Setting up a new enclosure for your bearded dragon can feel overwhelming, but it does not have to be overly complicated.
Pet stores will sell you items you do not need to keep your beardie happy and healthy.
One of the items they often suggest is red lights to help keep your bearded dragon warm at night.
As a general rule, red lights should be avoided for bearded dragons. They interrupt their sleeping cycle at night and could be damaging to their eyes. Red lights used at night can lead to issues like stress, lack of appetite, and a compromised immune system.
Before you set up your new reptile’s enclosure with these red lights, here is everything you need to know.
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Why Are Red Bulbs Bad For Bearded Dragons?
Many owners purchase a terrarium kit specifically made for beardies.
These kits frequently contain everything the pet store says you “need” for your new reptile, including a red light bulb to use at night.
Unfortunately, many owners implement this tool, but it could have damaging consequences for your bearded dragon.
They are quite sensitive to UV light, particularly when it comes to their eyes.
To shield their eyes from these harmful rays, they need bright light to contract their pupils.
When you use red lights, the light is not bright enough to cause the pupils to contract.
As a result, the UV lights found in red bulbs can penetrate the eye and cause long-term damage.
Many argue the red light is necessary to give your beardie warmth without disturbing their sleep.
They claim reptiles cannot see the red color on the spectrum.
However, many are quick to point out how misguided this advice might be.
Experts say reptiles can see in color and lights.
This means their red light is likely to disturb their overall sleep-wake patterns.
Your beardie also needs quite a bit of warmth to maintain its body temperature.
Unlike the white lights, which throw off quite a bit of heat, these red lights do not help maintain their body temperature.
If you need some type of heat lamp because the temperature is too low at night, you should still avoid red bulbs.
Instead, consider using heat bulbs like ceramic bulbs or a ceramic heat emitter.
A disrupted night of sleep can have major consequences for your beardie’s health.
Not sleeping can lead to stress, lack of appetite, behavioral abnormalities, and ultimately a compromised immune system.
You may spend more on veterinary bills believing something major is wrong when they just need a good night of sleep away from the lights.
Can I Use Red Lights During the Day?
If the main argument against using red lights is they disturb the sleep-wake cycle of your bearded dragon, many people wonder if they can use their lights during the day.
After all, if you already paid for them, you need to find some use for them.
During the day, red lights may not be as bad for your bearded dragon.
They provide some heat, and your beardie probably doesn’t care what color the lights in his cage are.
Keep in mind they may not provide as much heat as some other types of bulbs.
However, there is one major drawback to utilizing red lights instead of other daylights.
They do not provide an adequate amount of UV rays.
Bearded dragons require UV rays to manufacture vitamin D.
Without access to these rays and this nutrient, they can develop serious health issues such as metabolic bone disease.
Red light still can cause damage to their eyes if you use it long-term.
While one day of red light may not cause much harm, consistent use can damage their vision.
It is better to use a fluorescent bulb combined with a heat bulb during the day.
Does My Bearded Dragon Need Heat At Night?
If you’re not supposed to use a red light at night to keep them warm, you might wonder if you even need to provide heat at night.
In nature, your beardie would naturally experience a dip in temperature during the nighttime hours.
Depending on your climate and the ambient temperature of your home, you may not need anything at night.
Ideally, it would be a little warmer than this, but don’t go below this amount!
As long as your cage still registers in this range, you may not need to keep the heat on all the time.
Heat mats also help to keep the temperature up without the need for light.
At night, you do want it a bit cooler for your beardie.
Most owners recommend not exceeding about 75 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C) in the warm part of your enclosure.
This is about the same temperature your cool side should have during the day.
The temperature shift is important to help your bearded dragon tell the difference between night and day.
You can learn more in our post on day and night light cycles for bearded dragons.
Alternatives To Red Lights For Bearded Dragons
Once you come to the realization red lights do no good for your bearded dragon, you might start to wonder about what you could use.
Ceramic heaters are great for nighttime because they do not produce any light at all.
However, bearded dragons do need UVB to be healthy.
And while we’re discussing lights I’d also like to quickly bring up black lights.
Black lights should also not be used and you can learn more about why black lights are bad for bearded dragons in our other post.
Here are some alternatives you might want to consider.
Most bearded dragons require about 8 to 10 percent output of UVB rays.
Fluorescent bulbs are one way to ensure they get what they need.
These bulbs come in various sizes, but you will be able to find the UVB output marked clearly on the packaging.
