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Herp Marketplace: Light, Heat and Herps

Posted: January 17, 2014, 1:30 p.m. EDT

Innovative products offer ease and convenience to herp hobbyists.

By Ramona Marek

Herps require a delicate balance of light and heat to maintain optimum health. Although lighting and heating go hand in hand, each serves a specific purpose, and requirements vary for different types of reptiles or amphibians. Blending new technology with fresh ideas, manufacturers have created products that eliminate the confusion in selecting the appropriate product and appeal to beginner and experienced consumers alike.

Bulbs fit into three categories—heating/basking, visible light and UVB light, said Rik Van Tiggel, product management at Rolf C. Hagen Inc.’s Exo Terra Base Camp in Mechelen, Belgium.

"They need an overall temperature created by a general heat source, an incandescent light bulb; they need a warmer basking site for thermoregulation, which can be created by an incandescent or all-in-one bulb, potentially supported by another heat source,” Van Tiggel said. "They need lots of visible light, preferably in the range that reptile eyes are sensitive to, including UVA range, in order to recognize prey items, color recognition, mating partners, etc. And they need UVA and UVB light for their overall well-being and many of their bodies’ most important functions, including calcium metabolism. Indeed, lighting and heating are indisputably linked together, as a reptile’s metabolism will only function well if they’re provided with a perfect combination of light and heat.”

Herp Lighting
Educate owners that enclosure temperature is critical for optimum pet health. Exo Terra

New lighting products and packaging have improved the customer experience, retailers reported.

"Over the past year there have been innovative ideas in lighting, like Exo Terra Ion Deodorizing and Exo Terra Reptile Vision Bulbs, and Zoo Med’s new packaging of domes and lights have made it easier for customers to shop,” said Mary Ellen Kaminski, merchandising manager at Drs. Foster & Smith, an etailer in Rhinelander, Wis.

Trying to mimic natural heat from above, similar to the sun’s action, Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., uses warming heat lights.

"Our favorites are ceramic heat emitters because they last so much longer than bulbs and they don’t produce visible light, which works out well for people who have their animals in their bedrooms and don’t want red or blue lights keeping them up at night,” said Michael Borchard, reptile and small animal manager.

Van Tiggel said Rolf C. Hagen’s Natural Light ION compact bulb incorporates an ionizer that works on the heat the bulb generates. He said high levels of negative ions exist in places where there is an abundance of reptiles, such as coastlines, mountains, deserts and other natural habitats.

"The Natural ION was created for two reasons: Negative ions eliminate odors and help freshen and purify the air in the terrarium. Mold spores, fungi dust and other harmful airborne particles are eliminated and neutralized by clumping together, which helps reduce the spread of infectious diseases,” said Van Tiggel.

The company’s Reptile Vision compact bulb features a spectrum geared toward the reptilian eye rather than the human eye.

"Human eyes have three receptors for color vision, whereas most reptiles possess a fourth receptor, enabling them to perceive higher-wavelength UVA,” said Van Tiggel. "The bulb is less bright for us, but much brighter for reptiles, so they experience a more truthful environment like they would in nature.”

To simplify the process of customers choosing appropriate products for pets, Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., created numerous combination packages.

"Choosing the correct reptile lighting and heating elements can be tricky,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator. "These combination packages make it much easier for customers—especially newcomers to the hobby—to choose the products they need. Each package includes a light fixture and light bulbs designed to work together to provide needs of specific reptiles. Each combination is different and specified for use with desert or tropical animals, to provide daytime heat, nighttime heat and/or UVB.”

According to Rademacher, Zoo Med’s new products include the Desert UVB and Heat Lighting kit, which combines a Mini Combo Deep Dome, a Basking Spot Lamp and a Reptisun 10.0 Mini Compact Fluorescent UVB Lamp; the Aquatic Turtle Lighting Combo, which pairs a Mini Deep Dome and a Turtle Tuff Splashproof Halogen basking lamp; and The Mini Tropical UVB Lighting Combo with a Mini Deep Dome and a Reptisun 5.0 UVB mini CFL.

