How to Install Heat Pads in Terrariums

A leopard gecko requires a heat mat or pad in its enclosure.
A leopard gecko requires a heat mat or pad in its enclosure. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

A glass vivarium or terrarium is an ideal habitat for a small reptile, such as a gecko. Reptiles are cold-blooded and unable to generate their own body heat, so they must acquire heat from an external source to stay warm and aid food digestion. In nature, reptiles soak up heat from rocks exposed to the sun. In captivity, heat mats serve the same purpose, diffusing infrared heat without warming up the ambient air temperature. Heat mats are particularly suitable for leopard gecko habitats and create an effective temperature gradient from one side of a terrarium to the other.

Things You'll Need

  • Heat mat
  • Thermostat
  • Thermometer
  • Timer

Choose a heat mat appropriate to the size of your reptile's terrarium or vivarium, but do not fill the whole base with a heater. As a guide, select a heat mat that covers approximately 30 percent of the floor area, making sure there is plenty of room remaining for your pet to cool down away from the heat source. Reptiles require warm and cool spots in their home to regulate their body temperature.

Attach the heat mat to the outside of your terrarium, under the base, using the adhesive strips included in the kit. The double-sided tape provided by most manufacturers is designed for single use, so make sure you position the mat correctly at the first attempt because you will not be able to adjust it once in place. Never put a heat mat inside a glass terrarium or vivarium. They are designed to safely infuse heat through the glass so your reptile has no direct access to electrical equipment.

Run the cable from the heat mat away from your terrarium and plug the mat into a thermostat unit. Set the dial to the required temperature for your pet reptile. Different species have different temperature needs, so research the specific requirements of your pet before setting the thermostat. A reptile thermostat switches the heat mat on and off to prevent overheating and maintain a stable temperature.

Attach a timer plug to the thermostat and mat system to automatically switch off the mat at night if necessary. Nocturnal reptiles do not require a 24-hour heat source.

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