Thrasops' Left-Wing Alternative Husbandry Thoughts Thread Thing - Reptile Forums

Go Back   Reptile Forums > Help and Chat > Snakes


  #1 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 03:49 PM
Thrasops's Avatar
Ultra Citizen
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: London, England
Posts: 1,868
Reviews: 6
Default Thrasops' Left-Wing Alternative Husbandry Thoughts Thread Thing

Bored and at work when I should be out enjoying the Saturday watching the local Adders, so thought I would make a thread to share posts I've made on Facebook that I want to keep track of. Hopefully they will be of use to somebody here or start discussion.

THE LIGHT AND SHADE METHOD

Providing low level UV for snakes and crepuscular reptiles like geckos.


One of the things I like to talk a lot about is the interplay between light and heat, and how reptiles are known to vary their exposure to light (photoregulation) separately from their exposure to warmth (thermoregulation). This is of course far more well studied in lizards, in particular Lacertids, Iguanids and Agamids - families known to have what is called the "pineal eye" which is used in detection of light intensity and triggers basking.


However snakes are now being shown to preferentially move towards certain light spectra as well, in particular UV. One of those that is most well studied in this regard is the humble Corn snake. So this should be useful for a lot of snake keepers too.


As ectothermic animals, reptiles rely on external heat to warm themselves and one of the key aspects of their care is how we provide this to them.


We also should provide them light including UV as there are a number of health and behavioural benefits to doing so, however this is not always as simple as just whacking in a bright light to the enclosure and expecting everything to be hunky-dory.


Many reptiles, particularly snakes and geckos, are very secretive by nature, many forage at night and they know how to hide themselves well to the point that most people might never see one in the wild. While they do expose themselves to UV they may not require high exposure to the same extent as more heliothermic reptiles like Bearded Dragons. And if they feel constantly exposed under bright lights they can become stressed. This doesn't mean they don't benefit from light it just means you have to think carefully about what you provide for them in their enclosure so they can behave naturally and feel secure.


One of the most common mistakes I see for snake and gecko keepers, even with those that make the effort to provide good quality lighting and overhead heating, is an enclosure that is too bare.


So here are a couple of photos explaining the thought behind the way a simple terrarium can be set up for a snake to provide it with the opportunity to expose itself to UV. For this example, here is a simple, small terrarium I set up for a young Balkan whip snake (Hierophis gemonensis).




It is lit by an Arcadia 6% bulb and heated by a low wattage (20w) halogen. I will cover why I like these particular pieces of equipment in another post.



To begin with, it is essential to understand that most reptiles don't live at one constant temperature or at one level of light. They move along gradients as and when they need to, whether that be moving into a warm space to top themselves up with heat so they can function optimally, moving away from the heat to cool down, or moving into or out of light to regulate their UV exposure.

So, it is important to provide the means to allow a reptile to do this.

Herein lies the problem; you are now attempting to manipulate TWO stimuli within the terrarium - heat and light/ UV. Now light is often a trigger for basking and many lizards (primarily those with parietal eyes such as Lacertids, Agamids and Iguanids) rely on light intensity to tell them when to bask. So it is recommended that the hot spot also have the light directly above it.


But what happens when a more secretive animal wants to warm itself up without exposing itself to light? Or when it feels like exposing itself to light to top up its D3 levels but is already warm enough and doesn't want more heat? The trick is allowing the animal to CHOOSE when it wants to utilise one stimulus without the other.


This may seem like common sense (and it is) but many fall down at this conundrum.


Simply put, the answer is to ensure the animal has lots of cover and to pay attention where that cover IS in relation to the equipment. Hiding spots at the warm end, hiding spots at the cold end, and cover in the middle. That way, the animal does not need to sacrifice one desire in order to get another - it does not HAVE to expose itself to bright light if it wants to warm up. It does not HAVE to warm up if it just wants to sit under UV.

The important thing is offering the animal CHOICE. Only then will you see it enact a greater range of behaviours and activity.




