Choosing the right thermostat for your reptile vivarium is crucial if your snake, lizard or other exotic pet is to remain fit and healthy.
On the other hand, with so many different options available it is often difficult to decide on the best reptile thermostat for your needs. If you’re currently scratching your head trying to decide which option to choose then help is at hand!
In this guide we’ll discuss all the nitty gritty details of how to choose a reptile thermostat – from the features you should be looking for, through to making sure your chosen thermostat will work with your current setup.
Understanding the Different Types of Reptile Thermostats
In many ways we reptile keepers are spoiled for choice when it comes to reptile heaters. We have heat mats, bulbs, infrared lamps, heat rocks and more. What you might not realize is that there are different thermostats for different types of heaters.
Possibly the best place to start your search for the best reptile thermostat is therefore to decide what sort of heater it will actually be controlling. To help make your decision a little easier here are three of the most common types of thermostats on the market:
Pulse thermostats work by turning your heater on and off in order to maintain the temperature range that you have specified. For example, when the thermostat senses a temperature below that which you have specified the heater is turned on, until the chosen temperature is reached. At this point the heater is turned off once again until it is needed again.
These are possibly the most common type of reptile thermostat on the market and so there are plenty of options available. Note that because pulse thermostats turn a heater either on or off they are typically most suited for non-visible sources of heat such as ceramic heat emitters.
When pulse thermostats are used with a heat lamp the overall effect is far less effective because the bulb constantly switches on and off, regularly plunging your pet reptile into darkness. If you are keeping a species that needs ultraviolet light, therefore, you would want to use a pulse thermostat with a ceramic bulb, then provide ultraviolet light via another source so that it remains on even when the separate heat source is turned off.
As the name suggests, dimming thermostats don’t simply turn the heater that they control “on” or “off”. Instead the heater is “dimmed” or “brightened” by increasing or decreasing the power provided to the heater. This can make them rather more effective for heat lamps, where the bulb that you choose provides both light as well as warmth.
Whilst, in truth, your reptile cage might still look a little peculiar with it getting brighter or dimmer throughout the day the effect is less shocking for your pet than the lamp pinging on or off continually.
Generally speaking this is why I prefer to separate the lighting and heating of my reptile cages. For heating I use a non-visible source such as a ceramic heater or an under tank heater. Any light is then provided by non-incandescent bulbs or tubes that produce very little heat and can remain on throughout the day. Add a timer to switch the light on and off for an accurate day/night cycle and you’ll be well on your way to a happy reptile.
Alternatively, of course, dimming thermostats can be used just as effectively for ceramic-style heaters.
Heat mats are sometimes also known as heat pads, underfloor heater or under tank heaters (UTH) but they all do the same thing; provide gentle warmth from beneath. The upside of heat mats is that they tend to be cheap to buy and run, and simple to install.
The downside is that the heat they produce tends to be quite low in comparison to ceramic heaters or heat lamps. On the other hand the low power output of such heaters means that they can be controlled with far simpler thermostats – typically known as “mat stats”.
The first decision when you’re looking for the best reptile thermostat is therefore to decide what type of heater it will be controlling. From here you’ll already have cut down the potential options by a large degree, and can instead start focusing on the nitty-gritty details.
What Are the Best Reptile Thermostats?
Despite the popularity of keeping reptiles in the USA the range of thermostats is surprisingly small.
Of those that are frequently marketed, many of them are worryingly unreliable, meaning that selecting a suitable thermostat can be very challenging indeed. In an attempt to make your life a little easier then you’ll find information on some of the best thermostats currently on the market…
Zilla Reptile Terrarium Heat & Habitat Lighting Temperature Controller (Budget Thermostat for Ceramic Heaters & Under Tank Heaters)
It is capable of holding the temperature in your reptile cage at anywhere between 68’F and 95’F (that’s 20’C-35’C). This is quite a wide range of potential temperatures, meaning that this particular heater will be suitable for almost any pet reptile – from a crested gecko at the lower end of the scale up to a bearded dragon towards the top end.
This is also one of the few thermostats on the market to have a fail-safe, which automatically shuts off the heater if the temperature in your tank ever reaches 43’C.
