Tortoises are some of the most popular pets, but many people don’t know that they can live outside all year long.
Wild tortoises are accustomed to living in tropical and desert climates and, when given the opportunity, often choose to spend time outside.
That is because they are built for surviving in extreme weather conditions, particularly heat.
Their shells are constructed in such a way that they can easily survive the harshest of conditions.
The keratin that makes up the shell actually reflects the sun’s rays, keeping the tortoise cooler than if it had a black shell.
The shell of a tortoise is made up of many small bones that are covered by plates of keratin. This layer grows thicker as the tortoise ages.
This article will show you how to care for your tortoise in a backyard environment and give you tips on what kind of setup is best to care for them.
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Can a Tortoise Live Outside?
Yes, tortoises can live outside all year, but only if the temperature is below 80 degrees (and no lower than 45 degrees at night).
If you live in a tropical or warmer climate, it is best to keep tortoises outside year-round as long as the temperature stays below those above-mentioned numbers.
However, if you live in a colder climate such as the North Eastern United States, it is best to keep them outside only during summer and bring them inside for the winter.
How to Keep a Tortoise Warm Outside?
To keep them warm during the colder months, you should also provide a heat lamp or heating pad.
Place it under one end of the enclosure and make sure that that end is well insulated.
This will provide a warm environment during those cold winter months when they need it most.
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What Temperature Can A Tortoise Go Outside?
The temperature should be between 45-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and between 50-65 degrees at night.
If you live in an area where it gets colder than that, make sure to bring your tortoise inside during the winter.
Can Tortoises Get Too Hot Outside?
Yes, tortoises can get too hot outside without any form of shade, and they can die if the temperature gets well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
If it is warm enough to make you uncomfortable, it is too warm for a tortoise.
In addition to not being able to go outside in places where the temperature gets higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you also should not keep them outside if the temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can I Leave My Tortoise Outside At Night?
If the enclosure doesn’t have any protection against nighttime predators, it is not a good idea to leave your tortoise outside overnight and should be brought indoors.
Tortoises are known for their long lives and can live up to 100 years old.
That is a long time for them to be exposed to predators and danger, so do not risk it.
Can A Tortoise Survive Winter?
Keeping a tortoise outside during the winter is not recommended and can even be fatal, so you will need to bring them inside for the winter.
Basking temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and drop down to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
If you live in a hotter part of the world, try to find a cool area for them to rest in.
How to Set Up a Backyard Tortoise Enclosure?
To set up a tortoise enclosure outside, you need to first measure the space you have.
Tortoises are mostly large and can grow up to 12 inches long and more depending on the species, so measure carefully.
You will need to fence off the area you have with something that is at least 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide since tortoises are surprisingly strong and can push through much smaller barriers.
If you have a dog or other predator trying to get into the enclosure, make sure the fence is taller.
You can use a wire mesh sold at hardware stores, or if you are an experienced DIY aficionado, you can make your own enclosure using chicken wire.
Be sure to use something that won’t rust if it is exposed to the elements, such as steel or a plastic-coated wire.
Inside the enclosure, you should have some kind of shelter for them to hide in and get out of the sun.
A dog house is a good example, but you can also purchase tortoise houses that will help keep them insulated.
You will also need a water source so that they can drink, and you can use a birdbath or other shallow container for this.
You can also make a drip system using pipes and gravel to water their grass area.
You may want to get more tips on how to set up your tortoise enclosure from a local pet or gardening store.
Now that you know how to set up a tortoise enclosure and what is needed, all that remains is to create a proper habitat and choose your species.
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Items Needed to Create A Tortoise Outdoor Enclosure
- Wire mesh that is at least 4 feet tall and 1 foot wide
- Solid materials to create the enclosure like metal, brick, stone or wood
- A substrate (soil)
- Rocks to climb on
- Shelter inside the enclosure, such as a dog house or tortoise hut
- A grass area for them to graze in
- Basking lamp
What Makes For A Good Outdoor Tortoise Enclosure?
For adult tortoises, space is key.
