How To Setup The Perfect Indoor Box Turtle Habitat?

How To Setup The Perfect Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

If you are planning to get a box turtle, you must make some preparations. For example, you have to build a beautiful house for it, you have to plan its diet and so on. Among all, good habitat is mandatory for a box turtle’s health. Though box turtle prefers living in a natural habitat, you can set up an indoor habitat with everything the box turtle needs.

Setting up an indoor habitat for a box turtle is not hard, but you have to be careful in each step. You have to follow several steps to build an indoor habitat. Selecting an enclosure, choosing perfect equipment or decorating the enclosure with accessories, these are some of the steps.

Many beginners or sometimes experienced turtle owners find it confusing when they need the proper equipment for indoor housing. I have been keeping a box turtle for a long time and I have gathered some experience in this sector. I am going to share my knowledge about the box turtle’s indoor habitat in this article.

What Is The Perfect Size Of A Box Turtle’s Indoor Enclosure?

Most of the turtle owners ask this question. No one can give you the exact answer to it, because the enclosure size depends on different factors.

  • Size of the box turtle
  • Number of the pets

It is said that a 40 gallon fish tank or turtle tank, or 36’’ × 18’’ tank is perfect as an indoor habitat for the box turtle. If you are looking for a bigger size, you can go for a 75 gallon fish tank or turtle tank, or 48’’ × 18’’ tank.

We know that a box turtle is smaller than most other turtle species. So they do not need a huge enclosure for living. But it does not mean that you will force them to live in a compact housing.

While choosing an enclosure, you must keep the following points in mind.

  • The enclosure is larger than its size.
  • The box turtle can move freely inside the habitat.
  • You can decorate the enclosure with every important thing.
  • In the case of multiple housing, you must choose a bigger enclosure.

You can read the article regarding the size of the box turtle’s enclosure to get a more detailed answer.

Proper Housing For The Box Turtle

A box turtle likes to roam around in the wild. In a captive situation, a box turtle does not have that much chance of roaming. That is why it is necessary to build a large indoor habitat for the box turtle.

You can use many things like a box turtle’s habitat. For example,

  • A turtle table
  • A plastic container
  • A glass aquarium

Turtle Table

box turtle table
[SOURCE]

Turtle tables are very useful when it comes to the house a box turtle. Generally, it is a rectangular, shallow wooden box. It is more pleasing than any plastic containers and easier to clean. The main advantage of a turtle table is that you can customize the design.

You can make a turtle table for your box turtle on your own, or you can buy it from a local shop. A customized turtle table may cost an extra buck or hard work, but your box turtle will have an organized place to live in.

While choosing or building a turtle table, you have to consider a few points.

  • Number of box turtles you are planning to house
  • How many spaces you need to decorate the habitat
  • Types of materials you are planning to use in the habitat

If you are planning to decorate with heavy accessories, you must buy or build a solid table.

Moreover, you have to be careful about some other things too.

  • You have to make the sides of the table high so that a box turtle can not get out.
  • Make the sides and the bottom of the table water-proof.
  • Avoid toxic paints. You can use non-toxic paints or water sealants for waterproofing the turtle table.
  • Treated wood can harm a turtle’s health. Do not use this type of wood.

Plastic Container

Many turtle owners think that a plastic container is not as good as a habitat. It is not right. A plastic container can be a great indoor habitat for the box turtle if you can decorate it well.

Plastic containers are easy to find. They are cheap and can be replaced easily. You have to be careful about the heating arrangements if you are using a plastic container.

Try to buy high-quality plastic tubs or containers. Low-quality containers may melt if they are exposed to the heating lamps.

Glass Aquarium

box turtle enclosure accessories

Glass aquarium or tank is not a great choice for a box turtle. Because it is clear all the way around.

A box turtle is not familiar with clear glass. It thinks the glass is a visible barrier, and it can get past the barrier. It has been seen that box turtles have hurt themselves while trying to pass the glass walls of an aquarium. Moreover, failing continuously can give them stress and anxiety, which may cause other complexity later.

