1. Welcome! Are you interested in tortoises? If so, we invite you to join our community! Our community is the #1 place for tortoise keepers to talk online. Once you join you'll be able to post messages, upload pictures of your tortoise and enclosure, and discuss any tortoise topic with other tortoise keepers. Get started today!

Converting large aquarium to a tortoise habitat....looking for help

Discussion in 'Tortoise Enclosures' started by primetime34, May 15, 2018.

  1. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
    We've had a 18"x22"x72" saltwater fish tank that is built into one of the walls of our home (it was there when we bought it). However, after 2.5 years of maintaining it, we have decided that it really isn't something we have a passion for, and thus, we don't want to continue spending money on it. As a family, we decided we'd like to set up a tortoise habitat with lots of plants, flowers, etc (and of course a tortoise :D ...probably a Greek from a local rescue). I know I have to put something around the front of the enclosure so the tortoise doesn't bang into it repeatedly. :D

    So, I have a handful of questions (to start with)

    1. I have an existing 60" T5HO ballast with 6 bulbs in it (for the coral). Can/Should I repurpose this for the lighting? Or should I look at a different setup?

    2. What would be the best substrate? Organic potting soil? The coconut husk stuff? Peat moss?

    3. Which substrate will be best for raising various plants in?

    4. We haven't decided on all the plants we want to put in, but a few thoughts are: cactus, mint, basil, pansies....those are all fine according to the Tortoise Table plant database...other popular type plants for the enclosure?

    5. I know air circulation can be an issue. What about a small fan, mounted on one side, for air circulation? In addition, could I put a small mister, that, on a timed schedule, would mist into the fan (which would also be on a timer)?

    6. My wife is interested in putting a bonsai tree in it. Is this possible? If not, anything similar?

    7. Obviously we want levels for this so it isn't just one level...any pictures or inspirations for that?

    I think that's it for now (although I'm sure I'll have lots more questions as we go along). Thanks!
  2. mikeylazer

    mikeylazer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2015
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    201
    Trophy Points:
    43
    (These ads do not appear for registered members.)
    I dont know enough about Greeks in general. Here is what I can chime in on at the very least and make it sound as simple as possible.

    The tortoises will need both spectrums (A and B) of light. Sometimes you will see a strip light with a uvb (B light) bulb and a basking lamp for heat (A light). You can also get a MVB (mercury vapor bulb) that you can look at as essentially a “mini sun” so its full spectrum.

    I doubt you will be able to plant much in the enclosure itself, as 18” width is very minimal and arguably unideal for housing a full sized greek (someone may object). Never plant cactus because of the spines, but succulents that are tortoise (food) safe would be okay. I would grow everything outside of the tank, and feed as necessary.

    The fan is not needed. A humidifier can be if humidity levels are not high enough. I am not familar with Greek reqs as i said, but a lot of species require high levels of humidity so they dont pyramid during growth, so you essentially want to have a closed top so that the moisture in the air is %80+.

    No to the bonsai it will get decimated and its probably toxic.

    Levels are tough but i assume someone has done it. Remember that they arent great climbers and they arent going to be fond of going up and down.

    Hopefully someone will chime in who knows more about Greeks and help you out!
    primetime34 likes this.
  3. TechnoCheese

    TechnoCheese Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2016
    Messages:
    2,680
    Likes Received:
    2,143
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Lewisville, Texas
    Welcome to the forum!
    I figure I’ll let you know that that tank is probably too small for anything but a pancake tortoise. It’s definitely not enough room for a full grown Greek, which should have a minimum enclosure size of 6x3 feet, 8x4 being optimal. It’s a good size for a hatchling or juvenile of most species, though.
    MireyaMurphy likes this.
  4. daniellenc

    daniellenc Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2017
    Messages:
    1,754
    Likes Received:
    1,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Maryland
    I'm not sure I'd bother since it won't provide enough room for anything over 3-4 inches in length. Maybe make it a greenhouse for fresh tort food though and build or buy a cage?
    MireyaMurphy and TechnoCheese like this.
  5. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
    Ok. After measuring the cabinet it sits in, I'm going to put a 8'x3.5' glass aquarium in the same space. It won't all show from the outside, but it will provide sufficient space for the tortoise. With that being said, what about all my questions? Only the size one has been answered. :D Thanks
    TechnoCheese likes this.
  6. mikeylazer

    mikeylazer Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2015
    Messages:
    310
    Likes Received:
    201
    Trophy Points:
    43
    You can definitely build a great greenhouse very easily for indoors and its super cheap. I have shared to build guides on the forum!
    daniellenc likes this.
  7. TechnoCheese

