How to Set Up a Tortoise Table

How to Set Up a Tortoise Table

When you get a tortoise, you have two options – to house it in a wooden vivarium or a tortoise table. This guide is going to focus on tortoise tables – a great choice for Mediterranean, African and Russian tortoises.

Read on for everything you need to know about setting up a tortoise table, including heating, lighting and substrate. And if you’re still not sure which type of tortoise housing to go for, start by reading our handy guide to tortoise tables vs tortoise vivariums.

Tortoise Setup Guide

What is a tortoise table?

A tortoise table is an open-topped enclosure that provides a light and airy environment for your pet. Most of them are made of wood and you can either buy one online or make one yourself. And since a tortoise table is a type of indoor housing, when you’re setting it up you should make sure it mimics the outdoors as much as possible.


 Setting up a tortoise table


Before you buy a tortoise table, it’s important to make sure you choose the right size. In general the size you need depends on the size of the tortoise but the bigger you can make it, the better. The sides should also be high enough that the tortoise can’t climb out.

Here are the recommended tortoise table sizes for different ages.

Under 5 years – 30 x 18 x 6 inches

Over 5 years – 4ft x 2ft x 8 inches


What to put in a tortoise table

When your tortoise first moves into its new tortoise table, we’d recommend just putting the essentials like heating, lighting and substrate in the tank.

Hides and plants can be added later once your tortoise has settled in; if you put them in too soon, it may make the settling in period stressful.

Here’s a round-up of everything you need to put in your tortoise table.


Since tortoise tables are open-topped, it is impossible to set a precise air temperature like you would in a vivarium as the temperature is dictated by the surrounding air temperature. And since tortoises are cold-blooded like snakes and lizards, they need constant access to heat.

As such, your tortoise table should be kept in a room where the temperature doesn’t drop below 72-75℉ (XX- XX℃) during the day or night. When the central heating is turned off, the temperature inside most homes drops a few degrees so you’ll need to make sure that the temperature inside the room that houses your tortoise stays the same.

Many people also ask whether tortoises need a heat lamp – they do. The best way to heat your tortoise table is with a ceramic heat lamp like this. Put it in one corner of your tortoise table and leave it switched on 24 hours a day to provide a heat spot where your tortoise can warm itself up whenever it needs to. If your house gets too cold for a tortoise at night (like most UK homes do), you may need to leave your heat lamp switched on for longer.



You’ll need to put a thermometer at each end of the tortoise table to monitor the temperature near the basking lamp and at the cool end of the table. A thermometer like this would be perfect.

Remember to ALWAYS test the temperature from the same height as the top of the tortoise’s shell (NOT from ground level) and to take your reading from below the bulb (which is the hottest area).



UV light is essential for every tortoise – regardless of its age – to provide it with vitamin D and prevent a condition called Metabolic Bone Disease. It should be switched on for 12-14 hours a day (and always turned off at night). Lots of people put their tortoise lighting on a timer so they turn on and off automatically.

When it comes to choosing lighting for your tortoise table, you have three lamp/bulb options:

Compact and combination lamps tend to be the most effective and value for money, and there are plenty to choose from on Amazon.



There are a couple of different substrates that are suitable for a tortoise table. A young tortoise will need approximately 2 inches of substrate, which should be made deeper as your tortoise gets older so that they can dig and bury. Here’s what you can use for tortoise substrate:

  • Pellet bedding (made from compressed grass and pressed into pellets)
  • Aspen (natural, odourless, dust-free and absorbent)
  • Sterilised topsoil

It’s a good idea to line your tortoise enclosure with pond liner or thick plastic to avoid any seeping of substrate or water.


Hiding places

Tortoises love to have a safe hideout to retreat to and sleep in. You could buy one or you could make one out of a plastic container with a hole in the front to exit and enter.


Water bowl

It’s important to have a water bowl with fresh water which is replenished daily. That way your tortoise has constant access to water whenever it gets thirsty (here are some good ones).


Where to put your tortoise table

This type of tortoise table is recommended for indoor housing. And we’d suggest putting it in a quiet part of the house (away from other pets, lively children, etc) to avoid any unnecessary stress for your tortoise. A bright area, with no direct sunlight, free from drafts and with a nearby power supply would be ideal.

Tortoise table plans

Once you’ve got all your tortoise table accessories, it’s a good idea to take a look at a tortoise table plan to decide where to put everything. Here’s a simple diagram to show you how to set up your enclosure.

Tortoise Table Plan


And there you have everything you need to know about setting up a tortoise table! If you’re ready to get started setting up your own, take a look at the great selection of tortoise tables on Amazon or stay on our blog for even more tortoise advice.