If you want to use a glass aquarium as an indoor habitat for your box turtle, place paper or cardboard around the walls. It will ensure your box turtle’s safety.

Can You Use A Wire Cage As An Enclosure For A Box Turtle?

Wire cages are used to house reptiles. It is not suitable for the box turtles. Box turtles are small in size, and the gaps between the wires are not comfortable for a box turtle to roam around.

Moreover, the box turtle can hurt itself by the sharp edges of the cage. Plastic wire cages sometimes work with the big size box turtles. But as a box turtle owner, I will suggest you not to use any kind of wire cage as your pet’s habitat.

Do You Need To Make The Enclosure Escape-Proof?

In a word, yes, you do. Box turtles have a bad reputation for escaping from their habitats. It means you need to make the habitat as secure as you can.

First, make sure that the sides of the habitat are completely vertical. If not, the box turtle will climb it and try to get out of the habitat. And also, make the sides high enough so that the turtle can not climb it at all.

You have to put a cover on the enclosure. A cover will make sure that your box turtle is safe. Mesh screening and hardware cloth are generally used to cover the enclosure.

Moreover, do not put any objects at the corners or on the sides. It will make it easy for the box turtles to climb out.

Set Up The Indoor Habitat

Choosing an enclosure is just the first step in building an indoor habitat for the box turtle. After this, you have to set up everything in the enclosure. To set up the indoor habitat for your pet turtle, you have to work on some points. Such as:

  • Substrate
  • Heat lamp
  • Test temperature
  • Heat rock
  • Under cage heater
  • UV source
  • Humidity level

Substrate

Box turtles are land dwellers. And so they need proper bedding for their indoor habitat. You can use different types of substrate or material for the bedding. From my experience, I have seen people mistaking about this.

Most people do not have minimum knowledge about proper bedding a box turtle need, and often they have to face difficulties. In this part, I will try to clear all the confusion.

Before getting into the main point, think about where a box turtle lives in the wild. Most of the species or subspecies of box turtle live in forested areas where the light barely touches the ground. These areas are not sandy, dry or compact soil, but loose, humid earth.

In short, box turtles prefer to live in high humidity, low light environments. And that’s exactly what you have to build within the enclosure. So the substrate must fulfill three basic needs.

  • It must have plants, shrubs.
  • It must have high humidity.
  • The soil has to be loose but moist dirt. Moist dirt can hold humidity and allow for burrowing.

The best substrate material for a box turtle’s bedding is the mixture of large orchid bark with a soggy thing like peat moss. A wet combination of sand and soil also performs well if you can maintain the water ratio.

Just the mixtures of large orchid and peat moss, or sand and soil, is not enough for a good substrate. You have to add some additional things to maintain quality.

Here is a list of things you can mix with the substrate.

  • Sphagnum moss
  • Regular soil
  • Cypress mulch
  • Orchid bark
  • Peat moss
  • Leaf litter
  • Leaf mulch
  • Hay
  • Wood shavings
  • Organic potting soil
  • Coconut fiber

You have to put the substrate at least three inches deep. It is because a box turtle sometimes tends to burrow for both mental and physical health.

What Things To Avoid For A Box Turtle’s Bedding

All turtle owners try to provide soft bedding for their pets, but not all materials are safe for the pet. Some materials are toxic and some are dangerous to a box turtle’s health.

The substrate must not contain three chemical components.

  1. Pearlite: It is a type of volcanic rock and it looks like little pebbles.
  2. Vermiculite: It is a type of mica, and it can expand.
  3. Styrofoam: It is polystyrene foam.

Sometimes box turtles eat these components, and these are not good for health. So you have to avoid these components as much as you can. There are some other elements that can cause a problem to a box turtle. For example,

  • Gravel
  • Silica
  • Calcium sand

You have to avoid some commercial products that can be used as a substrate. Such as,

  • Recycled newspaper
  • Cat litter
  • Rodent pellet bedding
  • Walnut shell
  • Aspen shavings
  • Pine bark
  • Cedar wood chips

Many people use reptile carpet as bedding. But this is not good, because you can not hold the moisture in the carpet, and the box turtle can not burrow inside it.

