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Overhead Heating vs. Under Tank Heating for Leopard Geckos

Overhead Heating vs. Under Tank Heating for Leopard Geckos

Overhead Heating vs. Under Tank Heating: Which is Best for Your Leopard Gecko?

Leopard geckos have become a popular choice for reptile enthusiasts. When bringing home a leopard gecko, ensuring their habitat is properly heated is crucial for their health and well-being. Among the various heating methods available, overhead heating and under tank heating are two primary options, and there are many debates on which is more suitable. Both have their advantages and drawbacks, making it essential to understand their differences to choose the most suitable option for your scaly friend.

Overhead Heating

Overhead heating involves providing heat from above the enclosure, typically through heat lamps, radiant heat panels (RHPs), deep heat projectors (DHPs) or ceramic heat emitters (CHEs). This method most closely resembles the warmth of the sun, creating a natural basking spot for leopard geckos.


  1. More Natural: Overhead heating sources can more closely resemble the wavelengths given off by the sun, which is a more deeply penetrating, natural warmth.

  2. Visibility:Heat lamps provide visible light, allowing you to observe your gecko's behavior more easily during the day and.

  3. Widespread Heat: Heat from above can cover a larger area of the enclosure, providing a more evenly distributed heat gradient.


  1. Drying Effect: Heat lamps can dry out the air in the enclosure, which is typically not a concern for an arid animal, but a close eye must be kept on water dishes to ensure they do not dry out and any live plants may need to be watered more often.

  2. Increased Energy Consumption: Heat lamps tend to consume more energy compared to heat mats, which can increase electrical cost.

  3. Potential Burns: Without proper precautions such as proportional thermostats or dimmers  and distance being taken into account, overhead heating sources like heat lamps can cause burns if the leopard gecko comes in close proximity to the lamp.

Under Tank Heating

Under tank heating involves placing a heating pad or heat tape beneath a portion of the enclosure floor, providing a heat source from below.


  1. Localized Heat: Under tank heating creates a consistent warm area that can be used to make a small, localized warm area under a warm hide. This is especially helpful for quarantine enclosures and baby enclosures, where overhead heating could be too powerful and heat up too large of an area. 

  2. Energy Efficiency: Heat pads are often more energy-efficient than heat lamps, consuming less electricity over time.

  3. No Visible Light: Due to not giving off visible light, heat mats can be on 24/7 without disturbing the leopard gecko’s circadian rhythm.


  1. Limited Coverage: Under tank heating only heats a small area of the ground, and does not provide adequate heating through substrate, limiting enclosure setup possibilities.

  2. Unnatural Heat: In the wild, animals would burrow into the ground to cool down. With under tank heating, the animal is retreating to a burrow where the heat is emanating from the ground rather than overhead, which is less natural than over tank heating sources. 

  3. Potential Malfunctions: Heat pads and heat tape can malfunction, either by overheating or failing to provide sufficient heat. Over time, previously reliable under tank heating sources can develop weak spots, or hot spots, and can either fail to deliver proper heat, or cause a dangerous burn to your reptile or a fire hazard. Hooking the under tank heating source to a thermostat is essential, but even then, hotspots can develop on areas that are not being touched by the thermostat probe due to equipment malfunction.

  4. Lack of Visible Light: On the other hand, the lack of visible light can be a downside to under tank heating. Daytime lighting that emits warmth is the most natural way to replicate a day/night cycle. 

Making the Right Choice…

When deciding between overhead heating and under tank heating for your leopard gecko, consider factors such as the size and setup of the enclosure.

If you prioritize mimicking the animal’s environment and providing visible light to create a natural day/night cycle, overhead heating may be the preferred option. On the other hand, if you are growing out a baby or quarantining an adult, under tank heating could be the better choice.

In many cases, a combination of both methods may provide the best of both worlds, creating a diverse thermal gradient within the enclosure that allows your leopard gecko to choose the optimal temperature for its comfort and well-being.

Ultimately, the key to success lies in designing the leopard gecko’s habitat to suit your animal’s needs and creating a  carefully tailored heating setup that meets those requirements effectively.

For more information on this topic, check out our article on Leopard Gecko Heating and Lighting as well as Myths and Misconceptions about Heating for Reptiles.

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