumination.

Night And Day

The importance of a proper night and day cycle is sometimes overlooked, but many animals regulate phases of their lives – especially breeding and egg-laying – by day length. Invest in a good timer and you can simulate life back home for your pet very closely.

A little research on the internet should enable you to get a good idea of the hours of darkness over the year where your pets originally came from, which lets you adjust things so they get a natural seasonal variation. Something as simple as this – especially if accompanied by a slight tweak of the temperature to make the shorter days of their artificial winter a little cooler too – can often pay dividends with any efforts you’re making to breed your pets.

Clearly, there’s more to lighting your tank than simply screwing in a light-bulb and switching it on!

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