How To Setup An Ideal Map Turtle Habitat?

when do map turtles lay eggs

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Are you facing trouble setting up your map turtle’s enclosure? Well, at the beginning of my turtle keeping journey, I had many difficulties in building up the perfect habitat for my pet. But over the years, I have learned all the tricks by researching both online and offline. And now, I am going to share them with you.

Basically, you can build two types of habitats for a map turtle. Such as:

  1. Indoor habitat: You will need a tank, lamp, water heater, water filter, basking dock, and some other supplies to build a perfect indoor enclosure for a map turtle.
  2. Outdoor habitat: You can transform your home-side small pond into an outdoor habitat for a map turtle with some significant changes.

In this article, I will talk about both types of map turtle’s habitat. I will explain how you can build a perfect enclosure for your pet turtle, what difficulties you may face, and also, which housing will benefit you more. If you are a beginner, this article will help you a lot to decide what to do and what not to do.

Native Place of A Map Turtle

Before getting into the map turtle’s housing system, you have to learn about its native places. No matter which type of enclosure you build, you have to mimic the wild environment the map turtle prefers living.

Though the places can vary from species to species, they live all over the United States, mainly in the southeastern side.

Housing Types of A Map Turtle

Map turtle is a semi-aquatic turtle species. For them, you need an enclosure that includes both land area and water area. Depending on their behavior, characteristics, and requirements, you can keep them in two types of housing systems. Such as:

  1. Indoor habitat
  2. Outdoor habitat

Both types have similarities, advantages, and drawbacks. We will learn them one by one. Let’s start with the indoor housing system for a map turtle.

Indoor Habitat

Nowadays, most of the map turtle owners prefer raising their pet turtles in an indoor habitat. This type of housing is secure, and you can keep an eye on your map turtle 24/7.

Supplies Need to Build An Indoor Habitat

indoor turtle habitat steps
  1. Tank
  2. Lighting source
  3. Water heater
  4. Water filter
  5. Basking station
  6. Digital accessories
  7. Decoration

You will need all these supplies to set up the perfect indoor enclosure for your map turtle.

Setup An Indoor Habitat for A Map Turtle Following These 7 Steps

Now you know what it takes to make a suitable indoor habitat. Follow the steps to build a perfect house for your pet:

  1. Choose the right size tank
  2. Provide the lighting source
  3. Set up a tank water heater
  4. Choose a good quality water filter
  5. Build a basking station
  6. Setup digital accessories
  7. Decorate the tank

1. Choose The Right Size Tank

If you want to raise your map turtle in an indoor habitat, you have to use a tank as its enclosure. Many of us do not know how to choose the perfect sized tank for a turtle. Here is a tip for you:

  • The length of the tank has to be 3 or 4 times the length of the map turtle.
  • The width of the tank has to be 2 times the length of the map turtle.
  • The depth or height of the tank has to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of the map turtle.

I hope you have realized how important it is for you to know the size of your map turtle. The size of the enclosure totally depends on your map turtle’s length. If you do not know how big your map turtle can get, do not worry. Read this article to get a clear idea.

Map turtle has more than 13 species, and each has a different size range. So, it is apparent that you would need a separate sized enclosure for each species. Here I am adding a chart that discusses the size of the map turtle’s enclosure according to its species.

Map turtle enclosure size chart:

Map turtle speciesTank capacity for male map turtlesTank capacity for female map turtles
Mississippi map turtle25 gallon75 gallon
Texas map turtle30 gallon50 gallon
Ouachita map turtle40 to 50 gallon90 to 100 gallon
False map turtle25 gallon75 gallon
Barbour’s map turtle75 gallon120 gallon
Northern map turtle75 gallon125 gallon
Black Knobbed map turtle25 gallon75 gallon
Alabama map turtle40 gallon90 gallon
Cagle’s map turtle40 gallon55 gallon
Pascagoula map turtle40 to 55 gallon90 to 100 gallon
Sabine map turtle40 to 55 gallon90 to 100 gallon
Yellow blotched map turtle30 gallon55 gallon

These are the minimum size capacity tanks you should provide to your map turtles. Also, you can house only one pet turtle in those tanks. So, if you want to put multiple map turtles in the same enclosure, you have to increase its size.

