Creating a Terrestrial Enclosure and Aquatic Tank In-One!
Dubbed the “Zen-Quarium” we decided to create a semi-aquatic habitat for our new African Side Neck Turtle, Theo. This all-in-one terrestrial and aquatic enclosure are a great way to provide your pet with an enriching, naturalistic habitat. Semi-aquatic turtles require both land and water in their habitat in order to thrive. In this article, we will discuss how Our Animal Care Manager, Kasey created a beautiful pond-like environment for our African Side Neck Turtle! Be sure to wach the full build video here: Building an ALL-IN-ONE Terrestrial Enclosure and Aquarium For Our Turtles! | Zen Habitats.
Beginning the Reptile Enclosure Build - The Materials:
Kasey began by selecting an aquarium that would allow our Zen Habitats to sit flush above the water. The tank she used measures in at 4x2x2 and holds 120 gallons of water, which is the ideal amount for a turtle up to 12” in carapace length. A good rule of thumb is providing 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell. The turtle that will be residing in this habitat reaches a maximum size of 7-12" once full grown, which means little Theo has plenty of swimming room! Above the tank, Kasey placed a Zen Habitats deluxe stacking spacer to make it easier to clean the tank, tend to the heater and filter, and feed Theo and any fish or invertebrate tank mates he may have in the future. On top of the deluxe spacer, we have our Meridian 4x2x2 PVC reptile enclosure that will act as the land portion of the setup. Once complete, our entire turtle habitat will measure 5’x2’x2’ and offer over 240 US gallons of space for our turtle!
Modifications To The Reptile Enclosure
To achieve her vision, Kasey had to make some minor customizations and adjustments to the habitat. Starting by cutting a small hole in the bottom of the 4x2x2 Zen Habitat enclosure to allow the turtle to enter the land portion. Kasey glued a small rim around the hole as a substrate lip to reduce the amount of dirt falling into the water.
In order to illuminate the tank, holes were drilled underneath the Zen Habitat and two LED plant lights were zip-tied in place. Adding these lights will help sustain our aquatic plants and give Theo access to full-spectrum lighting while she’s swimming. Once the modifications were complete, a linear UVB light, an LED grow light, and a 90-watt halogen basking bulb were added to the 4x2x2 Zen Habitats enclosure using the interior mounting bars. Finally, a misting system was installed to the land portion of the enclosure using the convenient grommet on the back wall of the enclosure.
Time for Decorations! Hardscape and Planting
Providing a natural setup with turtle-safe enrichment was the priority when planning this build. Since many turtles will taste test the plants in their habitat, choosing edible plants is particularly important should they choose to snack on their décor!
Kasey added Josh’s Frogs tropical bioactive substrate mix and a bag of leaf litter to sustain our cleanup crew of isopods and springtails. A Zen Cave was added underneath the halogen lamp to create the perfect basking spot.
Cat grass, clover, and mood moss were planted in the substrate to provide ground cover. These plants grow readily under full-spectrum lighting and are a delicious snack for turtles as well!
To finish off the land portion of the build, a Meridian Zen stone background was added; which definitely tied the entire enclosure together!
For the aquatic portion, Kasey wanted to create a space that resembled the bottom of a pond, without overcrowding the swimming area. A simple setup will keep the water less murky and create a tank that is easy to clean and maintain. After adding a layer of natural colored sand to the bottom of the tank, a piece of driftwood was chosen as the centerpiece. Kasey mentions that the driftwood may leak tannins into the water, and explains that although it may discolor the water, tannins are not harmful to the animal. In fact, tannins provide several benefits, such as lowering pH and improving the overall quality of the water.
A large cork tube was selected as a ramp for our turtle to be able to climb from the water onto her land area. The rough, grooved texture of the cork ensures Theo will be able to climb up out of the water with ease. The center beam on the aquarium provides support for the cork tube so it does not slip into the water.Amazon sword and hornwort were Kasey’s choice of aquatic plants. Both hornwort and amazon sword are easy to grow aquatic plants that are safe for our turtle to munch on. Interestingly, as long as the roots are not entirely damaged, these plants can be eaten all the way back and will often still regrow. As a final touch to the tank, Kasey added frog bit, which is a hardy floating plant that looks very natural and completes the desired “pond look.”
Introducing the “Zen-Quarium” - The Final Result
After the final touches were added, the “Zen-Quarium" was complete! Kasey explains although the enclosure is finished, she is waiting to add our turtle to the habitat to allow time for the plants to establish themselves. She also plans on introducing some aquatic cleanup crew, such as guppies, snails, and fresh water shrimp once the tank cycles.
What are your thoughts? Are there any changes or modifications you would’ve made for the setup? Make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and to watch the full video of Kasey introducing Theo to her new home!