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What You Need For A Box Turtle Indoor Habitat

by Lucy

Box turtles make for great pets, and while they are small, they do require a considerable amount of space to roam and explore.

Creating an indoor habitat for your box turtle can be a little tricky, as it isn’t just a glass cage you place on the floor for them to live in! There are some essential things you need to place in the habitat, and an environment you have to create, for it to be the perfect place for them to live.

What do you need for a box turtle indoor habitat? There are a few things you need for a box turtle indoor habitat. First is the right enclosure, which could be a glass tank, a turtle table, or a plastic tub. Next, you need the right substrate, then the correct heating, and extra accessories to make it the perfect home.

If you are considering becoming a pet owner to a box turtle, or are waiting to bring one home, keep reading on what you need for a box turtle indoor habitat, to keep your new pet happy and healthy!

Choosing An Enclosure

The first step to creating an indoor habitat for your box turtle is finding the right enclosure. Box turtles are not very large, but they do need some space to roam about.

You should work on giving your box turtle around three square feet of space for every eight inches of its size. This will give them the perfect space to roam and dig around, and not feel too sheltered in.

The three best options for an enclosure for a box turtle are a turtle table, a glass tank, and a plastic box. Here is a little more on each to help you decide which would be best:

1. Turtle Table

A turtle table is a popular choice and is best suited to a box turtle. It is a shallow, rectangular wooden box that you can either buy from a pet store or which you can make yourself.

The table should have sides that are high enough so that the box turtle cannot climb out, and it should be large enough to give them enough space to feel free to roam.

When purchasing or making a turtle table, make sure that the inside bottom and the inside sides are waterproof, and that they are covered in a non-toxic paint or a water sealant. This stops the wood from absorbing water which could rot the wood from the inside.

Treated wood should be avoided, as it could contain harmful chemicals that might not be good for your box turtles’ health.

The turtle table can either be placed on the floor or it could be elevated slightly. Either way, the walls should be high enough so that your turtle cannot climb out.

2. Glass Tank

A glass tank or a glass aquarium is another choice for your box turtle, but sometimes they can pose a bit of a problem. The box turtle can become quite confused with the clear walls and might bump into them now and then.

However, this can be easily fixed by placing some cardboard or paper around the bottom of the sides of the tank, so they can see where the glass begins. This adds to their safety and security when using the tank.

Another thing to consider is that your turtle might feel a bit too exposed when in a glass tank, as they might feel like they are out in the open. Adding in extra accessories or even boarding up a few of the sides could help them feel more secure.

A glass tank is a good option on the other hand, as you will be able to clearly see your box turtle from different angles, and they are readily available for purchase.

3. Plastic Tub

You might think that a plastic tub might be too basic or not good enough for your box turtle, but it can actually work out really well, and it is an inexpensive enclosure, even if you just use it for a short time.

A plastic wading pool or even a plastic container can be used as an enclosure for your box turtle, as long as it is large enough and has high enough walls that your turtle cannot escape. Some of these wading pools can also be large enough to hold one or more turtles.

Plastic tubs are easy to come by, affordable, and replaceable. They make for a good choice if you are still saving up to buy a more lasting enclosure for your box turtle.

What To Consider:

1. No Wire Cages

Avoid using wire cages for a box turtle. There is too high a chance that your box turtle might injure themselves on the wire cage. It also won’t hold substrate.

2. Escape-Proofing

No matter the turtle enclosure you choose, you have to ensure that it is escape-proof so that your turtle cannot get out and become lost or injured.

In order to make the cage escape-proof, there is a general rule that the height of the walls should be twice as long as the box turtle. It also helps to place a cover on the enclosure if you can, such as a mesh screen, and to not place objects along the side of the enclosure that they might climb up.

3. The Right Substrate

Once you have chosen the enclosure to use, you would then need to decide on a substrate to lay down. Choosing the right substrate is so important, as it could either mean a clean, happy and healthy box turtle, or disaster.

There are a few substrate options that you can choose from which are suitable for box turtles. These include wood chips, newspaper, straw, carpeting, or hay.

For first-time box turtle owners, newspaper is a good option, as it is easy to clean up and easy to come by, which is important as substrate should be spot-cleaned each day and completely changed out once every 1-2 weeks.

The best choice for a substrate for a box turtle is wood chips or alfalfa pellets, as this gives your box turtle the perfect environment to burrow into. 

There are some suggestions that you use soil or sand as a substrate in your box turtle’s enclosure, but this can be risky as they can be easily ingested and cause intestinal blockages.

4. Heating

The indoor habitat will need to be heated to create the right environment for your box turtle. The tank temperature should be around 70°F at night, and 80-85°F during the day. If the room they are in stays between 70-80°F, this is made much easier.