You may want to choose fluorescent because they are inexpensive, readily available, and provide both UVA and UVB rays.
You will want to keep tabs on how long these bulbs last for you.
They typically run out of UV rays before the bulb runs out of light.
Most manufacturers recommend replacing them every six months, even if they still appear to be working.
Fluorescent bulbs need to be relatively close to your beardie to function properly.
They should be no higher than 12″ inches above the basking area where they can soak up the UV rays.
Never place these lights on top of plastic, plexiglass, or glass, as this can affect how the UV rays are transferred to your bearded dragon.
To increase the UV rays to your beardie, you will need a fluorescent fixture with a reflector in it.
If you do not have a fixture like this, you could easily make a reflector on your own.
All you have to do is add some aluminum foil inside the fixture to help redirect those UV rays down toward your dragon.
For a great option, check out this Repti Zoo bulb on Amazon.
Heat Bulbs or Ceramic Bulbs
If you choose to use fluorescent bulbs to maintain your bearded dragon’s UV rays, you will also need some heat bulbs.
Fluorescent lights do not give off enough heat to keep your beardie warm and comfortable.
Juveniles will need their enclosure kept just a little bit warmer than normal, so be sure to account for this when planning the cage.
Ceramic heat bulbs are a popular option for providing warmth to your beardie (like the OMAYKEY bulb).
They tend to last a long time which makes them more cost-effective in the long run.
They can provide heat both night and day if you live in an area which requires this.
However, they do still need to be used in conjunction with fluorescent bulbs, which can give off the necessary UV lighting.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
Mercury vapor bulbs are a great second choice for your enclosure if you need heat and UV rays.
These lights emit both UVA and UVB while still providing heat for the terrarium.
Check out the My Comfort Pets mercury vapor bulb as an example.
Instead of using multiple bulbs to heat the enclosure, everything will be taken care of in one fell swoop with a mercury vapor bulb.
Not to mention, these lights tend to last longer than other types of bulbs.
They are also a bit more expensive, but you will not be replacing them nearly as frequently, so they are worth the investment.
When compared to fluorescent bulbs, you might notice a significant change in your bearded dragon’s health.
Many owners find their beardie has an increased appetite, better coloration, and more energy when using mercury vapor bulbs over other types.
The only drawback to using this kind of bulb is it might be quite intense.
They emit a high degree of UV rays, so you need to give your bearded dragon a place where it can get away.
There should be some space in the enclosure for your beardie to rest in the shade and cool down.
If you have a small enclosure, mercury vapor bulbs may not be the way to go.
For safety purposes, you need to be aware of how to position these lights.
They should be about 12-24″ inches away from where your bearded dragon basks.
You also need to use a ceramic socket to plug this light in.
Should I Use A Ceramic Heat Emitter For My Bearded Dragon?
Once you know red bulbs are not the way to go, you need to find a new solution to keep your bearded dragon warm without disrupting his sleep.
One of the most popular ways owners choose to do this is through the use of a ceramic heat emitter.
They let off infrared heat without any type of light, which could disturb their sleeping cycle.
Keep in mind a ceramic heater might be a bit more expensive than the traditional light bulbs used.
These heat emitters are great for warming up your bearded dragon, but they only heat a very narrow area.
Most sizes will only release heat in a 15″-inch diameter, meaning your bearded dragon may still have some cool spots in its enclosure depending on its overall size.
They also only heat a rather shallow area.
A small 60-watt ceramic heat emitter will only reach about 8″ inches down from where it is mounted.
A higher-end 250-watt emitter can reach about 15″ inches down.
Of course, there are other sizes in between these two depending on the size of your terrarium and your beardie’s setup.
Because they are very effective, you might need to get a dimmer switch if you have a smaller enclosure.
Take care not to plug these into plastic outlets as they become quite hot and melt the outlet.
How Do I Monitor Heat?
If you are using a red bulb because you feel it gives off the right amount of heat, you might need to invest in equipment to ensure the proper heat in the enclosure.
You want to take the temperature in the basking area as well as on the cool side of the enclosure.
This is a minimum.
You might need more thermometers and temperature gauges on a larger enclosure.
Check out these Repti Zoo thermo/hygro combos on Amazon.
Here is a table for a beardie temperature requirement:
|Spot in Tank||Temperature|
|Basking Spot||100-105° degrees Fahrenheit (40° C)|
|Cool Side||85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C)|
|Overall||90-95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C)|
|Night Time||Never below 68° degrees Fahrenheit (20° C)|