The importance of a tortoise shelter
“The turtle said to Zeus:” I want a house that is just for me! “. Zeus replied: “I’ll give you a house, but it will be really just for you!” (Aesop)
Does a turtle need a house? Yes, she does, since she had asked for one to Zeus too. Sometimes we consider its shell like a little house, but it is not like that: the shell is a cuirass to protect its body from enemies, but it does not protect from rain, nor from heat, nor from cold.
In short, if you want to create an ideal environment for your turtle, you must give her a good shelter. Personally, I do not recommend plastic shelters, because they insulate badly. My favorite materials are wood and terracotta. For such materials, you can make beautiful shelters, I promise.
A wooden house, however, requires a certain manual, a lot of effort and the research of the material. Do you want to prepare a summer shelter without cutting boards? Don’t worry: I have a nice solution for you! All you need is a nice terracotta pot and small area in your terrarium.
Do you know hobbits? Nice half-men from “The Lord of the Rings”, living in beautiful houses with a round door under the ground. My turtle shelter is inspired by hobbit houses, obtained with a half-buried terracotta pot. Terracotta, in fact, is perfectly waterproof and can repair from the rain.
Moreover, this material is an excellent insulator: it absorbs heat very slowly and just as slowly releases it. What is more, the insulation of our house is further increased by a terrain cover keeping the interior even cooler all day long and warmer by night.
Just three premises:
- There are endless valid do-it-yourself solutions. What I propose is the result of my personal experience, but feel free to adapt the project to your needs, your space, your taste and your turtle.
- Adapt the dimensions. The measures that I propose are excellent for common European turtles that usually do not exceed the weight of a kilo, but there are much larger specimens. In short, if you have a giant Galapagos tortoise, the measures must be adapted.
- Create a wonderful place. It is useless to make a beautiful house if the place is not great. Turtles need light, grass, bushes, land and water. Click here to create the best land turtle’s habitat, in 5 steps.
Now let’s start making out turtle house for free: a hypogeum refuge of the highest quality.
Step 1: choose a beautiful vase
First things first: choose a nice classic vase with the base smaller than the opening. The amphora form is not good, because it makes the water stagnate inside. You can choose the size based on your turtle: for an adult, a 40 cm diameter vase is perfect.
This size, however, would be of little use for baby turtles: a 20 cm diameter pot would be ok for them.
The ideal height of the vase is about twice the length of your turtle or slightly less. For an adult specimen of Testudo female I recommend 40 cm in height.
Can the plastic jar be fine? Well, let’s say it’s not the optimal choice. Plastic, unlike terracotta, is a very bad insulator: during the night it is unable to retain heat while during the day it becomes red in the sun. The terracotta, instead, is beautiful and that’s also a fantastic insulator.
Step 2: cover half of your vase with terrain
It is now time to place your vase in your terrarium. All you have to do is dig a hole, half the diameter deep. For the top of the quality, make a slightly deeper hole and put a layer (2 or 3 centimeters) of pebbles and sand: this will allow the water to drain better and avoid stagnation.
At this point, lay your vase down. If you can, put it with the central axis parallel to the ground level. In this way you will keep the slope of the pot outwards and the water will naturally drain outside, without annoying your turtle. To achieve this effect, it is sufficient to put a little more terrain and pebbles in the hole at the back of the vase, in order to obtain a thickness.
Once this is done, we must put some terrain on it. First of all, put the terrain on the sides of the pot, outside, in order to block it. Finally, fill your shelter with soft soil, covering up to half its diameter (or slightly less). Remember that the height of the opening must allow your turtle to enter easily, otherwise it will not be able to repair itself; so leave a free space of at least 20-25 centimeters.
Done? Well, your shelter is perfect. Turtles like the contact with the terrain and love digging holes. Your little house allows that and your turtle will be glad.
Step 3: cover the pot
Do you want to get an incredibly performing shelter? Then cover your pot with terrain, as shown. The terrain, in fact, is an extraordinary insulator: hypogeal structures maintain the same temperature throughout the year. You will not be able to put meters of terrain above your shelter, of course, but with a thickness of 10 to 15 centimeters you can achieve extraordinary results.
The maximum ground thickness will be at the bottom of your pot and the minimum thickness will be next to the opening. Make the slope as sweet as possible to have a stable heap.
Step 4: make a green roof
Now it’s time for a touch of beauty: the roof-garden. The most fashionable architects, when they want to be even more fashionable, make roof-gardens. In our case, this trick can make our shelter a masterpiece: grass and flowers, in fact, will increase insulation and will offer food to our turtle. It can be difficult to prevent our Testudo from destroying everything before the grass grows, which is why it is useful to put clods of mature grass. The effect, however, can be really extraordinary, both for the turtle and for you too: a green roof with grass and flowers.
Step 5: cut the ribbon
This is it! The moment has come: in the presence of your family and turtles, cut the ribbon and inaugurate your masterpiece. With just a few euros and little time, you’ve got a high quality summer shelter.
Here we are at the end of our little trip together. If you have suggestions that can help who, like you, needs to make a nice tarta-shelter, please leave your comment here.
We’ll see you next Tuesday! Ciao!