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How to Create an Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

In this Article:Choosing the Proper HousingSetting Up the HabitatProviding AccessoriesCommunity Q&A

Box turtles are best kept outdoors where they have a lot of roaming area. However, that doesn't mean that you can’t provide your box turtle with a great home if you live somewhere that can’t have an outdoor enclosure. Choosing a large enough enclosure, setting up proper heating elements, and providing the right accessories can give your box turtle a home they will love.

Part 1
Choosing the Proper Housing

  1. 1
    Set up a large enough enclosure. Box turtles need a lot of room to roam like in the wild. Each turtle in your terrarium needs at least three square feet (91 cm) of floor space for every eight inches (20 cm) of their length. This provides them enough room to roam, dig, and explore.[1]
    • For example, a 12 inch (30 cm) turtle needs at least a 4.5 sq ft (137 cm) of space. If you have two turtles of 12 inches, you need 9 sq ft (275 cm) of space.
  2. 2
    Try a turtle table. A turtle table is a shallow, rectangular wooden box. You can buy a turtle box from a commercial seller, or make your own. It just needs four sides and a floor. Make sure the sides are high enough so that the turtle can’t get out. Around 1.5 feet (0.5 m) (45 cm) should be tall enough.[2]
    • If you build the enclosure from wood, waterproof the inside bottom and sides. Nontoxic paint or water sealant works well. This keeps the enclosure from absorbing water.
    • Do not use treated wood, as it may harm the turtle.
  3. 3
    Use a plastic container. You don’t have to buy an expensive turtle enclosure or build one. You can use a plastic wading pool or a plastic storage container to set up a habitat. These are cheap and easily replaceable. They also are large enough so that you can fit multiple turtles inside.[3]
    • Wading pools are rather large, so you need a large amount of floor space for it.
  4. 4
    Consider a glass aquarium. Glass aquariums are not the best choice for box turtles because they are clear all the way around. However, if you want to place your turtle in an aquarium, just make sure you set it up correctly. Place cardboard or paper around three of the four glass walls to help give your turtle safety and security.[4]
    • Turtles don’t like to be out in the open and constantly visible. It can cause them stress and they may hurt themselves.
  5. 5
    Avoid wire cages. Most cages that are designed for reptiles aren’t suitable for turtles. Never place turtles in a wire reptile cage because they can injure themselves on the wire. Plastic reptile cages may be okay for your turtle, but they may be too small. You need to make sure they will be big enough.[5]
  6. 6
    Create an enclosure that is escape-proof. Box turtles are notorious for escaping from their habitats. This means you should make sure to make your box turtle habitat as secure as possible. The sides should be completely vertical so the turtle can’t climb up the side. They should also be high enough that the turtle cannot climb over, generally twice as long as the turtle.[6]
    • Place a cover on your habitat. You can use mesh screening or hardware cloth over the enclosure.
    • Don’t place any objects along the sides or in the corner of the enclosure. This just makes it very easy for the turtle to climb out.
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Part 1 Quiz

What is the best way to ensure your turtle cannot escape from its habitat?

Yes! Making sure the sides of your enclosure are about twice the length of your turtle will ensure it cannot escape and become hurt or lost! Read on for another quiz question.

Not quite! Wire cages aren't safe for turtles, as they can hurt themselves on the wire. There’s a better option out there!

Nope! Electric collars are not safe for small animals, as the electricity produced could seriously harm them. There’s a better option out there!

Definitely not! Because turtles cannot be kept in wire enclosures, putting a solid top over their habitat will not leave enough air for them to breathe. Try again...

