First things first: what the heck is UVA and UVB light?
- UVA: Without UVA tortoises can’t see in the full color spectrum, which is important to help find food, mates and shelter.
- UVB: Without UVB, your tortoise can’t make Vitamin D3, which absorbs dietary calcium to keep bones and shell strong. UVB also destroys harmful bacteria that may be living on your tortoise. And UVB strengthens your tortoise’s immune system.
It is vital to remember that redfoot tortoises (and all tortoises, in fact) are ectothermic, or cold-blooded.
This means the redfoot tortoise relies on external sources to regulate their internal thermostat.
- Too cold? Seek a heat source like the sun to warm up.
- Too warm? Move into the shade or dig down into the dirt to cool down.
In a wild setting, redfoot tortoises live under cover in the grasslands and forested areas of South America.
What does this mean in terms of your lighting setup inside your redfoot’s habitat?
It means you can’t expect to find your pet redfoot sitting right out in the open for hours at a time basking under a bare UV bulb. This is not a natural behavior for this species. Coming out into the open for any length of time is dangerous and very stressful and your redfoot will want to avoid this at all costs, especially as a tiny hatchling or young juvenile.
Luckily, wise nature has provided for these tortoises so they don’t have to risk their lives just to get a hit of UV.
You will notice redfoots have dark-colored shells that can quickly absorb heat and light. This coloration allows your pet redfoot to soak up quite a bit of heat in a short time period so they don’t have to stay exposed too long. Then they can continue to absorb full-spectrum UV light even while remaining partially hidden.
So in a captive setting, make sure you choose a bulb that creates a wide, long, even “sunbeam” effect that is accessible from anywhere inside the habitat.
This bulb choice allows your redfoot to move in and out of the “sun” as needed to maintain a healthy and comfortable body temperature and get much-needed full-spectrum UV without dealing with the constant stress of feeling exposed out in the open.
In the same way, if you house your redfoot tortoise outdoors (which is ideal for any tortoise older than a hatchling), be sure to provide plenty of shade along with some access to direct sunlight so your tortoise can easily self-regulate and avoid stress.
As you set up your redfoot tortoise’s enclosure, it is vital to keep in mind that choosing the right bulb is only part of the equation.
You also need to make sure the bulb is positioned at an appropriate distance for maximum full-spectrum UV light absorption without being so close that it could cause irreversible eye damage, skin or shell burn or dangerous overheating.
The specific positioning of the bulb will vary depending on your setup and what type and strength of UV bulb you select. Always consult the manufacturer setup instructions to determine the optimal distance between the bulb itself and your redfoot.