It is important to note that there is a strong thermal gradient in this viv, the left side away from the heat source is cool, no more than room temperature (22c during the day, about 18c at night). The right side is warmer and the rocks beneath the heater are quite hot. The snake likes high basking temperatures on the stones but, as a European species it needs to be able to escape to a cooler area if it wants to.




So here you can see how the snake is able to choose how it exposes itself to heat AND light..


1. On the rocks under the heater, it is warm and exposed to UV. The rocks themselves warm up nicely due to the halogen and so the snake not only gets overhead heat but "belly heat" (which is another way of saying it basks thigmotactically). When the light is switched off, the rocks remain warm for some time and the snake can sit on them even after dark - much like they do on tarmac roads at dusk.



2. Under or inside the pile of rocks it is still nice and hot, but the snake can curl up and hide in darkness without being exposed to the light and still be nice and warm.



3. Across the viv there are plenty of rocks and cover from the plant so it can move around securely or bask cryptically. Having substrate also helps as the snake can burrow into it at any point and make tunnels from point A to point B.



In fact the snake is capable of moving across the viv without being seen, either under the substrate or under the piles of stones. And as with many snakes this one has already constructed a lattice of burrows under the substrate into which it can disappear at a moment's notice.



4. To the left of the viv the temperature is cooler but the snake still can get some UV if it wants to. Note there are branches at different heights so it can choose to sit on the stones,on the branch or under the plants at different levels to vary the UV exposure even at the cool end.



5. Finally, the snake has plenty of hides at the cool end so it can sit nice and cool and avoid the light. There's a log, it can curl up beneath the water bowl, and there are more stones.





Here's a closer look at the warm end. Look at all those rocks the snake can hide under, or perch on, to either warm up without being exposed to light, or choose the height at which it basks (i.e. how much UV it exposes itself to). There's really no limit to many perches, rocks or branches at different distances from the heat/ light you put in, it will all offer the snake or lizard more options to get comfy on its terms.



The cool end. Still plenty of hides and cover, and to the right of the picture you can still see there's enough light that the snake can get some UV exposure without bring in the basking zone.



Last edited by Thrasops; 08-06-2019 at 04:01 PM..
Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links
Advertisement
 
  #2 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 03:54 PM
Moderator
Join Date: Jan 2009
Posts: 16,051
Default

The Thoughts of Chairman Thrasops!
Reply With Quote
  #3 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 03:56 PM
Thrasops's Avatar
Ultra Citizen
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: London, England
Posts: 1,868
Reviews: 6
Default





Of course this method really works best with a larger enclosure (relative to the animal) so each thermal zone, either warm or cool, is big enough that the snake can get it's whole body within it. This is one of the reasons I prefer enclosures that are at least as long as the snake - although for this whip snake this viv is quite a bit more than that as they are quite active.
You can see the snake curled up in the shade at the bottom corner of the pic. It was under its water bowl when I took the picture.















And a pic showing the size of snake vs. length of enclosure. I'm a great believer that a snake enclosure should be at least as long as the snake (doubly as important for active species like whip snakes and rat snakes). Not for some dodgy physiological reason as represented by Warwick, but because this allows the animal to move and explore and makes it easy to provide properly differentiated thermal zones, wider choice of hides and so on.



To me, this doesn't seem extravagant, it still feels like "bare minimum."













Here you can just see it peeking out from under the rocks,rest of its body is concealed under the nice warm rocks and the snake is nice and secure. At other times the snake will curl up at the mouth of such a home with just a few coils exposed.




















So here is a final shot of the snake actively basking under the most intense heat in the viv this morning, Occasionally it will curl up on top of the rock itself, or just press against it.



There are several different ways reptiles can bask and thermoregulate, allowing them to choose how and when to do this on their terms is in my opinion a fundamental aspect of ethical and enriched husbandry, and it really is as simple as the above.

