Tortoise Habitat

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The topic of tortoise habitats is one that could easily become all-consuming.

The websites and books on the Resources page here can help you locate economical, safe habitat materials and supplies (you can also see some great examples of different types of tort habitats).

What I have learned thus far is:

  • There is no one “right” way to set up a red-foot tortoise habitat (or any tortoise habitat).
  • BUT….there are certain elements that must be present for tort health.

These elements relate to temperature, humidity, light, enclosure type, and housing location.

NOTE: This list focuses specifically on red-foot habitat needs.


  • Baby red-foots are less tolerant of cold temps than their older peers.
  • 70F – 85F is an ideal range for night/day ambient temps.
  • If temps drop any lower than 60F, this is TOO cold even for adult torts.
  • Provide an in-habitat basking spot in the 90F-100F range.
  • Boost temps with a ceramic heat lamp and/or under-habitat spot heaters.
  • A temperature gun is a handy tool to spot-check temperatures in different locations (and temp guns are super-cheap on Amazon).


  • Strive for a humidity range from 70% to 100%.
  • Aim for “moist” not “wet.”
  • Always include a shallow water bowl for drinking/bathing (tortoises love to soak, but they are land reptiles and can drown if water is too deep, especially if they fall on their backs while in the water!).
  • Use a substrate that retains humidity well (sphagnum moss is a must for young torts, plus you can use ReptiBark or peat moss for variety).
  • Adding spot humidifiers can counteract the drying effects of indoor air conditioning/heat or dry climate conditions.
  • Adding a humidity hide is a great addition (an overturned small plastic tub packed with moist moss works well).
  • If you want to get fancy, foggers and misters are great as well.
  • I use a hygrometer to measure humidity.


  • UV spectrum light (UVA/B) is critical for calcium absorption related to shell development.
  • I use a vet-recommended Zoo Med PowerSun UV Mercury Vapor Lamp (100 Watts) bulb, and I change the bulb every six months to keep the UV strong.
  • I try to take Malti outside to play for at least one hour or more several times per week. This lifts her spirits, promotes strengthening exercise, and gives her access to natural UV spectrum light.

Enclosure Type:

  • Red-foot tortoises like to climb, so I always choose habitat enclosures with smooth walls, and I set up the interior so that there is as little risk as possible of Malti falling onto her back when I am not around to help her.
  • Right now I am still using your garden-variety plastic storage tubs (I get hers at Target), but her vet recommends Waterland Tubs for her adult habitat, so I will upgrade when that time comes.
  • Do NOT use a clear glass enclosure!! Red-foots have excellent vision and will try ceaselessly to escape if they can see through the walls of their habitat.
  • I place a plastic lid over the top to help retain humidity – plexiglass also works well for this if your habitat doesn’t come with a lid.
  • Within the main habitat, I include several hiding areas to accommodate all baby red-foots’ strong survival instinct-based drive to hide.

Housing Location:

  • Young torts are best housed indoors because they are very vulnerable to predation.
  • Upon reaching breeding age (around age 6), housing can be relocated outdoors if climate permits, seasonally or year-round.
  • If located outdoors, housing MUST be completely secure from above, below and all sides to guard against predation.

Malti’s habitat has changed and changed and changed (and will absolutely continue to change) as she grows up and her mommy learns more about the best ways to promote tort comfort, enrichment and health.

Here is a pic of her current habitat:

Malti’s current habitat (January 2016).

This particular habitat contains the following materials:

  • Two plastic storage tubs joined together
  • Exo Terra terrarium hologram backing (to cover up translucent sides)
  • An assortment of plastic aquarium/terrarium plants and other hiding helps
  • One pottery water bowl for soaking/drinking
  • One small “dawn/dusk” lamp
  • Zoo Med PowerSun UV Mercury Vapor Lamp (100 Watts) bulb
  • Zoo Med Ceramic Infrared Heat Emitter (100 Watts) bulb
  • Music stand (for mounting both bulbs)
  • Two ceramic domes (for mounting both bulbs)
  • One large multi-plug surge protector
  • Two timers (one for Mercury Vapor bulb and one for small “dawn/dusk” lamp)
  • Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer
  • Exo Terra Forest Plume Moss
  • Zilla 11577 Terrarium Hygrometer Digital Thermometer
  • B&B Neon Mist Spray Bottle
  • Urpower Ultrasonic Air Humidifier (100ml and 500ml models)
  • Repti-Therm mini heater (2)
  • Pet Zen Garden artificial grass
  • Zilla terrarium liner (green)
  • Zoo Med Eco-carpet (green)
  • Two humidity hides packed with sphagnum moss (one is a re-purposed Zilla basking ramp that she decided is a hiding cave instead)
  • Gallon of spring water-grade water for misting/drinking/soaking/humidifiers
  • Two plastic covers to hold in the humidity

NOTE: The cute “leaf canopy” was a gift from Malti’s grandma (aka my mom)…for “ambience.” 🙂

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Published by Shannon Cutts

Animal sensitive and intuitive with Animal Love Languages. Parrot, tortoise and box turtle mama. Dachshund auntie.

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