We are often asked about this question. How to set up a thermostat for a reptile heating mat. First I’d like to share with you why it’s important that you use a thermostat along with your heating mats. If you already have your thermostat and you just want to know how to set it up right you can just skip to How to set up a thermostat.
Now heat mats as wonderful as they are providing a heat source for our reptiles especially our snakes. They tend to overheat and they get too hot take. Heat gun which I highly recommend all snake owners all reptile owners have one of these. They come in handy. We’re going to use this on our heat mats. When they are not being regulated by a thermostat. In general, all heat mats should be regulated by either a thermostat or a rheostat.
The rheostat is a device that you plug the heat mat into and then the rheostat has a dial that you can turn up or down to control how much energy goes into those heat mats. Kind of like a light dimmer if you think about it but.
With how hot these heat mats can get especially the 8-watt mats this can and will cause burn on the bellies of snakes that are sitting on top of them. There are plenty of keepers out there who just take a heat mat and they slap it underneath the enclosure. They plug it directly into the wall and they don’t have a single issue until the day they do.
We’ve seen plenty of people who have a snake with a thermal burn on its belly and they’re asked if they used a thermostat along with their heat mat and they say no. They had had that snake for about five years so you could get away without a thermostat for many years and not have a single issue but someday something’s gonna happen. Healthy snakes have a pretty good understanding of their surrounding temperatures including the temperature of their belly and if their heat mat overheats itself. Then they know to move off of it in time before anything becomes burned. However, snakes that have some sort of infection going on they have to warm their body temperature up to fight that infection just like if you or I have an infection or a cold our body’s natural response is to get a fever because our body’s trying to fight that. Snakes and other reptiles being cold-blooded can’t raise their own body temperature. They have to find an external source of warmth to increase the body temperature for them. That would be like a heat mat.
Now if they’re on that heat mat raising their body temperature trying to fight that infection. If the heat mat overheats and gets to say 130 degrees. They don’t know to get off of it because they’re trying to fight that infection. That’s when thermal burns occur. Thermal burns which are just burns caused by excess heat are often found on the bellies of snakes because it was the heat mat underneath. That burned them they sometimes can be recovered from if it’s not too serious of a thermal burn but it requires going to a vet getting antibiotics treating them waiting for several sheds so they can heal themselves and even then. It’s not a guarantee they’ll survive from it. If the thermal burn is serious and now it can sometimes just kill them right on the spot or secondary infections can occur which will then kill the snake. Thermal burns are serious.
Another reason why you should get a thermostat. If you’re using a heat mat of any sort is not only will it help protect your snake but this can possibly be a fire hazard. If it’s left unregulated so we’ve heard of several keepers who have had fires started because of their heat mats overheating or just they’re not being regulated at all and it causes a fire. Although many people won’t have an issue if they just plug it directly the heat mat directly into the wall isn’t worth the risk.
The thermostat itself when we were first getting into reptiles we were looking for a good thermostat that wasn’t like $300 like some of the really fancy brands are and we came across the JumpStart thermostat which has originally intended for plants and greenhouses.
I’m not a plant expert I’m not sure how it’s used with plants. I got this and we started using it for our reptiles and it works perfectly for what we need.
This brand has two cords running from it the thinner cord leads to a thermometer here and this is going to read the temperature of wherever it is setting basically so the other cord is just a plug that you plug into the wall. We’re gonna plug that in turns it. It also does show Celsius for any of those who are watching are living across the world. You can program it to show you Celsius too.
On to setting this up. You will need a heating mat
Best Heat Mat For Reptiles
Place your heat mat underneath your enclosure on one end of the enclosure so you can create a thermal gradient do you want one end to be warm the other end to be cool. Then your reptile can thermoregulate as it needs. Then you’ll place the thermostats probe and you’re going to put this in between heat mat and the underside of the enclosure.
This does mean that it’s reading the temperature below the enclosure so where the reptile sits is gonna be a few degrees cooler because of that glass or plastic barrier in between plus the substrate in between. Then you just take a thermometer which again we highly recommend you have is a laser thermometer or an infrared thermometer you reach into the enclosure itself and test the temperature from where the reptile will be sitting.
Now, this does mean that you’ll be testing the temperature on top of the substrate that you put in there and then you can adjust the thermostat up or down based on what your animal needs. Of course, remember that some species of snakes like to burrow so they’re going to get closer to that heat map where it’s warmer.
You want to make sure that if you have a burrowing species like a hognose snake. You don’t have the temperature cranked up so high that once they get down to the bottom of their enclosure that they could potentially burn themselves down there. Now you have your probe in place. You want to make sure that there’s some ventilation underneath the heat mat itself.
This is recommended on the packaging of the heat mat. Every brand recommends it that’s why most brands of heat mats come with these four little pads and these go on the corners of your enclosure just to raise it slightly so there’s a little bit of airflow underneath them so it doesn’t overheat. It wouldn’t if you’re using it with a thermostat anyway. It’s good to use these to be safe next you’re going to take the plug from the heat mat and you’re actually going to plug this into the thermostat so it just goes in on the JumpStart underneath plugs in right there.
Then the panel here allows you to set a specific temperature to set it on jumpstart brand. You hold down the set button. When it starts flashing you can turn it up or down. The last chord(thermostats) on here is simply what plugs into the wall directly. We recommended your entire enclosure and all the supplies you need set up and ready to go before you bring a reptile home once you’ve adjusted your thermostat to get the desired temperature inside of the enclosure for your reptile. Then you should be good to go and the thermostat should take care of the rest. It’s still a good idea to take frequent temperature readings in the enclosure to make sure it’s functioning properly. I really haven’t had any issues with the JumpStart thermostats now this is a very basic set up just a single heat mat in one enclosure.