It is best to have a 10 foot by 12-foot area with 4-6 inches of soil for them to live and graze in and try to place the enclosure in a shady spot with some breeze for them to rest in.
Tortoises love to wander, so make sure their grass area is at least 10 feet by 20 feet.
The enclosure should also be in an area where it will not get too muddy and will not be affected by flooding or landslides.
Trying to create a microhabitat for them is ideal, so replicating their natural environment should be one of the top priorities when setting up the tortoise enclosure.
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How to Keep The Enclosure Safe For The Tortoise
First, you need to understand that tortoises are entirely different from a dog or cat and could be a target for a lot of wild predators like eagles, foxes, raccoons, and even coyotes.
There may also be larger predators in your area that you need to keep in mind, such as bears and wolves.
This means that your enclosure needs to be sturdy and secure and also come with a wire mesh over the top so they can stay safe from aerial predators.
You should also bury wire mesh under the soil to keep predators from getting underneath the enclosure and digging them out.
It is also a good idea to have some sort of an alarm system in place so that you know when a predator is near, such as motion sensors or bells.
You should also check regularly for potential holes where they can escape, which you can plug up with dirt or rocks.
You should also make sure any holes or gaps in the fence are patched up or covered since tortoises are surprisingly good at squeezing through tiny gaps.
Domestic Animals and Tortoises
The next step is to watch out for domestic animals that might prey on the tortoises or disturb them.
This can include dogs, cats, and other predators you have in your house.
Tortoises are very slow and will not be able to outrun any sort of predator or even a curious domestic pet, so precautions need to be taken before they can go outside.
In many parts of the world trading in tortoises is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it has stopped.
Tortoises are still highly valued for their meat and shells, and most of them can be sold for a lot of money.
Wild tortoises are also considered a delicacy, so make sure your tortoise enclosure is secure to keep them safe.
Adding some security around the garden is advised like CCTV cameras, motion sensor lights, and alarms.
Types of Soil/ Dirt Used in the Garden
The type of soil or dirt also needs to be taken into consideration since most of them can be toxic for tortoises and can cause them to become ill.
So it is best to find a good, pH-balanced soil that has lots of organic matter for them to dig into.
For the enclosure itself you can also use a mixture of topsoil and sand that is at least 3 inches deep, as well as soil that has peat moss, compost, or other organic matter mixed into it.
This should be around 40% topsoil and 60% sand.
This is usually enough for them to dig around in and will also prevent the tortoise from having any respiratory or other infections.
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Can You Leave A Tortoise Out In The Rain?
It is known that tortoises like to go out in the rain and will not be bothered by it.
However, they should still have somewhere dry to hide in when it is raining, which you should provide for them.
Make sure their shelter is covered and can block out most of the rain so they do not get soaked when it is bad.
What Kind of Tortoise to Choose?
Deciding what kind of tortoise to get depends on many things, but the most important is your climate.
If you live in a warmer area such as Florida, an African species such as the leopard tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata) or the African spurred tortoise (C. pyrenaica) is best, whereas if you live in a colder area such as the Midwestern US, then an American species like the gopher tortoise (Gopherus Polyphemus) is best.
Before deciding on a species, make sure to do your research and find out what kind of requirements they have.
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Which Tortoise Can Live Outside?
Some examples of tortoises that can live outside all year round include African species such as leopard and African spurred tortoises, Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii), Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca), and Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni).
American species include gopher tortoises, red-footed tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria), and yellow-sided African tortoise (P. subcrustal).
Tortoises from the southern hemisphere will need to be brought inside during winter.
The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is a popular pet that can be kept outside during summer but needs to be brought inside during the winter.
Tortoises are one of the most popular pets to keep, but it can be difficult to know how they like their environment. The best way to find out is by asking them!
Tortoises will show you what kind of food and habitat they prefer as well as whether or not they want to live outdoors all year round.
If your tortoise does enjoy spending time outside in cooler climates, make sure that there aren’t any gaps or holes in the fence for predators such as dogs and cats to get through because these animals pose a serious threat for this slow-moving creature.
Which tortoise you choose to buy also depends on where you live and what conditions your local climate is like.