Baby Sulcata Growth and Pyramiding?

kirbytherussian

New Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
16
Hello all tortoise lovers,

a couple months ago I purchased a baby sulcata tortoise- the cutest thing alive. This is by far not my first tortoise, but my first hatchling- and sulcata. Watching him grow has been a joy- however there are not many photos of baby Sulcatas around, and I’m starting to worry if what I see on his( or her) shell is just what normal growth looks like in a baby sulcata or the onset of pyramiding. I’ll attach photos below.

He is currently in a 32’’ by 20’’ enclosure, until he gets a little bigger and I can safely build him an outdoor enclosure. The substrate is a mixture of coconut coir and reptibark, which I mist a couple times a day. He has two hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool- both I mist daily, and both are enclosed to help maintain humidity. I live in Florida, and he lives outside but inside- on my lanai ( a screened in patio) as I kept him inside, but couldn’t maintain a humidity I liked so I figured the natural Florida humidity and temps would help. I feed him daily with biweekly dustings of calcium powder. His food includes a variety of store bough greens including: Endive, escarole, kale, spring mix, romaine, arugula, green leaf lettuce, and dandelion greens. I’ll pair three or four of these greens in his salad per day, and rotate them out on a weekly basis- keeping endive and escarole as a staple. I’ve also started to mix in grass clippings as well. He has an 85w UVA/UVB lamp, which creates a basking temp of ~95 degrees (although I never see him basking). I also do my best at giving him daily 30 min soaks- although every once in a while I skip a day.

Is there anything I’m doing wrong, or could be doing better? He is approximately three months old and I want the absolute best for him. Any advice is helpful
62C80FD5-327C-4D40-90BC-F394B736E152.jpeg
here’s the little guy :)
C06FDEB4-B03B-484A-8039-F18D3CDA8B63.jpeg
 

Markw84

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
4,431
Location (City and/or State)
Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
Yes, your tortoise is pyramiding. I would bet you are using an open type enclosure and that is most of the problem. Can we see a picture of the enclosure and the types of lights you are using? That will help us help you.

In Florida, even though you have higher humidity, the humidity of the microclimate created in an enclosures (both indoors and outdoors) is very different than the meteorological humidity. An enclosure, and how it is set up, creates its own microclimate.

There are a plethora of pictures of baby and young sulcatas here on the forum. You can see plenty of examples of smooth sulcatas now. Read the care sheet here and there is a great example of what we strive for in a baby sulcata that is smooth there - https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threa...ulcata-leopard-or-star-tortoise.181497/unread

Here's a picture of one of mine

sulcata.jpg
 

Patrick McMullen

New Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Clermont
"In Florida, even though you have higher humidity, the humidity of the microclimate created in an enclosures (both indoors and outdoors) is very different than the meteorological humidity. An enclosure, and how it is set up, creates its own microclimate."

What does this even mean? I know one can artificially create conditions with higher temperatures and humidity, but if the measured temperature is 90 and humidity is 90% within the hide without need for heat lamps or humidifiers, I don't see a problem if those conditions are occurring naturally.

Similarly, if a tortoise gets sufficient natural sunlight, I don't see that artificial UV lighting would be necessary.
 
Last edited:

Patrick McMullen

New Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Clermont
Are you measuring the temperature and humidity within the hide? For most of the year in Florida they're probably favorable naturally, but you should measure. Do they get natural sunlight? Might they be getting too much?

"If your tortoise can get some regular sunning time in a safe outdoor enclosure, even just a couple of times a week for most of the year, you don't need any artificial UV. ..... My general rule is an hour of access to sunshine per inch of tortoise." https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threa...se-a-sulcata-leopard-or-star-tortoise.181497/
 

Pastel Tortie

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jul 31, 2018
Messages
4,264
Location (City and/or State)
North Florida
Even in Florida, our humidity is not constantly high. Relative humidity varies with temperatures, and those fluctuate throughout the day and during the year. We do have a fire season in Florida.

Our native gopher tortoises have it figured out. They dig their burrows right down to just on top of the water table, so where they hang out most of the time is close to 100 percent humidity.
 