For each map turtle, you add, you have to increase the tank capacity by half of the ideal tank size. Suppose you have a male Northern map turtle and you raise it in a 75 gallon tank. When you add another map turtle, you have to provide an enclosure of about 120 gallons.

The hatchlings can live in a smaller enclosure of about 20 gallons. No matter which species you raise, try providing a larger enclosure. The bigger the tank, the more space your pet turtle will get.

Here are some tips you can follow while choosing the tank for your map turtle:

  • Avoid buying reptile tanks. Glass of those tanks are thin and cannot take the water pressure. So, it can break anytime and hurt your pet turtle.
  • Make sure the Glass of the map turtle’s tank is minimum 0.4 inches or 10 mm thick.
  • The map turtles need a deeper tank to move freely. So always choose the one tank that is deeper than its width.
  • Always go for a sturdy, larger tank. Those tanks are cheap and long-lasting.

2. Provide The Lighting Source

Lamp in the enclosure is essential for the map turtles. We do not set up light sources just to see the pet. These sources ensure a healthy life of the turtle. How? I will explain everything to you.

You need to provide 4 types of lights inside a map turtle’s enclosure. Such as:

  1. Heating bulb
  2. UV bulb
  3. Viewing light (optional)
  4. Night bulb (optional)

Heating bulbs provide heat to the enclosure and keep the environment warm. On the other hand, UV bulbs emit UVA and UVB rays, which play a significant role in keeping the map turtle healthy.

Heating Bulbs

These bulbs provide heat to the enclosure as the sun does in the wild. These bulbs provide light and heat at the same time. Heating bulbs come as daylight lamps. There are many more types of heating bulbs available in the market. Such as:

  • Incandescent lamp
  • Halogen lamp

Why Do You Need Heating Bulbs Inside A Map Turtle’s Enclosure?

Map turtles are endothermic creatures. It means they can not regulate their body temperatures and depend on an external source. Without the proper heat, their metabolism drops, they lose their appetite and do not take part in any activities.

The species is excellent at swimming and spends most of its time underwater. They come to the land area or the basking area from time to time to dry their wet bodies. If you do not provide any external heating source, they won’t be able to do that. As a result, pet turtles may suffer from various shell diseases.

If you are raising your map turtle in an outdoor habitat, then the sun is enough to provide heat and light. But for an indoor enclosure, you have to arrange heating bulbs and other sources.

Where Should You Setup The Heating lamp?

I have mentioned earlier that the map turtles need warm temperature at their basking docks. So, set up the heating lamp above the basking station keeping a safe distance. You have to make sure that the temperature of the dry area is 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the water.

However, it would help if you do not cover the whole basking dock with the heat. Set up the light in such a manner that one end of the dock is warmer than the other one. Why?

Sometimes the map turtles do not need the quality of heat you are providing. So, they can move to the cooler or neutral part of the basking station if they want.

How Long Should You Keep The Heating Lights ON?

It totally depends on the surrounding. But professionals suggest keeping the heating lights on for at least 10 to 12 hours a day.

Temperature You Need to Provide inside The Enclosure

After setting up the heating lamp inside the enclosure, make sure to provide the perfect temperature for the map turtle. A slight change in the temperature can cause severe health conditions to the pet. Here is a chart that shows the average temperature range for a map turtle.

Average temperature for a map turtle:

Average air temperatureAverage basking temperature
75 degrees to 80 degrees FahrenheitFor adult map turtles: 85 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit   For hatchlings: 85 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit

The temperature preferences can vary from one species to another. You must provide the one according to your map turtle species.

To learn more about the perfect temperature for a map turtle, click here.

UV bulb

UV bulbs emit UVA and UVB rays. These bulbs come in two different shapes. Such as:

  1. Linear
  2. Compact

You can use either of the types depending on your enclosure’s design.

Why Do You Need To Setup A UV Bulb Inside A Map Turtle’s Enclosure?

