Monitoring heat provision for effective thermoregulation in reptiles

Chester Zoo - 18th Sep, 2017

Ectotherms reptiles use their environment to regulate their body temperatures which means they need specific habitats, suited for their thermic needs, when in zoos. Previous studies at Chester Zoo evaluated our Komodo dragon’s thermic needs with the use of high end thermal imaging equipment.

Jonathan Holman, Chester Zoo Reptile intern from Manchester Metropolitan University, conducted a study built on that work and assessed the optimal method for recording temperatures within our different reptiles’ species. He compared three tools used to measure temperatures: thermal imaging cameras, infrared laser thermometers, and data loggers which are harmlessly fed-to and swallowed by the animal and will record the information as it passes through the digestive track, after which it is retrieved from the animal’s poo.

The study intended to find an affordable method to measure the temperatures of our reptiles and their habitats. Jonathan looked at the differences between infrared laser thermometers, data-loggers, and thermal image cameras. His findings show that the latter is a better indicator to know the animals’ core temperature than the point and shoot laser thermometers which was more variable owing to human errors. The data loggers were the most accurate, however, you can’t feed them to all our reptiles and the transmission rate was variable so it was a bit more challenging to use. 

FLIR ONE, a phone mounted thermal imaging camera working in conjunction with a free app, came out best to find temperatures as well as to give thermal visuals of the heat which is really helpful!

“You may have thermometers within the reptiles’ habitats but they are only showing a spot temperature, meaning that they’re good if you get a big increase or decrease of temperature, however, you might have a cold spot or a hot spot that you wouldn’t notice,” explains Jonathan. “That’s why having a thermal image camera is brilliant, it’s much easier to understand because you see not just one spot but the entire habitat.”

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