Anyone who wants to keep one or more turtles in the garden in the summer, usually can not do without a suitable turtle house. On the one hand, it serves as a retreat for the animals, on the other hand, it is something like a heat chamber. To build such a house yourself is not a problem even for laymen. However, it should meet a few basic requirements.
Basically there are two ways to keep turtles in our latitudes – either in a terrarium in the apartment or in an enclosure in the garden. However, not every species of turtle is suitable for keeping outdoors. The main ones that come into question for this are:
- Broad-edged tortoise (Testudo marginata).
- Greek tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
- Moorish tortoise (Testudo graeca)
- Four-toed tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii)
Note: A constant change of the way of keeping – once outdoors, once indoors, then outdoors again – is usually not good for the animals. Therefore it should be avoided at all costs.
All four species cope well with our climatic conditions, at least in summer. In winter the animals fall into hibernation anyway. However, it is necessary to offer the turtles protection from cold or certain weather extremes, such as heavy rain, even in the warm season. For this very reason, a turtle house is of special importance. It serves as a shelter and warming house. The house should be integrated into a larger enclosure. One should not underestimate the space requirements of the animals. A minimum size of ten square meters must be calculated per animal. For each additional animal, another five square meters must be added.
Turtle houses for keeping the animals outdoors are mainly built from two materials. Either you use the stone or wooden construction. It is not easy to say which construction method or material is better. A wooden construction is usually easier to realize and also brings some other advantages. Because: A wooden house
- can be moved relatively easily if necessary
- offers easy access to the animals via a hinged roof
- can be designed very individually
- can usually be extended without problems
The house can be designed relatively freely. In principle, it only needs four walls, an entrance and a roof that can be removed or opened. For the roof, it makes sense to use a so-called double-webbed polycarbonate sheet, which is also often used for cold frames, greenhouses or the tomato house. The following materials are needed:
- four wooden boards, possibly five
- Wooden plates
- four wooden strips (square timbers) or small boards
- eight angle pieces or four more square timbers
- one or two double web plates
- pond liner
- a heat lamp
- rather dark, solvent-free paint
- branches, bushes, moss for the interior decoration
Note: The above material list is limited to an absolute minimum. The goal here is to be able to build a very simple, relatively no-frills house for the turtles.
Our little tutorial starts by determining the size of the turtle house itself. So it’s all about the dimensions. Of course, the dimensions depend on the number and size of the animals that are to be housed in it. Therefore, it is not possible to make general statements. It is important that the animals can move easily within the house and that they can also change their direction of movement. A Greek tortoise may serve as an example. Depending on sex and age, these animals can grow up to 25 centimeters long. This refers to the respective carapace length. Therefore, the length and width of the tortoise house should be at least 2.5 times the length of the shell.
Tip: The size of the house should rather be somewhat more generously dimensioned, than it is constructed too small. The animals should simply have enough space available.
The size is primarily about the floor space. The individual dimensions for the side panels, the slats and the roof are then derived from this. The height, in turn, can be chosen relatively arbitrarily. A building height of 30 to 40 centimeters makes sense. According to the determined dimensions, it is advisable to have the individual tree parts already cut to size in the DIY store. This also applies to the double plastic sheet for the roof. Here, however, about five centimeters should be added on each side.
In its simplest form, the turtle house has a rectangular or square body. Consequently, the four wooden panels must be joined together to form a square. However, it makes sense to cut the entrance for the animals in one of the panels beforehand. For this purpose, it is best to use a jigsaw. The entrance should be large enough for an adult animal to fit through comfortably. Then connect the four sides together. The easiest way to do this is to first attach one of the square timbers to the edge of one side. The fastening can be done using solvent-free glue, screws or even nails. With nails and screws, however, care must be taken that they do not protrude. In the following, according to this method, the four panels are then firmly joined together until the square body is finished.
As already mentioned, the turtle house serves not only as a place of retreat, but also as a warming room for the animals. A black or dark exterior paint therefore makes sense. Because of the varnish sunlight or heat is stored and not reflected. The house warms up by itself, so to speak. Only solvent-free, non-toxic paint should be used for painting. It should also be weather-resistant if possible.
The roof is the only element of the house that is not made of wood, but of the plastic polycarbonate. The double-webbed sheet used for this purpose ensures that sunlight can enter the interior, so the house warms up. The roof is only placed on the body and not attached, after all, it should allow access to the interior at any time. However, to prevent it from slipping, four small strips of wood are glued to the roof in such a way that they abut directly against each of the four sides of the house. In this way, slipping is excluded. Finally, the roof is weighted down with a stone or a piece of wood. To protect the animal in the house from possible overheating, in case of great heat, simply lift the roof and put a small block of wood between the roof and the body of the house. The temperature in the house should not exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
Turtles are known to be cold-blooded animals. They are not able to heat up by their body alone. This inevitably leads to the fact that the ambient temperature is particularly important for them. It should not fall below a value of 20 degrees Celsius. Outdoors, however, this may well be the case more often in spring and autumn. In order not to endanger the animals in their home, a commercially available heat lamp should therefore be integrated. This is best installed on one of the four walls. This usually requires drilling a hole in the wall, through which the power cable is then also led to the outside. Normally, the heat lamp is accompanied by specific instructions, which can be used as a guide for installation.
The penultimate step is to place the self-built house in the place where it will subsequently remain. First, you should spread pond liner on the ground there. The foil must have a slightly larger area than the house. An excess of about five centimeters per side is useful. The foil area is then generously covered with soil, which is best tamped down. Once this is done, simply place the self-build on top and gently but firmly tap it down with a hammer. With the remaining boards or strips it can be additionally fixed at the sides. By the way, the pond liner performs an important function: it protects against cold and moisture from the ground. And another thing is important in connection with heat: the house should be placed in the enclosure so that it is not in the shade, but in the sun.
Now it is almost done. The only thing missing is the interior decoration for the turtle house. If it is big enough, another board can be placed inside and fixed to one of the walls. It will serve to separate an area from the entrance where the turtle can hide. However, for this to be possible, the animal must have enough space to get past the inner wall. The rest of the setup is just simple: small branches, leaves and foliage are used for the turtle to hide under. If possible, this nest should be placed in the immediate vicinity of the heat lamp.