I’m pasting this from another group because the gentleman posting it makes a lot of good points that beginners should be aware of, and I didn’t see a need to mince his words.
Rodney Earl Pettway
May 26 at 11:44pm
Over the years many of us, myself included, have made many of these mistakes, and we have certainly seen them made many times by others. With springtime upon us and many new tortoises hatching into the world I thought it might be helpful to point out some commonly seen errors. Please note: this information is intended solely to be helpful and NOT to ridicule, humiliate, poke fun at, or otherwise hurt anyone’s feelings. I openly admit to making some of these mistakes myself in the past, so let the first finger be pointed at me…
1. Buying a tortoise from the WRONG source. We all know which sources are good and which sources are bad. Some of the new people just getting into reptiles or tortoises don’t know yet. If you are new to the tortoise world, ask around a bit, but do it privately so people can speak more freely. This is what the “Private Message” feature is for.
2. Shopping at, and taking advice from pet stores. There are definitely exceptions to this, but the majority of pet stores don’t know tortoises at all, and give terrible advice. Also, most of the products they sell for tortoises and other reptiles are not just useless and over priced, but sometimes dangerous. Most of my tortoise products come from hardware stores and Walmart or Target type stores.
3. There are lots of good substrates to use. Sand of any kind, rabbit pellets, dry compressed grass pellets, and hay are NOT one of them. If someone has told you to use one of these, I would seriously question anything else they told you too. These substrates are too dry, and in the case of using all sand, it is potentially dangerous.
4. Water bowls. The pet store ones are not suitable. The sides are too steep and they are too tall. You need a shallow one so that if the tortoise ever manages to flip and land in the water, they don’t drown. I like to use terra cotta plant saucers because they are wide, low sided, shallow, offer good traction to tortoise feet and are easy to clean. There are other suitable ones too.
5. Not having a water bowl for a baby is a mistake too. They do NOT get enough water from the food they eat and even though some of them do come from desert type areas they have ways of conserving hydration in the wild that they do not have in captivity. Babies don’t walk around in the hot sun in the middle of the day in the desert. Please allow your baby to get a drink when it wants one.
6. Temperatures. Temperatures are everything to a reptile. Not properly measuring, knowing, checking, adjusting and maintaining the proper temps is a huge mistake. Every tortoise owner ought to have an infrared temp gun and a remote probed thermometer. There are four temps to know and watch. Warm side, cool side, basking spot, and night. You need to know all four of these. This should make it obvious why a single stick on thermometer alone is NOT adequate. One of the biggest mistakes I see is letting a tropical tortoise get too cool, especially at night. They need it dark at night, but also warm. I like ceramic heating elements for this, but colored incandescent bulbs will work too. Please MONITOR your temps. It can literally mean the difference between a healthy, thriving tortoise, and a sick or dead one.
7. Hatchlings of all species should be soaked every day for the first few months. It hurts nothing, and might save their life. This does not mean setting them in their shallow water dish and walking away. They need to be soaked in a tall sided tub with warm shallow water. Water temp should be 85-95 and anywhere from 15-30 minutes is fine. I will soak brand new hatchlings in the morning and then a second time after sunning on a hot day. In most cases, once a day is enough.
8. All tortoises need places to hide and feel secure. Further, I don’t know of a species that won’t benefit from having a real humid hide. It is a mistake to have an open, barren enclosure with nowhere for them to tuck into and hide. If you see them housed in this way in a pet store, it should be a good indicator of where that store stands on tortoise knowledge and their level of proper care. If they can’t drop a simple hide into the enclosure, what else are they NOT doing?
9. This next one is really more of an opinion, but it is shared by many others. In most cases it is a mistake to keep and raise tortoises in pairs. I have seen this cause a lot of problems. Keeping tortoises together will almost certainly lead to dead, sick or injured tortoises at least some percentage of the time. Tortoises do not need a “buddy”. They are solitary animals, not highly social pack animals. Their own species is usually seen as competitors, mates or combatants. They can often get along in the right groups, but they are also just fine all alone. Just because one person has gotten away with this with their own tortoises and it seems like nothing is wrong, does not mean its good advice to be spreading around.
This does vary among the various species. Redfoot and leopard tortoises often get along just fine for example, while sulcatas and russians often don’t.
IF you choose to keep more than one tortoise in an enclosure, you NEED to have an immediate plan and all the equipment and supplies to separate and house them individually, in case there is a compatibility problem. This should be considered part of the purchase price when you buy that second tortoise. If you don’t have the money or the room for additional enclosures, then you don’t have the money or the room for additional tortoises.
I’m not here to debate it, I’m here to share what I and other experienced keepers believe to be a mistake.
To recap: Yes, I know it is not the end of the world and an instant death sentence to keep two tortoises together. But it IS a bad idea. At best it is a compromise, and a tenuous one at that. Many people do it and get away with it, but it is often just a question of time until the luck runs out. We know of lots of example’s where time ran out and fights broke out. As a tortoise owner, I want to give them the best possible chance at success and house them the best way possible. To me, this means not keeping them in pairs.