We know that map turtles need vitamin D3 and calcium to build healthy bones and shells. The vitamins they are consuming from the food will not be effective if there are no UVB rays. In the wild, map turtles get UV rays from the sun. As you can not provide direct sunlight to the pets in an indoor habitat, you have to set up UV bulbs.

Without proper UV rays, the map turtles can suffer from various metabolic bone diseases. However, UVA rays help your pet turtles to stay in a happy mood. These rays increase their energy to do daily activities.

How to Choose The Perfect Power for The UV Bulb?

The wattage of the bulb should depend on the enclosure’s size. If you have a bigger pen, set up a high-power bulb. For example,

Tank sizePower of the UV bulb
55 gallon50 to 75 watt
90 gallon100 watt

Where Should You Place The UV Bulb Inside The Enclosure?

You can not set up the bulb right above the water level. You need to follow an ideal distance for setting up the lamp. Here is a perfect chart for that:

Power of the UV bulbThe distance of the bulb from the basking dock
50 watt5 to 7 inches
75 watt7 to 9 inches
100 watt10 to 12 inches
150 watt12 inches

Viewing Light

Viewing light is totally optional. You can use the light if you have a big enclosure and your place is kind of dark. This light is not special like heating light or a UV bulb. You can use daylight instead of this viewing light.

Night Light

The night light is optional too. Map turtles sleep at night, and they like it dark. You can set up a night light if you want to observe the turtle at night.

This light is soft and does not irritate the turtle’s vision. The night light can not produce much heat, so this does not affect the enclosure.

Better Lighting Option

I have discussed every type of lighting source you can use inside a map turtle’s enclosure. But isn’t setting up one bulb is better than setting up two? Yes, right? However, there is a bulb that can replace both types.

This bulb is known as Mercury Vapor Lamp. It can provide both heat and UV rays at the same time. This bulb is a huge advantage for those who do not have room for setting up two bulbs inside the enclosure.

However, mercury vapor lamps have several disadvantages. For example, these bulbs consume more energy than standard heating or UV bulbs. And as so, the electricity bill rises incredibly high.

Click here to find out the best basking light for your map turtle.

3. Set Up A Tank Heater

Setting up a tank heater is essential in a map turtle’s indoor habitat. Map turtles are semi-aquatic species and spend a lot of time swimming underwater. If the temperature of the water is cold, the pet can suffer from cold and other respiratory diseases.

You have to maintain an accurate temperature inside the water. If the water is too low, it will affect the turtle’s health. On the other hand, if the temperature is too high, the turtle will start going deeper into the water to find the cooler sport. As a result, it will not come to the land area to bask.

Here is the water temperature you need to maintain inside the enclosure:

For young and adult map turtles: 72 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit

For hatchlings and juvenile map turtles: 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit

The best way to maintain the water’s temperature is to set up a tank water heater. But choosing the perfect water heater is not easy. Here are the things you have to consider while selecting a heater for your map turtle’s enclosure.

  1. Design of the heater
  2. The coating material of the heater
  3. Power of the heater

Design of The Heater:

Try avoiding the fancy designed heater and choose the one that fits your turtle’s enclosure.

Coating Material of The Heater:

The heater must be thermo-resistant. If not, then it can not endure the heat. Also, you have to avoid those glass tank heaters. Map turtles are hard-shelled species. If by chance the glass gets broken by its shell, then the turtle will be electrified and die.

Power of The Heater:

You have to choose the power of the heater according to the size of the enclosure. If you have a bigger pen, then go for the high wattage.

Here is a chart that indicates the power of the tank heater according to the tank size:

Tank sizePower of the heater
20 gallon75 watt
40 gallon150 watt
65 gallon250 watt
75 gallon300 watt

Now depending on your location, and native temperature, you may need to use a more powerful heater. For example, if your place is colder than usual, then you may need to use a 150 watt heater in a 40 gallon turtle tank. In the same way, if the weather is warmer, you have to use a less powerful heater.

Using Multiple Tank Heaters In A Single Enclosure

You can use multiple heaters in the same enclosure too. This will give you several advantages. For example:

  • Each spot of the tank will get the same percentage of heat.
  • If a heater stops, the other one will continue providing heat.

