How to build a terrarium

A terrarium should never be the first choice, when it comes to keeping Greek tortoises. It is possible to keep them in an appropriately sized and equipped turtle terrarium, but the conditions in the open are not only simply better, it is also associated with a considerable additional effort to create proper conditions in a terrarium, which must then also be large enough. Turtles are best kept in an outdoor enclosure.

Transitionally, the provision of a terrarium can z.B. but may be necessary for sick animals.

Table of Contents

Size of the turtle terrarium

The terrarium must of course be large enough to cover the space requirements of the turtle sufficiently. It is best to build it directly as large as possible and do without a "small for the beginning", because turtles grow quite quickly.

If you want to breed your turtles, you should refrain from keeping them in a terrarium. A pure terrarium keeping is not suitable to breed turtles!

Glass or wooden terrarium?

Whether the terrarium is made of glass or wood is entirely up to you and your wallet or sense of aesthetics. I have one made of wood. It is said that wooden terrariums are better, because the turtles do not run against the wall as often as in a glass terrarium. I personally can not confirm this. No matter if glass, wood or outside in an outdoor enclosure: turtles always want to leave.

It is important for the better regulation of the climate that the terrarium is at least partially open at the top. Then the terrarium can cool down better for the night.

Terrarium Greek tortoise

Equipment of the terrarium

With the equipment and furnishing of the terrarium it must go naturally primarily around the well-being of the turtle and only thereafter comes the optics. The needs for light and warmth must be fulfilled, but above all there must also be retreat possibilities for the animal. It should be possible for the turtle to hide in such a way that it cannot always be found immediately.

The right light sources

Because of the lack of sunlight in a terrarium, the right lamps are the most important thing to have in the terrarium. Here, unfortunately, a lot can be done wrong.

Turtles need a lot of light and also heat. Too often tortoises are kept too dark and/or too cool. Since tortoises in nature follow the sun, it is important that the Heat from a light source radiated and not coming from a heating mat or stone. The comfort temperature of Greek tortoises is at ca. 35°C. At this temperature the organs work best and the tortoise is very agile.

The most important thing is on the one hand the necessary UV-A and UV-B rays, which normally come from the sun, and on the other hand that the climate of the natural habitats is simulated as best as possible. This means that Seasons, daily cycles and bad weather periods have to be artificially imitated in terms of temperature as well as light intensity. Consequently, it must not be 35°C hot every day in the terrarium, at night it must be much cooler and especially darker than during the day and also in spring and autumn the daytime temperatures must be lower than in summer. Quite so, like in nature just as well. For this purpose many different lamps are necessary.

To simulate the climate as good as possible I have a daylight lamp for the light intensity (Does not give off heat), a 35w Spotlight UV lamp (Reaches 25°-28°) for spring, fall and cooler days, a Bright Sun UV Jungle 50 Watt from Lucky Reptile (Reaches 33°-38°) for the hot summer months and an additional UV lamp (Does not give off heat) in use. These lamps burn then depending upon simulated season differently long and often. The heat must be generated only selectively under the heat lamp. The terrarium must also have cooler zones.

Substrate of the terrarium

For the substrate I use mostly peat, but also any others unfertilized! Earth can be used. This calmly 10-15cm high fill, so that the animals can bury themselves if necessary. The earth must be occasionally re-moistened. It may well be dry, but so the humidity can be regulated more effectively. This must be relatively high, in order to prevent the formation of humps. A part of the terrarium I have Hobby Terrano Red Bark equipped. This consists of Douglas fir bark. Many keepers reject bark in principle, because turtles in nature do not walk exclusively on bark, but mine like to bury themselves at night inside and the bark does not harm.

What I clearly advise against is sand as a substrate. This can be ingested too easily together with the food and lead to deadly blockages. With my first offspring, a "Professional from the pet store unfortunately turned out too sand, which ended very sadly.

