DIY Enclosure - Request for constructive critique and ideas

stigrk

New Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Oslo, Norway
Hello TortoiseForum,

I am a new member and also a new tortoise owner. My tortoise is an Eastern Herman I got about 4 weeks ago, the previous caretaker and the CITES papers claims it is about half a year old.

Since this forum seems mostly american I will use imperial units in the post. (Fahrenheit, inches and feet), please forgive me if I slip in a metric measurement by mistake ;)😄

I have built an indoor enclosure for my tortoise, about 40 by 20 inches in size and the design is based on what I could find of information from the Internet (before I read a lot on this forum) and I would like to get some constructive critique for my design and perhaps ideas for improvements. If I had found this site earlier I would probably have made some changes to my design.

First: I know the enclosure is not big enough for a grown Herman Tortoise. However, it is big enough right now as the Tortoise is still quite small (2 inches) and I plan to build a new one as the Tortoise grows.

I also live in a country with a rather cold climate (Norway in northern Europe). When the tortoise gets larger I may perhaps have it outdoors in the warmest months of summer assuming I also provide some extra warm/lights. This summer I may perhaps carry the whole enclosure to my balcony on really warm days so the Tortoise can get some real sunshine and not only artificial UV lights. it is not that heavy and should be okay to lift.

Key data about the enclosure:
  • Size approximately 40 by 20 inches.
  • Substrate is a mix of some dark aquarium sand mixed with soil/mulch sold from the local pet shop. (Dark sand so the tortoise does not confuse the sand grains with seeds and attempt to eat it).
  • Substrate about 3" deep, planted with grass, flowers and various plants edible for the tortoise (bought a tortoise seed mix bag from an online reptile shop).
  • I have also planted a couple of larger plants that is edible however the tortoise seem to prefer using these for shelter and not eating
  • Two dishes, large one filled with water to tortoise chin height and the smaller one is used for food
  • A flat stone to keep a plant clear spot under the MVP basking light. This also seems to elevate the temperature slightly on the basking spot.
  • A corner with cork bark and hay provides hiding opportunities
  • Temperatures at daytime, is a gradient from 94 at the basking spot (on the stone) to the 72-75 at the hideout corner
  • The enclosure is kept in a room with a rather high ambient temperature so even at night it should stay 70-72
  • Humidity is in the range 50-75% half an inch above the substrate
  • I have mounted a Raspberry PI with a wide angle camera on the top of the enclosure.
    • This way I can monitor the enclosure over the Internet when I am not at home.
    • It is a Near IR camera so I plan to add IR lights so I can monitor it in the dark as well. (IR is invisible to human and tortoise eyes).
    • I have planned to add several temperature and humidity sensors to the PI and display this as well, for now I measure manually using a "gun type" thermometer
General husbandry:
  • Daily soaks in water outside the enclosure in a plastic container. Frequently it poops and urates at this time but not always if it has already pooped in the enclosure
  • Food and water dish is cleaned and replenished every day, poop is removed and once in a while the hay in the corner is replaced with new hay
    • I clean while the tortoise is soaking
    • I also check the substrate under the cork bark once a while and mist if starting to feel to dry
  • It seems Dandelions are its favorite food, especially the yellow flower part. Will not eat anything else if they are available so now it only gets that a few days per week
  • I sprinkle some powdered calcium supplement on the food a couple of times per week
  • I measure the humidity and mist the whole enclosure couple of times a day, the plants in the enclosure also needs some water
Observed Tortoise behavior: (times are approximate but usually do not vary more than half hour or so, it is remarkably consistent)
  • The first two weeks the Tortoise mostly burrowed under the substrate in the corner with hay and ate very sparingly. I had to carefully dig it out once in a while to give it a soaking and food
  • Retreats halfway into in the shell when handled but does not seem to panic, emerges from the shell quickly when put down. I would say it seems apprehensive but not very scared.
  • The last two weeks now the Tortoise eats very well and seems to have established some kind of routine:
    • Lights on (by timer) at 8 AM, often I can see the head poking out from the hay in the corner shortly after, but it usually stays partially hidden for a couple of hours.
    • Around 10 AM, the tortoise fully emerges and walks to the basking light
    • After half an hour it walks over to the food tray and starts eating
    • It sometimes enters the water dish by its own volition but these visits are usually very short and it do not poop or leave urates in the water
    • After eating or watering it usually spends some time at the basking spot again
    • Spends a few hours walking around inspecting the enclosure, typically stops and sniffs the plants, nibbles at a few of them but does not really eat of them.
      • It seems to be used to eating from a dish, perhaps I am observing learned behavior from the previous caretaker?
    • Around noon it gets the daily soak
    • Some days it eats a second time followed by some basking time
    • Usually it retreats to the hideout corner and burrows around 2 PM
    • Some days it has a second outing in the evening around 7-8 PM, usually not for more than one hour
    • Lights out by timer 9 PM (at my latitude this is also the natural sunset time)
  • It seems to vary a lot how deep it burrows
    • Sometimes it digs all the way down into the substrate
    • Sometimes it is just under the hay
    • Sometimes it does not actually burrow but just hides in the cave created by the cork bark in the hideout corner, then I can usually see it deep in there looking out
  • Except the very first day I have not observed the tortoise scratching at the walls, trying to climb or escape from the enclosure
  • The tortoise sleeps and/or hides most of the day. I assume this is normal instinctive behavior while the tortoise is still so small to avoid predators?
  • The tortoise has put on weight since I got it (I measure it before soaking).
Photos:

