In the wild, tortoises spend hours walking, exploring, and searching for food. Ideally, adult captive tortoises should spend all or most of their time outdoors, not inside. Indoor housing should be as brief as possible, for example, overnight only or a short winter stay. If your tortoise has limited access to a big outdoor enclosure, then his indoor pen should be as large and as naturally landscaped as possible.
Tortoises tend to come alive when moved to their outside pens. They love it! There's so much more to see and do than indoors. Weather permitting, hatchlings and youngsters can spend time outdoors as well, just be sure they have adequately shaded damp areas available to avoid overheating and dehydration. Also keep a shallow water dish in a cool and shady area.
I am fortunate to live in a warm, but not hot, climate that allows my tortoises to spend a great deal of time outside on real dirt, among real plants, and under the real sun. :0)
Some of my tortoises, like the Greeks, live outdoors year round, but others I do bring in for nights and the short winter. All adults and subadults live in open top enclosures when indoors, but my smallest Burmese babies live in warm, humid vivariums.
One of the smartest things I've done for my indoor housing is to dedicate a small bedroom to my tortoise enclosures. This room easily stays warmer and more humid than the rest of the house when the door is kept closed.
Indoor basking bulbs are very drying to tortoises and can promote shell pyramiding, but because the tortoise room is so warm, it allows me to reduce the hours I have to burn the basking and/or heating bulbs to generate warmth.
Baby tortoises need higher humidity than adults. Adequate humidity and hydration is extremely important for their well being and also affects their shell development. Higher humidity can be achieved in multiple ways, including using vivariums, humid hides, humid night boxes, slightly damp substrate areas, or a combination of these.
Baby star tortoises, and other tropical tortoises, do well in warm vivarium (fully enclosed reptile cages, closed chambers) type setups with high ambient humidity. See the vivariums page.
Greek tortoises, and other similar dry area species, can be raised in open top enclosures, but they need deep, damp substrate areas for burrowing. This allows them to spend as much time as they wish in a humid environment. See the tables & tubs page.
Adorable, freshly hatched baby Burmese star tortoise in his indoor enclosure.
Outdoors, I keep my star tortoises in several groups divided by size and gender, but indoors (nights, short winter) they are kept alone or in smaller groups depending on their age and personalities. Babies can be kept in larger groups than subadults and adults.
Housing tortoises singly indoors is less stressful for the shy ones and allows them total freedom to do what they like whenever they like with no danger of bullying from others. Another plus of single housing is that it allows you to easily keep track of your tortoises' activity level and health status. You can easily check if each tortoise is active, eating vigorously, basking, pooping regularly, etc.
Separating sexes indoors and outdoors gives females a break from males' constant advances and allows them to eat and rest in peace. Separation also stimulates breeding activity when tortoises are reintroduced.
Of course, housing tortoises singly is more labor intensive and more expensive. It requires more enclosures, light bulbs, heaters, overall space, and electricity.
Related pages: vivariums, tables & tubs, substrates