One of the most misunderstood concepts for new keepers is the difference between thermometers, thermostats and dimmers. While each one is designed to manage temperature in some way, understanding how they differ in function and use is crucial to provide a safe and healthy environment for your snake.
Thermometers are devices that use a sensor to measure the temperature of the immediate radius and display the reading in either analog or digital format. For snakes, thermometers are most often used to measure the ambient heat within the enclosure. Proper ambient heat is important for the health and comfort of your snake, thus should be managed appropriately by the keeper. Thermometers make this management much easier since they provide you with the current temperature of the environment, which allows you to make more accurate adjustments to your husbandry as necessary. That said, thermometers are not regulators and do not control the temperature of a given source. They are sensors only, meaning you can not set them to regulate the temperature of a heating element, such as a heat mat. You will need to acquire a thermostat separate from your thermometer in order to safely manage your heat source.
When purchasing a thermometer, it is highly recommended to acquire a digital thermometer versus an analog one. Analog thermometers are not only inaccurate, but their method of placement often includes sticking an adhesive backing to the enclosure, which puts your snake at risk. There have been many reports of analog gauges falling from their position and sticking to snakes, often tearing their scales and sensitive skin from their bodies upon removal. Therefore, it is better to avoid all the hazards that come with analog gauges and go for high quality digital ones instead. Good brands for digital thermometers include ThermoPro, Habor and Veanic.
Thermostats are devices that use both a sensor and regulator to maintain the temperature programmed by the user. Thermostats are crucial for setups using heat mats, heat tape, and radiant heat panels, as they assure that your snake is not subject to burn injuries. There are many different brands of thermostats to choose from, and each may vary in function and reliability. However, you will primarily be choosing between two main types of thermostats: proportional and non-proportional thermostats.
Proportional thermostats are thermostats that utilize a gradual adjustment feature that steadily regulates the power output to maintain the programmed temperature. They constantly deliver heat in an accurate and efficient manner to provide the best comfort for your snake. Proportional thermostats are also typically equipped with fail-safes, which have an alarm and shut-down mechanism that prevents your snake from getting burned in the event of a malfunction. While proportional thermostats run on the pricier side, they are very reliable and safe to use for your snake, and many of them offer other convenient features such as night drop capability and higher wattage capacity. The most popular high-quality brands are Vivarium Electronics (VE)* and Herpstat. *Models VE-200 and above are proportional thermostats. The VE-100 is a non-proportional thermostat.
Non-proportional thermostats are thermostats that use a simple on/off feature in order to maintain the programmed temperature. Rather than delivering a steady power output to the heating element like a proportional thermostat, non-proportional thermostats simply shut off power to the heat source when the desired temperature is met, and then turn the power back on when the temperature drops below this threshold. While these thermostats are much cheaper than proportional thermostats, they are less accurate and more prone to malfunction; however, this does not mean they are bad to use! Non-proportional thermostats are best suited for regulating low-wattage heating elements for a single snake. When properly utilized, these thermostats can be a good option for a keeper on a budget or for small collections. Most brands of non-proportional thermostats are relatively the same, but popular brands include Inkbird, BN-LINK, and Jump Start.
Dimmers, also known as rheostats, are another type of temperature regulating device that you may use. Dimmers serve a similar purpose as non-dimming thermostats but function a bit differently.
Using a knob or slider, the user dials in the desired temperature which is presented as a general range (i.e. “high” and “low”) rather than a specific numerical value. Dimmers can be used with all heating elements, but they are most often used with ceramic heat emitters due to their inability to regulate the heat source at a specific temperature, which is an ideal feature for other heating elements such as heat mats. The most popular brands of dimmers include Fluker’s and Zoo Med. While both brands have them attached to overhead heating domes, Zoo Med, HabiStat and Zilla have a standalone dimmer available, as well. That said, while dimmers are one of the more affordable options for temperature regulation, a proportional thermostat will still be your best option. They are more accurate and efficient than other heat regulating devices, which makes them safer and more reliable. For us, this makes them worth it!
In summary, there are various differences between thermometers, thermostats and dimmers. Each one serves a different purpose in helping maintain the perfect environment for your snake. Thermometers track the temperature within the enclosure, while thermostats and dimmers control it. Whichever method of regulation you choose, assuring your snake is safe and healthy in their home is most important. Remember to equip all heating elements with a thermostat and perform routine checkups to confirm they are still operating correctly. Your snake's life depends on it!