If you have a yard, the nicest thing you can do for your box turtle is build him an outdoor home.
He can get sunshine and warmth and fresh air. He might even be able to find and catch some insects or grubs for dinner!
A Good Size for Your Outdoor Box Turtle Habitat
According to Philipe de Vosjoli in The Box Turtle Manual, an outdoor pen should be at least 4 feet by 2 feet for one or two turtles. If you have more turtles, you’ll need a larger pen. Or multiple pens.
It will also need to be escape-proof—box turtles are very good escape artists! It will need to be tall enough that your turtle cannot climb out. If you have multiple turtles, one will not hesitate to climb onto another to get out. The consensus seems to be walls at least 16 inches tall. Twenty inches is probably better.
Where to Build Your Outdoor Turtle Pen
If possible, choose a partly sunny spot. Your box turtle will move between sunny spots and shady areas to regulate his body temperature. If you don’t have a good spot that gets shade for at least part of the day, you can plant some small shrubs for shade or cover part of the pen.
Overall, choosing a spot that gets good sunlight is more important than shade, since you can create shade.
One other consideration is flooding. If there’s an area of your yard that floods after rains, avoid building your turtle pen there.
How to Build Your Outdoor Box Turtle Habitat
Exactly how you build your turtle pen is up to you. Just make sure the walls are strong enough that they won’t collapse easily.
Wood is always a good choice for the walls. Other turtle owners have used vinyl sheets—which are too slippery to climb—or chain link fencing. If you use vinyl, you’ll need a frame to attach it to or it won’t be strong enough. One potential problem with the chain-link fence is that your turtle can see through it, so he will probably want to get to the other side and may try to climb through it, over it or under it. One way to prevent that is to cover the bottom part so he can’t see what he’s “missing.”
You’ll want to stop your turtles from digging out, too. There are a few ways to do this. Two popular methods are:
- Extending the wall of your pen down 8 to 12 inches into the ground
- Lining the inside edge of the pen with pavers or bricks buried to be flush to the ground
You’ll also need to protect your turtles from predators, like raccoons, skunks, even birds and humans. Either cover the pen at night, with a locking cover, or move the turtles to a secondary pen with a locking cover. You can also bring them inside at night.
If you need more guidelines, we found this detailed, step-by-step tutorial for constructing a turtle pen, complete with pictures.
Landscaping Your Box Turtle’s Outdoor Home
At a minimum your turtle will need a feeding area, dish of water and a shady spot. He’ll also appreciate someplace he can hide.
A flat rock makes a good feeding station. You can monitor how much he eats and striking at food on the rock helps trim his beak.
A plant saucer makes a good shallow “pond.” It’s easy to climb in and out of and not so deep he could drown. Just make sure it’s actually big enough for him to get into.
Hollowed half logs can provide both shade and extra humidity. They’re also a good hiding spot. You can also build a wooden “shelter” for your turtle. Just make sure it’s tall enough for him to get in and out easily. About one inch extra clearance should be enough.
The floor of the pen should be a moist, friable (easy to dig in) soil or other substance. Your turtle can’t easily dig into hard soil—good for keeping him from escaping, bad for giving him a place to dig into to cool off or hide—so if yours gets dry and hard in the summer, you might need to add some enhancements. Good choices include leaf mulch, sand or grass.
Of course, these are just the basics. Many people build huge, elaborate outdoor enclosures for their box turtles. That can get time-consuming and expensive, so you’ll have to decide what works for you and your turtle.
Don’t forget: You’re not done just because you’ve built and landscaped your turtle pen. You’ll still need to maintain it.
Or Buy a Cage Kit
Another option is to buy an easy-to-assemble kit for your box turtle’s home. Zoo Med sells two products you can use, depending on your needs. The Tortoise House can be a permanent outdoor home. You can lock the cover to protect your turtles. This house can also be used indoors if you’d prefer.
It’s only 12 inches tall, which is shorter than the usual recommendation. But since it’s covered, you don’t need to worry about your pet escaping.
If you’re only looking for a way to let your turtle outside once in a while, consider Zoo Med’s Tortoise Playpen. This enclosure keeps your pet safe while allowing her to get sunlight and have a grass snack. It also has a covered “sleeping area” where she can retreat if she wants shade.
Learn more and see if the Tortoise Playpen is for you on this page.
If you’re ready to buy, Amazon also sells the playpen.