Problems a box turtle may face because of substrate

  • A dry substrate can cause several problems for the box turtle. For example, crack the shell, cracked skin, etc.
  • Pine bark or cedar type wood chips are toxic and can cause respiratory problems in box turtle.

Heat Lamp

box turtle substrate

Box turtles can not stay warm without any external source. If you are raising your box turtle in an outdoor habitat, it might get heat from the sun. But if you are raising your box turtle in an indoor habitat, it must need an external source for heat. In most cases, we use different kinds of heat lamps or bulbs for providing heat to the enclosure.

Different kinds of bulbs are available in the market. I will try to illustrate all of them, and you can choose the best one for yourself.

Incandescent heat bulb

It is a standard bulb and mostly used in our houses. These bulbs can be used to heat the enclosure of a box turtle too. But you have to be careful about the power of the bulb. You must pick the wattage based on the size of the enclosure and how far above you will put it.

If you don’t want to use a regular incandescent bulb for your pet’s habitat, there is good news for you. Many reptile companies manufacture incandescent bulbs, especially for the reptiles. You can buy one of them.

Daylight blue bulbs

These are not different from the regular incandescent bulbs. But the blue light makes the pet’s color more vibrant.

Night-time red bulbs

Box turtles do not prefer lights at night. It disturbs their day and night cycle. So we can not use a regular bulb in the enclosure.

A night-time red bulb gives off a soft red light that does not disturb your box turtle at night. You can set up a low power red bulb in the habitat.

Basking lamps

Basking lamps are not like other lamps or bulbs. These bulbs are specially designed and coated incandescent bulbs. They can focus light and heat onto a small area.

We know that the basking area needs to be warmer than in the other areas. So using a basking lamp will help you to achieve that.

Halogen lamps

Halogen bulbs are slightly different from the incandescent bulbs. Halogen bulbs can give off more heat than a usual incandescent bulb. You can have the same amount of light and heat with a lower watt halogen bulb. The main issue with a halogen bulb is that it has a short lifespan.

Mercury vapor bulb

Mercury vapor bulb is a multi-functional bulb. It can give off both heat and UV rays. But these bulbs can not create good heat over a large area.

Mercury vapor bulbs can overheat an area which is surely a disadvantage.

Ceramic heat emitters

Ceramic heat emitters can not give off light. It can provide heat and only over a short area. These types of bulbs have a lot of similarities to mercury vapor bulbs.

Here are some points you need to know regarding a heat lamp.

  • Place the heat lamp in such a place that it covers half of the enclosure. The other half of the enclosure must be cool. It gives the box turtle the freedom to move to the temperature it wants.
  • You can place the heat lamp in one corner or on one side.
  • You do not need to provide heat 24/7. A box turtle needs to get heat only 12 to 14 hours a day.

How To Choose The Right Power And Position Of The Bulb?

I am providing a chart below which you can follow. Remember that the chart is made for an incandescent bulb. If you use another type of blub, the position or the wattage may change.

  Distance of lamp to the enclosure     5-13 watt     10-13 watt     5-26 watt     10-26 watt  
 5 inches/ 13 cm      ×   ×      
 6 inches / 15 cm   ×     ×     ×    
  7 inches/ 18 cm     ×     ×     ×    
  8 inches / 20 cm       ×     ×     ×  
10 inches/ 25 cm         ×     ×  
  12 inches/ 30 cm           ×  

Temperature

We have learned that a box turtle needs external heat or temperature to stay healthy. But the important question is what temperature a box turtle exactly needs. Now, you have to remember that a box turtle requires a different temperature during night time and day time.

Day Time Temperature A Box Turtle Needs

During day time, the temperature on the warm side has to be around 75 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature on the cool side has to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The basking area temperature has to be slightly warmer. 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for the basking area. The water source has to be on the cool side of the enclosure.