Part 2
Setting Up the Habitat

  1. 1
    Add substrate. Substrate is the material that goes at the bottom of the cage. It helps hold moisture and gives the turtle plenty of opportunities to burrow. You can use peat-based potting soil mixed with orchid bark. You can also use fir bark, sphagnum moss, or pea gravel instead of orchid bark. These materials help retain humidity. Spread around two to three inches around the bottom of the entire enclosure.[7]
    • The potting soil should not contain additives like perlite, fertilizer, or Miracle-Gro.
    • Avoid aquarium gravel or sand. They hold too much water, which can deteriorate your turtle’s shell.
  2. 2
    Provide a heat lamp. Turtles need outside heat sources to stay warm. They like to bask in the sun in the wild, so you should provide them with warming spots. Half of your enclosure should be warm while the other side should be cooler so your turtle can adjust their temperature.[8]
    • Place an incandescent lamp on a far end of the enclosure to create a warm side.
    • This should be set up on a timer so the turtle gets 12 to 14 hours of heat each day.
  3. 3
    Test the temperature. You should test the temperature on the warm side of the terrarium to make sure it is the appropriate temperature. Place a thermometer under the heat source at approximately the place your turtle will bask under it. The temperature should be around 85 degrees.[9]
    • Make sure the lamp doesn’t make any part of the enclosure too hot to touch. This can burn your turtle.
  4. 4
    Place a heat rock in the substrate. Another option for a heat source is a heat rock. These heaters are buried underneath the substrate and provide heat to your turtles on their bellies. Make sure you cover the rock with substrate to protect your turtle. They shouldn’t lie directly on the rock.[10]
  5. 5
    Try an undercage heater. If you have a glass aquarium, you can place an undercage heater so the turtle can get heat from underneath. The heater can be attached directly to the tank.[11]
    • These types of heaters should never be used on plastic or wooden heaters.
  6. 6
    Provide a UV source. Box turtles need UV light to survive indoors. If you can expose your turtle to unfiltered UV light via a patio or open window for at least an hour daily, that should be enough. Otherwise, purchase a UV lamp. The UV lamp needs to provide both UVA and UVB rays.[12]
    • Place the UV light around 18 inches (45 cm) from the turtle.
    • Pet stores sell lights that are a heat lamp and UV source in one, which can be convenient.
  7. 7
    Keep the proper humidity level. Box turtles need a humid environment to thrive. The enclosure should be between 60 to 80 percent humidity. To achieve this, use the proper substrate so it will hold moisture. You should also mist the turtles daily to keep humidity levels high.[13]
    • If your box turtle starts burrowing constantly, you need to up the moisture because they are searching for it in the ground.
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Part 2 Quiz

What's the best way to keep your turtle warm and comfortable?

Almost! Using an incandescent heat lamp for 12 to 14 hours a day will help to keep your turtle warm, but there is an answer that fits better! There’s a better option out there!

Close! Using a heat rock under the substrate will certainly create a nice, warm place for your turtle. There is a more correct answer though! There’s a better option out there!

Try again! For glass terrariums, an under cage heater can be a great way to keep your turtle warm. However, there is a better answer! There’s a better option out there!

Not quite! Direct sunlight is a great, energy efficient way to keep your turtle cozy, but there's a better solution! Click on another answer to find the right one...

Correct! All of these are excellent ways to ensure your turtle has a properly heated habitat. Another option you could try is a combination UV and Heat lamp, to ensure your turtle gets the ultraviolet rays it needs to survive! Read on for another quiz question.

Part 3
Providing Accessories

  1. 1
    Add shelters. Your turtles need a place to hide away where they can’t be seen. Otherwise, they get stressed out and can hurt themselves or get ill. You can provide anything for the turtle to hide in as long as your turtle can fit inside.[14]
    • You can use a hollow log or commercial hiding area. Box turtles are easy to please, so a plastic tub, a tipped-over flower pot, or some other solid area that provides cover will suffice.
  2. 2
    Add climbing obstacles. Turtles love to climb and explore. They need things to stimulate them, challenge them, and provide entertainment. Add climbing obstacles around the enclosure, such as rocks and logs.[15]
    • Use around an inch thick flat and quite wide rocks to make a climbing material for your turtle.
    • If your turtle is tiny, it helps to use something that isn't too thick to ensure it is easy for climbing.
  3. 3
    Provide a swimming area. Box turtles need fresh water to drink and to soak in. They love to spend time in ponds, so you should place this kind of area in the enclosure. Choose a water container that the turtle can get its whole body inside, but not so deep that the turtle’s head will be covered. They need to be able to stick their head out of water.[16]
    • Box turtles don’t care what their swimming are looks like. You can get a bowl from a pet store, or use paint trays, storage tubs, flower pot dishes, shallow ceramic bowls, or any other shallow container that will hold water.
    • It is best to use filtered water in their habitat. You can install a water filter in their pool to keep the water clean. If you don't have a filter, replace the water every two to three days.[17]
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Part 3 Quiz

What can you add to your turtle's habitat to keep it entertained?