    TechnoCheese Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2016
    Messages:
    2,680
    Likes Received:
    2,143
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Lewisville, Texas
    Here are the ones I can answer-
    2. Fine grade orchid bark is the best, but you can also use peat moss, coco coir, or cypress mulch.
    3. Out of those, probably coco coir or peat moss.
    4. Any plant you put in will likely be trampled or eaten.
    5. Tortoises really don’t need much circulation. If it’s not airtight, there isn’t much of a problem.
    6. I wouldn’t, because the soil it’s on is probably treated with something, so you would likely have to wait a year before planting it. Not sure if it’s safe.
    7.not sure what you mean by levels. Could you elaborate a bit?
  8. katieandiggy

    katieandiggy Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2018
    Messages:
    640
    Likes Received:
    707
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location (City and/or State):
    Suffolk, United Kingdom
    Hi, I’m by no means an expert but I’ll tell you what I do.

    1. I use a T8 10% desert UVB strip light. I know the T5 lights are better. You need to make sure the height is right... I’m not sure what the top of your tank is like? Can you post a picture? You will also need a basking lamp. And several digital thermometers/hydrometer would be good so that you can keep an eye on all your temperatures. Another tortoise parent must is an IR thermometer, I was sceptical as I have several digital thermometers already in my tank, but this thing is amazing.
    Are you aware of what your temperature should be for the species?

    2. Personally I like a nice layer of moist coco coir, and on top I use fine grade orchid bark. My bark stays relatively dry but the coco coir underneath stays nice and damp creating a micro climate. As you are going for an adult Greek you won’t need to worry about humidity as much.

    3. I think plants do better in small pots that are sunk into the substrate. I think some people have had limited success growing plants in things like coco coir or sterilised top soil. Plus let me tell you your plants will not last 5 mins lol they will be eaten or trampled to the ground in 5 minutes.

    4. Can’t help here. Obviously tortoise table is great. I have some spineless cactus plants in mine, but to be honest all the rest are fake plants as I’m waiting on stuff to grow from scratch. You have to be sure that what your tortoise is going to eat is pesticide free, so most of what you buy from garden places is not good.

    5. I don’t use a fan or mister but I spray the enclosure with water a couple of times per day but I guess you could set up a mister to come on once a day or so ,I use a vivarium and mine had 4 small grills at the back so I don’t worry about air circulation.

    6. Not sure on bonsais there are so many different types you would need to check the specific one that you plan to use.

    7. Can’t help there either I’m afraid. Mine is all one level at the moment as my tort is tiny and his home is only temporary. But there are plenty of great ideas on here hopefully someone will help.
  9. daniellenc

    daniellenc Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2017
    Messages:
    1,754
    Likes Received:
    1,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Maryland
    Size counts:p
  10. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    42,789
    Likes Received:
    20,944
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Southern California
    Before we get to the questions, you don't need anything around the front and the tortoise likely won't bang into it. This is a persistent myth.