Nighttime Temperature A Box Turtle Needs

During the night the enclosure temperature should be cooler than usual. Around 60 degrees Fahrenheit is acceptable.

Box Turtles Can Not Control Their Body Temperatures

Humans can generate heat and keep their bodies warm because they are endotherms. On the other hand, box turtles are ectotherms. It means their bodies can not generate heat. A box turtle’s body temperature depends on the surroundings.

That is why a box turtle becomes sluggish during the cold season. They tend to go through hibernation during extreme cold, and aestivation during the severe hot season.

Does Imperfect Temperature Affect A Box Turtle?

In extreme temperatures, the box turtle’s metabolism slows down. It moves less and stops eating. And also, lower temperature makes the box turtle vulnerable to bacteria and germs. So there is a high possibility that a box turtle will fall sick at an imperfect temperature.

Heat Rock

Heat rock is another type of heating source. In this case, the rock is buried underneath the substrate. A heating rock provides heat to the belly of a box turtle.

Make sure,

  • The rocks are buried underneath the surface
  • It is not exposed to the surface
  • The box turtle is not getting direct heat from the heating rock.

Under Cage Heater

Many people use under cage heater instead of heating rocks. Both of them have many similarities. But under cage heater is placed under a glass aquarium only. You can not use an under cage heater on a plastic or wooden enclosure.

UV source

Before getting into this point, let’s talk about UV first.

Ultraviolet light or UV is a part of the light spectrum. It is invisible to human eyes but visible to the box turtles. It means a box turtle can see different or more colors than we do.

There are different kinds of UV rays, such as UVA, UVB, and UVC. Some parts of the UV rays can affect a box turtle’s health. Not all UV rays are good for a box turtle.

UVA Rays And Box Turtle’s Mental Health

I have mentioned earlier that box turtles can experience different colors than humans. It is because of the UVA lights. If you remove UVA lights, the box turtles will see the exact colors like us.

Though it seems a minor change, it has a great impact on a box turtle’s mental health. Many scientific studies have proved that this particular wavelength controls how a box turtle acts and behaves.

The major noticeable behaviors are,

  • The box turtles become more active than usual
  • They interact more with the environment
  • They look happy and content
  • The box turtles maintain a normal appetite

UVB Rays And Box Turtle’s Health

We know that vitamin D is essential for a box turtle. In most cases, a box turtle can not consume vitamin D without external help. UVB rays help in processing vitamin D and make it work for a box turtle’s health.

UVB rays help the box turtle to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 lets the box turtle absorb calcium. And enough calcium in the diet makes the shell of the box turtle healthy and well-shaped.

Without UVB rays, a box turtle will not get enough vitamin D. and so the box turtle can develop shell and bone problems. Metabolic bone disease is one of the most common health issues that occur to a box turtle because of the lack of vitamin D. This disease softens the box turtle’s shell and bone and makes the box turtle weaker.

UVC Rays

I have mentioned earlier that not all UV rays are good for a box turtle’s health. UVC rays are dangerous to your pet. It can cause different skin issues to your box turtle.

Different UV lamps and bulbs are available in the market. Most of the UV lamps provide both UVA and UVB rays. While setting up a UV lamp, make sure it is around 18 inches above from the box turtle.

Many pet stores sell multifunctional bulbs, which work both as a UV source and heat source. You can buy one if you want.

Humidity Level

A box turtle needs enough humidity to stay healthy. If the environment is not enough humid, this can affect the box turtle’s health.

Low Humidity And Box Turtles

In a low humid environment, a box turtle can develop different health issues. Swollen eyes and abscesses in the middle ear are the two most common diseases that happen to a box turtle because of low humidity. A too dry environment can cause respiratory diseases to a box turtle.

Right humidity for a box turtle

Humidity range can differ from species to species.

  • A Terrapene Carolina subspecies can live in a 60 to 80 percent humid range.
  • Ornate and desert box turtle can live in a 60 percent humid range.
  • Gulf Coast and Florida box turtle need a 90 percent humid level.

On average, a box turtle requires 60 to 80 percent humidity to lead a healthy life.

How To Control The Humidity Level In An Enclosure?

There are several ways to control the humidity level inside an enclosure.

  1. You can try by moistening the bedding of the enclosure. It will also help your box turtle to burrow.
  2. By putting a cover on one side of the cage can trap the humidity of the enclosure.
  3. Keeping a water dish inside the enclosure can help you to maintain the humidity level inside the enclosure.

Temperature And Humidity For A Box Turtle

 Subspecies   Day time temperature (Fahrenheit) Basking spot temperature (Fahrenheit)   Nighttime temperature (Fahrenheit)   Humidity     
  Eastern box turtle     70 – 75 degree   85 – 88 degree       65- 70 degree     60%     
  Western ornate box turtle     70- 90 degree   85 – 88 degree   85 – 88 degree       65- 70 degree     40%  
  Florida box turtle     70- 90 degree   85 – 88 degree   85 – 88 degree       65- 70 degree     40%  
  Three toed box turtle     70 – 75 degree   85 – 88 degree       65- 70 degree     60%  

 Accessories

Your box turtle’s enclosure is almost ready. You just need to add some accessories to make the habitat perfect for the box turtle.

Hiding spot

Box turtles prefer to live alone. And in captivity, it is hard for them to hide from human eyes. A hiding spot can be really helpful in this case.

A hiding spot is needed because,

  • Sometimes a box turtle gets stressed or anxious. At that time it wants to spend some time alone.
  • In case of a sudden attack from another box turtle, the weak one tries to protect itself by hiding in a shelter.
  • If a box turtle gets scared, it hides in a shelter.

You can use many things as a hiding spot.

  • Hollow logs
  • Plastic tub
  • Tipped over a flower pot
  • Commercial shelters

These are some of the things you can use as a hiding spot for your box turtle.

Climbing Obstacles

Box turtles are very adventurous. They love to climb rocks. You can add rocks to the enclosure. It will make their lives more interesting and challenging.

While choosing rocks, choose thick, flat and wide rocks. These will make it easy for the box turtles to climb up. Make sure the rocks do not have sharp edges. Sharp edges can injure the box turtle.

Swimming Area

box turtle indoor enclosure

Most of us know that a box turtle can not swim. But a box turtle needs fresh water for drinking and to bathe in. You need to provide a water source for the box turtle inside the enclosure.

The size of the water source can be big. Do not select a smaller source. A box turtle can not move inside a small water source.

You can use a bowl, paint trays, storage tubs, flower pots, shallow ceramic bowls or any commercial tubs for this purpose. Remember that a box turtle loves spending time inside water.

As box turtles use the same water to soak and for drinking, always provide clean water. And change the water regularly.

Plants In Habitat

You can plant few plants inside the enclosure too. Collard greens, strawberry plants, parsley, and clover plants are good for indoor habitats. Make sure the plants are non-toxic and good for the box turtle. You can add a compost area where the box turtle can have worms as natural prey.

Where To Keep The Indoor Habitat

It is an important question to ask. Do not put the enclosure on the floor. The floor’s temperature is almost 5 to 10 degrees lower than usual.

You can keep the enclosure on a small table, or a bookcase. Do not keep it in a congested area. Rather put the enclosure in such a place where there are sufficient air and light.

Habitat Maintenance

Your responsibilities do not end with building a habitat. You have to do regular cleaning and maintain hygiene.

For that, you can turn over the soil and add new topsoil to the places where the box turtles spend most of its time. You have to clean the hiding spots and rocks. Try to provide filter water to the water source. If you do regular cleaning, it will lessen your stress.

Here you go. If you follow each step carefully, you will be able to make the perfect enclosure for your box turtle.

Muntaseer Rahman

I have been keeping turtles as a pet for many years now. I’ve fallen in love with these cute pets from the moment I saw them. That’s why I am writing articles to share my turtle keeping knowledge with you.

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