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Building an outdoor tortoise enclosure requires proper planning and resources. You also have to consider the safety of your tortoises as they can be a victim of predators and thieves. As a first-time owner of tortoises. You are probably overwhelmed thinking about how to make the best enclosure.
In this outdoor tortoise enclosure setup guide, I will tell you how to build a perfect outdoor enclosure for your pet tortoise. You should know that different tortoises have different requirements. So, you may have to adjust some points discussed in this article according to your tortoise’s needs.
What to Consider Before Setting Up An Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure?
You can build an outdoor tortoise enclosure from scratch or buy one. Whatever you do, you have to consider some factors before setting up a tortoise enclosure. Here is what you should think about:
The Weather of Your Area
First, you must consider the weather in your area. You should build an outdoor enclosure if you live where the weather remains warm most of the year. It is better if the tortoise you are getting lives is native to similar conditions in your area.
The Size of The Enclosure
Tortoises are slow reptiles, but it does not mean they spend their time in just one space. They roam around a lot. They hunt for food and look around for partners. So, if you want to keep your tortoise comfortable, provide them with as much space as you can.
Consider the size of the tortoise to determine the size of the enclosure. The length of the tortoise enclosure should be at least three times the length of your tortoise and four times its width.
Small tortoises can live comfortably in an 8ft X 4ft enclosure. But large-size tortoises require more space. For example, Sulcata tortoises should be in a 10ft X 10ft enclosure and leopard tortoises in a 10ft X 8ft enclosure. If you have a pair of large-size tortoises, build a 10ft X 20ft enclosure.
Location of the Enclosure
In the wild, the tortoise can roam around freely. So, it can visit a sunny space to bask and a shady place to cool off. The same should be in an outdoor enclosure of your pet tortoise.
Therefore, try to build the enclosure in a space where the tortoise can get a good amount of sunlight. Also, you should be able to monitor the location easily. Many predatory animals can target tortoises. Hence, the enclosure should be close to your vision.
Tortoises are land turtles. They are not dependent on water and stay on the land. So, the land of the enclosure should stay dry. Rainwater can get stuck in a flat area. So, try to choose land which is not completely flat. It is better if the space is slightly sloped so that the rainwater does not get stuck.
Dig some holes around the wall to drain the water from the enclosure. Living in water-clogged land is harmful to tortoises. They can get respiratory infections or shell rot.
Electric Supply Options
It is not always possible to find the perfect spot with lots of sunlight. So, set up a proper lighting system in the enclosure to keep the tortoise warm. Besides, your tortoise will need UV lights to stay healthy during the winter.
For setting up the lights, you need electricity. Hence, you have to build an outdoor enclosure where you can connect to the electricity without much problem.
An Ideal Tortoise Habitat According To An Expert
An ideal habitat is large and spacious. It has the correct UVB bulb and heat bulb. There is access to fresh water daily, a cool side and a hot side. Sometimes you may want to cover part of the top (not by the light bulbs) to keep heat or humidity in.
The best way is a piece of plexiglass. It is best to keep the habitat away from the window or drafty areas. It is also important to keep tortoises/turtles away from other pets especially dogs and cats since they are predators and can severely injure or kill them.
What Do You Need For A Tortoise Set Up Outside?
After you have chosen a place, make a list of things needed to build the outdoor enclosure. Here is a list of materials you may need to make an outdoor enclosure. You can change this list depending on the size and style of your tortoise enclosure.
- Wall building materials (Wood, stone, brick, metal, concrete)
- Wire mesh for roof
- UV lights and heat lamp
- Plants for shades
- Furniture and decorations
Wall Building Materials
The first thing you need to get for your outdoor tortoise enclosure is the materials for building the walls. There are different materials to choose from. What material you will use depends on your budget and how strong you want to make the enclosure.
Wood is one of the most common materials for building tortoise enclosures. It is one of the least expensive materials. Try to avoid using chemically treated woods for your tortoise enclosure. Chemicals are dangerous for tortoises.
Untreated woods are prone to termite attack and rot. So, change or repair the enclosure after every few years.
If you want a permanent enclosure for your tortoises, you can build it with durable materials like bricks and concretes.
Wire Mesh for Roofing
Tortoises may seem slow animals, but they can also be sneaky. They can climb the walls and escape. So, you should put a roof over the enclosure. But your tortoise needs sunlight and air.
So, you need to put a wired mesh over the enclosure. This way, you can prevent predatory animals and birds from attacking the tortoises.
You can build a partial wooden roof on one side of the enclosure to let your tortoise take shelter from prying eyes. The tortoises can also stay there in cold weather.