Types Of Tank Heater

There are many types of tank heater available in the market. But I prefer these three types. Such as:

  1. Submersible aquarium heater
  2. Aquarium substrate heater
  3. External In Filter Aquarium Heater

I always recommend using a submersible aquarium heater for the map turtle enclosure.

Tips for using a tank heater for map turtle

  • Set up the tank heater is in such a position that the map turtle does not get hurt.
  • Make sure the heater is always inside the water. Otherwise, it can get burnt out.
  • Never forget the cheap heaters.

Click here to find out how to calculator the heater power for your tank and which heater is the best for your map turtle.

4. Choose Good Quality Water Filter

Map turtles are semi-aquatic species, and they spend most of their time underwater. The quality of water plays a significant role in a map turtle’s health and life. The species can not endure a bit of dirty or unhygienic water. Unhealthy environments cause various shell diseases to a map turtle.

Why Invest In A Good Filter?

Map turtles produce more waste than fish. And its waste contains nitrogen-based elements including ammonia. A normal filter can not dissolve this type of element and purify the tank. Again, it is very important to maintain a certain pH and chlorine level inside the enclosure. A slight change can cause eye irritation to the map turtle.

If you buy a normal filter, it can not do all these things, and you will need to change the water daily. So, eventually, your pet will fall sick. On the other hand, a good filter can manage all these things, and you do not even have to change the water daily. That is why you should invest in a good quality water filter.

For changing the water in the tank, you can maintain the following routine,

  • Small tank- Change 25% water once a week
  • Large tank – Change 89 to 90% water once in 2 or 3 weeks

You can use the Python system to change the water inside the habitat. This is cheap and makes the task easier.

Tips For A Water Filter

  • Bio water filters are the best for a map turtle’s enclosure.
  • Always buy a large filter that can cover the whole enclosure.
  • Run the filter for 24/4.
  • No matter which quality water filter you buy, you have to clean it once every 2 weeks.

Click here to find out the types of water filters available, how to choose the best water filter, and which one will be better for your map turtle’s enclosure.

5. Build A Basking Station

Though map turtles love swimming and spend most of their time underwater, they come to the basking dock from time to time to dry their bodies. Research shows that each closure of a semi-aquatic turtle should contain 50% land area. If you do not provide any basking station, the turtle will find no place to bask, and that will lead to shell diseases.

For a map turtle, you can build a basking station by yourself. The things you will need are:

  • Mud
  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Gravel
  • Driftwood
  • Flat rock
  • Smooth rock

There are some other things you can use:

  • Metal sheet
  • Plastic
  • Foams
  • Ceramic tiles

If you are using a floating basking station, make it stable at one side of the enclosure. Also, you have to provide rampage to the dock so that the turtles can easily get on to the area.

You can also buy commercial basking docks for the map turtles. These docks are unique, stable, and the turtles can get onto these easily.

One more thing, you should not use logs as a basking dock in an indoor habitat. It is because those things can carry germs and without proper sanitation, these can be a threat to your pet.

To learn how to make rampage and which commercial basking dock is the best, click here.

6. Set Up Digital Accessories

You already know how important it is to maintain the perfect temperature and humidity inside the map turtle’s enclosure. Without any accessories, you can not determine the temperature. That is why you have to set up the thermometer and hygrometer to do that.

You can buy either digital or analog machines. But I always suggest using the digital one for accuracy.

7. Decorate The Tank

You are almost done making the perfect habitat for your map turtle. To make the tank look more attractive, you can add some decoration items to it. You can use small logs, artificial plants to make hiding places for the turtle.

However, while choosing the decorations, avoid anything with sharp edges. Also, if the things make space less for swimming, do not put that in the habitat. Many turtle owners prefer putting substrate at the bottom and plant small vegetations.

So, if you have done everything properly, your enclosure is ready for the pet. Now fill the tank with clean water. Make sure the water depth is suitable for the map turtle. Now put your turtle inside the habitat and let it enjoy its new home.

You can put other species in the enclosure with the map turtle. Read this article to know the perfect tank mate for your map turtle.

