Ultra-Violet (UV) lighting is one of the most important elements of keeping reptiles in captivity, but yet it is MASSIVELY under researched and a HUGE underinvestment in the exotic animal industry. The importance is often overlooked, especially by those keeping reptile species for the first time. However, it is not entirely the fault of keepers or breeders, like many things in life it boils down to the age-old saying of “knowledge is power.” This knowledge has been kept from reptile keepers and in many cases people are too busy to research the matter themselves. Today we are going to start you on a journey of knowledge because, after all, reptile lighting is a process, not a bulb!
The Ultra-Violet spectrum and what it means.
- Ultra Violet A = 320nm - 400nm, UVA is visible light, which we as humans can see as well as our reptiles.
- Ultra Violet B = 290 - 320nm, UVB is not visible to the human eye but is visible to certain reptilian species. This wavelength is critical for the synthesis of Vitamin D3 and the absorption of calcium. UVB is completely filtered by ordinary glass and by most plastics but specialized UVB-friendly glass is available which allows the UVB wavelength to pass through unfiltered.
- Ultra Violet C = 100- 290nm, UVC is harmful to all living cells and for this reason is only used in fish filtration units to kill bacteria. UVC is naturally filtered from sunlight by the ozone layer and UVC should never be used with Exotics or any other living creatures.
(µW/cm²) = Micro watts per square centimeter. This is the standard units of measure for UVB radiance .
Lux = A measurement of the total "amount" of visible light present.
Many UV bulbs on the market state the UVB output, which is not always an entirely accurate reflection of the true output of those bulbs. Further more, the longevity of those bulbs is realistically only 10 to 20 days before over 50% of the UVB output is depleted. Many brands change Chinese manufacturing companies frequently and loose quality of UV and general bulb standards with every change. Certain bulbs in the compact fluorescent range have shown to deliver NO UVB output straight out the box and others have shown to deliver dangerous levels of UV light, leading to photo-kerato-conjunctivitis, which is a painful eye condition caused by excessive exposure to UV radiation.
Linear T5 & T8 tubes have demonstrated a usefulness for evenly distributing visible light in a reptile enclosure, however they do not produce sufficient levels of UVB for 99% of the reptile species that are known to benefit from UVB exposure.
So what is the solution?
- We live in sunny South Africa. In many instances, South Africa receives a very comparable UV intensity to that in the natural habitat of our exotic friends, so it is crazy not to utilise it. Using natural light is in the interest of both the health of our exotics and the budget of the keeper, as it saves the cost of running any of the artificial alternatives.
- With the well known high unit and running costs of the manmade alternatives, It would be great to have an artificial UV source that lasted longer than a few days or even the six months or so claimed.
- With so many products available and so many different requirements of our exotics, how can we match the product claims and varying degrees of actual light output with our exotics species specific requirements? Only by measuring the various wave length intensities from the products at the actual basking area for your exotic specimens!
All these things exist;
Natural UV Solutions
These are available in the form of exotics enclosures specifically designed to secure the exotic whilst allowing exposure to all the ambient and natural UVs for free. Right here in South Africa, Be-Art Reptiles has designed and manufactured its first line of outdoor vivariums, which will give you the economical and efficient way of providing free, natural UV to your reptiles. These options will obviously have their limitations depending on region. For example, precautions should be taken against dangerous drops in temperature, dangerously high temperatures and with certain species over exposure to UV. It is of key importance to research the specific requirements of your individual exotic species and plan the process accordingly. If you don’t have the inclination to do so, you should consider not keeping exotics at all, as these are living beings that deserve to be happy and healthy.
Mega-Ray® Lighting as an artificial UV source
Artificial UV is important for those relying on an artificial environment for the constant housing of exotic species. Within the last few months Mega-Ray® pet care lighting has been introduced to South Africa. Mega-Ray® pet care lighting was originally developed 12 years ago in the United Stated and has been available in the UK and Australia for many years. The brand originated in the US and was developed by iguana rehabilitator and reptile enthusiast Bob Mac Cargar. Bob originally designed the lighting for his own reptiles, and specifically the specialized requirements for previously disadvantaged animals who where suffering from the effects of insufficient, or no UV provision in their artificial environments. The brand quickly became recognised for its quality and the business practice formed around the quality product, maintaining an ethos to put the wellbeing of animal before profits and provide keepers with a reliable artificial source of Ultra Violet lighting. Now after many years of operation the brand is available on 4 continents and boasts Ultra violet quality far superior to that of other UV lighting on the market, in both quantity and longevity of UVB output. Now, you are probably thinking “if it’s so good why haven't I heard of it before? Why is it not on the shelves of every pet shop in the world?”
