Pacman Frog Picture

Heating Your Frog’s Terrarium

Author: John Wellington

Updated: July 27, 2018

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For most frogs, heating their enclosure is as important as a proper diet and clean water. Heating a terrarium for frogs and toads is not as simple as sticking a heating mat under the enclosure and walking away. Likewise, basking or heating lamps need the proper placement and size. You want your pets to stay warm but not too warm. Suffice to say, you need to plan accordingly. While these devices work great for nearly all reptile and amphibian enclosures, you need to exercise proper safety precautions to keep the heating element from harming both you and your inhabitants.

Type Name Price
Heat Mat Zoo Med ReptiTherm UTH Click here
Heat Light Zilla Reflector Dome Click here
Thermostat Jump Start Click here

Ways to Heat a Frog Enclosure

One of the most popular methods of warming a frog’s enclosure is by using a “UTH” or Under Tank Heater. It’s a heating mat which is designed to stick to the bottom of a terrarium. Another option is a basking lamp or heat lamp. They’re designed to sit above the enclosure and heat from the top to the bottom. In this section, I’ll go over the pros and cons of both.

Once you’ve decided which rout to go, the next step is to get a thermostat. A thermostat regulates the heater so the enclosure doesn’t get too hot or too cold. This is important for two reasons. The first is to keep your frog’s cage within the desired temperature range. The second, and equally as important, is for safety purposes. While the heating element will undoubtedly get hot, using a thermostat will turn off the heating element when it doesn’t need to be on.

Under Tank Heater aka Heat Mat or “UTH”

Zoo Med Repti Therm

The UTH, as the name implies, is designed to go under a tank; heating from the ground up. This is great for certain species which, in the wild, gain their heat by laying on a warm substrate. For species like a Pacman Frog or Tomato Frog, they’re great too, but not when placed under the enclosure. The heating mat gets too hot for burrowing frogs and toads. Instead, it’s recommended that you place the UTH on the side of the enclosure. This accomplished two things; you don’t have the risk of burning burrowing frogs and it helps create a temperature range from one side of the enclosure to the other. It makes a warm side and a cool side, allowing the inhabitants to choose from warmer or cooler temperatures.

As for which brand and size you need, well, it’s really up to you. Zoo Med makes a great under tank heater. Aside from Zoo Med, there is Zilla and Fluker’s that are well-known in the reptile and amphibian industry. While I personally haven’t used Zilla or Fluker’s heating mats, I’m confident they work just as well as Zoo Med’s. When determining the appropriately sized heating mat, look for an indication on the packaging. Notice the picture above, which is labeled “10-20 Gallon Terrarium Size” in the top right corner.

As for the Zoo Med’s Repti Therm under tank heaters, they come in several sizes. The bigger the heater, the more it costs. For the 10 – 20 gallon heater, you can get these online for less than $20. Click here to see the Zoo Med Repti Therm on Amazon →

Heating Lamp aka Basking Lamp

Heat Lamp

Heat lamps are another great option available for herpetologists. It’s important to note that many ceramic heat lamps require a container, also known as a dome; these domes have the required E27 screw socket.

The main downside to using a heat lamp is that they tend to dry out terrariums faster than a heat mat. Also, the only option for placement is at the top of the enclosure. The smaller ceramic heat lamps can be placed directly on a screen lid while others dome/light combos come with mounting clips.

As far as the actual bulb is concerned, there are many options aside from ceramic bulbs. Most of which contain a mixture of UVA and UVB. Not all frogs require UVB. For this reason, it’s important to know the requirements of the frogs you’re keeping before getting a bulb.

Click here to see the Zilla Reflector Dome on Amazon →

Control The Heater with a Thermostat

The thermostat is just as important as the heating element. Whether you decide to use a heating mat or lamp, plugging your device into a thermostat will ensure the enclosure doesn’t overheat. Different brands have different designs but they typically work the same way; you place a sensor in the terrarium and it reads the temperature. From there, it shuts the heating element off when the enclosure becomes too warm or it turns on the heater to warm things up.

I don’t recommend using a heating device without a thermostat. In addition to the thermostat, you should always use a quality thermometer hygrometer for reading the humidity and temperature. This device can serve as yet another backup for monitoring the temperature.

As for which thermostat is the best? Well, the general consensus of the herpetologist community is that “Jump Start” makes one of the best devices. I believe its original purpose is for seed germination. However, after a simple comparison, it seems the temperature reader on the Jump Start Thermostat is more accurate than most other brands. Anyway, I suggest the Jump Start Thermostat if possible. Click here to see it on Amazon. If all else fails, Zilla makes a nice thermostat as well. You can find them on Amazon as well or at your local pet store.

Safety Tips

As with virtually any hot surface, proper safety precautions should be taken to ensure your personal well-being. Heating mats can get quite hot. Keep from laying them on wood, paper, or other materials that might catch fire. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines.

As for the lamps, they definitely get hot too. Ensure they’re securely attached to whatever surface you’re mounting them on. It should go without saying but do not attach the lamp to something which can easily be knocked over. Sitting the basking lamp directly on top of the terrarium is safe for some inhabitant, like toads or other terrestrial frogs that won’t jump high enough to touch the heater. However, tree frogs and other arboreal species keen on jumping can easily come into contact with a basking lamp sitting directly on their enclosure. For this purpose, special light stands or clamps may help you keep the heater off the top of the terrarium. Either way, follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines and do your best to avoid accidents.

4 Questions & Answers

  • Jeremy McNally

    I have a wild caught Toad. I accidentally killed one of his relatives when mowing the lawn and felt terrible. I saw this guy and he was hiding in my rock garden. I said to myself – if he’s still here when I get back from Petco, I’ll take him in. Well, he was and genuinely seemed to enjoy being held. I have a nice terrarium for him and for months he was active, eating, and pooping regularly. For the past few weeks I noticed there is no more poop in his water dish (where he still goes regularly, just no poop), and many of the worms are going uneaten. He’s lost some weight (he was HUGE when I got him). He still comes out and bathes but I’m worried he isn’t eating or pooping. Any ideas?

    • John

      Hey Jeremy. What you did is understandable. I ran over a rabbit den while mowing and there were little babies running everywhere. I didn’t know what to do. I felt terrible. I can definitely help you with the toad situation though. As hard as it may be to hear this, your best bet is to set him free in a safe area. Wild amphibians don’t take well to captivity. He/she could be getting a lack of nutrients. That’s most likely what’s happening. Keeping frogs/toads in captivity is a delicate balance. Captivity limits the types of foods available. Because of this, dusting crickets (or whatever food you’re giving them) with reptile vitamins and calcium is required. Aside from that, the right temperature and humidity needs to be maintained. Also, proper water care is needed. If you found that you do enjoy keeping toads, my recommendation is to read-up on the species you like and go buy one from a local breeder!

  • Doris Waters

    I have 1 junior size toad in a 20 gal. tank. I put a ReptithermU.T.H. 10 to 20 size on the left side of the tank. He won’t come out of the corner. I think he might be still cold. The room is 68%. The thermometer is showing 68 on the other end of the tank. Is It safe to add another stick on heater?

    • John

      What kind of toad do you have? 68 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature for an American Toad but might be too hot/cold for other species. You probably won’t need another heater. You might need some adjusting in your enclosure if anything. Toads like to burrow and chances are, he’s just fine where he is at. Can you please give us some more information about your toad? What kind is it? Also, what is the humidity like and what type of substrate are you using?

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