10. Again with an opinion… I have personally witnessed the death of many tortoises due to mixing species. I recommend against it, and feel that it is a mistake. I’m not here to debate it, I’m here to share what I believe to be a mistake.
11. Diet. Store bought foods are okay, but there is so much more to offer that is better for our tortoises. Many of the alternatives are also free or much cheaper too. Look into weeds like filaree, mallow, hawksbit, dandelion, sow thistle, plantain, clover, wild mustard and garlic, etc… Mulberry leaves. Rose and hibiscus leaves and flowers. Grape leaves. Spineless opuntia cactus pads and its fruit (cactus pear) and Organ pipe cactus. Grasses and hay for some species. Mazuri tortoise chow. ZooMed tortoise chows. Marion red stick tortoise chow. Not to mention the endless supply of things you can grow yourself. The leaves and flowers from any of the squash family plants are great. Sunflower leaves. Pansies, gazanias, nasturtiums, rose of Sharon, etc…the list is endless.
12. Over supplementation. Our tortoises need supplements. Caclcium especially. But care should be taken not to over do it. They need a little bit two or three times a week. They don’t need spoonfuls every day. Too much calcium can interfere with the absorption of other minerals and trace elements and can cause all sorts of problems. So give them some, but take it easy.
13. Raise your hand if you have ever lost a turtle tortoise or other reptile by taking it outside for some fresh air, sunshine and exercise… A LOT of hands just wet up. Mine did. It is a mistake to take your tortoise outside into your yard, a park, or an apartment courtyard without a proper, safe enclosure. Something bad will eventually happen. Maybe not the first time, maybe not the first month, but eventually it will. Apartment complexes and parks use pesticides and weed killers, even sometimes when they say they don’t. Not worth the risk. Even in your own yard, it is human nature to become complacent. It takes seconds of innattention for a small tortoise to completely disappear. I have had it happen personally. I have heard SOOOOOO many people say, “he was sitting right here, and I just turned a round for a second to ______, and he was just gone!” I’m begging you, don’t be this person. It feels absolutely awful. Kiddie pools are like $10 from Walmart.
14. Enclosure size. The catch phrase says it all. “The bigger, the better.” So many times people want to know the minimum size enclosure for their adult russian or young sulcata… We should be asking what is the MAXIMUM. Tortoises need LOTS of room to roam and explore. Walking actually helps their digestion, similar to a horse. By the time we finish putting all the “furniture” in a typical indoor enclosure, there is hardly any room left. There is no species that I can think of belongs in a 10 or 20 gallon, even as a tiny hatchling. Its just too small. In my opinion a 40 gallon aquarium should be the minimum size even for a tiny Testudo sp. hatchling. There is no reason that you can’t put a 9 gram hatchling into a 100 gallon size enclosure for its first set up, or larger. Juveniles and anything larger ought to be spending the majority of their time OUTSIDE, weather permitting of course. In the wild, some of these tortoises would walk MILES in a day. No one has ever finished building an enclosure and thought to themselves, “Hmmm… should have made it smaller…” By contrast, every time I finish a build, indoors or out, I wish I had made it bigger. Give your tortoise as much room as you can, just make it safe.
This is intended to help new people wade through some of the conflicting and often overlooked info out there.
In January a strange thing happened. We were contacted by photographers from The Vorhees who needed to take some pictures of a tortoise for an article about human longevity in Popular Science magazine. They needed a tortoise that was mid-sized (but small enough for me to carry!) and had lots of light colors on the shell. Astrophe fit the bill perfectly, so I allowed them to photograph him. He posed and performed like a champ, and The Vorhees made a donation to the rescue in exchange for his talent. The best part? They gave me copies of the pictures 🙂
Download and read our 2015 year in review Newsletter here: CTTR_Newsletter_2015
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,400 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
If you are interested in adopting a 3-toed or an ornate box turtle, please fill out an adoption application and submit via e-mail, with photos of your enclosure. Box turtles are escape artists, so if you build something with a wall you will need to either use a hinged wire mesh cover or create an overhang so they cannot climb out. Box turtles, like all turtles and tortoises, should be kept outdoors where they can get plenty of access to sunlight, but also with enough shelters that they can get out of the sun whenever they want. They require a constant supply of water, but they are not aquatic species, so their enclosure will need to be mostly land with a little pond for soaking in, which they will do often. Do your homework, you’ll be required to illustrate through your answers to the adoption application that you know how to care for these before we can adopt to you. There is a suggested donation of $75 for each box turtle that you adopt, but there are lots to choose from!
Priorities. Everyone’s got ’em. Our priorities are necessarily based on the needs of our animals and the time of the year, and you’ve probably noticed that we’ve been pushing a lot of fundraising lately. Bear with us, we’re new at this. Soon we’ll add a page to this website where you can see exactly what happens with the money we get; since most of our support comes from public donations, you’ve got a right to know!
