Using a Tote for a Turtle to Live in?

Topic: I want to get some ideas for my next pet turtle habitat. I have used a 55 gallon aquarium in the past but I want more ground surface area than what an aquarium has to offer. I want the turtle to have the most ground space as possible. What are some good ideas here. Plan on getting some red eared sliders or painted turtles. Would appreciate some help. I could maybe custom make something but don’t have a ton of tools. Prefer something to just buy.


*Awarded Answer
Reply from Adam B:
I can tell you are a great pet owner because your trying to get the “most surface area” for your turtle. And you are right about aquariums only giving the turtle so much space. I gotta say though… an aquarium is much better then what I’ve seen some kids put their turtles in. A 55 gallon aquarium is a descent size but custom making a cage is by far superior.

A turtle cage needs to be more “square” like than a tall rectangle like fish aquariums. If you can get a more square or flat like structure with lower walls… then it gives the turtle a lot more space. How about I just go threw some of the cages and habitat setups I have seen being used and what I see the benefits of each style to be. I’ve been owning pet turtles for decades so I’ve been around the bush ‘sort of say.’

Fish Aquariums


This is the most popular turtle habitat and cage set up. Fish aquariums are pretty inexpensive for what you actually get and if you get a discounted deal you can usually find a fish aquarium for one dollar per gallon. No matter how you try to go about setting up a turtle habitat you’re going to have some cost involved. I would say the most popular size for a pet turtle habitat with the fish aquarium is the 40 gallon breeder series.

Preformed Pond Liners

turtle pond This is a hardened plastic that is thick and durable. It holds its shape of a smaller pond and usually has a decorative waterfall involved. For a turtle cage, all you use is the hardened liner. Basically this liner is used like a fish aquarium except there is no glass and only hard plastic.

turtle pond linerThe added benefit is in how much space and depth the turtles get in this habitat. If you insert some stones and floating plants, it’s very easy to keep the tank clean. The downfall to this setup.. it’s very large and bulky for in your home or inside a bedroom. ┬áThis is more a setup for outside or a garage or spare bedroom type of deal.. unless you don’t mind it’s large setup.

Custom Built Cages

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Maybe you can utilize your woodworking skills to build a custom turtle cage. These work super well for tortoises due to the fact of them not needing a large amount of water. Turtles like red eared sliders need more water and building a custom aquatic tank is pretty difficult. Although… I have seen turtle owners build custom wood tanks combined with fish aquariums to create super “natural” like habitats. Your craftiness skills are the limit with what you can build. Above, I have shared some cool images I could find. Gives you a good idea of what others have done.

Containers and Totes

turtle cage I’m against small containers being used just because it’s not enough space for a turtle but large containers work great. I have seen turtle owners use very large jug like containers and just cut the high sides down to a shorter state. Again.. I’m not telling you how to build or setup your turtle cage.. but instead just giving you some ideas on what other owners have used.

Reply from Keith U:
What makes a huge difference is having the habitat as BIG AS POSSIBLE. That way feces, uneaten food, and decay has less power to pollute the water. I used to use fish aquariums for my pet turtles but then I looked into making custom aquariums at old water out of wood. What you do is build a wooden box with one side of that made out of plexiglass and you seal the entire thing using an epoxy.

You can basically build an aquarium like box that you can still visually see inside of. The cool thing about this is you can make it more of a square design with less height on the walls and more of a spread layout for the turtle. Because a turtle should have shallower waters but have more surface area and volume of water to swim around in. Whereas fish in the aquarium can swim everywhere up-and-down.

This is virtually the best way to go except you need some building skills but maybe you can find a cabinet shop to build something on the side I mean it’s just basically a bear box. Take your dimensions and you can make it wherever you want household and you can paint color and just decided to your liking. Because the size can be accustomed I mentioned you can literally make it as big as possible and as tall as possible they are even calculators online to help you disperse the weight of the water and how high you can have the walls and where you need beams.

I found information online on a bunch of forums and you can do some research as well. A really cool one is known as “monster fish keepers.” These guys basically build custom aquariums as a hobby or lifestyle but they’re very serious. It’s almost like a way of life for them and some of them will even build custom concrete aquariums inside of your house that are thousands of gallons in size.

Reply from Christy K:
I think some of you forget that a lot of us are females and we don’t have these building skills like some of you Men do. And half of our husbands are so busy with fixing things around the house at having them build a custom enclosure or a cage would be asking them to move mountains. My husband is literally so busy with things around the house and in his garage that he doesn’t have even half the amount of time that he needs to do it all. So most of us are stuck just buying fish aquariums and utilizing them to the best of our ability. They do make these little devices that you can build and install them on top of the aquarium so that that can be the land portion for the turtle in the entire aquarium can be at the aquatic portion.

Reply from Megan W:
I’m a long time turtle breeder and most of these average tanks or cages are way to small for turtles. It’s sad that they have to live this way but it’s just how it is. I guess pet fish have the same problem. Turtles have tons of land to roam free around and it’s x10 multiples of what they have in a fish aquarium. It’s best to get a younger turtle that was raised in contained habitat. Turtles that were once in natural habitat never last when force to live in a small box. Hopefully you are full aware of this. And to those that keep turtles in 10 gallon aquariums… I could hit you myself but it probably wouldn’t do any good. My rant is done.

Reply from Sarah F:
She is completely right on all of these habitats being too small for turtles. The most ideal situation would be actually have a big fishpond and just have the turtle run around on it’s daily basis. You could get a small fence that was made of chicken wire it would work out very well because then it’s a large and an adequate size. That’s what I would do in my front yard but we actually have really cold months of the winter here where lots of snow comes and it would freeze over. I’m not really sure how it turtle would handle that but I guess they do live around here so they do get by. Maybe if I did a little research on turtles hibernating during the winter maybe the turtle would just actually going to hibernation and be fine I don’t know.

Reply from Jaycee T:
Relying on your turtle going into hibernation around a fence isn’t going to be a good idea. What you could do is put the turtle in the fishpond during the warmer months of the year and then maybe get a tank in your garage for the cold months. This way the turtle can actually have fun in the larger environment and swim around in the fishpond and then during the cold months just living a tank or an aquarium. That is precisely what I do and the turtles just do fine you just need to make sure that even though they are outside in the fishpond they do need adequate sunlight and you may have to get a light involved.

Posted by Brandon:
I’ve kept a lot of red eared sliders over the years and I would advise for others to own them too. They are great aquatic species that don’t take too large of habitats. I have made wood cages but they are a lot of work. What a friend of mine does is look for old dressors and puts screen over the drawer holes and there are a lot of cool ideas you can use to custom make a wood cage out of other furniture and cabinets and such.

One Comment

  1. janis gonzalez

    I have a yellow belly slider that I adopted from a college grad that no longer had an interest in him. He went from a 10 gallon to a 40 gallon tank & grew like a weed. I keep him at a Deaf school dormitory during the school year and home during breaks. Although his tank isn’t as large as I would like… we take him outside for walks and explore time. We also let him roam around the dorm (under supervised watch. I am moving him back home again & attempting to get him a more exciting habitat. Thank you for all of this information. Hopefully DZ will also enjoy a change.

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