As a reminder, pulse thermostats like this one are ideal for ceramic heat emitters or bulbs, but aren’t really ideal for light-producing sources of heat.
With a generous 60cm sensing cable this model is suitable for most situations, and is able to control up to three different heaters with a total resistive output of up to 1000 watts when combined. Bearing in mind that most ceramic heaters fall in the 75-150 watt range, this one thermostat is more than capable of controlling three of these ceramic heat emitters together.
If there is a weakness to the Zilla reptile thermostat it is that the display and controls are analogue, rather than being digital, so you’ll need to turn the dial with a coin to set your preferred temperature. All things considered, however, this is a very minor issue on an otherwise excellent reptile thermostat.
Vivarium Electronics VE-300 Thermostat (The Professional Choice for Ceramic Heaters)
Let’s start with the basics. The VE-300 is another pulse thermostat, which makes it ideal for ceramic heaters. It has a single outlet, and has a resistive capacity of up to 700 watts.
The manufacturer are clear that the single outlet can be expanded with a standard household outlet strip, allowing this one thermostat to control multiple heaters (if desirable).
For example, if you were using 100 watt ceramic heat bulbs then the VE-300 should easily be able to manage five or six different heaters, with a little “wiggle room”. For reptile keepers with larger collections – or who think they may want to expand in the future – the VE-300 thermostat therefore makes a great option.
The temperature control range of the Vivarium Exotics VE-300 thermostat is 25’F-140’F (0’C-60’C).
In terms of features the VE-300 really does come complete with everything you need. Firstly, there’s a pleasing digital display for complete accuracy of temperatures, which will also show you the maximum high and low temperatures experienced recently.
Like the Zilla, this model also comes with an auto shut-off feature to prevent overheating, but it will also sound alarms (if requested) when specific temperatures are met. In this way, should the temperature in your reptile cage fall suddenly you will be alerted.
Another key difference with the VE-300 when comparing it to the Zilla thermostat is that it offers an automatic drop in temperature at night if you so wish. This can make your life much easier, allowing natural cycles of temperatures throughout the day. Such a feature is also ideal for reptile keepers either looking to keep more sensitive exotics or wanting to bring their animals into breeding season.
Lastly, the VE-300 offers some of the most generous cabling I think I’ve seen in a reptile thermostat – a 6’ power cord and a 10’ probe cord – which means that irrespective of your current reptile setup you find this beast capable of doing the job.
In short, if you’re sick of the unreliability of low-cost reptile thermostats and you want to upgrade to a “professional level” model for your ceramic heater then the VE-300 thermostat is what you need.
Vivarium Electronics VE-200D Thermostat (The Best Thermostat for Heat Lamps & Bulbs)
Fortunately the VE-200D thermostat offers a similar quality experience as keepers have learned to expect from the VE-300. That therefore makes this the logical choice for anyone using incandescent heat lamp that produces visible light.
The VE-200D has a slightly different temperature range to the VE-300 – this thermostat is capable of controlling temperatures between 40’F and 150’F (4’C-65’C) though it is unlikely that many reptiles will be kept at either extreme of the range.
Besides this core difference the VE-200D reptile thermostat offers most of the same benefits discussed above. It can control heaters totalling up to 700 watts, it offers a day/night temperature drop and has an automatic safety shut-off in the case of extreme temperatures.
Indeed, if there is a weakness here it is simply that this thermostat lacks the alarms of the other one. Apart from that this is a solid thermostat, and arguably the best model on the US market for heat lamps and bulbs.
iPower 68-108°F Digital Heat Mat Thermostat Controller (The Best Thermostat for Heat Mats and Under Tank Heaters)
As heat mats themselves are quite simple by design, so too is this thermostat, which lacks many of the bells and whistles required by advanced reptile keepers using ceramics. That said, not only is it difficult to find feature-rich mat stats, but in most cases it really isn’t necessary and simply adds to the price without bringing anything else useful to the table.
The iPower mat stat is designed with simplicity and reliability in mind. Simply plug your heat mat into the socket, fix the heat probe in place and plug the whole thing in. No automatic cut-off, no day/night variance, just set the temperature and go.