Cthulhu slumbers likes this.
Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links
Advertisement
 
  #4 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 03:56 PM
Thrasops's Avatar
Ultra Citizen
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: London, England
Posts: 1,868
Reviews: 6
Default

Apologies, spacing seems to be going haywire...
Reply With Quote
  #5 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 04:37 PM
Thrasops's Avatar
Ultra Citizen
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: London, England
Posts: 1,868
Reviews: 6
Default

HALOGEN HEATING/ LIGHTING


The reptile hobby being the reptile hobby, predictably somebody was quick to pull me up on my previous pictures by stating that the bulb was not guarded. To which I replied, good point! BUT it doesn't NEED to be guarded. It's a 20w light, the fitting it is held in doesn't warm up any more than the rock below it, and the only part that gets hot to the touch is the faceplate of the bulb, which the snake can only touch by rearing up and shoving its face in it - something any snake would flinch from before getting burned.


However this did bring about another point, because of course a 20w CERAMIC would still be a burn risk and should always be guarded. However the two methods of heating are not equal and I will expand on that.


To begin with - YES, you can use many different types of equipment to heat your enclosures and have success. I have used ceramics, halogens, space heaters, mats, even household bulbs (which actually rank pretty well). And you can have success with ALL of those... to a point.

However the reason halogen bulbs are now being recommended so highly is because of the type of heat they put out, what is called 'near infra-red' which is different from the 'far infra-red' heat put out by ceramics.

This is important because of the way it warms the basking spot and the air around it. A ceramic heater, while certainly serviceable, is nowhere near as efficient at delivering penetrating heat as a halogen - it warms the area around it. So, while it DOES warm up the viv, it is less efficient at providing heat at a specific location - the basking spot - and better at raising ambient temperatures.

Many people will say 'well, so what, it still heats up the animal in the end.' And this is true, but it does so less efficiently, so the animal has to spend more time basking to warm its internal organs, and the larger the reptile, the more of a problem this becomes.

Consider a large snake or tortoise sitting under the ceramic. Because the temperature is as high as it needs to be but it does not penetrate the animal as well as near-IR from halogen bulbs, the reptile will need to spend longer underneath the bulb, possibly over-heating its outer layers whilst its inner tissues are still cold. This can lead to burns in extreme cases, or simply inability to reach preferred temperature throughout all the animals' extremities. This of course becomes much more of a problem the larger the animal becomes, for small lizards or tiny snakes it is less of an issue - for tortoises, larger lizards or constrictors it is very important!


The other problem of course is that since ceramic bulbs warm the area around them, it becomes a lot harder to maintain a really big thermal gradient whilst also maintaining a proper basking surface temperature.


The beauty of halogen bulbs and the type of heat they provide is that you can direct them at a surface - say a flat piece of rock, which is ideal - and then they heat that surface so efficiently that the reptile can lie on that and benefit from 'belly heat' from underneath AS WELL as overhead heating, and not only that, the overhead heating penetrates deeper, quicker and warms the animal's body up more evenly and more quickly.

In fact at the end of the day after the light is off, that flat rock will still be warm for a while and the animal can sit on it after dark if it wants to.

This is particularly useful in smaller terraria as you can focus the halogen onto a basking surface and it will not heat the area around it quite as much as a ceramic would, resulting in a much better thermal gradient and much more ease creating a focussed basking spot without making the rest of the enclosure too hot.

A good analogy would be going out into the UK. Even on a relatively cold day, if you put your hands on sun-warmed rocks the surface temperature can exceed 50c whilst the air temperature might be in the teens. This is due to exactly the same effect and is the reason we see reptiles out basking even on relatively cold days.


Here is a series po photos by the great Roman Muryn showing what I mean. This is a pile of rocks in the UK on a moderately sunny day with a little cloud and average air temperature of 18c.







Now see what those rocks look like through a thermal camera. They're hot to the touch! But the area around them - the darker parts - are not, they're cool.

This is because where the sun hits them, the IR penetrates and warms them better so they are hotter than the surrounding areas.







So the key point here is that the air temperature is low (around 18c) but the surface temperature of the rocks might be as high as 50c. This is important, as when air temperatures start getting above about 25c or so, it starts becoming harder and harder to see snakes out and about in the wild!


