What features should you look for?
Since tortoises need daylight, you will have to buy a sun lamp to ensure they get enough UVA/UVB rays; this affects the choice of enclosure in two ways.
Firstly, you should look for a table with an arm attached to clip the lamp onto it. Then you should also check that there is enough space away from the lamp for your tortoise to be out of the ‘hot spot’ since they don’t want to be under it all the time. The bulb should be suspended at a minimum of 12 in (30 cm) from the top of the tortoise’s shell so check the length of the arm when browsing.
Unlike other reptile vivarium’s, tortoises need an open top, so either the table/enclosure has to be completely open with high sides or have a mesh top to allow maximum airflow. If you put your tortoise in a closed vivarium with small air vents, it’s likely to be more prone to sickness and may not grow as quickly or be as healthy.
By nature, tortoises are a little shy, they’re not super needy, and they don’t like to be in the centre of it all in the way that perhaps a dog would, so privacy is really important. Not only do we recommend opaque sides to stop the tortoise from looking out, but we also recommend looking for a table with a built-in hideaway.
While you can always buy a hideaway at a later date, built-in ones can’t be tipped over by your tortoise, and they often have hinged roofs that allow you to check on your tortoise without completely disturbing them. Since many species of tortoises hibernate, so a hideaway is an essential component of their environment; plus, it’s not good for them to be under the UVB light all the time; they need cool shaded places as well.
The size you need will naturally depend on how young your tortoise is and what species it is, but as a general rule, a tortoise table is suitable for a hatchling to a juvenile, which means it’s suitable for a tortoise up to about 10-12cm.
For this instance, a tortoise will need a table/enclosure that’s a minimum of 90 cm (35″) long. While this would be fine for the first five years of life for most species of tortoises, try to aim for more than 90 cm. Ideally, you should try to get one as big as you can accommodate to make room for your tortoise’s growth and to allow them to properly roam without constantly being under the UVB light.
If you want to learn more about which size will be suitable for your species of tortoise, then check out our guide on the best tortoises for beginners to find out what size your tortoise is likely to grow to.
Your tortoise enclosure/table is likely to be made up of wood, plastic or glass. While wood is the most common material, this does require specialised sealing and varnishing to make sure dampness doesn’t cause the wood to rot or grow mouldy. Since you can only use a pet-safe sealant, it’s important to do your research, but don’t worry; we talk a little more about this in the FAQ below.
If you can get a pre-varnished table/enclosure, then this will save the work for you. Plastic/resin is also a good choice because it cleans easily, and so does glass, although we don’t recommend having too much glass in an enclosure as tortoises need privacy.