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How to look after a baby tortoise.
Date: 11/04/01, updated on 09/08/02 (28477 review reads)
Advantages: An interesting pet.
Disadvantages: Not the fastest pet from the starting blocks !
Looking after a baby tortoise is no easy task, but this guide should help keep your baby tortoise happy and healthy.
An accurate thermometer.
Electronic scales, or traditional scales which are accurate to within the nearest gram.
A 40 watt or 60 watt silver-backed spotlight bulb and suitable fittings (these should be available from all good DIY stores).
An Outdoor Enclosure:
A wooden sided pen can be constructed by simply nailing together some 6" x 1" gravel-board (also available at an good DIY store). For the first two years of life, a size of about 3' x 2' is adequate space for your tortoise, but it also depends on your garden size. Strong wire mesh must be fitted to the top of the pen to guard against predators (a baby tortoise could make a tasty snack). You can cover then pen in bad weather with some plastic sheeting but make sure to weigh it down properly with some bricks, or peg it into the ground.
The pen should be placed on fairly closely mown untreated (we don't want to poison him/her just yet) lawn with dandelion, buttercup, clover, etc, growing in it. A terracotta flower pot can be cut in half to provide shade, security and shelter. Ensure that there are no hollows in the turf where the hatchling can escape under the pen.
By the third year young tortoises will require something much larger and more interesting, perhaps with a rockery and plants for shade and shelter. Tortoises with a shell length of 3" or more need interesting enclosure of at least 20 square feet in which they can be left undisturbed, as like any animal, they need some variety.
An Indoor Enclosure:
This needs to be about the same size as the outdoor pen, slightly smaller if your space is restricted. You can construct this with lighten woods as it will not have to stand up to the weather, and it can be nailed or glued to a plywood base. A
n old drawer or plastic tray can be used if you have one of a suitable size. The pen must be placed out of reach of small children and other pets, and if necessary a removable wire cover can be added. Cover the base of the pen with about an inch of dust extracted wood chipping's (available from most though not all, pet shops). This provides an interesting surface area and aids muscle development, and hatchlings like to bury themselves in this at night. You can also provide a couple of half plantpots as with the outdoor pen. In midsummer tortoises can be left outside at night, but they tend to dig into the lawn.
The silver-backed spotlight bulb is then suspended above one end of the pen, to form a "basking spot". There are many methods of suspending the bulb, find one that suits you and is stable and safe. Tortoise will place themselves under the light in order to increase body temperature, moving away when they reach their most comfortable temperature.
Place an accurate thermometer at the surface of the wood chipping's, directly below the spotlight. A temperature of 85 to 90oF (30 to 33oC) is required. Move the spotlight up or down in order to achieve this temperature, ensure the basking spot is well away from the wall of the enclosure. Tortoises will occasionally try to climb the walls (don't we all) and can end up on their backs, and being stranded upturned below the heat source can quickly lead to death.
Food And Feeding:
During the summer months tortoise (even in their first few months) will obtain most of their food by grazing, provided that the turf has sufficient wild plants. Additional dandelion leaves lightly dusted with, a calcium vitamin supplement (again, from your pet shop) should be offered two or three times a week. In variable weather offer a supplementary feed in the evening in the indoor set up. Do not mollycoddle young tortoises in the summer months it is essential that they are outsid
e and direct or indirect sunlight is necessary for proper growth.
In bad weather hatchlings should be brought in to their indoor enclosure where "wild" food can be placed, but do not be afraid to put hatchlings out in showers, they enjoy light rain. Try and put your tortoise hatchlings outside in spring and autumn to obtain sunlight, they will not necessary feed outside if the temperature is below optimum, but food can be offered in the evening in the indoor set up.
During colder months, continue to feed with wild food. Dandelions can be found in sheltered areas for most of the year. It is sensible to cultivate (by seed or transplantation) your own dandelions. It is important that the food is free of pollution and contaminants, so avoid putting chemicals on your lawn if at all possible.
Tortoises will eat many foods which are not good for them. Do not offer canned pet food or domestic vegetables or fruit, this includes lettuce, tomato and cucumber, this will lead to shell deformities and other problems, consider their natural habitat and feed them only with wild plants.
This is best offered two or three times a week only. Use a medium sized ice cream container or something similar. Place active hatchlings in sufficient water such that they can submerge their heads under it, but not so deep that they cannot lift them above the water level. If they drink they will normally urinate, defecate or pass uric acid (a white substance) in the water. Keep them in the water, under observation for several minutes, remove them after their bowel movement or when they try to escape from the container.
Hatchlings and young tortoises should be weighed accurately, weekly. A life long record should be kept. It is then possible to check that the tortoise is progressing healthily. As they get older, a monthly record is sufficient and keeping these records will mean that it will be p
ossible to check their weight in any given month with that of the previous year. Tortoises in a proper hibernation cycle will normally peak in weight in late July to mid August.
Hatchling tortoises are quite pliable and almost rubbery. Handle them between the thumb and first finger, across the midrif (not the top and bottom). Do not entrust a tortoise to a child unless they have be properly trained to handle the tortoise, as they may acidently hurt it and do not leave children unsupervised with the tortoise if at all possible.
Tortoises have to produce massive amounts of bone and soft pieces of cuttlefish should always be available to them. Wild plants, especially dandelions, have the right ratio of calcium to phosphorous to help the tortoises produce bone. Ultra violet light from the sun is essential in order to convert the calcium and phosphorous into bone, and why it is so inportant to have your tortoise outside enough.
Never squeeze a tortoise to check that bone is developing, this can lead to fractures and serious consequences.
I hop this guide helps with keeping your tortoise and results in some happier and healthier tortoises.