From the design stage. I am using two types of lights:
  • One T5 type tube UV light that runs the length of the enclosure. This provides normal and UV light but very little warmth.
  • One MVP spot that provides normal and UV light and also warmth, this is the basking spot
design.png


3D Render from before actual building:
3D render.jpg

Building has started:
cutting.JPEG

The finished result:
overview 1.JPEG
overview 2.JPEG
overview 3.JPEG

Temperature measurements during the day:
94.JPEG 77.JPEG 75.JPEG 72.JPEG

Tortoise soaking:
soaking.JPEG

If I had to build it again I would have made the following changes:
  • Made it larger so the tortoise could have stayed in it for longer
  • Made it less open so I do not have to mist so often (I am considering adding some plexiglass to improve this)
  • Perhaps made changes to the substrate mixture after reading this forum
Constructive criticism is welcome, I will try hard not be offended if you tell me I did everything wrong! 😄

Best Regards,
Stig
 
  • Like
Reactions: ISU

Maro2Bear

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
May 29, 2014
Messages
12,390
Location (City and/or State)
Glenn Dale, Maryland, USA
Looks fantastic. You must be a architectural engineer with a design major/minor.

i think you can still add a lot of plexiglass to this to close it in more. Back side for sure. More easily removable pieces in the front as well.

Always better to design larger....plus, sink your water dish down into the substrate.

nice build
 

stigrk

New Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Oslo, Norway
This is an amazing build. Quality stuff!

Thanks! :) If you look closely you will notice cracks and imperfections a professional would never have done. But since I am a complete amateur builder I am quite happy with the result.

Looks fantastic. You must be a architectural engineer with a design major/minor.

i think you can still add a lot of plexiglass to this to close it in more. Back side for sure. More easily removable pieces in the front as well.

Always better to design larger....plus, sink your water dish down into the substrate.

nice build

Thanks! Software engineer, not architecture :) and no formal design education.

Yes, I think you are correct about adding plexiglass. I have to think a bit on how to solve the front side so I can have easy access for maintenance. Perhaps use hinges or something. I think I will try with clear plexiglass at the back first and see how much that helps before I do something about the front.

I suspect it may not need to be fully enclosed.

I will post updates here if I make changes to the design.

and your correct, the water dish should be pressed further into the substrate.
 
L

LasTortugasNinja

Guest
Looks good, but watch the humidity carefully. It can dry up really fast in an open enclosure like this. My table is 52% humidity a 6am, but 24% by noon without any misting. Since yours is young, he needs 100% in the mornings and 70 to 80% around noon.

Just a simplicity thought... I keep all my in-the-enclosure plants in pots. This way, it keeps the plant from being bulldozed or over-grazed, allows the plant to be removed from enclosure if it shows signs of stress or UV burn (yes, plants get sunburned from UV lights), and makes cleaning and swapping out dirtied substrate easier. Reptiles tend to redecorate their enclosures to THEIR idea of beauty, and plants suffer. I have a freckled monitor that made it his life's goal to tear apart a ficus plant leaf by leaf, twig and stem... until all that was left was the root ball.
 

