Breeder Chronicle: Heating your Racks

Still waiting. I can’t help but look inside the incubator at the 5 remaining eggs looking at the two single-egg clutches that are due to hatch around the same time. It should be any day now. In the meantime I’ve been feeding the geckos and cleaning the cages but other than that there hasn’t been a lot to report.

One of the only happenings that I think might be good to address is how to safely heat your racks. While going through my feeding and cleaning routine I noticed that the bottom of one of my tubs was a little melted. I have a Vision rack that uses a recessed area to hold the heat cable in small notches. One of the ropes came out of the notches and was right against the bottom of the tub resting on top of the rest of the heat cable. The melting wasn’t severe at all but it definitely concerns me.
I’ve seen the heat rope touch tubs before and never had any issues so I haven’t been that concerned with checking the tubs before but I did look at the bottom of each to make sure that there were no additional problems. Since it was on my mind I thought I would give some best practices for using heat tape or heat cable.

Temperature Control

The most important thing is to have some kind of heat control. Don’t just plug the heat source in and let it run. For me the only choice is a thermostat. It will ensure that no matter what the ambient temperature is the tubs will remain at the correct temperature. Some thermostats also have a failure mode which will make sure that if the thermostat fails it will turn the heat source off. While I don’t really like them for racks I can see using a rheostat for single enclosure applications.
A rheostat is basically a dimmer switch that is used between the power plug and heat cable or tape. Using a digital probe thermometer placed in the enclosure you can turn the knob to alter the amount of power making its way to what is plugged into the rheostat. This will change how much heat it puts out and which will determine the temperature in the tub. As I said before it doesn’t change the temperature on its own the way a thermostat does. If the temperature goes up in the room the enclosure is in, the same amount of heat will still be used and the overall temperature in the enclosure will also go up or down. This usually isn’t a problem but I’d prefer not to take the chance.

Racks and Heat

In earlier articles I’ve talked about building a hatchling rack. All my plans are to make them out of wood but after thinking about the safety issues with heat sources I started wondering if that was still a good idea. After looking around the forums and seeing the number of people that are using wood racks with no issues I came to the conclusion that as long as you use one of the heat control devices above there shouldn’t be any issues. To be safe I have also decided to put a thin aluminum plate on the shelf in a small recess to put the heat tape on. Not only will this give me peace of mind but it should also make the heating more efficient by reflecting it upward into the tubs.
Heat tape can be very confusing to beginners and experienced keepers alike. I actually prefer it to heat cable because I think it provides a more uniform heat to the bottom of the tank. I also think that it is more efficient. Using it safely isn’t difficult if you pay attention to a few details.
My preferred way to attach the power cable is to use the crimp connectors that you can purchase from most heat tape suppliers. I then use the plastic covers that are made to go over those crimps. Tightly crimp the power cable on making sure to keep it in the metal strips on each side. After clipping the plastic covers over them I wrap them in electrical tape to make sure that even if they are cracked they won’t come off easily. I also put a strip of electrical tape over each cut end of the heat tape. I’m not sure if it is necessary but it makes me feel like I’ve covered all my bases.

Fire Safety

The final bit of advice that I have is to make sure that you have a smoke detector in your reptile room. We should really have them in all rooms of our homes but other than the kitchen I can’t think of a place that has more fire potential than a room full of heated racks. My smoke alarms are connected to my home alarm and is centrally monitored for extra protection especially when I’m not home. Losing your animals is a tragedy but keeping ourselves and our family safe is even more important.
Even if you have a smaller collection be sure to monitor and control the heat sources used. When it comes to the safety and health of your animals the heat is probably the most important thing. Using the tips above you should be able to accomplish this safely and effectively

What do you think?

Written by Justin Hansen

Justin Hansen's first reptile, an African Fat Tailed Gecko, sparked an interest that ended up consuming a dorm room in New York City and almost getting him expelled. Now that he has the space he is renewing his passion for breeding geckos. Currently focusing on Leopard Geckos he hopes to be able to branch out to other gecko species. He will be found at once he has a spare moment to finish the site.

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