What Does A Box Turtle Need In Its Tank?

What Does A Box Turtle Need In Its Tank

Box turtles are good pets to have, but they do require a few things in their enclosure to live happily. Though it is recommended to provide your box turtle with a large terrarium, a large enough tank would also be a good option to opt for. A box turtle’s tank should have enough space for the turtle to move around in, have several hiding places, and should have access to a water dish. Box turtles also need live plants to eat and some kind of basking surface to warm up on. In this article, we will talk about what is required for box turtles to live happily in their tanks and how you can make sure that they are happy with the living conditions that you provide them with.

Related Article: Reasons Your Box Turtle Might Be Digging Holes

What does a box turtle need in its tank?

Heat lamps

Heat lamps are very important for box turtle to maintain their body temperature. Turtles are cold-blooded animals which means they can not regulate their body temperature as we do, rather they rely on the external environment for doing so. If you are keeping your box turtle outside where they have access to plenty of sunlight, then they don’t require a heat lamp. However, if you are keeping them in an indoor tank then heat lamps are very important for them. There are various types of heat lamps available in the market. Below I am listing a few of the popular heat lamp types that can be used in a box turtle tank.

Incandescent heat bulb

One of the easiest and most economical ways is to use an incandescent bulb in your box turtle tank. These are the regular bulbs which we use in our houses. However, one should carefully select the wattage of these bulbs that are suitable for your tank. 

For instance, a 100-watt bulb is best for a small tank. But if your tank is bigger, you may need a bigger bulb. These bulbs are a very popular option for box turtle owners because they are affordable and they last a long time. There are many benefits of using an incandescent bulb in a box turtle tank, including:

  • they are inexpensive.
  • they are easy to find and purchase.
  • they are energy efficient.
  • they do not emit any toxic fumes.
  • they are safe for turtles.

Halogen lamps

Halogen lamps are another great option for providing heat to your box turtle enclosure. Halogen bulbs produce a yellow-orange light that is a little more intense than an incandescent bulb, but not as bright. This type of lamp is easier on the eyes and provides a slightly warmer temperature than an incandescent bulb. 

The downside to halogen lamps is that they are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they last longer. Halogen lamps are also good for use in larger enclosures because they provide a decent amount of heat to your box turtle at a budget price.

Mercury vapor bulb

Mercury vapor bulb is a new type of light bulb. It is a great option for a box turtle tank due to its ability to produce both heat and UV rays.

The mercury vapor bulb is smaller in size than other types of bulbs, so it fits better in a tank with one or two box turtles. It also produces less heat than traditional bulbs. This heat moderation is good for turtle health.

Some potential drawbacks of using a mercury vapor bulb in a tank are that it may be more expensive than traditional bulbs and its lifespan may be shorter than other types of bulbs such as halogen and incandescent heat bulbs. Nevertheless, if you have a small tank this type of light bulb may be the best option for your box turtle.

Ceramic heat emitter

Ceramic heat emitters are not light-producing devices. They emit heat radiation and so they are suitable for small tanks as they take more time for warming larger areas. Unlike other types of heating bulbs, ceramic emitters do not produce light but instead produce heat. This means that they are less likely to disturb your turtle’s natural habitat and can be used in combination with other lighting equipment to create a more complete lighting system.

A ceramic heat emitter can be used in winter nights without disturbing your box turtle’s sleep cycle. The small device emits a gentle warmth, helping your turtle stay comfortable while it sleeps. Plus, the emitter is quiet so you won’t disturb your turtle or anyone around.

Basking lamp

You will need a basking lamp for your box turtle. Basking is a process for turtles to warm and dry their body. Basking lights are can be any bulb with a more focused way of emitting light. You can consider it as a heating lamp specially designed for reptiles and amphibians. 

There are many types of basking lamps available in the market. It is important that you choose the best basking lamp for your box turtle. The most important thing you should consider before buying a basking lamp for a box turtle is the wattage. The higher the wattage, the more energy the lamp emits and heat. This will make the box turtle feel warm and dry.

Related Article: Can I Use A Regular Light Bulb For My Turtle?

Basking platform

Box turtles also need an area in their tank where they can bask and dry their shell off. Box turtles spend most of their time basking. This area should be easily accessible for turtles and have basking and UV lights focused on the area. 


The temperature requirements of a box turtle are as follows:
-A box turtle needs a basking spot that is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
-They need to have a cooler area that is around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
-They need to have a warm area that is around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Box turtles should be kept in an environment with plenty of humidity.

