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The Home's Hingeback Tortoise

Discussion in 'Tortoise and Turtle Articles' started by Kristina, Nov 8, 2010.

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  1. Kristina

    Kristina New Member

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    The Home's Hingeback Tortoise

    The first time that I heard the name, "Hingeback," I was intrigued. It is a pretty descriptive name, and I remember envisioning a strange, backwards African Box turtle (which is not completely wrong, in the case of the Home's Hingeback.) After talking to a few people that had been keeping varieties of the Kinixys genus, I decided that I would like to become a Hingeback owner one day. I mentioned this to a rescuer friend, who I knew had three Home's Hingebacks, Kinixys homeana, that he himself had rescued. Imagine my elation when he contacted me a couple of months later, asking if I wanted to take them. I of course agreed immediately.

    I have fallen in love with these wonderful tortoises. Their initial shyness has given way to curiosity and outgoing personalities. Each one is slightly different, and I have seven now, so there is never a dull moment spent with them.

    During my search for information, I came across very little in terms of others speaking from experience in keeping Kinixys. Individuals seemed to have mixed levels of success. Many Home's Hingebacks arrive in pet stores dehydrated, emaciated, and loaded with parasites. Unfortunately many pet stores do not understand the unique needs these tortoises have, and the result is poor husbandry choices both at the store, and once the new owner takes the tortoise home. Low initial purchase prices are attractive to first time tortoise owners. Inexperience coupled with poor import conditions and issues with acclimation to captivity often lead to the demise of the tortoise.

    Some Home's Hingeback Identity Basics

    When you look at a photo of a Hingeback, you see a tortoise that does not look like the mental conglomerate of what most imagine a tortoise should look like - a living boulder. Home's Hingebacks are longer, flatter, with narrow, elegant heads and almost frail-looking, long, thin legs. They walk by balancing delicately on those legs, with their plastrons easily clearing the ground. They use their long legs also to climb with great skill, and if kept outdoors steps must be taken to prevent escapes.

    Perhaps the most distinct characteristic of the Home's Hingeback is found at the back of the carapace. At the fifth vertebral scute, the carapace drops of sharply towards the ground in an almost 90* angle. This differs from the carapace of the Serrated Hingeback tortoise, Kinixys erosa, which is often found in the same range as Home's. Serrated Hingebacks have a carapace that slopes towards the ground in the rear, and narrower heads with slightly up-turned noses. They also do not possess the nuchal scute that occurs on Home's in most instances.

    Home's Hingebacks typically have a mottled dark brown or tan carapace, with older individuals being more of a uniform light tan color. Males can exhibit a bright yellow or blue/grey head, while females are often drabber in color, with a mix of pale yellows and greys.

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    Sexual characteristics are easily observed in individuals of 4" or more in length. Males have an extremely oversized tail, and a concave plastron. Sub-adult and young adult females have a flat plastron, but older females can also develop a concave plastron.

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    Choosing a Healthy Individual

    The Home's typically available in the pet trade are wild caught and imported from Africa. This means that they have most likely undergone less than desirable treatment during the importation process. Lack of food, water and overcrowding are the most common issues that imported tortoises suffer. Choosing an individual that has dealt well with these stressors is important to achieving long term success in captive care.

    A healthy Home's Hingeback should have clear, wide open eyes, lacking any swelling or weeping. Watery eyes and bubbles around the eyes are signs of being kept too dry. They should feel heavy and solid, rather than light and hollow, like a card board box with nothing in it. They should be strong, and able to resist gentle tugging on a limb.

    Because these tortoises are wild caught and imported in less than desirable conditions, it is important to have a fecal sample examined by an experienced tortoise veterinarian to determine what the parasite load of the tortoise is, and how to properly treat it.

    In order to properly care for homeana, it is important to understand where they come from and how they are perceived to behave in the wild, and to have a comprehensive understanding of successful captive care.

    Natural History

    Home's Hingebacks are found on the African continent, centralized in the Guinea-Congo rainforest region. They have been observed in secondary swamp forests and in riverine swamp forests, and occasionally in grassy, thicketed areas, drier forested areas, and forest breaks. Very few dedicated population and distribution studies have been done, and most accounts of homeana presence are based on anecdotal evidence. Observations of homeana behavior and preferences in regard to terrain and surroundings in captivity have lead to the belief that individuals observed in forest breaks and drier scrub lands were simply traversing areas of their personal range, in search of food, mates, shelter, and most importantly, water.

    Home's actively thermoregulate and take advantage of areas with heavy vegetation to prevent overheating in tropical temperatures. Their large, dark, sensitive eyes offer a clue to their preference for lower light areas and times of the day. Average ambient temperatures range from 27*C (81*F) to 33*C (91*F). The low light areas of heavy undergrowth that Home’s regularly inhabit are cooler in temperature than the ambient air temperature, due to the respiration of plants and evaporation of moisture. Diurnal temperatures in their natural habitat rarely drop more 5*C in difference of daytime temperatures.

    Indoor and Outdoor Captive Housing

    In captivity, peak activity and foraging is observed in temperatures ranging from 20*C (68*F) to 24*C (75*F). To allow for thermoregulation indoors, a basking area is provided with a peak temperature of 27*C (83*F). Lower light options, such as red or black light bulbs, are preferred over brighter white or yellow lights. With indoor enclosures that have a steady ambient temperature of 22*C (72*F) and lower light levels, longer periods of activity can be observed. UV lighting does not seem to be as necessary for homeana as it is for desert and Mediterranean tortoises, and if UV lighting is used, a T8 style fluorescent bulb placed over the feeding area is sufficient.

