Build a Box Turtle Pen Inside


An indoor box turtle habitat needs, at minimum, substrate, hiding area(s) and a feeding area.

A box or plastic tub filled with substrate plus hiding and feeding spots makes a nice indoor box turtle habitat.


Even if your box turtle spends most of her time outside, you’ll most likely need an indoor pen, too.

In many areas, the winter is too cold to leave box turtles outside, and hibernating (brumating) your turtle is risky. Even in nature many turtles do not survive the winter.

You may also need to keep your turtle inside all year—because you live in an apartment, you have cool weather year-round, etc.

A Good Size for Your Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

In general, plan to make your indoor box turtle pen as big as you have room for. You’ll find your turtles seem happier and more active when they have more space.

Philippe de Vosjoli suggests, in The Box Turtle Manual, that indoor enclosures be at least 36 inches by 12 inches for a single box turtle. Two turtles need a space at least 48 inches long. Tess Cook recommends a bit more space, at least twelve square feet for two turtles, in her book Box Turtles.

How to Build Your Indoor Box Turtle Home

You can build one from wood, use a large plastic storage container or buy a reptile aquarium (they have shorter sides than regular tanks).

If you choose to build one from wood, you’ll need to waterproof it. Epoxy paint or polyurethane works well. So does lining it with pond liner. If you do this, make sure you avoid creating folds where water can get trapped.


The Soil for Your Indoor Box Turtle Habitat

Your box turtle needs a soft “floor” for her home. The material you choose should:

  • Hold moisture but not stay soggy
  • Be easy to burrow into
  • Be non-toxic to box turtles (read more about what not to use as box turtle substrate)
  • Be easy to clean up

Peat-based potting soil works well. Spread it to about 2-3 inches across the floor of the enclosure. Other acceptable choices include orchid bark, milled coconut husk fiber or cypress mulch.

Although some people just line their box turtle pens with newspaper for easy clean-up, it’s best to give your turtles something they can dig in. At least put a container of soil or other soft substrate in one corner. If you also cover the soil with some sort of shelter, it can double as an area of extra humidity for your turtle to retreat to.

Landscape Your Indoor Box Turtle Pen

At the very least, provide a shelter and a plant or two for your box turtle. She will also need a dish of water deep enough to soak in but shallow enough that she won’t drown. A flat rock as a feeding area is also a good idea. A heat lamp over one end of the pen will help her thermoregulate (control her body temperature).

These are the absolute minimum requirements to keep your box turtle happy. Many people have much more elaborate set-ups, even inside. If you can do that, too, so much the better. If not, just do the best you can with the space you have, but make sure the basics are there.

Buying a Box Turtle Home

Tortoise House

Building your own pen means you can customize it however you want. But sometimes it’s easier to just buy something. Zoo Med sells just the thing. It’s the Tortoise House, which can be used inside or outside. It’s plenty big for one turtle, but you can also connect two houses together to give your pet more space. Or to house two turtles.

The Tortoise House is available at Amazon.

If you’re not sure, learn more about the Tortoise House here.

For a safe way to take your indoor turtle outside for some fresh air and sunlight, you might also want the Tortoise Playpen. It’s a triangle-shaped pen with wire mesh covering most of it. One end is a little wood-covered “sleeping area” where you pet can hide and find shade.

Box turtle eating strawberryYou can also find the Tortoise Playpen at Amazon.

Or learn more about the Tortoise Playpen in our review.


8 thoughts on “Build a Box Turtle Pen Inside

  1. Monica Bailey

    We have an 11mnth. old Box & Sacata . We are using a long plastic 32′ storage container. What watt basking bulbs would you recommend ?

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Monica,

      So sorry for taking so long to reply!

      Unfortunately, I can’t really recommend a specific wattage for your basking bulb. The only thing I would suggest is not getting one that’s too hot, because you don’t want to melt the top edge of your plastic container.

      On the other hand, even lower watts may melt the plastic if they’re too close to it. So you’ll want to hang the bulb high enough to avoid that. So you might want a slightly stronger bulb to make up for the distance between the bulb and the basking spot. (I know, you’re probably more confused now. Sorry!).

      Getting things set up right really is a lot of trial and error in the beginning. And I’d definitely keep a close eye on things the first few times you have the basking lamp turned on. Just to be sure it’s not affecting the plastic.

      My other thought is about having two different species. Are they in the same habitat? I don’t know too much about Sulcatas, but I think they prefer a hotter basking spot than boxies. It might be best to have them in separate homes? But maybe someone who knows more about Sulcatas could weigh in here.

  2. karen kwan

    I would recommend that your enclosure have a reptile thermometer and hygrometer to measure the temperature and humidity. You want to control the temperature that is appropriate to the species of turtle you have as well as the humidity it needs — need to research that. You may also need a heat lamp for night (red bulb) to ensure enough heat at night (depending on your house). Make sure there is a cool side to the enclosure so the turtle can move to where it feels most comfortable. I think they need about 10 hours of daylight UVA & B so ZooMed PowerSun is really great.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      You are absolutely right, Karen. Information on temperature and humidity are actually covered in other areas of this site, like Humidity Needs for Box Turtles and Box Turtle Temperature Needs. We also review a few different lamps, thermometers and hygrometers in our Reviews section.

      I do see that where to find this information isn’t all that clear in this article. Next time it’s updated, I’ll add some of those links.


    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Angel,

      I don’t know for sure, but I can’t think of any reason you couldn’t. (If there’s anyone reading this who’s done this, please weigh in!).

      Two things to think about do come to mind:

      • If you use clear acrylic you’ll want to cover or paint the lower portion so your turtle can’t see out. When boxies can see through their habitat they tend to want to get at what they can see. They end up spending a lot of time either trying to walk through the wall or scratching at it.
      • Also be sure your glue has finished setting and is no longer giving off fumes before putting your turtles in their new home.

      Good luck!

  3. pat

    I have a box turtle and use Corn Cob as bedding. Is that safe. Also do turtles need lot of light or heat. I had one for 26 years using this method.
    Also, I use an aquarium to house the turtle.

    1. boxturtleworld Post author

      Hi Pat,

      Corn cob is not recommended as a bedding. It can cause impaction (blocked gut) if your turtle eats it. We have a little more information on bedding here.

      A lot of people seem to like coconut fiber (not coconut chips), like Eco Earth. Wood chips, like Zoo Med’s Forest Floor, are also popular. But not pine or cedar, which contain oils that can make turtles sick.

      As for heat, check out this article. And don’t forget about humidity.


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