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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
 Vol 2, Issue 1  
Jan, 2006
Building an outdoor turtle enclosure
In this Issue

by Mark Chapple

Snake–necked turtles are a hardy reptile that take to captivity well. While they can live in a heated tank for many years, we decided to build an outdoor enclosure for Shelley, our turtle. It would be a simple matter to have and indoor for winter and an outdoor enclosure for the summer months but the climate is mild enough, with no frosts and rarely any sub-zero temperatures, for Shelley to live outdoors permanently. They were also known to live in the local wetlands.

There were a few things that had to be taken into consideration.

  • It had to be large so a pond could be made that was big enough to house a snake-necked turtle and aquatic plants she could hide amongst
  • The turtle also needed to be able to get out onto dry land easily and.
  • The cage needed measure to prevent escape by digging (we also pop the blue tongues into the enclosure during the summer months)
  • It had to be too high to climb out of
  • Have enough protection to prevent predators (birds, foxes) taking any animals from within the enclosure

We also wanted to be able to sit around it and use it as garden decor.

Initially we tried to build a concrete pond. A large hole was dug, about 4ft x 3ft and 18'' deep. Chicken mesh was then used to mould the shape within the hole and hold the cement in place (U shapes pieces of wire inserted into the ground held it in place). This worked well and the pond looked quite good. However the treatment we used for the cement to prevent leakage leached into the water and poisoned it. It seemed to keep on coming out of the cement, no matter how often we changed the water so we decided to break this structure down and opted for a heavy duty plastic liner, which has been very successful. There are probably non-toxic water treatments available but we had no knowledge of these at the time.

It was important when digging the pond hole to make tiers for the various plants within the pond and also to make tiers around the top edge. The plastic liner is held in place using flat rocks placed on it on the top tier. The liner also extends out beyond the holding rocks into the mulched area, hiding it and making the whole scene more natural (see diagram). When you purchase your liner, you need to make sure that the lining piece is large enough to go down into the pond, cover the tiers and also extend out beyond the pond boundaries.

The enclosure itself is made from sturdy timber posts - we used about 5 8ft x 8'' x 3'' sleepers. These are buried into the ground and timber walls are attached to timber on the side of the posts. Solid timber pieces go around the top using coach screws recessed into the timber so people can sit on them and look into the enclosure.

Around the base of the enclosure between the posts we hammered thick wire (fencing wire) pieces about 8'' into the ground every inch or so (we actually cheated and bent 16'' piece into a U shape and hammered these into the ground). These create an underground “cage” that prevent the animals digging their way out. An alternative is to bury iron or cement sheeting into the ground to a depth of about 8-10 inches.

Once the enclosure was completed we planted some hardy native plants and grasses, added some timber, rocks and iron sheets and mulched the entire area.

To stop the predators we purchased some bird netting and some elastic “rope”. The "rope" was threaded through the netting and tied off to make a cover that can be stretched over the top of the enclosure and removed easily for access.

Shelley has been living out there for three years now and is very happy – turtles seem to smile. She always comes to the surface to say hello (probably to check for food if I was honest with myself) and we sometimes find her sunning herself on the rocks.

If you have the room around your home I can recommend an enclosure like this. Visitors love to sit around it and it is a decorative and functional addition to any garden.


outdoor turtle enclosure
Outdoor pond - side view detailing structure.

Below is a series of images of the turtle enclosure. Click on images for larger view in new window.

outdoor turtle enclosure
Outdoor Turtle Cage
outdoor turtle cage pond detail
View from the top
snake necked turtle sunbaking
Shelley sunbaking after a meal
snake necked turtle in pond
Happy viewing from the cover of plants
sunbaking blue tongue lizard
Sasquach enjoying a touch of sun

So Close, If It Was A Snake It Would've Bit You

by Michelle T. Nash ,

My daughter's 4+ ft. corn snake (named Sam) went missing about a month ago from a cage in the bathroom. At first I thought he might have gone down the drain in the sink because we don't keep the stopper plug in the drain so it was a very inviting dark hole. But the thought of him having to work his way beyond the water sitting in the drain trap under the sink made me think he would've backed up and gone somewhere else. As the bathroom is right next to the door that leads to the basement I figured he probably headed down the stairs. It was likely he would be following the scent of mice that inhabit our basement in spite of the two mice munchers (my cats) that I count on to control the mice population. Rather than doing nothing, I have been laying warm-box-with-dead-mouse traps all over the basement almost nightly hoping he would happen upon them, eat the mouse, and stay in the warm box to digest. To our disappointment, these efforts weren't producing our walk-about snake. (or should I say "slither-about snake" Ha Ha ) In the past, I had tried this trick in neighbor's homes and had great luck recapturing their free roaming pet snakes.

Well, today my 8 year old son walked into the powder room then walked out and said, "Mommy, is that Speedy in the bathroom or Sam?" (Speedy is his corn snake, Sam is my daughter's). I was a bit confused as we haven't been housing any snakes in the bathroom for at least 4 weeks so I wasn't quite sure what he meant. It took me a moment to realize he had just spied the missing snake! I jumped up, ran in and found him curled in the sink with the lower half of his body still firmly enclosed in the drain pipe. Of course this was a "Kodak moment" so I grabbed the camera and shot a few pics while he gingerly worked the rest of his long body out of the pipe with as much dignity as a snake, who'd been in the bowels of a home for a month, could. Unbelievable! He was totally unscathed and didn't even look dirty!
(though I did take the opportunity to give him a good rinsing off after being down the pipes for a month) Ewwwww!

We quickly thawed a fuzzy-size mouse and offered it to him. After nuzzling it a bit he ate it with a little reservation but seemed happy to have had a meal when finished. We hadn't yet put him into his cage so he was still on the bathroom counter while he ate his fuzzy, this was immediately followed by a not-so-lovely stool. Again, Ewwwww! After all that you'd think he'd done enough, but then he decided he needed to shed. Guess I would want to shed too if I'd been slinking through the sludge of our house pipes for 4 weeks. When he was all done we at last returned him to the nice warm box in his tank where he's happily taking a much needed nap. After all this, I am reminded that it is generally true that snakes don't roam far from where they escaped. He came back to us just a few inches from where he disappeared!

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In the News...
Tell Us What You Think and Next Edition

Thanks again to those who have sent pictures of their reptile cages. There are some really nice examples - including the owners reptiles. Thanks to Rob Leeds for latest pics of his final cage, including the fake wall, and the Jungle Carpet Python happily residing therein.

I'm currently developing some additional material for the next edition of the "How to build enclosures for reptiles" book.

This includes:

  • another arboreal cage type that has an uninterrupted
    front viewing area (that is easily altered to other dimensions)
  • how to make and decorate glass vivariums for small and aquatic herps
  • how to make a simple but sturdy cage stand.

I have completed a lot already but still have some way to go. These will be free to current purchasers upon completion.

I would like some feedback on whether to add them as other books or have them as separate downloads i.e. is the book size too large and would the it be better broken into smaller units?

Thanks to those who have given me feedback. I always want to know of your achievements, good and bad.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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