Tortoise & Turtle care sheets > Care of commonly kept tortoise species
Care of commonly kept tortoise species
By Kevin Stevens, Coast to Coast Exotics, Darlington.
This care sheet has been designed by Coast to Coast Exotics and is intended for use at the point of sales. Other shops my copy and re-use as long as credit is given to Coast to Coast Exotics.
Care of commonly kept tortoise species
Temperate species include Horsefield, Hermanns, Marginated and Spur-thighed. Redfoots and Yellow foots are tropical, and Leopards and African Spurred are "inbetween". Even the temperate species experience warmer climates that our own, and thus it is not fair to try and keep them in the garden without supplementary heating. Youngsters must be kept indoors for many reasons – both health and general safety.
Tortoise tables have found favour for many keepers when housing their tortoises, especially those keepers that use the internet. We can supply either, but having sold thousands in vivaria with no problems to report, we are still are happy to sell them in vivaria. Temperatures are easier to set up and maintain in vivaria rather than tables for the average beginner.
Basking heaters are most suitable. Mount them in the ceiling at one end of the vivarium. Spot lamps can be used, but cannot be left on at night, so ceramic heaters that emit no light are the best choice. Temperate species need a basking hot end temperature of around 32°C (Horsefields no more than 28°C) with a night time drop of about 10°C. Redfoots and Yellowfoots require similar, if a little higher day time temperature but with only a small 4°C drop at night. The last two require similar day time temperatures, but with a 6 to 8°C at night. Heat mats must not be used for all tortoise species, amongst other problems they are prone to gastric and plastron health problems when heated in the manner. Remember to fit guards over the ceramic heaters.
Lighting is similar for all species. At least 5% UVB must be used. When using a fluorescent make sure it is mounted no more than 6" away from where the tortoise will spend most of its time. Recent research suggests that a higher output tube (say an 8.0 or a 10.0%) can be used further away than 6” and this could be useful as tortoises can smash tubes mounted low down.. Additional lighting can be in the form of a full spectrum fluorescent (2.0). This can be mounted in the roof of the vivarium. UVB is required for the use of calcium and full spectrum can help with fussy feeders. All lights must be switched off at night. Most keepers, unless a breeding attempt is being made, use 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. UVB lights must be replaced every six months, full spectrums just when they eventually blow.
Hides, a water bowl, food bowl and a flooring substrate must be provided. Many species are suited to beech chip or hemp. Tropical species need more humidity and are best suited to orchid bark that is kept damp. All flooring substrates have a down side, some can be ingested and cause gut impaction, but this is a very rare occurrence. Both temperate and tropical must have hides packed with damp sphagnum moss. Shallow food and water bowls must be used.
Humidity differs with species, the tropicals must be kept at about 70 to 80% (Yellow foots a little higher), the rest at a dry 30% is ideal. Some species such as Box tortoises must be provided with a local area of very high humidity and a bathing area.
Standard tortoise diet is similar with many species. The bulk of the diet in many species (about 90%) is green leafy plants. Iceberg and normal "salad" lettuce must not be offered. A mix of spring greens, romaine lettuce, kale, water cress, savoy cabbage, chinese leaf is okay, but a natural mix of meadow plant leaves such as dandelion and chickweed is the ultimate choice. Make sure they are free from pesticides and are washed before use. The rest of the diet can be small amount of fruits (except Red and Yellow foots, they can have lots of fruit – especially ripe), small amounts of salad items such as tomatoes etc, broccoli, grated root vegetables and a source of fibre such as dried grass or hay. Grass and hay can cause dietary problems for Hermanns, Spur-thighed, Marginated and Horsefields, but is a necessary food item for Leopard tortoises. Red and Yellow foots must have a higher proportion of ripe fruits, African Spurred and Leopards must have much higher levels of hay such as alfalfa. Most commonly kept species must not have meat in their diet, Red and Yellow foots must have a small amount, easily provided in defrosted rodents.