Exo Terra offers several new products, including the Sunray lighting system, which uses the latest in reptile lighting technology, according to Van Tiggel. The system, complete with a bulb (an all-in-one metal halide bulb), a fixture and ballast, offers extreme brightness, the correct UVA/UVB wavelength, a spectrum very similar to natural sunlight and low energy consumption, and is available in 35w to 50w and 70w, he said. 

Additional Exo Terra products include the Reptile UVB compact series (UVB100, UVB150 and UVB200), which gives the consumer the flexibility to choose the correct bulb without having to guess or experiment.

Other tried-and-true products hold their own in the marketplace.

"Products that have remained popular and in demand for heating are heat bulbs, such as Zoo Med’s Power Sun, Zilla’s Heat Emitters and Exo Terra Basking Spots,” Kaminski of Drs. Foster & Smith said. "Also the under-the-tank heat mats and aquatic heaters are continuing to sell successfully.”

Preuss Pets’ Borchard said he uses Zoo Med’s under-the-tank heaters but modifies the tank to take extra precaution for the animal’s safety.

"We put a piece of slate rock on the inside of the tank to help disperse the heat and then put bedding over the top of that,” he said. "If the animal digs away the bedding, it is only exposed to the slate rock and not burning itself. The heaters are a fine addition for belly warmth; we’ll put it opposite of the heat light so we don’t have too much heat at one end. I’ll put a cave over there if they want to get nice and toasty, and they still have the option to sit on top of the cave or move to the cooler end.”
Aquatic turtles continue to be a popular pet trend, making up approximately 60 percent of reptile pets that are kept, according to the American Pet Products Association, and like other herps and amphibians, their requirements are specific.

"With that popularity, there is the need for basking lamps as well as heaters for the water,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager with United Pet Group’s aquatics division in Blacksburg, Va. "Most aquatic turtles in the hobby really need to be a bit warmer than room temperature for their good health; about 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Tetrafauna’s aquatic turtle heater is unique in that it has a protective cage around it to prevent breakage from rowdy turtles. Of course, the heater is also good for sensitive amphibians as the cage protects their fragile skin from the high temperature of the heater.”

Because reptiles and amphibians have distinct, individual needs and there are so many lighting and heating products available, experts stress that knowledge is critical.

"Most consumers still do not understand that the incandescent light sources mainly serve the purpose of heating and only a small portion of light,” said Van Tiggel. "They cannot provide UVB light.”

"Do your homework,” said Borchard. "The importance of knowing the animals and their lighting and heating needs cannot be overstated; the customer should always be able to look to their good family pet store to help them out.”


What kinds of discussions do you have with customers when it comes to thermometers, environment temperature and pet herps?

"One of the most important and overlooked pieces of equipment in a reptile habitat is the thermometer. Any thermometer is better than no thermometer. Without a gauge of some sort, there is no way to know what the temperature is and how it needs to be adjusted to meet the animal’s needs. I have heard many times, ‘It doesn’t feel very warm’ when I ask about the temperature of a tank. Unfortunately, this answer is relative and not specific. There is a lot of literature and research that tells us what the temperature requirements are for our herps, and most of them won’t say the temperature should be ‘pretty warm’ and leave it at that. Knowing what the actual temperature is in an enclosure allows keepers to adjust their heating elements accordingly to provide the correct environment.”—Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

"Our customers are very educated and know that environmental temperature is critical to herps. One of our most popular thermometers is the Fluker’s Digital Thermo-Hygrometer. Zoo Med also has come out with the Reptitemp Digital Infrared Thermometer that you can just point and get a temperature reading from even in the hardest-to-measure areas of a habitat.”—Mary Ellen Kaminski, merchandising manager at Drs. Foster & Smith in Rhinelander, Wis.

"Because reptiles will be the temperature of their surroundings, it is very important to know what their temperature range is as a species and what the temperature is in the tank. It is important to know the temperature in three zones in the reptile enclosure: the basking temp, the overall temp and the temperature at the cool end. For that reason, we want a thermometer we can move around, and our favorite is Zoo Med’s Reptitemp Digital Infrared Thermometer. Zoo Med’s analog thermometers are also great because they give accurate readings, and the Velcro attachment makes changing locations easy.”—Michael Borchard, reptile and small animal manager at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.




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