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How to Set Up a Turtle Tank for a Land Turtle

Learn how to set up a turtle tank for a land turtle in this Howcast video featuring veterinarian Alix Wilson.


When you're starting to think about your setup for your land turtle or tortoise, it's important to think about the size of the animal. A lot of these turtle species that are in the pet trade start out quite small as hatchlings, but can get very large.

In the beginning, a tank, such as your standard glass fish tank, can be appropriate for the smaller size turtle, but as they get bigger, you may have to upgrade into a large plastic storage bin, or some type of custom made enclosure out of wood, or even consider moving them to the outdoors.

So again, the next thing to think about is what to line the tank with. We call this substrate. This can be rock, sand, dirt, bark chips, moss, various things. Again, you want to find something that the turtle is not going to eat, and that you can keep clean and dry.

There are various types of cage accessories. You can find many types of logs, branches. You can even plant live plants in the enclosure. A water dish is important. A lot of people don't realize this, especially when they have desert species. I hear this all the time in my practice; people say, "I've never seen my turtle drink water, so I just figured he didn't need it." You can't possibly predict what a turtle might need as far as water source, so it's always good to have a bowl of water in there that is clean and changed on a daily basis.

The other thing, of course, that's very important with your turtle is enclosure set up, is providing a basking area, because turtles are ectotherms. That means that they rely on the temperature of their environment to regulate their own body temperature. They need to be able to move within the enclosure, and either heat themselves up, or cool themselves off, to maintain their ideal core body temperature.

The most common ways that people heat an enclosure and provide a basking area would be with incandescent light bulbs. There are also under tank heating pads. We never recommend using a heat source where the turtle would actually come in direct contact with it. They can actually get burned.

The other thing that all turtles need, would be some source of ultra violet light, when you're housing a turtle indoors. There are bulbs that you can buy that will give the turtle exposure to ultra violet light. Without this light, they cannot synthesize vitamin D. and they end up with different types of metabolic diseases involving calcium metabolism.

The other thing, of course, that's very important for properly taking care of any type of land turtle would be providing it with an adequate diet. The diet requirements are going to be based on the species of the turtle, and you need to research that and try and provide a varied and appropriate diet for your turtle.

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