Heat Lamps are an important element in a Leopard Gecko tank to provide the right temperature, possibly UVB, and a day-night cycle. Such a lamp is usually used in combination with a Heat Pad or under-tank-heater, but does not replace one.
Heat lamps are a crucial element to control your Leopard Gecko’s temperature environment and keep them healthy.
Learn about the different types, which one you need, and how to install a Leopard Gecko heat lamp for your reptile in this article.
Heat Lamp vs Heat Pad: Do you need both?
New gecko owners often get confused by the different types of lamps and heat sources, and how to properly combine them in a setup. Specifically, heat lamps and heat pads may seem like they both do the same thing (provide heat), but they actually have two different jobs. That’s why a reptile tank should have both a heat mat below the tank, and a heat lamp inside the tank.
Here’s why: In our article on heating pads, we’ve explained their job: Provide warmth from the bottom for the gecko to “bask” on, while also providing some heating to the tank. However, this alone is often not enough to fully heat the gecko vivarium to the right temperatures.
That’s where a heat lamp comes in: Not only can it provide additional heating, but it should also generally be on a timer to create a temperature difference between night and day. (more on the right temperature settings here) This depends on the exact type of lamp you use – which we will get into next.
Types of Heat Lamps
There are three main types of lamps that are usually used in reptile tanks: Ceramic heat lamps (provide only heat), incandescent daylight lamps (provide heat and light), and full-spectrum or UVB daylight lamps (provide only light). You can use these in different setups and may want to use more than one. For an article about only lighting, read our Leopard Gecko lighting guide here.
Ceramic heat lamps
These heat-only lamps are usually used as a night-time heat source since they don’t light up the tank, which would be unnatural. These lamps are active around the clock, while other lamps are strictly day-time only. Ceramic lamps are the most similar to a heat pad, and may even replace them.
Incandescent daylight lamps
These heat-producing lamps provide light, often including UVA and UVB light in their spectrum, which means they need to be switched off at night. Having at least one light source like this is important to provide UVB light (important for vitamin D). However, as they also give off heat, you have to consider the overall temperature, which makes them a bit trickier to use.
Full-spectrum daylight lamps or UVB daylight lamps
This type of lamp only produces light, including UVA and UVB light, which makes it perfect for a day-time light source and UVB basking spot. However, you’ll need to use an additional heat source, and depending on the temperature, might need to use both a heat mat and a ceramic heat bulb, bringing your setup to a total of three heat and light sources.
When shopping for a full-spectrum UVB lamp, make sure to watch out for two easy traps:
- Many cheap brands sell regular lamps as reptile lamps or UVB lamps, even though they barely have any UVB output, if at all – buy from a trustworthy reptile brand!
- Many full-spectrum lamps are also heat lamps. If you see high wattage (50W and more), you can assume it will be a heating lamp. If you are looking for a “cold” lamp , pay close attention!
Finally, keep in mind that if you already provide vitamin D through food supplementation, your gecko will need less UVB to get enough vitamin D. That said, here is a great option for UVB lamps:
Keep in mind that UVB output beyond 5-6% can be too much for Leopard Geckos – especially for albino morphs!
How to set up a Heat Lamp in a Leopard Gecko Tank
To set up heat lamps and lighting in your gecko’s tank, you’ll need at least three elements: A heat source (like a heating pad), a light source (incandescent or full-spectrum), and a thermostat. Additionally, we highly recommend two thermometers (one on each side of the tank) and an infrared thermometer gun for precise readings. Depending on the temperatures, you might need an additional lamp.
Here’s how you can set it all up:
First off, this process is best done without your reptile in the tank – for example, before you buy your gecko, or while your gecko is in a different enclosure.
Next, you need to know the intended outcome: about 90-92° F (32-33° C) on the warm side of the tank, and 70-77° F (21-25° C) on the cool side. With the heat pad on the warm side and the thermostat controlling it, watch if and how easily the heat pad can achieve this reptile tank climate.
At night, the temperature can drop, but should never go lower than 70°F or 21°C. If your warm side has a heat-emitting lamp that is switched off at night, the warm side likely cools down a little already. As long as it doesn’t cool down too far, this is ideal.
If you find that the heating pad alone does not provide enough heat, you can use an incandescent lamp on the warm side for additional warmth. This lamp needs to be on a day/night timer. With the heat pad controlled by the thermostat, the tank should now achieve the desired temperatures.
For additional lighting, you can use full-spectrum (= cold) lamps that don’t further affect the tank climate.
If you still need more heat, for a large tank for example, you can try adding a ceramic heat bulb that should also be controlled by a thermostat. This way, you should also have enough heat sources for winter without overheating in summer.
Day and Night cycles
Only light sources need to be on a day and night cycle, but absolutely have to be on one. While there are specific night lights that can be turned on at night, regular (white-ish) lamps need to be off during the night.
The cycle also differs between winter and summer:
Summer: 14 hours of daytime, 10 hours of nighttime
Winter: 12 hours of daytime, 12 hours of nighttime
During Fall and Spring, you should slowly adjust the cycle to get your Leopard Gecko used to the change in season.
This Zilla Heat & Light Timer is perfect for an all-in-one solution for timing your heat and light sources.
Can I use natural sunlight for my Leopard Gecko?
Using natural sunlight as light and heat source for your gecko’s tank is not a good idea because it can overheat the tank and shine too brightly. Leopard Geckos are crepuscular, which means they are active during twilight, not during full daylight. Bright light, especially during summer, is too much for them, and would force them into hiding or hurt them.
What temperature does a Leopard Gecko need at night?
If you use lamps that emit heat, the temperature will drop at night – around 70-77° F (21-25° C) is a natural night-time temperature for Leopard Geckos. Below that is harmful – make sure that no part of the enclosure gets colder than 70°F. However, as long as the cool side is around that temperature and your gecko can find a place to hide and sleep on that side, the warm side can still be warm at night.
Do Leopard Geckos need a heat lamp?
A Leopard Gecko needs a source of heat in their tank to provide enough warmth, as they are cold-blooded. However, a (ceramic) heat lamp is not strictly necessary. As long as the gecko’s tank has a warm and a cool side in the right temperature range, they should be fine. However, a heat-emitting lamp (ceramic or incandescent) is usually one of the core elements of managing temperature in the reptile’s enclosure.