During the night, box turtles require a low surrounding temperature. Ideally, it should be anywhere between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. The best thing to do to keep their enclosure cool is to switch all the lights off at night. Box turtles prefer to sleep at night and will get disturbed if their light cycles aren’t kept in sync.

UV light

Box turtles have a hard-covered shell that is made up of calcium. Turtles absorb calcium from their food, but this process is impossible in absence of vitamin D3.  Box turtles when exposed to UV rays, they process it to create vitamin D3 which helps them absorb calcium from their food. 

UV rays are mainly of two types: UVB and UVA rays. Box turtles in wild have access to natural sunlight which is the largest source of UV light. However, in captivity, turtles lack UV exposure and so they can develop serious shell conditions like shell rot or dry shell.

It is important for the box turtle tank to have a powerful UV bulb. UVA rays help them in mental health while UVB is known for calcium processing. Artificial UV lights do not last long in terms of UV strength, so it is important to replace them every few months. 

Related Article: Do Turtles Need UVA or UVB?


If you are looking for a substrate for your box turtle, you may want to consider using substrate bedding that is thick enough to allow them for burrowing. It is recommended that you use substrate bedding that is at least 8-10 cm thick. 

Turtles are unique animals. They can be found in a variety of habitats and even in the wild, but in captivity, they can be kept in a variety of ways. The most common way to keep them is in an aquarium with a soft substrate such as coconut fiber or sand.  

Humidity level

Low humidity can cause a box turtle to have respiratory diseases in box turtle. It also can cause affect their eyes and ear. The best way to keep a box turtle healthy is to keep the humidity level at about 50% or higher. A box turtle can only survive in an environment with high humidity levels.

If the humidity level drops too low, the box turtle can get dry skin and cracks. You should be careful not to let your box turtle stay in the heat all day long. If you do, you can easily hurt your box turtle. For an indoor box turtle tank, it is important that its substrate should have some moisture. It is advisable to spray water on the substrate as well as on their shell during hot summer days. If the turtle tank is at a place where it gets sunlight all day long, you need to set up a shade for it to hide if it gets too hot.

Water dish

A water dish is something every pet needs. If you have a pet, you know how important it is to keep them hydrated. Box turtles are land-dwelling species and so they are not very good at swimming as their other family members. 

Box turtles don’t need gallons of water in their tank, they just need a shallow water dish for drinking and soaking themselves. Don’t fill the water too much, it will cause your turtle to drown. The water level in their dish should be below their neck.

You can find a wide range of water dishes online and in pet stores that can use in your box turtle tank. If you have a box turtle, you need to make sure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times. It’s not enough to just put out fresh water for them to drink; you need to make sure it is clean water.

Hiding spots

Hiding spots are a crucial part of any box turtle tank. These turtles are very shy and sensitive. They prefer to hide when they feel threatened or scared. To help them feel like in nature, it is advisable to prepare a hiding spot for their tank. The hiding spot should be wide enough that a turtle can fit into it. There should also be darkness so turtles feel safe. 

Hiding spots are safe places for them to go when they want to be alone. If you have an indoor tank, then you can use a cardboard box with holes cut out for the turtle to crawl into. Alternatively, you can use some rocks and wood logs too.  The box should be just enough for them to fit, but not so big that they can move around freely.

Climbing obstacles

Box turtles love to climb on rocks and other obstacles. Whether it is a tank or a larger backyard area, these turtles need something to climb on. Box turtles are happiest when their environment looks like their natural habitat. Adding a few rocks for them to climb will keep them engaged and entertained throughout the day. There are plenty of artificial rock structures available online that you can buy or you can make one your own.  


Adding a few plants to your box turtle tank would help them get the right nutrition. While it makes your tank look great, it also is a great way to feed your box turtle in a more natural way. 

You can use your old plants and cuttings from the house or garden. They will grow very fast and will give your turtles a natural source of food. You can also buy some new plants for your turtles.

You should know that you can’t just add any plant to your tank. Some plants have poisonous leaves, so you should be careful when you are adding them to your tank. If you want to add some plants to your tank, you can buy them at a pet store. You can also get them from the internet. It’s a good idea to do research before you buy a plant. For more information read our article on turtle safe plants.


In conclusion, the box turtle enclosure should include:

  • plenty of dry areas to walk around
  • 8-10 cm deep substrate bedding (best would be coconut fiber)
  • a shallow water dish for the turtles to drink and soak in;
  • a basking area with a UV light setup
  • plenty of turtle safe plants for them to eat 
  • hiding spots and climbing obstacles

 With all these in place, you can enjoy watching your box turtles grow.