The Iguana Den




Help! The Power's Out!

One of the biggest concerns for herpers during the winter months is what happens if the power goes out. Since reptiles are cold blooded and rely on external heat sources, a power outage in cold weather can be a death sentence to your scaly friend if you are not prepared for it. This is not something you should wait until winter to think about, but is something you should plan ahead for so you are ready if it happens.

The first thing you need to do is have a plan set in place for what to do in case of power outages. This will save you a lot of time, and you won’t be panicking over what to do during an emergency. The second thing you need to do is be sure you have the items you will need on hand and easily accessible so they are ready to use as soon as they are needed.

Items you can use in case of a power outage can vary depending on the ambient temperatures and the length of time power will be out. For short power outages, there are several easy methods of keeping your herps warm. Sporting goods stores (and even K-Marts and Home Depots) often sell air activated heat packs that can be used for smaller reptiles during short power outages. These will usually last several hours, and provide a decent amount of heat for smaller herps. You can also purchase longer lasting heat packs for reptiles that will last 30-40 hours. These heat packs work best for smaller reptiles, since they are usually only a few inches square. When using these heat packs, it’s a good idea to move your reptile into as small a container as possible, to make the best use of the heat available. Bearded dragons, geckos, anoles, and other smaller lizards can be placed in a small box (such as a shoebox) with the heat pack underneath a layer of paper towels on the bottom. The small size of the box will help hold the heat in longer. Smaller snakes can be placed inside snake bags or pillow cases with a heat pack (wrap the heat pack in a washcloth to help keep any hotspots from causing discomfort to your snake).

Another option during short power outages that also works well for larger herps is a hot water bottle. Fill the hot water bottle and wrap it in a towel or washcloth. Then place the bottle in with your herp. Just as before, the smaller enclosure you can keep your herp and the hot water bottle in, the longer your heat will last. You may also want to secure the bottle to the bottom of the cage with masking tape to prevent your reptile from knocking it around.

Longer power outages require slightly more drastic emergency heating measures. Your best, but most expensive option is to have a backup generator to power your lights and heating elements in case of long term power outages. However, this solution is not feasible for most casual herp owners. Fear not! There are other, more reasonably priced options you can use to keep your reptiles warm during outages.
For longer power outages, you may want to keep a portable propane heater in storage. These heaters, while small, can easily heat an average sized room comfortably. They are relatively inexpensive, and easy to use. They can be purchased at most hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes, and even in the camping section of stores such as Target or K-Mart. These come in many sizes, from large ones that attach to the propane tanks used for barbeque grills, to smaller ones that use 1lb propane cylinders. When shopping for these kinds of heaters, it is important to be aware of their safety features. Look for a model that has automatic low oxygen shut off system and an automatic safety tip over device switch. The packaging should also tell you what size propane cylinder you will need, how large of an area it will heat, and how long a cylinder of propane will last. It doesn’t hurt to keep several propane cylinders on hand. It is VERY important if you are using this kind of heater that you keep the room well ventilated! A buildup of propane fumes can be just as dangerous as lack of heat. Make sure the room is well ventilated, and you may even need to crack a window open to vent any fumes. It is also a good idea to keep these heaters well supervised. Even with the safety features many come with, accidents can happen.

Another heating option for long term outages is to use a power inverter for your car that allows you to plug in standard power plugs. Radio Shack often sells these for about $30-$40. With this, you can plug a heating pad or heating blanket directly into your car’s cigarette lighter. This is also a great device to have for trips to the vet during the winter months!

During power outages it is probably a good idea not to feed your reptiles. Reptiles need to raise their core temperature in order to properly digest their food. During a power outage, the options listed above will keep the ambient warm enough for your herp to survive, but will probably not get them warm enough to digest. A day or two without food will do less harm than undigested food rotting in their stomachs.

While the main focus of this article has been options to provide heat during the winter months, let’s not forget that the flip side can be just as bad. During the summer months, a power outage that cuts off air conditioning in your house can be just as dangerous as a winter power outage! For short outages, simply turning off any heating elements may be enough to keep your herp from overheating. During long outages, especially on the hottest days, the temperature can easily soar to dangerous levels. With a little forethought, it’s fairly easy to provide short term cooling for herps in this situation. Keep several plastic soda bottles filled with water in the freezer. In case of a summer power outage, these frozen bottles can be placed on top of cages to cool the inhabitants. It’s not a good idea to place these inside a cage, however, as it would be too easy for your herp to become chilled from direct contact. Spreading a damp towel over the top of the cage and the water bottle can also help provide some cooling relief. For longer power outages, you may need to use an air conditioned car, or move your herps to another house or to a vet’s office that has power for boarding until your power is restored.

When dealing with power outages, either during summer or winter, the key is to be prepared. Taking a little time to plan ahead and prepare for possible emergencies can save both you and your reptile a lot of worry and discomfort.



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