Total Cost For A Map Turtles Indoor habitat

Many turtle owners think it is very costly to decorate an indoor habitat. But it is not. Here is a chart of the supplies with the market price:

125 gallon tank$650
UV and heating kit$40
Clamp lights$30
Tank heater$45
Water filter$145
Python system$30
River pebbles$10
Basking dock with rampage$40

If you are on a tight budget, replace the above supplies with the followings:

  • Stock tank
  • Pond filter
  • Handmade basking station
  • Regular 100 watt bulb
  • Stainless tank heater

Advantages And Disadvantages of An Indoor Habitat

You can observe the map turtle 24/7. The map turtle will get the proper amount of heat and humidity it needs.The water filtration is easy.The map turtle will not get the direct sunlight.The pet will be away from the natural vibes.

Outdoor Habitat

Outdoor habitat is the best option for your map turtle. It is totally natural, and the map turtle will enjoy everything. However, I do not suggest building an outdoor habitat if the turtle species is not native.

If you already have a small pond beside your house, you can convert into an outdoor habitat with some modifications. Or you can use wading pools or plastic tubs to build one. But if you want to create one by yourself, that can be a tough process. In this section, I will discuss everything you will need to build the perfect outdoor habitat for your map turtle.

First Things First– Plan Everything

Before building an outdoor habitat, you have to plan everything. Here are the things you need to consider first:

  1. Your location
  2. The weather in your region
  3. Size of your yard
  4. Shady or not

Your location:

Map turtles are mostly found all over the United States. If you have a native map turtle species, only then take a decision to build an outdoor habitat.

The weather of your region:

Weather plays a crucial role in raising a map turtle in an outdoor habitat. If there is a large temperature swing in winter and warm seasons, you must not build this type of housing.

Also, if your area gets flooded too often, avoid putting your map turtles in an outdoor house. Only and if only the weather is suitable for your pet, take the initiative to set up an outdoor habitat.

Size of the yard:

Make sure your yard is big enough to build an outdoor enclosure. When it comes to map turtles, the larger the habitat, the better it is. So, consider the number of your turtle, and if you have any plan of breeding them or not before planning for the housing.

Shady or not:

Experts always suggest building the outdoor enclosure in a half-shaded spot. Why? Map turtles need both direct sunlight and shades to cool off. If you do not provide any shade, the turtle can not move to any cooler place in case it feels hot.

I recommend building the enclosure beside your south wall of the house. After picking up the spot, observe it for a day. If the place gets both sunlight and shade, then you can take your next step.

Things You Have To Put In An Outdoor Habitat

Basking Dock:

From my previous conversation, I hope you have learned the importance of a basking station. Here are the things you can provide as a basking dock in an outdoor habitat:

  1. Large rock
  2. Brick
  3. Log
  4. Plank

Make sure the map turtles can get onto the station without facing any trouble. You can provide a ramp if possible. For an outdoor habitat, I always prefer building a large basking dock. You can also put small stations at different spots.

Land area:

Spare some land areas for the turtles so that they can walk on. Also, if you have a gravid turtle, then it is a must.

Hiding area:

You know map turtles can get aggressive to each other in many cases. They try to protect themselves by hiding under a log. Also, if the pet gets stressed out, it hides from the human eye. That is why you must provide several hiding spots in an outdoor habitat.


The best way to mimic the wild environment is to plant small vegetations inside the habitat. The plants work both as a hiding spot and a food source. You can plant water lettuce, water hyacinths, fish weed, fairy moss inside the enclosure. If you are choosing any other kind, make sure it is not poisonous.


It means the process of providing more oxygen to the habitat. The more oxygen you can provide, the better it is for the map turtles. One of the best ways to ensure oxygenation is to put more land areas on the habitat. Or you can set up a waterfall, air stone, filters, and fountains to increase oxygenation.


If you have a place for other creatures, you can put them in the enclosure. But first of all, you have to make sure that the species is compatible with the map turtle. Click here to learn which creatures are the best tank mates for a map turtle.

Make An Outdoor Habitat For A Map Turtle With 8 steps:

  1. Gather the materials
  2. Clean the area
  3. Dig a trench
  4. Make a layout
  5. Build a wall
  6. Secure the enclosure
  7. Dig a water spot
  8. Make the habitat natural

1. Gather The Materials

turtle outdoor habitat steps

After choosing the area, you have to start working on the enclosure. First of all, gather all the materials you may need to set up the whole habitat. The ideal size for an outdoor habitat is 8 feet by 8 feet. So, I will discuss the supplies you may need to build a pen of that size.

