How to Build a Tortoise Enclosure

Updated November 21, 2016

Tortoises make interesting reptile pets when kept in a large, properly furnished enclosure that maintains the necessary environmental conditions to keep the animal healthy. Though tortoises have reputation for being slow-moving, lumbering reptiles, they can be surprisingly quick and are active throughout the day. To support their active lifestyle in captivity, tortoises require ample space in their enclosure. The general rule is that the dimensions of the enclosure should be five times the length of the tortoises shell, three times as wide and two times as tall to prevent them from climbing out. The appropriate size of the enclosure will vary by species, but the basic set-up remains the same.

Place a large aquarium in a quiet area in your home, away from windows or doors to minimise temperature fluctuations from drafts and afternoon sun.

Place opaque tape around the bottom six inches of the aquarium to create a visible marker on the glass. Many species of tortoises will damage their beaks from rubbing against the glass if there is no visible barrier for them to see.

Fill the aquarium with a 50/50 mix of sterile sand and potting soil. Fill the base of the aquarium to a depth of six to 12 inches. The potting soil helps maintain humidity levels within the enclosure. Many tortoises burrow at night and need space to dig in their enclosure.

Include a few large rocks that have a flat surface for the tortoise to bask on.

Place a heat lamp over the rocks (the basking area) and place a thermometer on the rocks to measure the temperature. Ensure that the heat lamp is securely fasted to the enclosure -- either clipped onto the side or resting on top -- and that the specific temperature at the basking site is appropriate for the species you want to keep.

Install a full-spectrum fluorescent lamp over the enclosure to ensure that the tortoise receives enough ultraviolet light through the day. Tortoises require 12 hours of ultraviolet light daily in order to properly metabolise vitamins and minerals in captivity.

Fill a water pan and place it on the opposite side of the enclosure from the basking lamp. Many tortoises benefit from having a water dish large enough to soak in throughout the day.

Place a hygrometer in the enclosure and mist the cage with a water bottle to help maintain proper humidity level in the enclosure before introducing the species of tortoise you want to keep. Proper humidity levels for tortoise enclosures vary greatly by species.


You can use a large plastic tub -- such as feeder tubs from farm supply stores -- as a substitute for a glass aquarium.

Things You'll Need

  • Large aquarium
  • Opaque tape, such as masking or duct tape
  • Sand
  • Potting soil
  • Rocks
  • Heat lamp
  • Thermometer
  • Fluorescent lamp
  • Hydrometer
  • Water pan
  • Spray bottle
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