Planting of the terrarium

Greek tortoise climbs

A terrarium must of course also be planted. Of course, this is not only for the sake of appearance, but in 1. Line of the tortoise. Therefore, food plants, such as aloe, pansies, oregano … and shrubs to hide inside are an absolute must. For the latter, conifers have proven to be very suitable.

Before putting a plant from the garden center into the terrarium it should be thoroughly washed off and the fertilized soil should be removed. Some keepers recommend letting the plant "air out" for a few weeks. I guess this simply means to wait a bit so that there is not so much fertilizer left in the plant.

Other things that must be in the terrarium

For the water supply it needs a flat, stable drinking bowl, which should be large enough that the turtle can bathe in it a little bit. For the food I have a larger stone plate. This keeps the soil away and ensures that the turtles do not ingest so much soil with their food.

Terrarium Greek tortoise

Besides plants, I recommend stones and cork bark in the turtle terrarium, which the animals like to climb or use as caves. I have placed a cork bark directly under the heat lamp and it is gladly climbed for an extensive "sunbathing.

The terrarium can be decorated of course, but the decoration should always be useful for the turtle, for example to hide in it. With retreat possibilities should not be spared. If you can’t always find your turtle immediately, that’s just the way it is.

Keeping a turtle in the terrarium

  • Provide fresh water daily.
  • Provide a lot of variety in the food.
  • Daily remove the droppings left behind.
  • During the day with heat lamp, depending on the season differently long, shine and heat.
  • At night, lower the temperature significantly and ensure darkness.
  • Regularly remove the top layer of soil and replace it with new soil (also applies to bark or other substrates).
  • Replace the entire substrate at least 1 time a year.
  • Moisten the substrate occasionally.

Problems with terrarium keeping

  • Sunlight can only be simulated and not 100% replaced. Lack of sunlight can therefore lead to diseases.
  • Terrariums are quite susceptible to mold, because the humidity must be kept relatively high and they must be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis.
  • It is very difficult to create different climatic conditions. A terrarium must be extremely large in order to be able to create hot and cool zones at the same time.
  • Due to the fact that the terrarium is usually kept indoors, it is not possible to simulate the night-time temperature reduction sufficiently during the cooler months, which makes it difficult for the tortoises to hibernate.

Common mistakes in terrarium keeping of Greek tortoises

Too dark keeping: Turtles need a lot of light. With a single lamp in the terrarium it is not done. Nevertheless, the terrarium must be structured to provide dark retreats.

Too little UV radiation: As a result, the shell and bones soften. Replace UV lamps regularly with new ones, as the intensity decreases with time.

Keeping too cool: Turtles cannot regulate their own body temperature and therefore depend on heat from outside for all organs to function properly.

Keeping too hotUnfortunately, many people make the mistake of creating continuous temperatures of over 30° Celsius between the winter months. It is enormously important to simulate seasons elaborately

Keeping too dryThis leads to the formation of humps and harms the turtle in the long run. Moisten the substrate from time to time and keep the humidity at min. 70% hold. In addition, always offer fresh drinking water.

Purchase costs for a turtle terrarium

Terrarium 70-800€
Earth 20-30€
water bowl 5-10€
Lamps 100-300€
Greening 10-50€
other decoration 10-100€

Only for the terrarium including equipment you can leave a good 250-300€ and then it would be a rather small terrarium (which would have to be replaced after a short time by a larger one) with unprofessional lighting. For something halay decent you should expect to spend about 250-300€.
The turtle is also not yet included in the calculation and beats with approx. 80€ to book.

Skilled tinkerers can of course save a little. A wooden terrarium with a glass front is cheap and easy to make, but wooden terrariums are generally not very expensive to buy. A wooden terrarium with 0,75m²-1m² floor space can be bought for approx. 70-120€ Similar sized terrariums made of glass can easily cost 500-800€

My terrarium has cost about 260€ in its full equipment. It measures 1,20m*0,6m*0,6m and holds 85 liters of soil. This means that the earth is filled everywhere about 10-12cm high.

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