Cooling the Uroplatus (part 1)

Before buying a reptile, or any animal really, you do your research and assess whether you’ll be able to cater to the animal’s needs. With most animals that question is easily answered because it usually boils down to:

  • Do I have enough space, even when the animal is fully grown
  • Can I pay for the animal, it’s housing, food and vet costs
  • Am I able to meet the temperature requirements, which usually involves heating, and humidity
  • Am I comfortable with the animal’s diet and can I afford it

There may be other questions to be asked in some cases. Like “Am I able to handle the animal when it’s fully grown” or “Am I qualified to handle the animal” when it comes to dangerous or overly delicate species. But that’s usually what it boils down to.

With most Uroplatus species the temperature component involves another requirement though. And when you’re a casual collector like myself and want to keep your animals in your living room or office that’s a major issue: Nocturnal temperature drops.

When you keep your living room at a comfortable 22-24° celsius you’re presented with a major issue which you have to account for before buying the animal. In my case we prepared to house our first Uroplatus Phantasticus. Their optimal temperature is 22-24°C during the day and 18-20°C during the night, although the exact values vary from source to source.

During the winter our living room is around 23°C during the day and 21°C during the night. Therefore no major adjustments had to made to the terrarium to reach the perfect temperature range, but in preparation for the next summer we need to prepare. To achieve the desired temperature a moderate cooling solution was sufficient.

There are multiple options for cooling a terrarium, the simplest solution being cooling by condensation. We can achieve a significant drop in temperature just by spraying down the terrarium and then pulling or pushing air through it using fans. Depending on the ambient humidity and temperature you can achieve a temperature drop of several degrees celcius.

For best results you’ll need an automatic misting and ventilation solution. Otherwise you’d need to mist multiple times per evening and cannot skip a day when ambient temperatures are rising which will probably kill your social life if you’re one of those people who like to leave their homes. You’ll also have to make sure that there are enough droplets of water in the terrarium for your animal to drink from as the fans will evaporate a significant amount.

To make sure that won’t happen the irrigation system for our terraria is completely automated using a membrane pump, a 10 litre tank and a nozzle in each tank. When using such a system you’re always in danger of overwatering your terraria so the system is set to spray only for a few seconds at a time multiple times each night ensuring the animals always have opportunities to drink and the fans have water to evaporate to cool down the tank without soaking the substrate. It’s a fine line between good temperature drops and ruined substrate.

In my case we can achieve around 19°C inside the terrarium at 22°C ambient temperature. After ventilation the temperature quickly begins to rise again so you’ll need to add some insulation, for example with styrophoam plates. Additionally the fans run for a few minutes at a time each hour throughout the night to keep the average temperature low and don’t hit marks above 20°C.

That’s it for part 1. In the following parts I’ll talk about more powerful cooling solutions and their setup.

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