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Basil's Tortoise Tub

In July 2001, we began to plan for Basil's new accommodation. Despite being only one year old, her terrarium was becoming too small. For her new home we wanted something that was at least six feet wide, so that it would last her a few years or so before a bigger home had to be constructed. We had read about some tortoise-keepers using Rubbermaid containers or cement-mixing basins for this purpose. However, we were unable to find anything acceptable like this, so we ordered a six foot by three foot by ten inch "tortoise tub" from Bush Herpetological Supplies in Neodesha, Kansas (unfortunately no longer in business). The tortoise tub and associated hardware were sitting on a sturdy dining room table (from IKEA). The room had a humidifier that kept the ambient room humidity at about 50%, and an electric oil-filled radiator that warmed the room to about 25 degrees Celsius.

For those wanting to build their own tortoise housing, the Tortoise Trust has provided plans for a simple open-topped tortoise enclosure. An important feature of the Tortoise Trust design is that it is lightweight and modular making it easier to clean — the value of which cannot be overstated.

Heat, humidity and light

The "greenhouse" cover was constructed out of pine wood frame which has been Varathaned along with sides made of twin-walled polycarbonate. Twin-walled polycarbonate (the material out of which greenhouses are constructed) is light-weight compared to glass or plexiglass, and tolerates heat and humidity well (that is, it doesn't crack or warp). The frame also serves as an anchoring structure for the misting system's supply lines, and for a 24 inch UVB fluorescent light. We also built a frame structure to hang three ceramic heaters (the right three lamps) and a 75 watt plant grow light (the left lamp). Mindful of the fire danger that ceramic heaters present, we clamped the frame to the table using small woodshop clamps to prevent the frame from being accidently tipped over. The greenhouse cover is effective in trapping heat and humidity. The temperture in Basil's tub typically ranges from 26 to 30 degrees Celsius, and the humidity rarely drops below 70% (although there are drier and wetter locations throughout the tub).

Substrate and Plants

We have landscaped the interior of the tortoise tub using cypress mulch and large rocks, with lots of hills and valleys. Cypress mulch makes an excellent substrate for humidity-loving tortoises. In addition, we have some moss here and there for Basil to dig into or walk on top of. The moss also helps to maintain the high humidity levels that Basil needs. There are two wading/drinking pools (shallow plastic flower pot bases) in the tub for Basil to drink from and soak in (although she tends to use them less than she did in the smaller terrarium for some reason). For plants we have a large rabbit fern in the back left corner, a couple asparagus ferns in the middle, and a kitty-litter tray of mixed grasses and weeds growing in organic top soil. Because Basil tends to stomp these plants down, we always have a couple of trays growing in order to replace the destroyed plants every couple of weeks or so. In the back right corner we used to have a broken flower pot to serve as a hidey hole, and she tended to alternate between hiding under the fern and inside the flower pot. However, we noticed some light scratches on the back of her shell caused from rubbing against the flower pot, so we replaced it with another fern for Basil to hide beneath.