Rather than providing the bare minimum for a turtle to live, strive to give your pet the most luxurious accommodations possible. Providing the ultimate turtle habitat will require significant space, money and time to create, but your pet will be happy, and you will be proud of the results. Though the specifics of providing a perfect environment will vary from species to species, most will focus on providing ample space, ideal husbandry and habitat enrichment.
All turtles require full-spectrum lighting, and while there are commercially produced, full-spectrum bulbs available, they pale in comparison to the sun. In most cases, turtles should be kept outside, and accordingly, keepers should work with species from a similar climate. Outdoor accommodations usually take the form of pens created from wood or cement walls outlining a perimeter. Ensure that the walls extend below the surface to prevent the turtles from digging out. Turtle pens must be predator and escape proof, which is usually accomplished with a screened or fenced top. Strive to give your pet the largest area possible; while most care sheets recommend a minimum of about eight square feet of space per turtle, a fantastic habitat would provide double or triple this amount.
Large Water Areas
Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles should be provided with a large, filtered pond. Prefabricated pond liners or flexible pond liner sheets can be used to create the pond in any number of shapes. If designing the pond yourself, a narrow design is best as it will allow you to reach the turtle when necessary. Aquatic turtle experts generally recommend aquariums of 50 to 100-gallons for a turtle or two. While this is expensive to provide as an aquarium, ponds are available in far greater sizes, for similar costs. Larger water areas will require more expensive filtration, but are kept clean more easily than small ponds. Tortoises and other terrestrial turtles that don’t swim well should not be housed with a deep water section as they may drown. A large, wide, shallow water area is the best idea for terrestrial species.
Well Planted Areas
Non-toxic plants appropriate for the local habitat provide a wonderful way to enrich the habitat. Besides offering shade and places to hide, some plants will serve well as food sources. Grass can be grown with grazing species like African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) or leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis), who will eagerly consume it. Box turtles (Terrapene carolina) will appreciate blackberry thickets, both for cover and for food. Aquatic species should have plants included in the water as well, and a number of edible species, like Anacharis sp., are relished by the turtles.
Appropriate Hiding Spots
Most tortoises sleep under some sort of cover, and many species use hiding spots or burrows throughout the day. For those species that construct burrows, support the behavior by using a substrate that permits digging and ensuring that the cage walls extend below ground far enough to prevent escapes. Alternatively, hiding locations can be provided by large clay pots, half-sections of large PVC pipes or small doghouses. Aquatic turtles don’t often use hides, but will appreciate basking spots that are either surrounded by water, or cloaked in plant material.