Greenhouses have been used for hundreds of years in an attempt to maintain consistent temperatures and conditions for plants to grow year-round. Often made of glass or different see-through plastics, the sun is able to seep through, providing light and warmth. Many tortoise owners opt to place their pets in greenhouses as well!
But can, and should, tortoises live in a greenhouse? Tortoises can live in greenhouses during the colder months to extend their ability to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. While checking in on the internal temperature regularly is crucial, greenhouses can be an alternative to keeping your tortoise indoors during the winter.
If you are considering building a greenhouse for your tortoises, keep in mind that this will come with additional equipment needs for temperature control. Tortoises live very well in greenhouses, but the structures can often get too warm or too cold in summer and winter months respectively. Read more to find out if greenhouses are right for you!
Why tortoises can live in a greenhouse
In colder months, and times of the year subject to significant rainfall, tortoises should not be left outdoors. Overnight temperature drops are potentially dangerous for them as well as flooding potential from rainfall.
With the inability to swim, flooding presents risk of drowning. Many owners will bring their tortoises inside their homes during this time to keep them warm and dry. Because bringing tortoises, especially if you have multiple, inside your home is not very convenient or suitable for an enclosure, a greenhouse is a great alternative.
Greenhouses provide a warm and sheltered environment for plants and a tortoise well into the winter months. Providing a door or opening for the tortoise to exit into a yard is important as well given that the weather is opportune.
Tortoises need access to direct sunlight, beyond the greenhouse, for their health. Your ability to open and close this door will allow the tortoise to enjoy good weather during the day as well as block them from harm during nighttime and bad weather.
Unlike in a home, tortoises are already outside, so a greenhouse will allow them to roam into their outdoor enclosure with more ease.
Alternatives to greenhouses include:
- Cold frames
- Garage or home
Greenhouses are best for several tortoises of larger sizes living together. Compared to the alternatives, these mimic the natural outdoors really well.
Cold frames are mini greenhouses that are suitable for very small tortoises. However, these do not give much space for the animal to move. Similarly, sheds are good for protection, but often do not provide enough sunlight or ventilation unless specifically designed to.
Finally, garages and homes are serve as an option but may not be structurally set up to accommodate our sweet torts. Roaming around a garage or a home can pose threats to the tortoise’s safety.
Greenhouses provide lots of room for tortoises to roam in a safe and enclosed environment. Make sure unsafe plants and items you do not want eaten are out of reach.
We know that some owners will use greenhouses for their plants at higher levels and set up areas for their tortoises on the ground. This includes areas for shade, lamps for additional warmth, and access to the outside world. This is a really sweet solution!
The Dangers Of Tortoises In Greenhouses
While greenhouses can be extremely beneficial in providing a seamless transition from outdoor to indoor living for a tortoise, they can also be dangerous if mismanaged. Issues arise particularly related to temperature regulation and preventing access to UV rays.
While the see-through greenhouse allows for warmth to come through in the winter time, this is limited to the daytime in sunny conditions. During the nighttime and rainy days, greenhouses can actually be too cold for a tortoise. Having access to heat and consistent temperatures is important for a tortoise to survive.
Bringing in a heater or heating lamps for the tortoise is necessary. Dangers can be presented when it is too hot as well. Overheating is more dangerous for tortoises than being too cold. Strong sun can create a very hot environment within the greenhouse, especially during warmer months.
The heat is trapped and direct sunlight could “cook” your tortoise. Be sure to be particularly careful of this when allowing your tortoise to sleep in the greenhouse overnight.
Once the sun comes up, the heat can overwhelm your tortoise in a very short period of time and lead to death.
Provide shaded opportunities both inside and in the outdoor enclosure. The tortoise will move based on the temperature given that they have options to cool off.
While greenhouses are able to trap heat to keep a tortoise warm, they do not allow the natural rays of the sun to hit the tortoise. Polycarbonate plastic is the most common material used in greenhouses, and it prevents UV rays from penetrating into the structure. UV rays are crucial for a tortoise’s health.
Basking in the sun is a mandatory activity for the tortoise to survive. Maintaining temperatures of 85-90 Fahrenheit during the day is necessary for digestion. Tortoises need the sun’s rays to metabolize their food. Access to clear daylight must be available in order to allow for this process to occur.
Make sure you keep your tortoise on the ground of the greenhouse and not on tabletops. These can be particularly dangerous as they reach higher temperatures much more quickly and have no place to escape. This also poses risk of injury being at a great height and the potential of the tortoise falling off the structure.
As we explained in this article, tortoises do not really jump: “Can tortoises jump?”
Tortoises are at a much greater risk of overheating if:
- They are small: less body mass means faster overheating
- They are sick or injured
- Are blind or having visual impairments: may not be able to move easily
Special attention must be paid to creating a suitable environment in a greenhouse if you choose this housing option. They can be a great home for a tortoise, but require attention. Pay special attention to the risks of overheating as they can be the quickest demise for your tortoise!
How To Make a Greenhouse Safer For Your Pet Tortoise
Given that there are risks involved, you can take steps to making a tortoise’s greenhouse home positive and safe.
Proper attention to keeping the environment as consistent as possible is crucial. When setting up a greenhouse for your tortoise, these are important factors to adhere to:
- Temperature regulation
- Mimic outdoor environment
As the section of the greenhouse risk mentioned, overheating or being too cold are dangerous for a tortoise. To regulate the temperature during warm months, make sure there is ventilation in place. Proper airflow and the ability to eliminate heat in a space that receives significant sunlight is crucial.
This will require testing of internal temperatures in different conditions to ensure your ventilation is suitable in all situations.
The same can be said for when it is colder. Access to heat lamps may be necessary to allow for a tortoise to maintain its proper room temperature needs as well as their basking warmth during the day.
Tortoises require UV rays to metabolize food and carry out daily functions. When in a greenhouse, the materials blocking out the rays cause a problem. This can be resolved multiple ways. Firstly, if there is access to the outdoors during the day, the tortoise can move to an area in which it can get natural sunlight.
UV lamps are also very popular in maintaining internal temperatures and giving tortoises their needed “sunlight.” Having these available within a greenhouse will replicate real-life sun conditions.
On the other side, too much sunlight will still lead to overheating. This requires you to provide shade for your animal. In the wild, tortoises will seek shade or burrow to prevent overheating.
Giving an option for tortoises to dig within the greenhouse is also a way to ensure overheating does not occur. This will require areas of dirt that a tortoise can dig into and create a safe and shaded space.
If possible, vegetation, rocks, and dirt are important to replicating a tortoise’s natural environment. Vegetation not only provides potential sustenance, but serves as a form of shade.
Replicating the outdoor environment makes your tortoise comfortable and also does not create a large difference from its indoor to outdoor enclosure. It will be able to go about its normal routine in all weather conditions if these accommodations are met.
If it all possible, make the tortoise’s greenhouse southward facing for the most optimal sun exposure. While this may be difficult logistically depending on the orientation of your space, this is best if afforded the choice.
Now with all this information, you can decide if building a greenhouse is the best idea for your tortoise! While it requires a fair amount of planning and monitoring, it may best replicate the natural environment of a tortoise.
Easy indoor and outdoor transition will allow them to enjoy the outdoors for more time throughout the year. The more natural sunshine a tortoise can enjoy, the happier and healthier they will be!