What we really want is a low ambient temperature, but a high surface temperature... and ceramics are not ideal to provide this, especially in a small space. The reason for this is because they give out mostly far infra-red, which actually only accounts for about 12% of sunlight... most of sunlight is split between visual light (44%) and near-infra red (37%)... with another 7% being UV. It is near infra red that provides a more penetrating, efficient heat.


Have a look at the picture below, also by Roman Muryn through his thermal imaging camera.





On the left is a halogen bulb compared to a ceramic bulb (far right). The ceramic warms the whole area around it including the air but doesn't focus well on the spot it is directed at.




On the other hand if you look at the surface under the halogen bulb, it is positively glowing - it's a much better surface for a reptile to sit on and absorb heat from - and the bulb will have the same effect on the reptile's tissues themselves, warming them efficiently.


Here's another thermal image showing just how more targeted and efficient the heat is.





To exemplify this, here is a photo of Sam Perrett's Spiny-Tailed Monitors basking beneath halogen bulbs.





See how the animals are glowing with heat and warmed right through on the hot rocks where the heat is targeted, but they still have much colder areas to escape to (the purple areas) when they've had enough?


Now, for some types of reptile, particularly those from the tropics that tend to thermoconform and may not bask as much, this is not as important and a relatively constant temperature might be fine (I still prefer varying temps in the confines of a viv as in the wild the animal would still find the right microhabitat to inhabit), but for MOST of the commonly kept pet reptiles, this will more accurately reflect the way the sun works for them.

You have to remember, snakes - especially temperate snakes - tend to not actually LIKE constantly high temperatures, which is why it can become harder to find them in the wild once daytime temps reach or exceed about 26c. You ideally don't WANT constant temperatures for these animals, you want a decent basking spot which can exceed 30 or even 40c at a localised spot, but the rest of the enclosure is better off with ambient temperatures below about 25c. It is just much easier to achieve this with halogen lighting.

You CAN still keep snakes with many other types of heating - and many people do. Halogen lighting in conjunction with full spectrum and UV lighting just mimics the way the sun works better, is all - especially in smaller terraria. So this is why I use a halogen Gu10 or E27 bulb for heat alongside fluorescent lights for UV and visual spectrums.


Of course in a larger terrarium it would be possible to use BOTH a ceramic and a halogen in conjunction with whatever lighting too... but in the confines of a small terrarium, there's really no contest in my opinion.
wayne the pain likes this.

Last edited by Thrasops; 08-06-2019 at 04:48 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #6 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 06:57 PM
Premier Member
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Stevenage, UK
Posts: 7,612
Default

Interesting and some controversial points. It could also be very confusing to beginners who read up so many care sheets all stating that the hot spots should be between 28c-32c depending on species (as you mention in the text), then sees an FLIR image with a hot spot of almost 55c, with the post advocating the use of halogens over ceramics. Granted that was in a lizards enclosure, and the species (or individual) requires high desert temperatures, but then this was posted in the snake section....

I would agree with you that ceramics provide a better ambient air temperature, and a less focused hot spot compared to a halogen spot light, but regardless of vivarium size, some form of supplementary heating is required when using halogens if we want to provide a true day night photo period.

The main thing is we as reptile keepers will always have to compromise. It's very difficult to replicate the external environment in a vivarium housed in a living room or bedroom. All methods of heating (and lighting) can't replicate fully the energy and wavelengths of light coming from the sun. All products have pro's and cons

Interesting read thought.. thank you
__________________
Regards

Malc



Reply With Quote
  #7 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 07:46 PM
Thrasops's Avatar
Ultra Citizen
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: London, England
Posts: 1,868
Reviews: 6
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Malc View Post
Interesting and some controversial points. It could also be very confusing to beginners who read up so many care sheets all stating that the hot spots should be between 28c-32c depending on species (as you mention in the text), then sees an FLIR image with a hot spot of almost 55c, with the post advocating the use of halogens over ceramics. Granted that was in a lizards enclosure, and the species (or individual) requires high desert temperatures, but then this was posted in the snake section....

