Evaluation of Reptile Thermoregulation and Enclosure Design Using Digital Thermography
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
Gregory J. Fleming1,†, DVM; Ramiro Isaza1, DVM, MS; Mark F. Spire2, DVM, PhD
1Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA; 2Food Animal Health and Management Center, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA; Present address: Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, Zoological Medicine Service, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA


One of the most important factors in successfully maintaining healthy captive reptiles is providing them a proper thermal environment. Most reptile species regulate their body temperatures by using external environmental heat sources such as the sun. Many people commonly refer to this as “cold-blooded.” In reality, reptiles operate at a preferred optimum body temperature (POBT), similar or higher than internal body temperatures of mammals.5 The correct term for this behavior is poikilothermic. Reptiles have POBTs that must be reached to maintain normal digestion and immune function.2,3 In the past, body temperatures of reptiles have been difficult to assess without multiple thermometers, invasive probes, and less accurate spot-point heat detectors. The study of thermoregulation has now been made easier with the development of digital thermography.

Infrared thermography has been used widely in human and veterinary medicine to diagnose inflammation, nerve, and musculoskeletal injury.1,3,4,6-8 Thermography is the study of infrared radiation that is emitted from all objects both inanimate and living. This energy is released as photons from objects and is translated in images by the Inframetrics PM280 hand-held, high-resolution (65,000 pixels) thermography camera (Flir Inc., North Billerica, MA, USA). Images are then displayed as both black and white and color still images, as well as real time video. These images can then be analyzed with the thermography software and used to evaluate the thermal gradient of reptile enclosures. Arboreal, terrestrial, and subterrestrial reptiles all have different thermal requirements, which have been difficult to replicate in the past. This technology allows for accurate thermal imaging of the entire enclosure, as well as the animals that live within them. An enclosure “thermal” design can then be altered to be suited to individual species resulting in optimal husbandry and health.

Literature Cited

1.  Barnes, R.B. 1967. Determination of body temperature by infrared emission. J. Appl. Physiol. 22:1143–1146.

2.  Coulson, R.A. and T. Hernandez. 1983. Alligator Metabolism: Studies on Chemical Reactions In Vivo. London, Pergamon Press.

3.  Glassman, A.B. and C.E. Bennet. 1978. Response of the alligator to infection and thermal stress. In: Throp J.H., and J.W. Gibbons (eds). Energy and Environmental Stress in Aquatic Systems. Washington, DC, Technical Information Center, U.S. Department of Energy.

4.  Hamilton, B.L. 1986. An overview of proposed mechanisms underlying thermal dysfunction. In: Abernathy, M., and S. Uematsu (eds). Medical Thermography. American Academy of Thermology. Washington D.C. Pp. 6–18.

5.  Lane, T.J. 1996. Crocodilians. In: Mader, D.R. (ed). Reptile Medicine and Surgery. Philadelphia, WB Saunders. Pp. 78–94.

6.  Purohit, R.C., W.A. Bergfeld., M.D. McCoy, et al. 1977. Value of clinical thermography in veterinary medicine. Auburn Vet. 33:104–108.

7.  Purohit, R.C. and M.D. McCoy. 1980. Thermography in the diagnosis of inflammatory processes in the horse. Am. J. Vet. Res. 41:1167–1174.

8.  Spire, M.F., J.S. Drouillared, and J.C. Galland. 1999. Use of infrared thermography to detect inflammation caused by contaminated growth promotant ear implants in cattle. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 9:1320–1324.


Speaker Information
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Gregory J. Fleming, DVM
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL, USA

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