  • Landscaping timbers – 8 foot long, 8 foot 2×4
  • Stakes – 3 foot tall, 2 foot long 2×2
  • Nails
  • Hammar
  • Measuring tape
  • Shovel
  • Chicken wire

2. Clean The Area

Now clean the desired area. Make sure there is nothing left that can hurt your map turtle. Measure the place with measuring tape.

3. Dig A Trench

You have to dig the parameter and make a trench of about 1 foot. This is the minimum requirement. You can dig a deeper trench if you want.

Remember, this trench is for supporting the wall. If the digging is not good, the wall will fall apart.

4. Make A Lay Out

After digging the trench, you have to build a strong base. And the best way to do that is to make a solid layout. How will you do that?

  • First, place your 8 foot landscaping timbers into 8 foot long one and create a square.
  • Now use 2 foot long stakes to create support at the corner.
  • Nail the edges to make the layout stronger.

5. Build a wall

When your base is complete, you are ready to build the walls. Use the 8 foot long timbers to add height to the layouts. Make the walls as high as possible. The ideal height is 20 inches. Also, ensure the wall will not break down if the map turtle pushes it.

6. Secure The Enclosure

The worst thing about an outdoor enclosure is the attack of the predators. You have to make the enclosure secure from each angle. I suggest you put a cover on the enclosure. You can use the chicken mesh wires to create one.

7. Dig A Water Spot

Now you have to make the water area for the map turtle. Make sure the water is deep enough for the map turtles to swim and flip their bodies. Here is a measurement for you:

  • The length should be 5 times the turtle’s size.
  • The minimum width should be 2.5 times the turtle’s size.

Dig a deeper pond if you want to put the map turtles on hibernation during the winter season. Generally, the ponds get dirty, and it is hard to clean. That is why you can use a water pool liner or waterproof traps. Many turtle owners build a concrete pool and set up a filter.

8. Make The Habitat Natural

You are almost done making an outdoor habitat for your map turtle. Decorate the enclosure to make it look like a natural one. Here are some tips for you:

  • Plant small vegetation and trees inside the habitat. Some edible plants like dandelion, hibiscus are always recommended. Never plant any poisonous plant.
  • Add flat smooth rocks inside the water and on the land area.
  • Put logs and sticks so that the map turtle can bask on them.
  • Add some hiding places.
  • Fill the pond with fresh water.

Now everything is done, and you are ready to put your map turtle inside the enclosure. Though you do not need to provide external lamps, you can set up a night lamp for security. If you are planning to raise multiple map turtles, make a bigger habitat, and ensure its filtration system.

Feeding can be tough in an outdoor habitat. You can provide the food at the basking docks or on the water surface. But the best way to do that is to set up an automatic feeder. Click here to know which one is the best auto feeder for a map turtle.

Advantages And Disadvantages of An Outdoor Habitat

The map turtle will get direct sunlight.The pet will grow amidst nature which is excellent for its mental health.There can be an attack of the predators on the turtles.You can not observe your pet 24/7.You have to move the pet turtle in an indoor habitat if the weather gets worse.

How To Set Up The Enclosure For Map Turtle Hatchlings

Hatchlings are small, and you have to put them in an indoor enclosure right after their birth. For the hatchling, a 20 gallon tank is perfect. Many think the baby turtles do not need all the supplies like an adult one, which is not true. You have to provide everything in the same way.

Though map turtles can swim in deep water, you should be careful while filling the tank for your map turtle hatchling. Here is a water measurement you can follow:

  • 1st week – 1 inch (no water filter)
  • 2nd week – 2 inches (no water filter)
  • 3rd week – 2.5 inches
  • After 4 months – around 3 inches and increase the depth as the map turtle grows


I have discussed each type of habitat you can build for your map turtle. You know both their benefits and drawbacks. I hope this guide will help you to make the perfect home for your map turtle.

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.