Lighting, Temps & Humidity

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Lighting

Sandfish skinks are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day, and they need exposure to sunlight and UVB rays in order to be healthy. Of course, unless you have a strategically-placed hole in your roof, natural, unfiltered sunlight is a little difficult to get indoors. Fortunately you can replicate it with a high quality fluorescent tube UVB lamp placed over the lid, about 1/2 to 2/3 of the length of the enclosure. For a 20 gallon enclosure, for example, that would be an 18-24” lamp.

Sandfish are native to northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and these areas experience intense sunlight, and correspondingly intense UV readings. Although herpers have noted that wild sandfish are typically most active above the sand in the morning and evening, hourly UVI (UV index) data indicates that UVI readings are still fairly high even during those times.

So for best results, we recommend using a T5 diameter HO (high output) bulb that produces strong 10-12% UVB, mounted over a screen lid. These are the only UVB bulbs we recommend at the moment — all others are severely lacking in performance and are unsuitable for use with sandfish skinks.

→ ReptiFiles recommends:

Keep the lights on for 12 hours/day. You can do this by manually turning the lights on and off or by putting them on a timer (I’m in love with smart timers right now! Currently I’m using the ESICOO Smart Plug Outlet Timer).

Scincus mitranus - Sandfish Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity Requirements
Contributed by Priscilla van Andel - Instagram - Flickr

Temperatures

Sandfish skinks are native to the scorching deserts of northern Africa, so they prefer very high basking temperatures:

  • Basking spot surface temperature: 130-140°F (54-60°C)
  • Cool side temperature range: 80-90°F (26-32°C)

The total thermal gradient from basking/warm side to cool side should have temperatures ranging between 140°F to 80°F during the day. For best results, measure temperature a few hours after the heat source has turned on.

Heat sources should be turned off at night so temperatures can drop to 70-80°F (21-26°C).

Sandfish skinks do not need colored light bulbs (red, blue, black, purple, whatever) for “extra heat” at night, and using these can prevent your skink from sleeping well. Contrary to popular belief, reptiles can see red light. How would you like it if someone left the light on while you tried to sleep?

What do you use for heat?

A heat lamp! Heat lamps are the most natural way to create heat for your sandfish because they mimic the way that the sun provides light and heat from above, warming both the air and ground beneath.

If you are using a glass terrarium or other enclosure with a mesh top, I recommend using a dome-style heat lamp fixture with a ceramic socket and built-in lamp dimmer.

ReptiFiles recommends: Zoo Med Dimmable Clamp Lamp

There are many different types of heat bulbs available, from reptile-specific brands to floodlight bulbs at your local home improvement store. 

Reptile heat bulbs have a wide beam, heat evenly, and produce beneficial UVA radiation. However they also do have a bit of a reputation for sometimes burning out before their advertised 3-4 month lifespan, so although I like Zoo Med’s Repti Basking Spot bulb best, be sure to buy yours in two packs and hold on to your receipts.

If you find yourself frustrated by reptile heat bulbs that keep burning out in less than 2 months, it probably means that you’re either not using it correctly or you bought a defective bulb. Here’s what you should do:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before installing the bulb. Skin oils can potentially reduce lightbulb lifespan.
  2. Check your heat lamp. Is it rated for at least 150w? Does it have a ceramic socket? If not, that’s likely your problem, as well a fire hazard.
  3. Ask yourself: Has the lamp taken a fall recently? The filaments in these bulbs are fragile, likely the result of needing to produce UVA. Jostling or falling while the bulb is hot can prematurely break the filament.
  4. Contact the manufacturer. If you have done everything correctly, it’s likely that you just got a bad bulb. Check the bulb’s warranty, and if it’s still covered, get in touch with the manufacturer to get it replaced free of charge. For example, the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot has a 3-month warranty!

Alternatively, you can use a 100w Philips PAR38 Halogen Flood Heat Bulb, which can be purchased online or at your local home improvement store.

What wattage?
This is a common question with no solid answer, sorry! Generally speaking, if you have 6” of sand in a 12” tall enclosure, then a 100w Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot should work. Exactly what wattage bulb you will need depends on room temperature, enclosure height, substrate depth, and which bulb you’re using.

What works for one person won’t always work for another, which is why I like dimmable heat lamps and plug-in lamp dimmers. When in doubt, try the higher-wattage bulb first and dim as needed.

  • Pro tip: Be sure to buy white or clear bulbs rather than red, blue, black, or whatever other color they’re offering. Colored bulbs do more harm to a reptile than good.

We do not recommend using ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat pads, heat tape, or radiant heat panels with this species, as they simply don’t get hot enough for a sandfish’s needs without becoming dangerous.

How do you measure temperature inside a sandfish enclosure?

The best way to measure the temperature of the sand in your enclosure (which is going to be where your sandfish feels the heat) is with an infrared thermometer, aka temp gun. Without getting too technical, this device measures the temperature of surfaces rather than the air like traditional thermometers. For a sandfish that spends most of its time underground, surface temperature is much more important than air temperature.

ReptiFiles recommends: Etekcity Lasergrip 774

A digital probe thermometer can be good for measuring air temperature, but analog stick-on thermometers tend to be grossly inaccurate and can put your skink’s health at risk.

What is a temperature gradient, and how do you make one?

A temperature gradient (sometimes also called a thermal gradient or heat gradient in this hobby) is the range of temperatures within your reptile’s enclosure. As ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), reptiles can’t control their body temperature like humans can. Instead, they rely on the temperature of their environment to regulate their body temperature. But instead of seeking one perfect temperature all the time, they move from warm areas to cool areas and back again, depending on what they need.

In order for your sandfish to be healthy, it needs a temperature gradient in its enclosure. The easiest way to do this is by putting the heat lamp on one side of the cage. The side underneath the heat lamp then becomes the warm side, while the opposite becomes the cool side. Temperatures between the two sides will naturally flow from high to low depending on distance from the heat lamp.

s. mitranus - sandfish temperatures and lighting
Contributed by Priscilla van Andel - Instagram - Flickr

Humidity

Since sandfish skinks are native to some of the driest areas in the world, they don’t need much in the way of humidity. This is one of the reasons why they’re some of the easiest reptiles to keep! That being said, like every other living thing on Earth, they do need water. In the wild, sandfish will seek out areas of higher humidity such as near small bodies of water, under rocks, or pockets of moist sand as needed.

Recreate this in your sandfish’s enclosure by drilling a notch into a thin PVC pipe, and then inserting it vertically until the notch is touching the bottom of the enclosure. Regularly trickle water through this pipe (about once a week or every other week, depending on how fast it dries out) to create a damp layer of sand at the bottom of the enclosure.

Alternatively, you can use a sheet of PVC or stone tile to partition off about 1/4 of the sand, and then keep this area moistened via misting with distilled water. I find using a pressure sprayer like the Exo Terra Mister very helpful for this.

You must also provide a shallow bowl of water for your sandfish, just large enough for it to be able to lay in the dish if it wants (although this is rare). It should be no deeper than 1”. Use tap water or purified drinking water, as distilled or R/O water is not safe to drink. However, distilled and R/O water is ideal for misting.