There are a few ways to heat up the enclosure:

  • Lamp

A lamp with a 75-100 watt globe can provide both heat and light for your box turtle. They will love to bask under the light and enjoy the warmth it gives.

Make sure that the lamp does not concentrate the heat too much in one area and make it too hot to the touch, which could burn your turtle.

  • Heat Pad

An undercage heat pad can be placed under a glass aquarium to work as underfloor heating. These undercage heaters work great to provide spread-out heat to the enclosure and can be set to different heat levels.

Make sure to only use these types of heaters on suitable glass aquariums and not on plastic or wooden habitats.

  • Heat Rock

A heated rock can be placed underneath the substrate as another source of heat for the box turtle. These are great for the box turtle to bask upon, but make sure that the heat rock is properly covered in the substrate so your box turtle cannot harm themselves.

  • UV Lighting

You will need to install UV lighting into the box turtle indoor habitat. This will mimic sunlight and be vital to your box turtle’s health.

You can choose to place the box turtle habitat next to a window or on a patio to give them access to unfiltered UV light, even if it is just for an hour a day. However, it is easiest to install a UV lamp over their enclosure.

The UV lamp should provide both UVA and UVB rays, and should be placed around 45cm above the enclosure.

There are some UV lamps that can provide UVA and UVB rays as well as heat, which are a good option if you want less hanging over the enclosure.

Having a UV light set on a 12 hour on and off schedule can help prevent your turtle from hibernating if you do not want this to happen – but always consult with a specialist before making a big decision like this.

9. Humidity

The next thing that the indoor habitat needs is the right humidity level. The humidity level in their enclosure should be between 60-80%.

Choosing the right substrate which holds in moisture can help with the right humidity, so this is definitely something to check for when choosing the substrate.

Other than this, you could purchase a spray bottle and gently mist the enclosure daily to add to the humidity. This, with the lighting, will create the right humid environment.

If you notice your turtle burrowing too much, it might mean that the humidity level is not high enough, as they are searching for moisture underground.


Once you have the basics of your tank sorted, you can begin adding in the different accessories that your box turtle will need.

1. Shelter

Your box turtle will need a shelter to hide away in and feel protected and safe. If they do not have a shelter, they might become stressed, which could lead to health problems.

Pretty much anything could work as a shelter for your box turtle, as long as it is made with safe material and it offers a large enough space for them to fit in and out of.

You can either choose to buy a ready-built shelter from a pet store, or you could use an over-turned flowerpot or hollow log for them to hide away in.

2. Levels

Box turtles love to climb and perch and bask, and they will need some rocks in their habitat to climb for basking and stimulation. 

The rocks you choose for the enclosure should be around an inch thick, and flat and wide. These are easy and safe for your turtle to climb, and are not too large that they could try to escape their enclosure.

Make sure the rock cannot topple over and hurt them either.

3. Water

Box turtles need fresh water to drink, and they also love the occasional swim and soak too. You can place a small water bowl in their enclosure that they can drink from and soak in every now and then.

The water container should be big enough for them to sit in, but it should not be deep enough that it covers their head, as this could pose a risk of drowning.

A bowl from a pet store is ideal, but you could also use a shallow storage tub, a ceramic bowl, or even a flower pot dish. Only use filtered water in their habitat, to make sure it is safe for them. Replace the water every two days.

4. Plants

You can place artificial plants in the enclosure to make them feel more comfortable and feel as though they are in the wild. Just be sure that the plants are not toxic and that they cannot pull the leaves off too easily and eat the plants.

There are some live plants that are safe to place in their enclosure, but these can be hard to keep alive. Plants provide shaded areas for them to relax in.

The Essentials For A Box Turtle Indoor Enclosure

Once you have all the essentials for your box turtle’s indoor habitat, such as the enclosure, substrate, the heating, the UV light, a shelter, a water bowl, and some rocks, there is not much more than you would need.

With enough space and the essentials, your box turtle will love their enclosure and will feel free to roam and explore its surroundings.

Make sure to keep checking that the enclosure is safe for your box turtle and that they cannot escape easily.

Related Questions

Can a box turtle live indoors?

Box turtles are best suited to living outdoors, but under the right circumstances, they can live a healthy life indoors.

With the right heat, humidity, and little tub to soak in, as well as regulated UV lighting, a box turtle can live a healthy life indoors.

Do box turtles need a heat lamp at night?

Heat lamps in a box turtle’s enclosure only need to be kept on for a maximum of 14 hours a day. In summer, this can be reduced to around 10 hours a day.

Will an indoor box turtle hibernate?

In the wild, box turtles do hibernate and find some wonderful places to do so. However, indoor box turtles will not always hibernate, as their environment is more controlled, and they will not experience such a wide change of seasons. Their lighting and temperatures are more controlled, so there will be no signals for them to go into hibernation.

However, you should still produce an enclosure that will give them a place to hide and shelter.

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