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Efficient heating with some problematic stipulations

Aug 8, 2019
Hey folks,

I am planning my next terrarium And I need to bounce some questions and answers around. The biggest issue being heating.

I've kept multiple snakes in the past with various temperature requirements but they were easy as it was a fully enclosed setup made mainly from wood for its insulating properties. They were easily heated with an internal heatmat and/or ceramic bulb.

However, my currently planned project is frying my head. I plan to create a fully bioactive, tropical/sub-tropical terrarium in a big fish tank (possible up to 75 gallon) with earthworms, springtails, isopods and millipedes to create a harmonious and almost self sustaining eco system. I will then let this biologically stabilise for 6-12 months before introducing it's final inhabitants (ants).

Due to this and further plans, under tank heatmats are completely excluded. They can't happen.

Now my knowledge of thermal dynamics in this kind of setting is limited to not much past 'heat rises' so I need some help on how to efficiently heat and limit excessive heat loss. A skyrocketing energy bill will surely end this project.

My first hurdle is that the tank will basically be open top. With not much more than some glass/plastic/metal and mostly wire mesh covering it for good ventilation.

The next hurdle is that no heating device can be placed inside the perimeter of the tank.
So it will either be a mat against the sides of the glass or a heat lamp of some description above the wire mesh. Unless someone has another idea.
However I'm unsure how effective either option will be, bearing in mind energy conservation.
How well does glass transmit heat to the internal space if a matt is placed on the side?
If a heat bulb of some description is placed, with a reflective hood, pointed downwards through the mesh, how efficient will this be? To my mind the heat will go straight back up and out the top, which is undesirable.

In terms of temperatures... I'm looking to maintain a 24-30c range (75-85f).
My home, especially the room it will likely occupy, is usually at the 24c point so I really only need to increase and maintain the temp a couple of degrees higher for wiggle room but I do need the soil surface temperature to be around 24-26c, slightly higher is fine with absolute limit of 30c with only a slight drop in temp the deeper into the soil you go. There also has to be a slight temperature gradient along the length of the tank.

Does anyone have any idea/input that would help me out?
Last edited:
Jul 21, 2006
Did you arrive at a solution? I just did a search for terrarium heating threads and found this one.


War. War never changes.
Staff member
Apr 18, 2004
Pasadena, CA
This is a years old thread from a user with 1 post. I suspect we won't get an answer. @ilbasso If you wanna make a new thread describing your situation, I'd be happy to give some input since I spend a non-trivial amount of time heating things. ;)