    Your questions:
    1. I've never heard of a 60 inch HO tube. Are you sure it isn't a bank of 46" tubes? 6 bulbs sounds a bit too much. 2 will probably do it. You can add more if needed. The question is: What type of bulbs are in there? And what kind should you use?
    2. Bought in a bag soil is risky because you can't know what composted material it is made of, it frequently has additives, and its also messy. Peat and coco coir are also very messy. Fine grade orchid bark works best.
    3. Probably best to do the plants in pots to give them the soil they need. They will also quickly be eaten or trampled if you don't.
    4. Not sure cactus will do well indoors. Cactus need heat and full sun. The other stuff sounds fun, but remember that your tortoise will eat and destroy all of that. Also be aware that sotre bought decorative plants are grown with systemic pesticides. Make sure whatever you use is form a safe source.
    5. Unless you make an air tight lid, air circulation won't be an issue. This is another myth.
    6. As long as it isn't toxic, the tortoise can run it over, and it can survive indoors, then I see no reason why not.
    7. I've experimented with this many times over the years. I've never found a satisfactory way to make it work. One level works best. Perhaps you could mound up the substrate and make some hills?
    Briannesmith1 and TechnoCheese like this.
  11. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    42,789
    Likes Received:
    20,944
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Southern California
    This will be extraordinarily heavy and expensive, but it will look awesome if you can pull it off!
    Briannesmith1 and TechnoCheese like this.
  12. TammyJ

    TammyJ Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2016
    Messages:
    1,684
    Likes Received:
    1,053
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Jamaica
    This sounds interesting. Some pics as you go along would be nice!
  13. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
    Okay...another update with some more information:

    1. I've been using these bulbs for my reeftank https://www.marinedepot.com/ATI_Tru...lbs_for_Aquariums-ATI-UZ1117-FILTBUT5-vi.html and as you can see, there are 60" bulbs for it. Can I find such a thing for a tortoise tank, or do I need to do something different for my lighting...I'd like lighting for both plants (I'll have some hanging if needs be, although I think a few hills with potted plants would look nice) and of course the tortoise.
    2 and 3. Where do I get fine grade orchid bark? I see that both home depot and walmart carry some, but is it going to have additives in it?
    4. I'm planning on growing my plants from seeds (primarily). If I need to put them up "higher' (whether by hanging or in a pot on a hill or on rocks), I can do that.
    5. Good to know about circulation and mister...won't worry about it
    6. I'll have to get her to choose a specific type of bonsai, which we might have to have elevated...I'll post the specific type here once she decides.
    7. Hills (mounds) sound like a good way to start. Maybe a few rocks features as well that have place underneath for the tortoise to hide but adds to the tank.

    Thanks for the ideas. I'll try to put pictures up as I get it set up.
    TechnoCheese likes this.
  14. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    42,789
    Likes Received:
    20,944
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Southern California
    I'm not able to open your link. What is the color rating of your bulbs? If its in the 5000-6500K range then you can use them. You will still need UV, and I don't know of a UV tube the is longer than 46"
  15. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
    Some of them would be in that range, but a bunch of them are blue/purple lights that have a temperature in the 15000K range. I can take those out though...although the bulbs are pretty expensive ($24 each). If there is an equally good method of lighting it that wouldn't require 6 $24 bulbs, I'll do that instead. However, if I need that many bulbs at that price, that's what we'll do. :D
  16. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    42,789
    Likes Received:
    20,944
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Southern California
    There are four elements to heating and lighting:
    1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt floods from the hardware store. I run them on a timer and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them.
    2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a Testudo species.
    3. Light. I use florescent tubes for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most tubes at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish.
    4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. If you want it anyway, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height.
  17. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
    Back to this...where can I get fine grade orchid bark?

    Thanks!
  18. daniellenc

    daniellenc Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2017
    Messages:
    1,754
    Likes Received:
    1,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Maryland
    Lowes, Amazon, and most other garden centers have it.
  19. primetime34

    primetime34 New Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2018
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Idaho
  20. daniellenc

    daniellenc Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2017
    Messages:
    1,754
    Likes Received:
    1,204
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Maryland
    Yes but read what's in the mix. Some use pebbles, charcoal, and plant foods which you do not want. It has to be just plain bark.
Similar Threads: Converting large
Forum Title Date
Tortoise Enclosures Converting playhouse Jun 7, 2015
Tortoise Enclosures converting bookshelf to tortoise table Mar 17, 2014
Tortoise Enclosures Thinking of converting this ... Mar 11, 2014
Tortoise Enclosures Converting a Bookcase Mar 14, 2013
Tortoise Enclosures converting a rabbit hutch into a tortoise home Nov 3, 2012

Share This Page