In the years I spent talking to people in the pet store about reptiles, there were two things I had to repeat and repeat. I’ll deal with the second one in a later post. The first one was that what is warm to us is not warm for reptiles.
I can understand a new herp keeper, or someone not yet into the reptile world, being perhaps a little confused about this. Human beings are quite happy lying around naked at about eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Much warmer than that and we break a sweat. This is because we’re warm-blooded, and have our own little heating-and-cooling system.
When we get too hot, we sweat so that evaporation will cool us down. When we get too cold, we shiver, a muscle action that is designed to raise our temperatures.
Reptiles neither sweat nor shiver. If they’re too hot, they die of heat prostration. If they’re too cold, they die of hypothermia or, more slowly, starvation. That’s if an infection doesn’t get them first.
Reptiles need to be warm. Their definition of “warm” is different from ours. If you take a bearded dragon, which is adapted to live in the desert, and move it into your temperature-controlled 68-degree home, it may not get as cold as it would on a desert night, but neither will it get as warm as it would in the daytime. While a sixty-some-degree nighttime temperature won’t hurt it, it needs a much higher daytime temperature simply in order to digest its food.
Human digestive systems have to be very cold to shut down, because we have a constant internal temperature that tends to keep our systems running, even if we eat cold food. You could digest ice cream in a snowstorm.
Reptile digestive systems rely on external heat to keep them warm enough to work. This is why reptiles bask; without that heat, they can’t metabolize their food.
If there’s one key word to keeping reptiles, that word is “heat”. The right amount, at the right time, and your reptile will be a happy camper.