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Turtles/Ornate wood turtle


Hi, Jeannie. I recently asked a question about my turtles behavior and habitat. I am going to ditch the tank all together and build an outdoor and indoor habitat. I saw some made of wood online, but I wanted to make sure that it would be okay to copy one of those habitats. I am going to make it pretty large and deep so that my turtle can burrow when he wants to.  Any tips, ideas  or concerns would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Kat,

If you want to reply back and set it to private, I'll give you my email so you can just contact me directly if you have more questions.  As I said, I don't have a lot of experience with this particular species, but I'm great at research and also have quite a few people I can use as resources if need be.

It's great to hear from someone who really wants to do the best for their turtle.  Building your own indoor enclosure is a great idea.  Which plan did you want to copy?  Wood will work, but you will need to do something to waterproof it.  Because this specie likes so much moisture, rather than trying to waterproof the wood (generally using four coats of water-based polyurathane will do for tortoises), I'd build the enclosure and then line it.  The easiest would probably be to go to Home Depot or Lowe's and get a piece of scrap vinyl flooring--they sell them in fairly large pieces.  You can fit it to the enclosure by making cuts at the corners, and then seal those seams with a silicone sealant that's safe for fish (aquarium sealant or whatever).  If it's safe for fish, it's OK for your turtle.

Substrate depth should be enough so the turtle can cover himself, so figure 4".  I'd make the enclosure 12" higher than the substrate, just to be safe.  I don't know about this particular species, but most turtles and tortoises climb very well, so a minimum height of twice the length of the shell is a good idea.  With the outdoor enclosure, it's a good idea to have a lip (overhang) to prevent climbing out, and make the sides a little higher.

Hope this helps!


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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