In this case the iPower displays temperatures in celcius or farenheit, and can be set at anything between 40’F and 108’F (5-42’C). Bear in mind, however, that these temperatures are dependent on the power of your heat mat itself, so it’s unlikely that you’ll manage to raise your bearded dragon cage to 100’F with a heat pad alone; for something like that you’ll want a ceramic heater.
What Features Should I Look For in a Reptile Thermostat?
Choosing the right thermostat for your pet reptile doesn’t need to be too complex. Below I’ll talk you through some simple elements to consider, which will help you to select the best thermostat for your setup…
The first consideration you’ll need to make is what type of heater you’ll be controlling with your thermostat. If you opt for a heat mat then you’ll want a mat stat, if you opt for a heat lamp then a dimming thermostat is most suitable, whilst for most other situations – such as ceramic heaters – a pulse thermostat will be the perfect solution. However before you jump on the first suitable thermostat you stumble across there are a few other factors that you may want to consider…
How warm does your reptile cage need to be? It is important to remember that some lizards like bearded dragons and Uromastyx lizards relish a much warmer basking spot than many other reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates. Additionally, consider how big the cage is that you’re planning to heat; bigger cages may need more powerful heaters to maintain their temperature.
Most reptile thermostats are designed to maintain the temperature within a specific band, so you’ll want to ensure that the thermostat you choose is suitable for your pet. Most thermostat manufacturers are quite clear about the “controlling range” they offer.
Each reptile thermostat has a maximum power of heater that it will control. So, as an example, if you bought a 150 watt ceramic bulb you’d want to ensure that the thermostat you’re considering can meet this need. The solution is to look for the resistive output on the packaging to make sure it is suitable for your needs.
Control for Multiple Heaters
A small number of reptile thermostats are capable of controlling more than one heater at a time. While this won’t be of much relevance to the first-time bearded dragon keeper looking for a thermostat to use in their single tank, for other keepers this may come in handy.
After all, many of us (myself included) start off with just one reptile, and before long have built a small private zoo! The ability to control two or three heaters with a single thermostat can therefore be very handy under such circumstances, cutting down on the number of plugs that you need, and the outlay to control each of your reptile cages.
Digital vs Analog Control
Reptile thermostats have either a digital or analog controller to set your preferred temperature. Each keeper has their preferred option, though in general it is fair to say that a digital temperature control is likely to be more accurate than an analog controller.
That said, I would strongly recommend that you don’t trust your thermostat entirely in the early days of use. The reality is that while most thermostats do a good job of preventing temperature fluctuations, the exact temperature may be a few degrees away from the ideal.
For example, you might set the thermostat at 25’C and then find that it is maintaining your reptile cage at 28’C or suchlike. As a result it is always advisable to use a separate thermometer to monitor temperatures in the cage, and make minor adjustments to your thermostat in response.
Reptile thermostats have two main purposes. Firstly, and most obviously, to help to ensure your pet reptile doesn’t get too cold. At the same time, however, they also prevent your heater from getting too hot and cooking your pet. And trust me – it can happen.
But what happens if there is a problem with your thermostat and the temperature in your bearded dragon or ball python cage starts to rise rapidly? This is where an overload circuit can come in handy; such a feature simply cuts the power rather than risking more serious problems. While not all reptile thermostats have such an overload circuit, choosing a thermostat that does offer such a feature can be well worth the small additional investment.
Reptile thermostats are designed to be housed outside your reptile cage, where you can easily change the temperature. The way in which most thermostats sense the temperature inside your cage is with a sensor on the end of a cable. Depending on the size of your vivarium and the position of your thermostat another consideration is therefore how long the sensor cable really is.
In most smaller cages – such as for bearded dragons or leopard geckos – this cable won’t need to be long. However if you’re keeping a bigger species that requires a much larger cage – such as a bosc monitor or burmese python – then you might want to check that the sensor cable is long enough for your needs.
Conclusion: What is the Best Reptile Thermostat?
In this guide I have tried to filter out the “junk” thermostats on the market, and have instead highlighted some of the very best thermostats available. Quite which is right for your needs will really depend on your circumstances. Once you know what type of heater you’ll be using in your cage you can select the appropriate thermostat from the above list and feel confident in choosing a solid, reliable model.
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