Zoo Med Labs: Inside the ReptiSun UVB/LED Lighting Solution

The company is shipping a UVB LED solution for reptiles.
Zoo Med Light Room
Andrew Elston of Zoo Med’s R&D Hardware Division at the company's in-house testing facility. Photo courtesy Zoo Med.

Zoo Med Labs, which developed the first UVB lighting solution for reptiles in the early 1990s has pushed the envelope once again with the introduction of a UVB LED solution for reptiles. LED lighting solutions have been very popular with fish keeping enthusiasts for years, and with the latest offering from Zoo Med, promises to be popular amongst reptile keepers who want a UVB/LED light to keep their reptiles healthy. Not only does the company’s current offering provide UVB for Vitamin D3 synthesis, the company showcases the eight 6500K daylight chips for brightness, and UVA, which is supplied via a centrally mounted diode. Andrew Elston of Zoo Med’s R&D Hardware Division, details some of the features and benefits of the ReptiSun® UVB/LED light.

REPTILES magazine: How long has Zoo Med been working on a UVB LED solution for reptiles?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: Our ReptiSun® UVB/LED light has been in the works for more than eight years, and at the time of receiving our first prototype this technology was so expensive and so difficult to fine-tune that it wouldn’t have made sense to try and incorporate it into a reptile lighting product range. But as UVB LED chip development has made impressive advancements in recent years, it has allowed us to incorporate these high-precision UVB LED chips from Japan into our ReptiSun® UVB/LED. We then blend that with a centrally mounted UVA chip plus eight 6500K daylight chips for better color-rendering.

We’ve always strived for efficiency and providing our animals with the latest and best options in lighting technology, ever since we introduced the first UVB light for reptile use in 1993 (ReptiSun® UVB 310). Over the years we have led a number of reptile UVB lighting advancements. Leading the reptile UVB lighting industry involves employing the most current and up to date technology available; going back nearly 30 years when T12 was the standard fluorescent lighting option, we’ve continued to evolve our reptile lighting line to provide the most effective and efficient UVB provisions for our pets.

REPTILES magazine: How does Zoo Med test and build its lighting solutions?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: One of the reasons we are able to develop ground-breaking UVB lights and stay abreast of new advancements in UVB lighting technology is that we develop and test our UVB bulbs in-house. We have a specially calibrated spectrophotometer that allows us to check the wavelengths these lights produce, giving us the opportunity to tailor each one to be the most effective for vitamin D3 synthesis. After we have verified the safety and efficacy of a bulb, we can gather further feedback and gauge reactions from our extensive collection of 87 reptile species we care for at our headquarters. This lets us confirm that a product not only looks good on paper, but also is well received by the animals it’s intended to be used with.

Fs Luv Reptisun Uvb Led Frnt 2 21

The Reptisun UVB LED light is available now. Photo courtesy Zoo Med.

Another important tool that we run constantly is our industrial grade lamp life-testing rack which helps us track UVB decay over time. This equipment lets us run over 50 bulbs at once in a very small area and gives us the opportunity to operate 120v and 230v products on the same machine.
Using the same test equipment that large scale lighting companies employ allows us to be confident in the products we’re making as well as perform our own lighting quality control in-house, adding one extra level of assurance for ourselves and our customers.

REPTILES magazine: How does UVB LED technology differ from that of traditional UVB lamps? Are equivalent traditional UVB lamps outputting similar amounts of UVB as the Reptisun UVB/LED?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: To break down the benefits of the ReptiSun® UVB/LED, it is important to recognize the differences over conventional glass tube UVB provisions, like fluorescent and mercury vapor bulbs. LEDs are so radically different from the technology we’ve relied on in the past to produce UVB for our pets; they last so much longer, operate at much lower temperatures, are mercury-free, have a very low energy demand, and they turn on instantly without a warm-up period like conventional UVB lights.

The size of this equipment, relative to the energy it produces, is also staggering. Consider the size of these UVB LED chips; there are four small diodes no bigger than pencil erasers, that are responsible for producing a 24-inch wide UVB ‘footprint’ up to 40-inches away from the light! While this type of equipment is impressive and incredibly space and energy efficient, we had to be certain that it was completely safe and effective for our pets.

