Most reptile cages you see in pet stores aren't suitable for tortoises because they use clear walls or wire-cage walls, which tend to give tortoises anxiety. Your best option for housing your turtle in an appropriate, safe, escape-free cage is to build one from scratch. You'll just need wood, basic carpentry skills and some accessories to make your tortoise comfortable in his new habitat. The most difficult thing about building a tortoise cage is fitting it inside your house.
Find out how big you need to make your tortoise cage. A simple rule to go by is that your tortoise's cage should be 10 times as long as your tortoise and 4 times as wide as his length. The cage should be at least three times as high as your tortoise is long so he can't escape. If your tortoise is 1 foot long, your cage should be 10 feet long, 4 feet wide and at least 3 feet tall. If your tortoise is smaller or larger, adjust the measurements accordingly.
Cut a piece or pieces of plywood to use as the base for your tortoise cage. Cut the two long sidewall pieces 2 inches longer than the base to allow for overhang into which you'll screw the shorter wall sides.
Paint each piece of plywood to a color you desire. Let the paint dry overnight, then seal it with water sealer. If you like the wood-grain color, skip the painting step, but don't forget to apply water sealer. You don't want your tortoise's waste sticking to the wood of his cage. Put the bottom piece or pieces of plywood exactly where you want your turtle cage in your home. If you need to use more than one piece of plywood for the bottom of the cage, use wood glue to connect them together.
Place one of the shorter walls against the butt of the flooring piece so the two pieces form an L. Screw through the bottom of the sidewall into the base. Put a screw every 1 to 2 feet, depending on the size of your cage, to hold the wall in place. Connect another side to the base the same way. Continue until you have all four walls connected to the base. Now screw the walls to one another by screwing through the long walls' overhangs into the shorter walls' ends.
Fill the bottom of the tortoise cage with a few inches of substrate. A common substrate is a mixture of 60 percent soil and 40 percent sand, but you can use mulches and hays as well. Add rocks, logs or tunnels to the cage as you please, but be careful not to clutter your tortoise's space.
Place a water dish in one corner of the tortoise cage. Make sure it is big enough for the tortoise to get part of his upper shell wet but shallow enough that the turtle can get in it and can't drown. Put a box for your turtle to hide in in another part of the cage. A cardboard box will be fine, but you'll need to replace it more often than a wooden box or stone shelter.
Create a basking area for your tortoise. Hang a 100-watt incandescent spotlight over the section of the cage you've designated for your tortoise's basking. Some spotlight ballasts come with a clip attached, so you can clip your spotlight to the side of the cage. Also include a UVA and a UVB light in the non-basking area of your tortoise's cage. A fluorescent reptile tube light such as the Reptisun 5.0 is great for lighting the non-basking area because it provides UVA and UVB light. Hang the lights above the cage using chain or wire if necessary.
Use a thermometer to monitor habitat temperature, and adjust the lights up and down to meet the necessary temperatures for day and night. Give your tortoise about 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness per day. A tortoise's cage should stay in the low 60s at night, and it should remain in the low 70s during daytime, except for the basking area, which should be 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Be sure the plywood you purchase is actually 1 inch thick. Thicknesses can vary by manufacturer, so measure carefully and adjust the overhang accordingly.
- Never put an under-cage heater under a wooden tortoise cage.
Courtney McCaffrey graduated from the College of Charleston in 2008 with a B.A. in media studies. She has served as an editor for Blooming Twig Books and the MADA Writing Services publishing company. She is now a writer on various outdoor sports such as snowboarding, skiing, surfing and bodysurfing.