Temperature and heating

As mentioned in the previous section, ‘enclosure and housing‘, bugs can’t regulate their body temperature as mammals do. They are solely dependent on the temperature of their environment. They warm up with the help of a heating source.

Every bug species has its own specific needs for temperature and heating source. This optimal range of temperature can be achieved in different ways and by using various heating sources. There is so much to think of when choosing the correct heat source. This page will help you better understand the possibilities.

Types of heating sources

To reach the optimal temperature range for your species, you need an adequate heating source that matches your bug species. Often it does not matter in which way you heat the enclosure, but sometimes it can matter.

For example, millipedes like to dig in the substrate (especially the smaller ones). In this substrate, they lay their eggs, and because of the moisture in the substrate, the eggs and young millipedes will keep in good condition. However, when you heat the enclosure only at the bottom, the substrate will warm up and dry out, and at the same time, you lose the precious heat at the top of the enclosure.

Which heating method you use will depend on the type of bug species and its needs, the type of the enclosure, and sometimes esthetic reasons.

Broadly there are three types of heating sources available to use: The use of ambient temperature (all-round heating), the use of heat lamps or heat bulbs (top-heating) and the use of heat mats or heat cables (bottom-heating).

Ambient temperature

One easy way to heat the enclosure is to make the ambient temperature the same as it has to be in the enclosure. The place where you put the enclosure is, in this case, significant. You can put it in a room and heat that room to the needed temperature. Proper ambient temperature is also required when you use mesh terrariums, where there is a lot of ventilation between the environment.

Heating a complete room is especially helpful when you plan to keep multiple enclosures in the same room. At least, when the enclosures need to be the same temperature. Not everyone is able to “offer” a room solely for keeping bug pets. And even if you can, maybe you don’t want to. Luckily there are other ways to heat the enclosure.

When you have multiple terrariums it good be easier to heat the whole room (Photo: Protean Terrarium Design)

Heating with a heat lamp or a light bulb

One of the two other heating types is using heat lamps or light bulbs. Regular light bulbs not only give light but also emit heats. Light bulbs are cheap and are easy to require at any hardware store. Because of the vast diversity of light bulbs, you can play with it to create the right temperature range. Just choose and find the right wattage that suits your situation.

One advantage of this type of heating source is that it naturally heats the enclosure. With other words, in nature, the habitat of the bug species is heating by radiation of the sun. With light bulbs, you recreate this effect by heat from above the enclosure.

You can adjust this gradient by changing the position and focus point of the light bulb. Every model of light bulb also radiates the heat differently. So there is much to choose from. You can also use a reflector dome to send the heat in the preferred direction.

With the change of the focal point of light bulbs you can create different temperature gradients

It also creates a natural temperature gradient, where at the top of the enclosure is warmer and colder at the bottom. This way, the bugs can choose where they want to heat up and can better regulate their body temperature.

There are also two variants of special radiations bulbs for terrariums: one that produces light, and one that we call ceramic heat bulb and only produce heat. However, these are made for bigger terrariums and for reptiles that need a lot of warmth. Often these are overkill for the use of heating a bug enclosure, but in some cases, it can be useful. When you choose these types of lamps, I can highly recommend a ceramic socket, because these types of bulbs can get very hot and cause a plastic socket to melt.

Never put a light bulb inside the enclosure or in such a way that an animal can reach it. Bugs instinctively go to the light, and this may cause overheating. Also, when placing light bulbs inside the enclosure, there is a real chance that the furniture gets burned. We don’t want that to happen.

Heating with a heat mat or a heat cable

The last type of heating source is the use of heat mats and heat cables. This type of heating is excellent for many situations to heat your bug enclosure (for example feeder insects like dubia roaches). Because this type is used under the enclosure they don’t take that much space. Generally, they don’t get very hot and that makes it a very safe heating source.

Heat mats come in different wattages and subsequently produce different amount of heat. Generally, the larger the mat the more heat it will produce, but also produce heat over a bigger surface.

Various sizes of heat mats are available at almost every reptile or bigger animal store

They can be purchased at almost every bigger animal store or can be found online (e.g. on Amazon) and are quite cheap. They also last a very long time.