I would agree with you that ceramics provide a better ambient air temperature, and a less focused hot spot compared to a halogen spot light, but regardless of vivarium size, some form of supplementary heating is required when using halogens if we want to provide a true day night photo period.

The main thing is we as reptile keepers will always have to compromise. It's very difficult to replicate the external environment in a vivarium housed in a living room or bedroom. All methods of heating (and lighting) can't replicate fully the energy and wavelengths of light coming from the sun. All products have pro's and cons

Interesting read thought.. thank you

In my opinion, care sheets are overrated and all too often written by people who don't have a clue though... Haha how's that for controversial?


In all seriousness though, I don't "do" care sheets and have never advocated then. I have always been highly suspect of the idea that everything you need to know about caring for an animal can be distilled down to fit into one sheet under a couple of headings, I think that is a very dangerous notion when people write entire books on single species or different aspects of their husbandry. ALL of us have been doing this for years and we are all finding out new information on these animals even now.


Personally, when I write about a species, I do so in full articles and some of those can be 20 pages long or more... and I purposely don't write articles about a species unless I am sure I have grasped every aspect of their care over a very long time (that means repeated breedings, repeated cycling, preferably seeing the animals in the wild or at least speaking at length to people who have, and so on).

On your point about hot spots and the images presented above.... I'd actually say that the idea of "hot spots" is part of the flaw in these care sheets for beginners and is something we should be moving away from, as they are confusing. When you say "hot spot" do you mean surface temperature? Or air temperature? That's just one of the things that causes confusion among many of the people I advise online.


The problem being that surface temperatures at these hot spots should be higher than 28c IMO, but limited to just surface temperatures - and that ambient temperatures should be considerably lower for many species (Corn snakes, other Rat snakes, Leopard Geckos, Hognoses, King snakes and many other commonly kept species being good examples). If you go out into the range of any of these species and measure surface temperatures at the basking zones, they are a lot more than "28-32c" - hell, even if you go out to look at Grass snakes on a summer day you can see them flattened out on slabs beside a pond that are in the 50s. Nobody tells the animals that they are only allowed to bask at 28-32c.


This "28-32c" golden number that gets thrown around is actually closer to the animals preferred temperature (Tp). To get their bodies to that temperature they will frequently shuttle between much higher temperatures and lower temperatures to regulate it, and this is what we should be teaching newcomers IMO... not "just give them this specific temperature."


I would (and do) provide surface temperatures at these "hot spots" considerably higher than 28-32c, often up into the 40s and 50s, and sometimes even higher for certain species with the proviso of course that the air temperature is much lower and the rest of the enclosure is cooler too. This is why I like halogens so much - they heat the air a little bit but most of the heat is directed at the "hot spot" so it is positively easy to get nice hot basking zones without making the whole enclosure overheat. You cannot really do this at all with ceramics.


I disagree that supplementary heating is always required when using halogens, I use various wattages and they warm the viv nicely as well as providing a nice hot basking surface (although you may need more than one in larger vivs, I prefer a couple of low wattage bulbs than one high wattage personally). For example, a 20w halogen will EASILY warm a 36"x18" viv with a nice gradient and a decent hot surface temperature between the bulb. This would be perfect for a Corn snake, a King snake or a Leopard gecko without any supplemental heating at all.


It is completely dependent on what you are housing in the viv - this post is mainly directed at temperate species or nocturnal lizards, something like a Royal Python, a larger Boa or many tropical species that might be found crawling around at night when it is still 32c and humid as hell WOULD probably need some form of supplementary heating in addition to the halogens, because you'd also need them to be warm at night and halogens emit light; you could absolutely keep king snakes, rat snakes, whip snakes, garter snakes, Bull/ Gopher/ Pine snakes just with halogens though.


However... if we break down what the sun's energy actually consists of when it hits the ground... we know more or less what it is. 7% UV, 44% visual spectrum, 37% near-IR and 12% far-IR. Sure, of course you are never going to perfectly replicate that... but if you are using a piece of equipment that only replicates 12% of what makes up sunlight (ceramic heaters) then that is less accurate than using equipment that makes up the remaining 88% (halogen combined with one or more fluorescents, which together provide at least a semblance of UV, visual colour temperature between 4500k to 6500k and near-IR).