Tortoises thrive in a warm environment. If you are building an outdoor enclosure, choose a spot where your turtle can get direct sunlight. There should be different ranges of temperature within the enclosure.
The basking area for tortoises should have a temperature of 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In different parts of the enclosure, the temperature should be lower. The coolest part of the enclosure should be 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
What if you cannot choose a sunny spot to build an outdoor enclosure? Or maybe the temperature in your area is not high enough for your tortoise. In that case, get a heating lamp for your tortoise.
Heating lamps of various powers are available in the market. You can buy one according to the size of the enclosure. When you set up the heat lamp, put it at a safe distance from the tortoises.
Sunlight is crucial for tortoises as they need UV lights to stay healthy. If the tortoises do not get sufficient sunlight, you must set up UV lights for them.
UVB rays from the sun help your tortoise to produce vitamin D in their body. Tortoises need vitamin D to metabolize the calcium from their digested food. Without the UVB rays, the tortoises will become sick. They will suffer from bone problems and shell problems.
Your turtle will need substrates depending on its species. Tortoises like to burrow and build nests in the substrates. So, the substrates should be soft and diggable for tortoises.
You can mix soil and sand to create substrates for the tortoises. Peat moss, cypress mulch and orchid barks are also good choices as substrates. These are great for maintaining humidity in the enclosure. You can get grasses, like Bermuda grass or Fescue grass and plant them on the substrates.
Plants for Shades
Next, think about providing some shade in the enclosure. For that, you can choose some tortoise-friendly plants and bushes.
Tortoises need heat and light to stay healthy, no doubt. But they can get too hot basking under the light for hours. They need a space cooler than the basking area to cool off and rest. Keeping plants is the best way to provide natural shading in the enclosure.
Now, remember, tortoises can be quite curious. They may bite on the plants to taste them. Hence, you should plant tortoise-friendly plants in the enclosure.
Dandelions and aloe vera are excellent choices as tortoises enjoy eating them. You can choose nasturtium, clover, cactus, geranium, and pansies.
Furniture and Decoration
If you want to keep your tortoise happy, make the enclosure look natural as much as possible. Adding plants and bushes is not enough to create a natural environment in the enclosure. You should add some furniture too.
Consider building hiding spots like caves and rain shelters for the tortoises to hide when it rains.
Keeping the land completely flat is not a good idea. You can add various sizes and shapes of rocks to the enclosure. You can also decorate with different sizes of rocks. Like this, you can add some diversity to the tortoise enclosure.
In the wild, tortoises can visit water source whenever it feels thirsty or too hot. So, there has to be water in the enclosure. Depending on the species and size of the tortoise, you can place a bowl of water or build a shallow pool.
You can buy a pool liner or try building a pool by yourself. The water pool should be near the drainage holes of the enclosure so that the splashed water can slip out.
As you can see, you can choose to build the walls with wood and metal or more permanent materials like brick and concrete. Depending on where you live, you may not need UV lights or a heat lamp. So, you can change the materials according to your preference.
How Do You Set Up An Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure?
Now that you know what you need to build an outdoor tortoise enclosure, you can start building one for your pet tortoise. Here is how I have set up an outdoor enclosure for my Red-footed tortoises.
Step 1: Gather the Materials
Let us consider building an 8ft X 8ft outdoor enclosure for today’s project. You can build a smaller or larger size enclosure according to the size of your tortoise. The outdoor enclosure will be made of wood. So, gather all the materials you need to build the structure, like landscape timbers, stakes, nails, measuring tapes, a hammer and a shovel.
Step 2: Clear the Location
You have to choose an ideal location to build the enclosure. After choosing the location, use the measuring tape and four wooded stakes to mark the space. Then clean the area to remove any plants, grasses, and debris.
Step 3: Dig a Trench to Build the Walls
Next, take a shovel and dig a trench in the marked area for building the wall. It should be at least 12 inches deep.
Tortoises can dig deep and get out of the enclosure, or some other animal can dig under the walls and get in. Therefore, you should build walls deep to prevent your pet from escaping. Place four 8ft long landscaping timbers on the trenches as the base of the wall.
To avoid rainwater from getting clogged up in the enclosure, dig some holes around the perimeter of the enclosure wall to allow rainwater to drain out. It is better to dig the drainage holes while you are building the base wall.
Step 4: Build the Walls
Attach four corner support stakes and place more timber on the base timbers to add height to the walls. Tortoises can climb and escape from the enclosure. The walls should be twice as high as the shell length of your tortoise. Besides, predators can also get into the easily if the walls are low. So, keep the walls high.