I thought exactly the same thing when I discovered Mega-Ray pet care lighting 8+ months ago.
It is down to simple economics. Retailers can make 5 times the profit on bulbs from other brands and nowhere near that with Mega-Ray®. This is down to the manufacturing costs of Mega-Ray bulbs being higher than other brands that are able to produce hundreds of thousands of bulbs at a time, which reduces costs. This is economies of scale (economics 101)! Another cost cutting method is reducing QUALITY! For years certain brands have been changing manufacturers as costs change and the quality of product degrades constantly because of cost of materials, processes and labour etc. This inferior quality product is put in the same box, with consumers none the wiser. This suits business-driven minds down to the ground! Consumers need to use more products in one enclosure and they need to replace them far more frequently (6 months suggested replacement time) it is actually far less; 10 day to see UVB decay of 50% to 60% (depending on the bulb of course). But this is how organisations make money! BUT should it be done? We are talking about our beloved reptiles Our family! Our friends! No! Should it be done at all in this world?? No! Unfortunately this is not unique to the reptile industry, this is how business works. But again I ask you, should it be done at the expense of our natural environment? Because ultimately, at the end of the day, it is the environment that always has to pay the price of our mistakes. Economics should not be a primary motivator in any animal industry, animal health and wellbeing is my motivation and for this reason Mega-Ray has been introduced to South Africa.
The data included in the table demonstrates a frightening trend in the market of Mercury Vapour, PAR 38 UV bulbs. This poor quality translates to the lower end (popular) Linear and Compact Fluorescent bulbs. Using a bearded dragon as an example, their natural lighting environment at this time of year (Winter) will have a UVI (Ultra Violet Index) reading of approximately 4.5 to 6.0 and a UVB reading of 170 to 200µW/cm² (Micro watts per sq cm) both measurements would be under clear sky conditions. If we take those requirements and try to replicate them in an artificial manner the independent test results show only one bulb that achieves these levels, that is the Mega-Ray® bulb. Not only does it deliver the necessary quantity but it also delivers it for up to 3 times longer.
Mega-Ray® safety warning
With these bulbs being so efficient at producing artificial UV light, we must issue a safety warning for their use, they are NOT toys! They should be treated as highly professional herpetologist tools as that is exactly what they are.
The Decay of Mega-Ray® UV Lighting
The decay rate graph for the Mega-Ray 100watt reference (MB2) was compiled by Dr Frances M. Baines (M.A., Vet. M.B., M.R.C.V.S) on a different bulb to the one in the table (BM47). The graph depicts a decay of approximately 10µW/cm² at 12’’ (30.4cm) in the first 65 hours which is a decay rate of 3.6% and only 18% over 6000 hours of use. So basically, the output of this particular bulb at 12inches started at 280µW/cm² and after 6000 hours of use it was still producing 230µW/cm². So if you are running a 10.5 hour lighting day for your exotic species this bulb could run for 572 days (1.56 year) and only lose18% of its UVB output. This light is still producing usable UV for another 3000+ hours. Mega-Ray® bulbs have been reported to last over 2 years but data for this has not been published, however this is the potential lifespan of a Mega-Ray® bulb. That said, I only recommend testing this longevity if you are frequently testing the output with a handheld radiometer.
If this is not getting you excited you should probably check your pulse cause your heart might have stopped!
Measuring UV light
We have mentioned the different Nanometer ranges of UV A, B & C, all of which can be measured by a handheld device called a radiometer. These units are affordable and when considered as a vital tool for utilising the full life span of your UV lighting, they will save you money in the long run. The best units available are the SolarTech Solarmeter® range. A range of 12 different models are available to measure different types of light and calculate their unique properties. The two that are of primary importance for your average reptile keeper are the 6.2 UVB meter and the 6.5 UVI meter. The 6.2 UVB Model radiometer measure UV ranging between 280 - 322nm, this is the full UVB spectrum which we are specifically looking at for our exotics. The 6.5 UVI model Radiometer measures from 280 - 400nm, so both UVA & UVB, this is the most common data you will find online when researching natural habitats of exotic species as this is measured and included in global weather reports on a daily basis. The UVI scale is an important reference for humans as the regulation of your exposure to intensive UV rays from the sun here is Africa can reduce the chances of skin cancer in later life. UVI data is arguably of more important as it measures a wider spectrum of light. UVA plays a huge roll in the vision and psychological wellbeing of our reptiles as well as our own as humans. UVB plays a huge roll in the physical health of both our reptiles and ourselves. Both units should be used as professional tools on a frequent basis.I cannot rate thesetools highly enough in words, no matter what lighting choice you opt for they are truly vital to understanding UV and how to provide for the specific needs of your reptile species.