Dust all food with a mix of a good reptile multi-vitamin powder along with calcium carbonate. A 50/50 mix is ideal. Dust youngsters food every feed but miss out two days a week, adults should only have powders about four times a week. Do not use multi-vitamins sold for cats and dogs such as SA 37 as this is not suitable, likewise cuttlefish should not be used.
Daily spot clean the vivarium removing all faecal matter and any shed skin. Change water daily. Complete a full strip down every four weeks replacing all substrates and thoroughly cleaning all the vivarium and bowls etc. Always use a reptile disinfectant. There is a small risk of catching salmonella from tortoises (as with all animals), so ensure vivarium and your own personal hygiene is good. Always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap after handling.
Tortoises can enjoy the freedom of being outdoors on hot summer days. Only allow this when supervised or in a correctly built and escape proof enclosure. Please ask for further details on the construction of such an enclosure. Without a heated and artificially lit area they cannot be housed outdoors permanently. Our northerly location is too chilly for successful tortoise maintenance.
Temperate species hibernate, and this is useful in maintaining healthy tortoises. We personally do not hibernate tortoises before they are about three years old. Some keepers hibernate their tortoises in their first year. Do not feed your tortoise for three weeks prior to hibernation. A temperature of between 6 and 8°C is fine, Horsefields require the lower end of this scale. Maintain this for three months. A box full of polystyrene chips, shredded paper or hay (some keepers believe hay can cause eye infections) is fine, and keep dry throughout hibernation. Weigh before, three or four times during and after hibernation. Any weight loss must be noted and do not allow more than a small loss. Hibernation would be terminated at this point. Upon resumption of normal temperatures give your tortoise a luke warm bath, and feed as normal. Coast to Coast can provide a hibernation service – please enquire.
It is vitally important that you have considered the following points
1.Tortoises often live in excess of 60-80 years.
2. You will need to provide a good mixture of dietary requirements, they cannot be just fed on supermarket fare, especially such as lettuce.
3. Security is a big problem, thefts can and do occur.
4. They are escape artists, especially in outdoor enclosures – be cautious in construction methods - don't lose them in the first place!
5. Believe it or not tortoises can bite. Although harmless with no venom, it can be a shock if it should happen.
6. Hermanns, Spur-thighed, and Horsefieldsm all grow to around 8 inches, Marginated a little bigger at around 12 inches. Red and Yellow foots at around 16 inches and Coast to Coast do not sell large species such as African Spur tortoises which can grow in excess of 30 inches!
7. We can help with boarding and hospitalisation.
About Coast to Coast. the advice you have been given and our legal obligations
Coast to Coast is owned and staffed by herpetologists and hobbyists like yourself. Although the staff have varying degrees of experience they are all trained to the same standards. The advice you have been given is based upon years of hands on experience, both with captive animals and in the field. All advice given is of our opinion and is given in good faith. We cannot accept liability for any damages, however they may have been caused. Likewise we cannot pass comment on other advice you may have been given by other animal dealers, other than we agree or disagree that it is correct.
We guarantee all animals purchased are healthy and feeding (all snakes come complete with feeding records) unless noted at the time of sale. As we cannot be held responsible for their husbandry requirements once they have left us, we only continue this guarantee for 24 hours after purchase. This is in line with all other exotic animal dealers. To deter impulse buying we will not give full refunds / exchanges for animals returned for non-health related problems. We reserve the right to charge up to 50% of the purchase price as a handling fee. Please note; this does not mean we will leave you high and dry! We will do our best to help whatever the circumstances. May we also remind you that legal ownership belongs to Coast to Coast Exotics until payment is made in full.
Due to licensing laws we are obliged to make a record of your name and address. We may also contact you from time to time with news and special offers. Please tick this box if you do not wish this to happen . We may also share this information with third parties that may also contact you – please tick this box should you not want this to happen :
Number and street;
I understand that any purchase of animals made at Coast to Coast is with the full understanding of the above and that I have been fully informed of the correct husbandry requirements for the species chosen. I have been given a copy of this care sheet.
Coast to Coast Exotics, 124 North Road, Darlington, County Durham, DL1 2EJ. Tel 01325 283756 Fax 01325 255060.
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