Heat cables have the same principle as heat mats. It consists of a long thin cable that emits heat. Personally, I prefer heat mats, but there are cases that I would recommend heat mats. One of these cases is if you want to warm from inside your enclosure. Unfortunately, I have experienced that heat mats are often not waterproof, in contrary what manufacturers claim. So when I need to mount a heating source inside an enclosure (within the substrate, for example), I always use a heat cable.

You have some heating mats with built-in temperature regulation, but most of the heating mats and cables are just ‘full-on’ or off.

Heating methods

Besides different heat sources, there are also different methods to use for heating, or even a combination of methods. I’ll explain these methods in the table below.

Heating methodHow to achieveIn which cases
Ambient heatingHeat mats, boiler or electric heaterBugs that dwell in dark
Breeding of eggs
Bottom heatingHeat mats or heat cableBugs that prefer warm substrate
Side heatingHeat mats or light/ceramic bulbWhen ambient heating is not possible but prefer a steady ambient temperature
Bugs that prefer for sitting on vertical objects
Radiation heatingLight or ceramic bulbBugs that prefer a temperature gradient

You can also use a combination of heating methods. Combining methods is especially beneficial when creating a back-up heating system. For example, you use radiation as your primary heating source; however, you also use ambient or bottom heating so that the temperature will not drop in case your primary heat source fails.

It can be good practice to have some sort of back-up system. Such a back-up system can be as easy as using two smaller light bulbs instead of one large bulb. If one fails, you’ll have at least one heat source left.

Temperature monitoring and regulating

“The numbers tell the tale”. Or with other words, it is best practice to monitor the temperature by using a thermometer. Measuring equipment doesn’t have to be expensive, so there is almost nothing to lose. By measuring the temperature, you get a better insight into what your temperature range is of the enclosure. You’ll get the best idea when you have measuring equipment that also measures the minimum and maximum temperature.

We mentioned several times, but bugs are solely dependent on the temperature of its surrounding. Therefore it is important to prevent temperatures that are too high (hyperthermia) or too low (hypothermia). Where short amounts of lower temperatures is usually not a problem, temperatures that are too high quickly result in the death of your bug.

We already talked about preventing temperatures that are too low by creating some sort of back-up heating system. With our example of two smaller light bulbs, the temperature will not be as optimal for a short time, but will not result in temperatures that are too low. Also, do not place enclosures in rooms with a draft, open windows or where heating is switched off (especially during winter and cold temperature).

On the other hand, overheating can become a problem quickly. Bugs cannot lose heat as mammals can, but only by searching cold spots in the enclosure. Never place your enclosure in direct sunlight. Sunlight (especially behind glass) can heat the enclosure very quickly to temperatures that cause certain death.

To prevent overheating by your own heating sources it can be of good practice to use thermostat switches. In case the set temperature is reached it will switch off the heating source. It can also be used the other way around, of course, to switch on your back-up system when the temperature is dropping.

Temperature cycles and seasonality

Most animals live in an environment with a specific temperature range, where day temperatures are higher than night temperatures. Not many animals live in conditions where the temperature is continuously stable day and night whole year-round.

It would be good practice to simulate these temperature cycles and even the seasonality for the bug species you have. Some bugs even need it for their well-being or won’t breed without it. Many of the ant species, for example, require hibernation.

Temperature day/night cycles can be simulated with timed switches connected to your heating source. During the daytime, the heat source is switched on and switched off when night time starts. In this case, it is important that ambient temperature is not too high and that it won’t be possible for the enclosure to cool down.

There are also thermostat switches available that have day and night switches. It may be easier to use a thermostat switch to keep a stable temperature range.

Temperature for egg and nymph care

In some cases, you’ll need to keep eggs or nymphs separate from the adults or colony. For example, for easier management of the nymphs, you’ll separate them. In cases of separation, it may be that the temperature needs to be different from the adults.

With stick insect breeding you can collect the eggs and breed them separately (it even would be better practice this way). With the care of eggs also comes a specific temperature range to keep them in, for example, for a better breeding result. Some bug larvae, for example, need to be kept cooler than the temperature the adults are kept in.

Environmental conditions table

To help you to find the best environmental conditions for the species you (want to) keep, I have created the ‘environmental conditions table’. You can download it below for free. This table will be continuously updated when new information arises. If you have any question, or if a species is not (yet) in the table don’t hesitate to contact me.