Tortoise Accommodation

Where does a tortoise live? How do I set up a suitable enclosure? Tips on how to house a domestic tortoise.

Tortoises are cold blooded reptiles and require heat to continue with day to day living. The typical temperature requirements of mediterranean species of  tortoise include a daytime temperature of 22°C - 30°C falling naturally over night.

"The Tortoise Lady" does not and will not recommend housing a tortoise in a vivarium style enclosure for these simple reasons:

  • Poor ventilation - This can result in your tortoise becoming ill especially with respiratory diseases if kept in glass or wooden tank. Runny Nose Syndrome is just one of the illnesses that are common in tortoises kept under these conditions. Urinating in such an enclosure will increase the humidity levels and result in mould, fungus and similar problems arising.
  • Temperature fluctuation - The temperature of the enclosure should be allowed to fluctuate freely, a tortoise will naturally bask under a UV bulb and burrow to cool down or remove itself from the heat source to enable its body temperature to decrease. This isn't possible in an enclosed vivarium with light and heat included. This type of enclosure will have detrimental effects on the health of your pet.
  • Floor space - A tortoise needs adequate floor space and as natural an environment as possible to prevent any stress or illness. Therefore vivariums and aquariums are defiantly not suitable for tortoises.

Tortoise Table

A tortoise Table is the most suitable enclosure for most species. As the tortoise table is an open top tray system with heat positioned carefully in one area the tortoise is able to escape the heat and therefore regulate its body temperature as if it were in the wild. Using suitable substrate is just as important. Your tortoise may want to burrow in the cooler area to get out of the cold or drafts also if it has been basking for hours he will burrow to cool down into the substrate. For tortoises which come from very arrid environmnet a tortoise table is the most suitable enclosure. This should be dry and warm and can allow more room for your tortoise to excersie as you have control over the size made unlike a vivarium or tank. The sides are not as deep as a vivarium therefore heat and air can flow easily keeping it fungus free, odour free and more controlled heat. It is ideal to slope the substrate in the area surrounding the UV rays (under the lamp). This will allow your tortoise to bask and to control its body temperature by positioning itself into and out of the sun/UV rays. You may have seen your tortoises sloping themselves in your back garden up a wall or rock. You are allowing your tortoise to angle its shell to increase or reduce the amount of shell directly exposed to the sun. Sometimes you will observe your tortoise tilting his shell with the use of his legs such as back legs sticking outwards.  In doing this your tortoise is increasing its bloodflow to its skin and shell to enable it to warm up rapidly, this will help it to transfer its blood to the rest of its organs and tissues. Your tortoise is able to shut down its superficial blood circulation at night for example to enable it to reuce its heat loss but allowing it to cool down at night. This natural cycle can not take place if a tortoise is kept in a warm vivarium day and night.

The correct amount of UV lighting and heat

As well as the importance of the temperature, tortoises need high levels of ultraviolet light in the form of UVA and UVB which they would naturally absorb from the sun rays. This plays an important part in the health of a tortoise. Heat from the bulb, UVA and UVB rays help to increase appetite, activity and reproductive behaviour. Not only will you notice a big difference in your tortoises behaviour it also helps the tortoise to produce its own vitamin D3 which is essential for bone and shell development. Naturally they would absorb the correct amount of UV light through their skin and produce their own Vitamin D3. Plants do not contain D3 alone therefore tortoises will require a supplement if not kept under a UV heat lamp regularly. Metabolic Bone Disease is a condition related to inadequate supplies of D3. This can result in soft shell, swollen limbs, a lethargic tortoise and weakness. For more information on the importance of UV lighting please refer to the UV section under Diet and Nutrition.