These diodes produce UVB in the peak wavelengths responsible for D3 synthesis and only emit terrestrial UVB, an important detail when we were searching for the right combination. Pairing these UVB chips with bright daylight LEDs is important as well, as reptiles require bright visible light over their basking site; to accomplish this we added eight 6500K daylight chips to provide a nice and bright visual cue for them. UVA is also provided by a centrally mounted diode; not only is it a wavelength that is visible to a number of reptiles, it also plays an important role in social behaviors, mate selection, and stimulates their pineal gland.

REPTILES magazine: The initial offering is for large, 40 gallon/equivalent terrariums. Will we see a solution for the smaller habitats? And the larger habitats?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: Our ReptiSun® UVB/LED is suggested for 40 gallon or larger sized enclosures, however it is very important to make sure there is enough distance between the lamp and your animal and that you’re providing the right level of exposure for that species. To make this information easier to digest, we applied a graphic on the side of the package that shows what Ferguson Zone is provided at a certain distance.
Setting these bulbs up at the appropriate distance to your animal will determine how effective it is at satisfying their daily UV requirements, and the best standard to measure that dose is the UV Index.

Our usage instructions for each UVB lamp are based on this UV Index data because it is the most accurate cross-industry standard for measuring the effectiveness of a UVB bulb. With more and more species’ UVI data being measured in their natural habitats, and this being catalogued by the scientific and academic communities, it’s all the more reason why we base our usage instructions on these well-documented values.

Often times there will be lighting suggestions that skip over these key variables and someone might suggest ‘This animal requires this specific light — period.’ UVB can’t be oversimplified like this, which is why we always suggest taking into consideration that species’ needs, as well as how close they need to get to a UVB source to satisfy those requirements.

Take bearded dragons for example, which live in the deserts and dry shrublands of Australia. Based on values collected by the scientific community during field observations of these animals, they are a mid-day basking (Ferguson Zone 4) species, indicating they receive a high level of UV exposure (average UVI ≥2.6) while they bask. To replicate that ‘dose’, a hobbyist would allow them to get closer to a light source than you would allow an animal that spends its time exposed to indirect filtered sunlight on a forest floor. We publish these values for all of our UVB lighting options, and we encourage customers with many reptiles or many UVB bulbs to invest in a UV Index meter to ensure their animals are receiving a UVB dose that is appropriate for the species they are caring for. It is equally important to make sure all animals are provided with space to retreat from UVB exposure, just as they would in the wild.

REPTILES magazine: Traditional UVB lamps should be replaced around every 6 months or so. What is the rated UVB lifespan of the ReptiSun® UVB/LED?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: The UVB diodes in the ReptiSun® UVB/LED are rated for 40,000 hours, or roughly 4 years when operated for 12 hours per day. When there are advancements in lighting technology, like the progress we’ve seen with UVB LEDs over the last decade, it helps drive the development of new products, but improvements in other areas can make existing lighting options more long-lived as well.

The accepted standard from other manufacturers is that a fluorescent UVB light should be replaced after 6 months of use, however Zoo Med uses a higher efficiency phosphor coating in our UVB lamps that ages even slower, which is why we have always had an industry leading 12-month warranty on our bulbs. Introducing new lighting options is always a plus, but it’s also important to make improvements to an existing UVB line as advancements in phosphor technology come to light. Being hobbyists ourselves, improving our existing lighting line is just as important as introducing brand new lighting sources; it brings higher value to our products and keeps us at the front of any advancement in the field.

Reptile Lighting Information

REPTILES magazine: Will we see more focus on the UVB LED solutions versus the other UVB solutions such as metal halide and compact fluorescent lamps? Do we expect the traditional UVB solutions to go away?
Andrew Elston, Zoo Med: Every UVB lighting option has its purpose: T8 and T5 lamps offer UVB exposure across a very large surface area which is great for larger bodied animals, metal halide and mercury vapor bulbs are well suited over more focused basking sites. We don’t currently have plans to remove existing UVB lamps from our line-up, but we are always looking forward and exploring how we can increase our efficiency and looking at new tech; UVB LEDs are the logical next step into the future of UVB lighting given their low carbon footprint, long life, and high precision. UVB LEDs may be this decade’s ‘cutting edge’ lighting technology, but staying at the forefront of lighting advancements has been a mainstay at Zoo Med for decades.

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