Baby Leopard Tortoise has soft shell, isn’t gaining weight


New Member
May 24, 2020
Location (City and/or State)
Victoria, British Columbia
Hi everyone,

I have a baby leopard tortoise (Murphy) who is about 5 months old (hatched in January). I’ve had her for 3 weeks. she (I call her a she) is from a great breeder and was not started dry.

the problem is that she isn’t gaining weight and today I noticed her plastron is quite soft. Not squishy, but pliable. The sides of her carapace are also a bit pliable. as I said, she was not started dry and has had great hydration in both her breeder’s and my care. She doesn’t bask by herself, she eats then goes back into her hide. She’s been around 26 grams since I got her, give or take a gram. I weigh her every day.

Here’s some info about her enclosure:
It’s a plastic bin that’s about 2.5 feet by 1.5 feet. Half is covered by a plastic lid. The covered area is her humid “hide” area, and has sphagnum as the substrate that I mist twice a day. The uncovered side has her basking lamp and the substrate is coco husk also misted twice a day. She has a mercury vapour bulb (solar glo 125), infrared light at night, a heat emitter over the covered hide and a heat mat to make the hide more humid.

I have the humidity in her “hide” (the covered half of her enclosure) around 80-100% at all times. The humidity in the other half usually sits around 50%. I soak her for 10-15 mins twice a day and have a water available for her at all times (she’s gone in herself before).

Her basking temp is 115-120F, the cool side is about 85F, the night time low is about 80, but she always sleeps closer to her heat emitter and infrared bulb so is about 89-95 at night.

she eats a lot, mostly a diet of kales, collards, dandelion, broccoli leaves, mustard greens and of course her favourite, cactus. She poops regularly.

She sleeps for most of the day and will rarely wake up by herself (maybe every couple days, but I have a routine and she’ll get up herself if I’m late with it) but is very active once awake.

if you have any advice please let me know. I love her very very much and all I want is for her to be healthy and happy for years to come. I’ve scoured this forum for advice, but none quite fits my situation.

Tom, please let me know what you think!



Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jul 8, 2017
Location (City and/or State)
Low desert 50 mi SE of Palm Springs CA
Glad to hear she lives alone.

She sounds really small for 5 months old. But I don't know how old they are when their shells harden. She certainly looks a picture of health!

I can't help here, but have you read all the care sheets we have pertaining to her? If not, I can link them for you. Lots of excellent reading, maybe it will jostle your mind.


The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 9, 2010
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I see several problems. All constructive criticism here and questions are welcome:
  • Sphagnum moss shouldn't be used. Its does nothing and its an impaction risk. They all eat it.
  • No infrared bulbs. Use the CHE. Add another CHE if needed. They need it dark at night.
  • No MVBs. They are unreliable and also cause pyramiding. Regular incandescent flood bulbs work the best and minimize the problems.
  • No heat mats. Heat from underneath is a mistake for small tortoises indoors.
  • Your basking temp is way too high. That will also cause pyramiding. Should be 95-100.
  • All of the things you are feeding are okay as occasional things to mix in, but none of that should be the staple diet. Endive and escarole should be the mainstays, if you must use grocery store greens, but you need to be mixing in a variety of other good stuff to make those foods better. There are a variety of dried leaves, herbal hay, and ZooMed tortoises chows than can be soaked and added in to improve the quality, fiber content and variety. Also look for arugula and cilantro to mix in. Best to avoid the grocery store altogether and feed broadleaf weeds, leaves and flowers of the right types.
  • The pliable plastron is normal but the lack of growth is not. If this baby has been kept humid and soaked daily since hatching, then I suspect impaction, possibly from the moss. What was the incubation media? Did the breeder use a brooder box for a week or two between incubation and the first enclosure?
  • I can see your efforts there with the enclosure, but its going to be difficult to maintain the correct growing conditions with an open top and the lights outside.
I've recently re-done the care sheet. There might be more useful info here for you too:

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