It isn't really difficult to do, a potential keeper doesn't really have to compromise when it comes to money. A GU10 or Lucky Reptile Halogen is really around the same price as a ceramic if not less (depending on brand). Lots of people already provide light of some sort, whether LED or fluorescent. That accounts for the visual light, and you can get decent fluorescent under-shelf fittings for a couple of quid which give fairly good light quality. Definitely under a tenner. What remains is the UV, which for a snake should not be more than another £20.


That's ALL a beginner snake keeper needs for most species they are going to want to keep. Yes, really big vivs or tropical species used to a higher constant temperature will also need an additional source of heat at night.... but it is surprising how few of the most commonly kept snake species that makes up (Royals, most Boa subspecies). Compare that to Corns, Kings, Garters, Pits, Rats... it's quite a big disparity.


In this case there are several ways to heat a viv, and all of them work one way or another. But to provide the closest representation of sunlight that we can, a ceramic alone is not going to cut it. In fact NO one piece of equipment will - but given light is provided by something else, for temperate species I'd personally always choose halogens over ceramics at this point. Horses for courses and VERY dependent on what you are keeping. And I 'd agree, in a larger viv I'd use a ceramic AND one or more halogens. But in the average home how big is the average viv going to be? I'd say 36" or 48", in which case halogens work out fine by themselves for many species.
rita and Creed like this.

Last edited by Thrasops; 08-06-2019 at 07:51 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #8 (permalink)  
Old 08-06-2019, 09:17 PM
Premier Member
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Stevenage, UK
Posts: 7,612
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thrasops View Post
It is completely dependent on what you are housing in the viv - this post is mainly directed at temperate species or nocturnal lizards, something like a Royal Python, a larger Boa or many tropical species that might be found crawling around at night when it is still 32c and humid as hell WOULD probably need some form of supplementary heating in addition to the halogens, because you'd also need them to be warm at night and halogens emit light; you could absolutely keep king snakes, rat snakes, whip snakes, garter snakes, Bull/ Gopher/ Pine snakes just with halogens though.

Agreed, my comment was mainly directed for those who keep tropical species. For temperate species no additional supplemental heating would be required
__________________
Regards

Malc



Reply With Quote
  #9 (permalink)  
Old 09-06-2019, 05:01 AM
Super Regular
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Derby
Posts: 294
Default

Fantastic food for thought.
When it comes to the day I refit my vivs I will definitely do my best to swap out the existing ceramic setups and install halogens. I think those points were rewally well made.

My current work around for providing the best heating I can is all my vivs have something raised under the heat source that the snakes can get up on to really heat up. And all of them are regularly up on branches in the 40s for their morning bask and post meal slumbering. Meanwhile the floor of the vivs goes from 30-32 right down to 20-22 with a cool hide that may even be lower still. And they use every inch. Despite currently just using ceramics I think they are getting sufficient heat and the gradient works well. And as it gets cooler it does work to prevent the cold end from dropping too low.

Sent from my moto g(6) plus using Tapatalk
Thrasops likes this.
Reply With Quote
  #10 (permalink)  
Old 09-06-2019, 11:05 AM
Premier Member
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Stevenage, UK
Posts: 7,612
Default

Interestingly there is no mention of thermostats with these halogens. Somewhat undoes all the guidelines for safe heating. For years we've been saying never use a heatmat without a stat, but now it seems perfectly OK to do so and let it reach 50c+
__________________
Regards

Malc



Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off




All times are GMT +1. The time now is 12:24 AM.



Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Content Relevant URLs by vBSEO 3.6.0
vBulletin Security provided by vBSecurity v2.2.2 (Pro) - vBulletin Mods & Addons Copyright © 2020 DragonByte Technologies Ltd.
Copyright © 2005 - 2011, Reptile Forums (RFUK™)