Try again! A small pool area is essential for keeping your turtle healthy, as it requires water to soak in and drink. There is a better way to keep your turtle entertained, though! Pick another answer!

Absolutely! Turtles love climbing and exploring. By putting rocks or logs in your turtle's habitat, you are making sure that it stays active and engaged, rather than becoming bored. Read on for another quiz question.

Not quite! A tipped over flower pot provides a great hiding place, which is needed to keep turtles calm and healthy. It doesn't help much with mental stimulation, however! Try again...

Nope! A turtle's solid body makes running wheels too difficult for it to enjoy, unlike hamsters, which have flexible spines suited quick movements. Try again...

Community Q&A

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Add New Question
  • Question
    What about salmonella? How do I know it's safe to handle my turtle?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    All turtles have salmonella until they have grown to over six inches. Always wash your hands after handling the turtle (even after the turtle has reached six inches).
  • Question
    How often do you clean the turtle?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Let it swim in shallow, lukewarm water three times a week. Every two weeks, take it outside in a shallow container filled with lukewarm water. Take an old toothbrush and scrub the turtle's shell.
  • Question
    Can we use something else for swimming and drinking?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Yes, you can place your turtle in your bathtub 3 times a week. They love it, and there's plenty of room for them to swim and have fun.
  • Question
    How do I take care of a turtle?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You feed it fruits and vegetables every other day. You should also change out the water and clean the habitat.
  • Question
    Do box turtles eat cucumbers?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    I feed my 3 toed box turtle cucumbers, kale, spinach, romaine, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, banana, melon, carrots, corn kernels (raw on or off the cob), nightcrawler worms and red worms. All of these should be cut up into small pieces. Box turtles should get fruit/veg mix every other day and protein (worms) on the other days. They require more protein than many people think and they enjoy it.
  • Question
    What do I do if my turtle's eyes are not opening properly?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Take it to a good reptile vet asap.
  • Question
    Am I doing the right thing by feeding a baby turtle lettuce, and giving it a cat litter pan with a small bowl of water on one side and dry on the other?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Turtles cannot live only on lettuce; they require a varied diet with fruits, veggies and meat. Also, do not feed them any lettuce other than romaine if you are going to give them lettuce.
  • Question
    What should I do if I can't identify my turtle's species?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your best bet is to keep searching on the web. Look up the names species that are native to your geographic area and Google pictures of them to try to make a match. If you know of anyone who's an outdoorsman/woman and knowledgable about wild animals, you might ask him or her.
  • Question
    How will I know if my turtles are having fun in their swimming area?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If they are actively moving around and not just sitting there they are having fun.
  • Question
    What does a three toad box turtle eat?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Box turtles require a varied diet. You should feed him: superworms, collard greens, mealworms, mustard greens, etc
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    Article Info

    Categories: Turtle and Tortoise Habitats

    In other languages:

    Español: crear un hábitat bajo techo para tortugas de caja, Italiano: Creare un Habitat al Chiuso per le Tartarughe (Terrapene), Русский: создать среду обитания в доме для коробочной черепахи, Português: Criar um Habitat Interno para Tartarugas de Caixa, 日本語: 家の中にハコガメの飼育環境を作る, Français: créer un habitat en intérieur pour des tortues, Deutsch: Im Innenbereich ein Habitat für Dosenschildkröten errichten, Bahasa Indonesia: Membuat Habitat di Dalam Ruangan untuk Kura kura Kubus

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