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A bigger challenge for these enclosures is heating and lighting. This usually either means holes in the top for the lights, or making the box big enough to include the devices inside- and figuring how to wire them safely!
A surprisingly effective medium-sized enclosure can be made out of a simple PVC pipe framework with a skin or shell of any combination of sheet plastics, clear or opaque vinyls, etc.
Tortoise Habitats (Page 2)
Indoor enclosures are a bit more complicated. Don’t make the common mistake of using an aquarium – the walls are far too high and they don’t provide enough roaming room or air movement. And, because they can see through the glass, they’ll spend time trying to go through it which causes stress to your tortoise. An aquarium is the absolute worst possible tortoise enclosure, so don’t let the pet store clerk talk you into one.
One of the biggest problems with indoor housing is providing adequate floor space. Remember that most tortoises get quite large, so a correspondingly large enclosure is needed. In addition you'll want something that is relatively easy to clean and that gives you the ability to set up different temperature zones for the tortoise.
Larger indoor spaces
You can create a rather large indoor space anywhere in a house that has enough room. One rather simple method is...
1. Locate the space. It should be near electrical outlets, and being close to a window is a bonus. The best space will have a floor that never gets too cold.
2. Outline the space with wood or plastic boards 12-24 in high. Make sure they are well secured to each other. If possible, use the room's walls for some of this.
3. Line the floor space, first with rigid foam board for insulation, then with a single piece of plastic liner that runs up the walls at least 12 in.
4. Build a PVC or wood framework to hold plastic sheeting and/or more rigid foam boards to make the walls of the space. This space should be at least 4 feet high for easy access and cleaning. The door can be a simple flap of plastic that snaps or Velcros in place.
5. Add several inches of substrate (and substrate heating if desired), and hang lighting and overhead heating from the framework.
Another guideline is to offer about 100 square inches of space for every inch of shell. By this guideline, you would need a space of about 500in2, or a space of about 30in x 18in for a 5in tortoise. Again, the numbers listed above are guidelines, not absolutes. Some tortoises are very aggressive and territorial and would need even more space than that suggested while others are at least semi-social and tolerate crowding. Many keepers also feel that smaller indoor enclosures are OK as long as they have access to larger outdoor spaces much of the time. Some owners use jumbo-sized plastic storage containers or children’s wading pools, while others recommend building a wooden "tortoise table."
A homemade wooden enclosure is usually the preferred method for indoor housing. A tortoise table is just a large, flat, open-topped box- often described as a shelf-less bookcase on its back. While they can theoretically be any size, they become more difficult to manage over about 72 x 36 in. Any simple box-like structure can be used, and made waterproof with a plastic liner. Open-topped tables quickly loose all heat and humidity to the room they are in, so you either need to heat and humidify the entire room, or the table needs some sort of cover. A simple tent-like frame covered in clear vinyl works nicely. Cover the bottom of the enclosure with a layer of substrate. Cypress mulch, play sand and a large clump of peat moss or sphagnum moss work well as the substrate of an indoor tortoise enclosure. Never use cat litter – it creates health problems for tortoises.
High humidity is essential, so use a humidifier or hand mister to keep the substrate damp or better yet, cover the top of the enclosure with plexiglass, which will keep in the humidity and heat. Hang a heat lamp to warm a basking area and a UVB lamp to simulate sunlight. Add some shady hiding spots for your tortoise. When the lamps are on, your tortoise should have a cool area (around 75 degrees), a warm area (80 to 85 degrees) and a hot area (90 degrees, for basking). Natural sunlight is always best, so on warm days let your tortoise roam in your backyard, under supervision.
Some sort of shallow water supply is also necessary.
Tortoise tables can get very heavy with the substrate and everything else, so make sure they are sturdy and placed where you do not need to move them much. It is generally easier to clean and enjoy a low table than one that is closer to waist height.
Medium-sized home-made enclosures
Medium-sized enclosures can be easily made in almost any size you need out of almost anything available. Most of the time they are build as a simple box that is open on either the front or top. Sliding plexiglass doors are often used to cover an open front. Some people even make really cool coffee tables or other furniture out of these!
There are few real rules about making these enclosures, but try to make it as waterproof as possible, especially for high-humidity species. One challenge is to use a water-proofing method that does not emit fumes that can potentially harm the tortoises and that will hold up over time. Water-based poly sealant and caulked corners are a common option.
Nauti-Lass Ponds & Critters, Inc.
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How big should it be?
Housing should be scaled to the size of the tortoise, and the bigger the better in most situations. Most keepers find that they have a few basic sizes-
There is no absolute size requirement for tortoise housing, but some European countries have guidelines or policies regulating size. The German guidelines are typical: