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Custom 2ft Turtle terrarium with flowing river - waterfall and rock scene
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Published
Oct 03 2016 by FaTe
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My two musk turtles are juniors and not yet adult size. They have been living in my 30L nano tank which is fine for now. However given these turtles grow up to 5 inches long they will need a bigger home.

Big thanks to The Aquatic centre in South Shields for providing the bulk of materials used in this project!
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/1 2nd hand 2ft tank
I managed to find a 2 foot aquarium for free 2nd hand if I picked it up. The tank has a few scratches here and there but once I cleaned it up it was pretty decent looking.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/2 polystrene shaped first coat
Musk turtles have specific needs, no matter what any pet/aquarium shop tells you. They must be able to stick their heads above water without having to swim all the time and although it may not be so often they DO need to get out of the water to bask. With this in mind I decided to make a custom landscape using polystyrene foam
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/3 river bank sides
A view from the top shows how I've used random bits of shaped foam to make up the river bank sides. At the far right there is a diversion to bring the water down to the lipped edge which I intended to be the waterfall back into the tank.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/4 silicone coat sand gravel
NOTE: the top right raised area was later removed due to a change in design.

To bond the anything to the polystyrene and not have it come off only really meant I could use silicone (I didn't want to paint it..). Due to the surface area involved it would take a lot of silicone to work well and that would be pretty expensive. I opted to use white spirits (from local hardware store) mixed at about a 1/4 ratio with black silicone. This thins out the silicone depending how much you mix up. When it was a bit like yoghurt (similar consistency) I used a brush to apply the silicone over the entire surface area top in all the cracks and holes possible. Then I used my hand to spinkled out sand everything and finally top it off with gravel for the river bed. After 24 hours I turned it upside and shook the excess of.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/5 front silicone coat sand
The front was the exact same process and allowed me to touch up any areas on the top that got missed first time around or just didn't bond as well as I wanted.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/6 dark silicone contours
To finish it off I mixed up one last batch of thinned silicone but this time using very little white spirits so it kept a darker colour. I used this batch in random areas all over to give a toned appearance. This photo is when it was still wet and yet to dull out in colour.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/7 landcape fitted white gravel
To fit it in the tank and keep it secure I only trust silicone, it meant more waiting but rather not have it projectile out of the tank if it got loose. I used a fine white gravel for the substrate as turtle tanks do best with full water changes. Thus I didn't want anything too complicated to mess up during cleaning.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/8 dragon rock centre piece
I placed a piece of bog wood as a type of ramp up not knowing if the turtles could pull themselves out on the bank sides yet. All plants are live and have been left in the ceramic rings they come in so I can easily shift them during cleaning.

The rock centre piece is dragon rock kindly given to me by Tim after helping him sort out moving his fish tanks lol.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/9 bog-wood live plants slate
To help with filtration I added in 3 rather big moss balls and some plant clippings from other tanks. My partner was talking about a sunken ship and usually I'm quite against none natural ordainments in tanks but I have to admit they do work in the design and turtles like to hide in the barge quite often.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/10 slate hide pump outlet
As I said earlier the top section is gone from the design, this was to fit a much larger filter pump than I originally intended. To tie in the design I used slate broken up with a hammer and cleaned to cover the area. This completely hides the pump outlet so all you see is consistent water flow along the river from below the slate. Turtles cannot get underneath and love going in the river.
/media/2ft turtle terrarium/11 river bed in action
A view down the tank and along the river bed.
I am extremely happy with the end result. Turtles have an environment with everything they need and it turns out they can pull themselves out of the tank anywhere along the bank sides so the wood is just for them lazy days I guess lol.