    As temperatures in an outside enclosure climb higher than 24*C (75*F), the tortoises will retreat to cool caves provided for them, into the bases of plants, and youngsters will hide amongst damp leaf litter. UV exposure is best received through indirect sources, such as through the leaves of shade trees, lattice, shade cloth, or from rays bouncing off of surrounding objects.

    In indoor enclosures, homeana are appreciative of several hiding areas placed throughout the enclosure. Silk plants also make a wonderful addition and offer a sense of security to these naturally shy tortoises. A 4' by 2' enclosure is the absolute minimum enclosure size for a single adult, and larger is always better. Ambient lighting is sufficient, and if you choose to light the enclosure further, concentrate the light towards one end of the enclosure, preferably the feeding area. Using a moist substrate such as coconut coir, orchid bark, or cypress mulch is very beneficial to the health of the tortoises, as is misting the enclosure daily. The entire set up should be kept humid. Home's that are kept too dry suffer eye problems, shell deformity and distortion, and kidney failure.

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    Outdoor enclosures should be placed in shaded areas or covered with shade cloth or lattice to provide protection from the sun, and hiding areas scattered throughout should be provided. The addition of non-toxic shrubs and plants help to hold in humidity and provide security. Steps should be taken to protect against escapees and predators. Running a sprinkler for homeana is a special treat - they will sit under the falling water and drink from the puddles that collect on the ground. Doing this every day during hot, dry weather helps protect against overheating and dehydration.

    Dehydration is one of the biggest dangers to homeana. Eyes that appear weepy, swollen, or have bubbles collected in the corners are signs of being too dry and possibly overheated as well. It is important to offer homeana with a water source that they can enter fully, and of a depth to almost cover the carapace, both indoors and out. They will soak and drink often and for long periods, and will also quite often defecate in the water, so it should be cleaned daily.

    Diet

    The dietary needs of a Home’s Hingeback are also a bit different than your typical grassland tortoise. Because they inhabit areas of denser forest growth, grasses and weeds are not as large a part of the diet as they would be for a grazing species. Some captive owners report that their Home’s will not eat greens in any quantity. I have found that my captive group prefers very dark leafy greens such as collard greens, mustard, kale, dandelion, chicory and spinach in limited quantities.

    Also well received are food items with color. Red and yellow fruits and vegetables appear to be more attractive. Slices of summer squash, grated sweet potato, butternut squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cactus pear, strawberries and red leaf lettuces are great food items. Overripe fruits seem to be preferred, and figs are a favorite.

    Fiber is important for proper digestive health. So where do Home’s receive the needed dietary fiber if not from grasses and weeds? The answer is mushrooms. I have yet to see a forest species turn up their noses at mushrooms. Any edible mushroom will do, but portabellas are a definite favorite.

    Another dietary aspect where Home’s differ from other tortoise is that they are omnivorous. Youngsters especially spend a lot of time buried in leaf litter. Here they find and prey upon slugs, worms, snails, isopods and various insects. Adult Home’s relish worms such as redworms or your typical garden variety earthworm or nightcrawler, and also appreciate the occasional meal of Vitamin D3 rich fish, such as mackerel or salmon. Considering that Home’s are often found in riverine swamp forests, it stands to reason that fish carrion would be a food naturally found in the wild. High quality cat kibble that is low in fat and high in protein is another option. I prefer natural foods without the fillers.

    I typically feed my Home’s a diet consisting of approximately 40% greens and vegetables, 40% mushrooms, 10% fruits and 10% meat items.

    Often when one first brings a homeana home, they do not want to eat at all. Softened Mazuri Tortoise chow will often tempt the reticent tortoise to eat, as will smearing other food items with pureed butternut squash. I usually use Gerber Baby Food for this. Often a homeana will eat mushrooms before it will touch other food items, sometimes it is fish that will tempt them. The key is to place the feeding area in or very close to the hiding area, keep trying different items, and offer lots of quiet and privacy until the tortoise is settled in and eating well.

    And Most Importantly

    Enjoy your tortoise! These amazing creatures are gems, and should be treated as such.

    If any experienced Home’s Hingeback keepers have any information that you would like to see added to this article, please feel free to send me a private message. If you are a new Home's owner who is experiencing difficulty with your tortoise or if you have questions concerning captive care, please feel free to send a private message or refer to the section of the forum reserved for Hingeback tortoises.


    Kristina Duda © November 7th, 2010

    Discussions about this topic can be viewed or added to by visiting The Home's Hingeback Tortoise discussion thread.

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    References:

    * Lawson, D.P. 1993. The reptiles and amphibians of the Korup National Park Project, Cameroon. Herpetological Natural History 1(2): 27-90.
    * Lawson, D.P. 2000. Local harvest of hingeback tortoises, Kinixys erosa and K. homeana, in southwestern Cameroon. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 3: 722-729.
    * Lawson, D.P. 2001. Morphometrics and sexual dimorphism of the hinge-back tortoises Kinixys erosa and Kinixys homeana (Reptilia: Testudinidae) in southwestern Cameroon. African Journal of Herpetology 50: 1-7.
    *Vetter, H. 2002. Turtles of the World: Vol. 1. Africa, Europe, and Western Asia. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt. 97 pp.
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