Water turtles need ample room to swim, but they also need space to bask under a heat lamp and dry themselves off. For enclosures where space is a concern, you can use a basking dock made with egg crate light diffuser that allows swimming space underneath and dry land above.
Things You'll Need
- 1/2-inch PVC pipe
- Three-way 1/2-inch PVC elbow joints
- PVC solvent cement
- Egg crate light diffuser
Measure the distance from the bottom of your aquarium to the waterline.
Cut four pieces of 1/2-inch PVC pipe to match the distance from tank bottom to waterline. These will be the vertical supports of the basking dock.
Choose a location in your tank for the basking dock. Remember that you will place it underneath a basking light. Choose an area on one side or the other, to keep a temperature gradient across the tank.
Use the four posts to mark out the size you want for your basking dock and measure the space between them. For a square dock, cut eight pieces of PVC to the length between the corner posts. These will be attached horizontally and four will support the top between the corners of the dock while four will support the submerged bottom.
Connect three-way 1/2-inch PVC elbow joints to both ends of all four corner posts, then connect the supports between the each corner and both of its adjacent counterparts with the two horizontal ports. Once everything looks good and feels solid, glue into place with PVC solvent cement and let it dry completely. Rinse well to remove glue residue.
Cut a piece of plastic egg crate light diffuser to fit across the top of the basking platform and a piece of plastic mesh to the same size. Sand or file the sides to prevent sharp edges. The plastic mesh that you choose should have gaps small enough that your turtle's leg can't fall through and get stuck. The benefit to using egg crate and plastic mesh is that air can pass through underneath and dry your turtle's plastron -- their belly shell -- while they bask. The plastic mesh alone wouldn't be strong enough to support a turtle.
If your turtle is very small and you're worried about his legs getting stuck, purchase custom-made acrylic boxes from aquarium stores and fill one with sand or other substrate that your turtle can sit on and place this on top of the PVC frame.
Secure the egg crate to the PVC platform with cable ties, angling the ties and removing the edges to avoid injury. Connect the plastic mesh to the egg crate the same way.
Create a ramp for your turtle to access the basking dock by securing another piece of egg crate at an angle to the basking dock so that it slopes down into the water. Sand the edges the same way as before and attach with cable ties. Secure a piece of plastic mesh to the top.
Heavy turtles may need their dock supported by a piece of acrylic or fiberglass. Make sure to use only parts that are turtle safe and sanded down to avoid sharp edges.
Use your hand to test the stability of the basking dock and the ramp. You don't want your turtle to break anything the first time she tries to crawl onto it.
Place the basking dock into the aquarium. If it floats or doesn't otherwise sit securely at the bottom of the tank, drill holes into the PVC to allow them to fill with water and weigh down the dock.
Check the temperature at the level of the basking dock with the heat lamp on to make sure that it conforms to the basking temperature requirements for your specific turtle. Contact a herpetologist for questions about your specific species of turtle.
Dress up your aquarium by providing live or artificial plants that are safe for turtles around the corner legs and on the platform itself.