I’m guessing this will sound far more complicated than it is but the bold steps are the short answer and a little more description is after that (trust me I could go on forever. send me any questions you have and stay tuned for part 2 with more details about the upper level)
1. I connected the wire shelves together using the little circle things it comes with, along with some zip ties here and there for added security.
Note: you need to make sure the connector thingies are all facing the same way or it won’t stay and it’ll come apart ( i.e. all the flat circle parts facing down or the X you use to connect facing down. One going the wrong direction will just float there and fall apart).
2. Line the whole thing with shower curtain liners or tarps ( you’ll need two at least to get it to fold in the right places and fit odd shapes )
3. Attach these to the enclosure frame. I used binder clips and duct tape, making sure you don’t have duct tape (especially sticky side) accessible to the inside of the terrarium.
4. Line the inside and the sides of the outside with linoleum tiles. You can get all kinds but I know they’ve got a cheap box full at Family Dollar. Try and get things as close together as possible. Those trouble making shells can very easily rip that down if they see any edges up. You don’t want the glue accessible to them. I used some binder clips I had around the top to secure the curtain liner and the tiles on the sides because they don’t always stay the way you want them to. Get crafty (I used the clips because I’d moved and didn’t have other supplies and really wanted Z to get into an enclosure asap.
5. After that I just lined the outside with black textured contact paper for more security and to match my couch hah.
6. Let it sit for a bit, make sure it feels secure, nothing sticky, poking out, etc. I added a 2 bags of play sand and about 8 bricks of coconut coir substrate inside. Placed the water bowl, a log hide (Z out grew that and now I have a faux log hide thats XL and made of ceramic). Added some plants (that no matter how many times you try and replace them they’ll die within 1/2 days) and an added hide on one of the cooler ends as well.
7. Set up your UVB/UVA lamps so that you have a basking spot of 95 with cooler end(s) of about 70. I use a lamp stand for uvb/uva bulbs, power sun uvb/uva bulb , added daylight bulb to get the temperature gradient right (especially in winter). The best way to test this is a temp gun. you can get them at a hardware store and reasonably priced. Its in my top 5 most necessary tortoise owner supplies.
8. Next I added the upper level, Zoya’s castle, which is a rebuild of a previous version. I built it out of two wooden picture frames and a combo of pieces of wood I found all in the as in bin at Michaels nailed/ glued together to make a box. The castle top was found at micheals in the wood section as well. Once the box was made I attached it to 4 legs (in my case they were wooden banister parts I had laying around and cut to size, you can find wood table legs at any hardware store for cheap, just wood sticks that you secure.) nail em in with and you’ve got the castle. The ramp is actually a plastic drain pipe runoff I saw at home depot (and didn’t know what it was) but sparked this whole idea. I like the one I have because its got dents to look like rocks, but actually helps zoya have some grip when climbing in and out. I’ll go into more but she loves the heck out of that thing. Just make sure you don’t make it to easy to climb up and then over the edge of the terrarium. Spidey torts will love that.
9. In the winter I add a warm mist humidifier to the room to maintain humidity (and it helps me not get nose bleeds!) and a ceramic heat emitter. I have this on a zoo med thermostat that maintains the temperature of the basking spot reasonably well, not letting the temp get overly hot and getting it warmer if needed. It has a set up for a night time temperature drop so the ceramic heater can help keep the enclosure ‘night time cold’ but not winter in Massachusetts at night cold.
Lessons from this enclosure:
So I’ve used this method twice (moved 3 times but used something else when in the UK) and it’s been affordable and customizable (important in a strangely shaped studio) and maintained temps and humidity ..,.until recently. The larger the enclosure has become, the harder it’s been to maintain humidity levels (especially in the winter). This isn’t unusual but something that definitely needs to be addressed. The warm mist humidifier near the terrarium, and taking cleaning the substrate by pouring boiling water onto it and mixing it all together then letting it cool, before putting her back in, works pretty well.
The next thing I’d say about this method is that it makes changing out the substrate completely really difficult. This isn’t simply because there’s a lot, it’s also due to the lack of sturdy support underneath the enclosure to grip and help dump out. This has become a big issue lately as well. Cheap shower liners are no match for little trouble makers like Zoya that work hard to dig or climb every nook and crany in their enclosure. Any little tear that exists becomes a giant disaster when you try and lift pounds of substrate with it. At this point I wish I had a more mobile (wooden pretty much) enclosure but I think this one is doing ok for her.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased with the way these wire shelves have worked so far, allowed me to make a large enough enclosure for a really low price, adjust it (with effort) as Zoya grows, and that fits my apartment well when not much else does (including MY bed).
Sorry to be so wordy again but figured my ‘lessons learned’ could help someone else improve upon this DIY. If you’ve made it this far you get a gold star at tortoises, turtles, Zoya, and a shot of something for not unfollowing 🙂