Home | Reptile and Amphibian Health | Cold Weather Tips for Reptile, Amphibian & Invertebrate Owners

Cold Weather Tips for Reptile, Amphibian & Invertebrate Owners


Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Eric Johnston

Whether you keep a single, cold-hearty Common Snapping Turtle or a large collection of tropical lizards, frogs and tarantulas, cold winter weather brings certain challenges.  This is especially true for those of us who, in the interests of environmental and financial responsibility, do not wish to super-heat our homes in order to satisfy our pets’ needs.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I always sought the advice of our staff electricians when faced with heating issues.  Today I’ll review what I’ve learned there concerning various types of heating devices, cage material and location, insulation and other topics that take on special importance when temperatures drop.


Seek Professional Advice

I always advise herp keepers facing extreme winters to speak with an experienced electrician.  Most of us know a great deal about our pets’ needs and the available heating products, but as “electricians” we are usually “self-taught” (not a term that should be used in connection with electricity!).  Incorporating an electrician’s expertise will save time, money and, most importantly, assure our safety.


Concerning safety, please be aware that free-roaming dogs, cats, ferrets, tortoises, iguanas and other pets cause a number of fires each year (pushing papers and other flammable items close to heaters and bulbs, knocking over heaters, etc.).  I have first-hand knowledge of several such incidents, as well as others caused by improperly-located heat bulbs…please exercise caution.


Be sure to show your electrician the bulbs and other equipment that you use, and request guidance concerning safe distances from plants and other flammable objects, extension cord use, etc.  Don’t forget thermostats and rheostats – I was surprised to learn that these can sometimes drain enough power to interfere with the functioning of heaters and bulbs.


t246145Room Temperature and Cage Location

Room temperature will greatly affect you choice of heating equipment.  As most folks lower their heat at night, be sure to monitor temperatures at this time.  Oil-filled radiators may be a useful option, especially if you house your collection in a single room.


It’s important to have a detailed temperature profile of the rooms in which your terrariums and cages are located.  The Zoo Med Digital Infrared Thermometer  provides a simple, effective means of accomplishing this.  Pointing the thermometer at an area or surface will give an instant temperature readout, allowing you to identify the warmest and coolest places in the room. While exterior walls, floors and window areas are obvious cool spots, each home is different, so be sure to check carefully.  A simple terrarium re-location may save time, effort and money.


Terrarium ambient and basking temperatures should be carefully monitored, day and night; a huge array of herp-specific thermometers greatly simplifies this task.  Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm Humidity and Temperature Controller and other light and heater timers can help create healthful environments while cutting heating costs.


Iguana basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Paul Kehrer

Insulating Terrariums and Cages

Insulation is not often used by herp and invertebrate keepers, but I urge you to look into the many possibilities.  I first discovered insulation during a power outage, and was surprised by the results I achieved.  I’ve since met several people who significantly cut their heating costs by lining terrarium and cages walls with various insulating materials.  Styrofoam, cork panels, polyethylene, polystyrene, foil fiberglass, bubble wrap and other home insulating materials  may all be put to good use.  Towels and blankets can be pressed into service during emergencies.


Wood and Masonite-sided cages will retain heat more effectively than glass, but all can be improved by the addition of insulation.  If such does not compromise your pet’s health, relocation to a smaller, more easily-heated enclosure might be worthwhile.


Bulbs and Heaters

Ceramic heat emitters, heat bulbs, under-tank heaters, red/black night bulbs and heat tapes are the most commonly-used heating devices.  Each provides heat in a different manner, although in certain respects there are overlaps as well.  The species you keep, your home’s temperature profile, and the characteristics of your pet’s enclosure will determine which method (or methods) should be used.  Please post below for specific information pertaining to your collection.


Slimy Salamander

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Patrick Coin

Species Choice

If you live in an area that experiences extremely cold winters (or hot summers), you may wish to tailor your collection accordingly.  For example, axolotls, spotted and slimy salamanders, wood frogs and many other temperate zone amphibians are quite content at 55 F (fire salamanders that I attempted to chill down remained active at 40 F), but many do poorly when temperatures rise above 70 F.  Common musk turtles, northern five-lined skinks, Eastern garter snakes and other reptiles that range into cooler regions are also relatively easy to maintain during cold winters.  There’s certainly no shortage of interesting, cold-hearty species, and many are in need of study and captive breeding efforts.



A cooling off period during the winter can be beneficial for those species that experience dormancy in the wild, and is often essential to breeding success.  However, this step must not be undertaken lightly, and details vary by species.  Please post below for specific information on the animals in your collection.


Emergencies and Power Outages

Hand warmers and battery-operated aerators (for aquatic amphibians and fishes) should be available for use during power outages. I’ve not used a generator at home, but relied upon them several times during my years working at the Bronx Zoo…well-worth investigating.


Chilled reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates should be gradually warmed, not immediately placed at their optimal temperatures.  Heating pads are very handy in these situations.  Please post any questions or observations below.




Further Reading

The Best Infrared Temperature Gun for herp Terrariums


Hibernation/Brumation: Bearded Dragons and other Reptiles


  1. avatar

    I love the zoomed HT-10
    I have 4 of them now and 2 as backups just incase.

    I love the Night time temp offset!
    But do not like that it uses a CDS cell on the front of the control head.

About Frank Indiviglio

Read other posts by

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.
Scroll To Top