Winter Housing and Heat
Sulcatas do not hibernate. Take a moment to think about it – I’ll wait. Since they don’t hiberante, their metabolism doesn’t creep to quite as slow of a crawl as it does in other species that do hibernate, so they need to be kept in heated shelters for the winter. Lucky for us this doesn’t have to be anything super fancy, but it’s still not free. We use farrowing pads on the floor of Rubbermaid sheds for our smaller sulcatas. Yoda doesn’t have a winter house yet, but we’re working on it. He can’t be housed with the others because they don’t get along, so he gets the backyard all to himself. For now.
As of today (September 19th, 2015), we have 19 animals to care for this winter. Some – like Rocket our favorite little Greek tortoise – are coming inside with UVB bulbs. Others, like our box turtles, will stay outside, but we will still insulate their enclosures to ensure that they don’t freeze, and will bring them in if it gets really cold or wet. The sulcatas will have their sheds and we anticipate doing something similar for the Texas tortoises.
You probably saw the last post about what a little bit of rain did to our enclosures. We’ve had folks come out to try and help us figure out how to best re-route the drainage, but unfortunately the consensus is that if we route the drainage out of the front yard, it will flood the garage and maybe the house. That’s not a viable option for us (geez, go figure!) so we will be re-directing our efforts to raising up the level of “the 20” (stabilization will be the biggest challenge there, since we’ve already had issues with all of the topsoil and grass washing out of it) and re-locating “the corral” out of harms way. We’ll still have to re-build our lost driveway, but that’s a personal issue and doesn’t have anything to do with CTTR (except maybe for answering the question, “why don’t you just sink more of your own funds into all of this other stuff?”).
Rocket’s Ranch doesn’t catch the flood waters from the yard, but it sits right against the house, and when it rains the runoff comes off the roof directly into the Ranch, so we are going to be installing gutters over Rocket’s Ranch as a health and safety measure for Rocket and the other inhabitants.
We have spent $847.41 in veterinary care for our tortoises since June. We’re new enough that we don’t have an emergency fund established, so to speak. That’s a huge part of what these fundraisers are about – getting money in the bank so that the next time a tortoise gets sick, we don’t have to agonize over our options and balance how much we can spend out of our own pockets to combine with how much CTTR has left to decide on care. The sad, hard truth is that we’ve been forced (more than once) to consider “the needs of the many,” and it’s decisions like that which will keep a rescuer (at least this one!) lying awake at night. Or sitting in the tortoise pen for hours at a time, watching, waiting, hoping and fearing. The cold logistics of financial management are the very hardest part of doing this.
Let’s be completely honest for a moment. In an ideal world, every enclosure we have would be as awesome as Rocket’s Ranch. You know I’m right! Here on planet Earth, however, we do what we can with what we’ve got. We were very, very fortunate to have financial backing for Rocket’s Ranch; between that and the other infrastructure purchases we have made this year, we’ve spent $466.07 of CTTR funds (this only includes funds directly from outside donors, just like the vet bills – we’re not even going to start telling you how much of our own we’ve thrown in the pot with this to make it happen!). This includes everything from the wood and concrete to pour the forms to the bricks and mortar to build the wall and all of the plants that have been planted inside. Outside of RR, we’ve installed pond liners, dogloos, sheds and fences. We’ve got some tortoises in a chain-link dog kennel (super grateful for that donation!), some in “the 20,” which is our 20 ft x 20 ft deer-safe garden-turned-tortoise-enclosure, “the corral,” which is a makeshift enclosure built out of pallet board and cinder blocks, and two smaller enclosures built from dry-stacked bricks and cinders. Every enclosure is safe and functional.
We need to build some more fences so that we can continue to provide homes for the animals that depend on us. Obviously the first priority is to make those fences functional, but this is our home, so it’s important to us that they not look trashy and ramshackle. In other words – a bunch of cinder blocks and pallets is fine for short term, but over time we would like the facilities to be a little more attractive. It will make the tortoises happier, too 😉
None of our enclosures were destroyed or badly damaged, and all of the torts are just fine after today’s rain. Happily, everybody made it inside before they got too
waterlogged, now we’ll just need to put in some big effort to re-route the drainage and raise the levels of the enclosures. The flooding in or area this spring destroyed the little bit of drainage control that we had going for us. What you see here is the result of only about an hour of rain. We are so lucky to live on site and to be able to bring everyone in, but this is so scary and such a reality check, because we haven’t seen all of the delayed impacts of the spring rains until now – what if we weren’t home when the rain started? We need to implement some major infrastructure improvements to ensure the continued safety of our rescues. That’s one of the reason why our fundraisers are so important. All of our residents thank you!!
This is Petrie, the tiny Texas tortoise with a big appetite. Since we didn’t feel like going out and picking cactus pads in the dark tonight, he is getting a treat. Like any kid, you can watch him pick out the bits that he really wants and leaving the rest.