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The Best Infrared Temperature Gun for Reptile and Amphibian Terrariums

 Remote-sensing infrared thermometers, or “temperature guns”, have revolutionized reptile and amphibian husbandry.  I first used them at the Bronx Zoo, and was instantly hooked.  I was under the impression that my experience in herp care had left me with a good “feel” for exhibit temperatures, and the standard thermometers I used confirmed this.  That belief was shattered by infrared thermometers, which provide an instant digital read-out when pointed at an animal, surface, or the air.

In several cases, I was able to make major environmental improvements that fostered better health and breeding.  Early models were unwieldy, but inexpensive, pocket-sized units are now available to pet-owners.  I consider infrared thermometers to be an indispensable piece of equipment for both seasoned keepers and novices alike.  My favorite is the Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer.

t255193Avoiding “Beginner’s Mistakes”

The Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer allows newcomers to our hobby to start-off on a somewhat more advanced level than was possible in days past.  By simplifying the process of recording temperatures, this thermometer encourages us to look more deeply into the needs of our pets.  The time and effort involved in setting up healthful thermal gradients and naturalistic basking, hibernation, incubation, and nesting sites is greatly reduced.

Temperatures can be instantly checked via the point-and-shoot function, or the device can be set to continually monitor temperatures over a 1 hour period.

Temperature Gradients

I value infrared thermometers for many reasons, but chief among these is the ease with which I can establish thermal gradients.  Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow ectothermic (“cold-blooded”) creatures to regulate their body temperatures by moving between hot and cooler areas.  Many health and breeding successes and failures are attributable to the presence or lack of a proper thermal gradient.

Red Bellied Turtles

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Oxlamb

Zoo Med’s ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer has a “Min-Max Function” that allows us to see how temperatures change within the terrarium.  The device can also be set to measure the ambient (average background) temperature as well, thus providing a complete picture of the thermal gradient in your pet’s enclosure.

Monitoring Basking and Body Temperatures

An animal’s surface temperature can also be quickly determined (remotely, without the need for handling).  This has provided me with a great deal of valuable information…in fact, I went crazy with my first temperature gun, even measuring animals in their natural habitats.  Interesting surprises awaited – for example, I found that Red-Eared Sliders basking on a cool March day in NYC were able to raise their temperatures by at least 20 F above that of the air.   Creating suitable basking areas for my pets and exhibit animals suddenly became much simpler.  I also began using temperature guns in all of my fieldwork.

Hide Boxes and Shelters

Another important application for the ReptiTemp is in the placement of hide boxes.  Many creatures will choose security over appropriate temperatures…shy individuals may, therefore, spend too much time in hide-spots that are too cool or too hot.  Once we determine the range of temperatures in an enclosure, we can easily place one or more shelters in those locations where out pets’ temperature needs will be best served.


Uploaded to Wikipedia Common by Cymothoa exigua

Heat Pads

Important temperature measurements that are often overlooked can be easily monitored with the ReptiTemp.  For example heat pads mounted beneath terrariums can provide a warm (or too-warm) resting spot, but often fail to raise the temperature of the surrounding air.  Both surface and air temperatures should be checked regularly, especially at night, as your pets can become ill if they inhale overly-cool air, even when resting above a heat pad.



Further Reading

Understanding and Using Compact UVB Bulbs

Humidity Recorders (Hygrometers) for Terrariums


  1. avatar

    Do you have any recommendations for a UV light reader? Thanks!

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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