TechnoCheese

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2016
Messages
4,164
Location (City and/or State)
Lewisville, Texas
How much sand is in the substrate? Regardless of color, sand is an impaction risk, as well as a skin, eye, nose, and cloaca irritant. It should not be used in a substrate mix.
 

stigrk

New Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Oslo, Norway
Looks good, but watch the humidity carefully. It can dry up really fast in an open enclosure like this. My table is 52% humidity a 6am, but 24% by noon without any misting. Since yours is young, he needs 100% in the mornings and 70 to 80% around noon.

Just a simplicity thought... I keep all my in-the-enclosure plants in pots. This way, it keeps the plant from being bulldozed or over-grazed, allows the plant to be removed from enclosure if it shows signs of stress or UV burn (yes, plants get sunburned from UV lights), and makes cleaning and swapping out dirtied substrate easier. Reptiles tend to redecorate their enclosures to THEIR idea of beauty, and plants suffer. I have a freckled monitor that made it his life's goal to tear apart a ficus plant leaf by leaf, twig and stem... until all that was left was the root ball.

Thanks! I have a humidity sensor in the enclosure. And your correct it dries up during the day, hence I have to mist a couple of times per day. I think I will do the plexiglass thing to better keep the humidity inside.

Pots for the larger plants sounds like a good idea!
 

stigrk

New Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Oslo, Norway
How much sand is in the substrate? Regardless of color, sand is an impaction risk, as well as a skin, eye, nose, and cloaca irritant. It should not be used in a substrate mix.

I do not have an exact measurement but perhaps 25% or thereabout. The soil does not feel very sandy when you touch it to put it that way.

I will plan for replacing the substrate with something without sand in it.

When that is said, this sounds quite strange to me, the mediterranean countries are not exactly lacking in sand. How does wild tortoises manage? Perhaps it is a difference in sand types?
 
L

LasTortugasNinja

Guest
I do not have an exact measurement but perhaps 25% or thereabout. The soil does not feel very sandy when you touch it to put it that way.

I will plan for replacing the substrate with something without sand in it.

When that is said, this sounds quite strange to me, the mediterranean countries are not exactly lacking in sand. How does wild tortoises manage? Perhaps it is a difference in sand types?
25% or less shouldn't be too much of an issue. I use a homemade substrate mix that includes a little sand, clean topsoil, moss mulch, woodchips, and coco coir, packed down. In 30 years of owning reptiles from geckos to iguanas, snakes to monitors, i've never had an issue with impaction from sand. Not saying it can't happen, but I think it's incredibly rare.
 

Maro2Bear

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
May 29, 2014
Messages
12,390
Location (City and/or State)
Glenn Dale, Maryland, USA
I do not have an exact measurement but perhaps 25% or thereabout. The soil does not feel very sandy when you touch it to put it that way.

I will plan for replacing the substrate with something without sand in it.

When that is said, this sounds quite strange to me, the mediterranean countries are not exactly lacking in sand. How does wild tortoises manage? Perhaps it is a difference in sand types?

In the “wild” torts are nibbling on dangling leaves & upright grass, weed, plant shoots. They arent (generally) eating up plants that are laying dead flat on the ground/substrate.
 

TechnoCheese

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Feb 20, 2016
Messages
4,164
Location (City and/or State)
Lewisville, Texas
I do not have an exact measurement but perhaps 25% or thereabout. The soil does not feel very sandy when you touch it to put it that way.

I will plan for replacing the substrate with something without sand in it.

When that is said, this sounds quite strange to me, the mediterranean countries are not exactly lacking in sand. How does wild tortoises manage? Perhaps it is a difference in sand types?
Maro hit it right on. In addition, wild substrate is hard and packed down, and not loose and dusty like it is in captivity. Other than the substrate, your enclosure is very nice.
 

stigrk

New Member
Joined
Apr 22, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Oslo, Norway
In the “wild” torts are nibbling on dangling leaves & upright grass, weed, plant shoots. They arent (generally) eating up plants that are laying dead flat on the ground/substrate.

Thanks for the explanation, that sounds perfectly plausible.

Maro hit it right on. In addition, wild substrate is hard and packed down, and not loose and dusty like it is in captivity. Other than the substrate, your enclosure is very nice.

My tortoise eats from a food dish - but I do notice that sometimes it makes a mess and then parts of the food can get outside the dish on the substrate. I will endeavor to keep the substrate free from sand. Perhaps have something different around the feeding dish to begin with.

Even if the problems from sand may be rare there is no need taking unnecessary risk :)

Thanks for the valuable feedback
 
Top