Turtle Basking Area
Key Basking Tips:
Turtle’s are cold blooded and require areas outside their tank to bask, part of typical reptile body temperature regulation
Basking area should be correct temperature for species (typically between 85 and 95 degrees F)
Must be escape-proof
Must dry and easily accessible to your turtle
Must accommodate appropriate basking lighting
Basking areas can be tricky for larger turtles
Turtles are cold blooded, more formally known as ectothermic, and require an external heat source in order to regulate their body temperature. Basking, or in human terms, sunbathing, is a method turtles use to regulate their body temperature. When a turtle is basking, they heat up. When the turtle is warm enough or would like to cool down, they jump back into the water. A turtle that is adequately basking and controlling their internal temperature will have a healthy metabolism. Since metabolism is essential for all things life (activity level, digestion, bodily functions) it important your turtle has a place where they can bask. We (humans) do not need heat from external sources to control our body temperature. We are “warm blooded” and regulate our body internally (think about when your body heats up to counteract a chilly day or fight off a virus or cools down by sweating).
The best way to get a sense of this so-called “basking” is to either find a pond with turtles or look it up said “nature” online. Nature shows us that logs and rocks that are accessible from water, dry, and allow for easy reentry (escape) into the water to be the perfect location to spot a turtle in the wild. Why is this? Simple! It is a great basking area. The essence of basking is relatively straight forward. Your turtle needs an area where they can soak up the sun (or lights, see https://www.longliveyourturtle.com/turtle-lighting/). They need to be able to dry off to more efficiently warm up their bodies. This area needs to be easily accessible. In nature, the top of a rock where the slope is relatively gentle or a log does the trick. Turtles are pretty vulnerable when out of the water (because they are slow) and need the basking area to be near the water, this is to jump back into the water if a predator is prowling nearby.
Let’s summarize. Basking areas need the following to be adequate for your turtle:
Accessible from the water (or tank)
Allow for safe reentry
(For aquariums or indoor setups) – Safe from escape
Can accommodate basking lights (see https://www.longliveyourturtle.com/turtle-lighting/ for more info)
In my opinion, setting up a trouble free, aesthetic basking area is one of the most challenging parts of the hobby, but it can be the most rewarding. A basking area is essential and needs to consistently be there for your turtle to regulate their body temperature and get the equivalent of a day of sun. For smaller turtles there are great options. For larger turtles, there are not. One of the best things you can do for your turtle is optimize their tank space. This means give them as much space to swim as possible. Small decorations are ok but stacking rocks and logs trying to give them a place to get out of the water is a huge waste of space. You also cannot use all the space when you use a screen top as you need to allow room between the basking dock and screen (lose a few inches). You also have to be aware of where your basking lamp is. If it is too close, your turtle could get scorched, too far away and it is useless.
The optimal location of a basking dock is above the tank. However, there are very few options you can buy at a store that takes advantage of this ( on example that exists! https://amzn.to/2qqked6). Instead there are only really floating docks sold at pet stores. These are foam ramps that float on the water and are held in place by suction cups. These can be hit or miss. They are great for small turtles. Small turtles are light and don’t rough up the suction cups. Large turtles however, can be too heavy and rough for these docks. Therefore, making one is an excellent alternative! See one example of a design here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2w-OfAv13M. Yes this can be a lot of work but you have the freedom to design your own and give your turtle what they want! And you can pat yourself on the back for the job well done. See some more examples below!
Below is a selection of basking docks for specific sized turtles. For bigger turtles, these options become less awesome, but they do exist.
** At this size turtle, making your own basking dock can be the best option as commercial options using suction cups can be too weak for larger turtles. You can also add a nesting area in a DIY dock. Check out this DIY above tank basking dock “HOW TO BUILD” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2w-OfAv13M