Step 5: Add Substrates
As mentioned above, you can choose from different types of substrates to put in the enclosure. To build an all-natural enclosure, I used a mix of soil and sand to create the substrates. You can also use topsoil.
Spread the substrate inside the enclosure. You can remove a few inches of land from the enclosure floor. Then evenly spread the substrates where you want. Keep the substrates at least 6 inches deep for the tortoises to burrow or lay eggs.
Step 6: Decorate the Enclosure
After building the enclosure and adding structure, you can start decorating with plants and furniture. Your tortoises should get plenty of sunlight in some part of the enclosure where they will bask. Put some rocks and logs so that the tortoises can keep themselves entertained climbing on them.
Provide some plants that are common in the natural habitat of your tortoise. Place them strategically to create shade in the enclosure for your tortoise. Your tortoises will like to spend some time in cool areas after basking under the sun or basking lamps.
Then build a cave or shelter on one side of the enclosure for the tortoises to stay during rain or cold weather. The shelter should be large because you might need to place a heating bulb in case the weather gets too cold for the tortoise.
Step 7: Place a Water Bowl
If you do not want to make a water pool in the enclosure, you can place a shallow water bowl for your tortoises to drink water and soak. Place the water bowl on one side close to the wall.
If you want something permanent, dig a hole in one side and use cement to build the pool. It should not be too deep since tortoises are not skilled swimmers like turtles.
Step 8: Get a Cover for The Enclosure
When you finish building and decorating, get a large wired mesh to cover the enclosure. Make sure the cover is large enough to sit on the wall, and there is no wide gap. It should have hinges to remove the cove whenever you have to.
How Do I Keep My Outdoor Tortoise Warm?
If your pet tortoise is native to your area, you may not need any extra heating source to keep the tortoise warm.
But if the temperature goes below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, you should place a ceramic heating lamp in the enclosure to keep your tortoise warm. You can fix a heating lamp over the basking area.
Living in cold temperatures can cause respiratory infections in tortoises. Besides, tortoises need to stay warm to digest their food and perform other activities.
Can I Leave My Tortoise Outside At Night?
You can leave your tortoise in the outdoor enclosure at night during summer. Just make sure it is comfortable and safe in there. Your tortoises should be alright when the temperature remains 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
However, in spring and fall, the temperature can get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In such conditions, you can light a heating lamp for your tortoise or bring your pet indoors at a warm temperature.
Using A Premade Tortoise Enclosure
If you do not have the time and energy to build your pet tortoise enclosure from scratch, you can buy a premade tortoise enclosure. There are many tortoise enclosures out there in the market. Choosing the perfect tortoise enclosure can be difficult for a new tortoise owner. So we have chosen one for your consideration.
Aivituvin-AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House
The Aivituvin-AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House is one of the best tortoise houses on the market. It is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. The fir wood enclosure is made of non-toxic materials. So, it does not put your tortoise at any health risk.
The bottom part of the enclosure is made of plastic hence, moisture does not affect it. It makes it safe to use wet substrates necessary to maintain humidity in the enclosure. The removable bottom tray also makes it easy to clean.
Aivituvin-AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House has two separate rooms for your precious pet. One is the activity room and the other is the resting room. There is a solid roof over the resting room to provide darkness and warmth. Then there is a wire mesh cover over the activity room. The sunlight can reach your tortoise through the cover. You can fix a basking lamp over the wire mesh cover on the attached stand.
The wide door from the resting room to the activity room makes it easier for the tortoises to move freely.
The Aivituvin-AIR21 Wooden Tortoise House is perfect for small to medium size tortoise(s). Many people attach two Aivituvin-AIR21 Wooden Tortoise houses to accommodate multiple tortoises. Although the tortoise house comes unassembled, it is easy to assemble with a helping hand.
- Material: 100% Fir Wood with plastic bottom
- Overall Dimension: 38.1” (L) x22.4” (W) x13.1” (H)
- Package includes: 1 x Wooden hutch and 1 x Instruction
- Suitable for indoors and outdoor
- Non-toxic fir wood
- Easy to clean
- Appropriate for small and medium size tortoises
- Awkward position of the light stand
Building an outdoor enclosure in the right place can be the best choice you ever make for your tortoise. Tortoises are the happiest when they are close to nature. Providing just an enclosure is not enough for a tortoise. You need to make sure the tortoise gets sufficient sunlight and a place to take a rest.
Follow the steps mentioned in this article to build the perfect outdoor enclosure for your precious pet tortoise. While you build the enclosure, pay attention to your tortoise’s specific needs.