Patrick McMullen

New Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Clermont
I've got a wooden, open air enclosure on my lanai in Central Florida. Humidity is measured currently at 88%. Inside the hide it is 99%. No humidifier. No UV lighting. Just spaghum moss, sprayed occasionally. There are times of the year when supplemental light and heat may be needed, but the original poster has had his tortoise for a 'couple months' (July-Sept- ish) which is hot and humid season here in Florida and they are being soaked daily. Pyramiding is likely due to some other cause (perhaps conditions prior to acquisition or a too-rich, store-bought diet).
 

Srmcclure

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 10, 2020
Messages
1,684
Location (City and/or State)
Oklahoma city
follow what Mark says and read up on that care sheet he linked. It has all the current, tested information for a smooth, healthy tortoise. Good luck!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,495
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hello all tortoise lovers,

a couple months ago I purchased a baby sulcata tortoise- the cutest thing alive. This is by far not my first tortoise, but my first hatchling- and sulcata. Watching him grow has been a joy- however there are not many photos of baby Sulcatas around, and I’m starting to worry if what I see on his( or her) shell is just what normal growth looks like in a baby sulcata or the onset of pyramiding. I’ll attach photos below.

He is currently in a 32’’ by 20’’ enclosure, until he gets a little bigger and I can safely build him an outdoor enclosure. The substrate is a mixture of coconut coir and reptibark, which I mist a couple times a day. He has two hides, one on the warm side and one on the cool- both I mist daily, and both are enclosed to help maintain humidity. I live in Florida, and he lives outside but inside- on my lanai ( a screened in patio) as I kept him inside, but couldn’t maintain a humidity I liked so I figured the natural Florida humidity and temps would help. I feed him daily with biweekly dustings of calcium powder. His food includes a variety of store bough greens including: Endive, escarole, kale, spring mix, romaine, arugula, green leaf lettuce, and dandelion greens. I’ll pair three or four of these greens in his salad per day, and rotate them out on a weekly basis- keeping endive and escarole as a staple. I’ve also started to mix in grass clippings as well. He has an 85w UVA/UVB lamp, which creates a basking temp of ~95 degrees (although I never see him basking). I also do my best at giving him daily 30 min soaks- although every once in a while I skip a day.

Is there anything I’m doing wrong, or could be doing better? He is approximately three months old and I want the absolute best for him. Any advice is helpful

here’s the little guy :)

The pyramiding is being caused by:
1. The bulb. MVBs are extremely desiccating.
2. The open topped enclosure. Even if the humidity outside is high, the humidity inside the enclosure with the bulb will be lower, especially near the heat lamp.
3. Having them outside. I've done many side-by-side experiments with sulcata clutch mates. Even when conditions are similar according to the hygrometer and thermometer, the ones outside all day pyramid and grow 2-3 times slower than the indoor ones on the same quantity of the same food. I don't have an explanation for that, but this one variable was the only difference, and I've seen it over and over again. We had another member in FL recently that I told this same stuff to. She was understandably skeptical. She moved the tortoise inside in a closed chamber as I recommend, and within a month, she couldn't believe what a positive difference it had made. The growth rate went up and the carapace smoothed out, as promised. It works.

The baby doesn't have to live this way for ever. Just until it gets to about 5-6 inches. At that point it can go outside into a large enclosure and just be brought in to sleep at night, weather permitting of course. By about 8-10 inches, you can move it outside full time with a heated night box.

@Patrick McMullen , what Mark was saying is that the conditions in an open topped enclosure are going to be different than a closed chamber. And the growth results are also different. Babies don't do well outside all day. They do best in an indoor closed chamber set up until they gain some size. Also, pyramiding isn't caused by food. That is old disproven info. You can feed them the "wrong" diet and they will row smoothly in the right conditions. Conversely, you can feed them the best diet in the world, and they will still pyramid in conditions that are too dry, or in an outdoor enclosure, or under a MVB.
 

Patrick McMullen

New Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Clermont
The pyramiding is being caused by:
1. The bulb. MVBs are extremely desiccating.
2. The open topped enclosure. Even if the humidity outside is high, the humidity inside the enclosure with the bulb will be lower, especially near the heat lamp.
3. Having them outside. I've done many side-by-side experiments with sulcata clutch mates. Even when conditions are similar according to the hygrometer and thermometer, the ones outside all day pyramid and grow 2-3 times slower than the indoor ones on the same quantity of the same food. I don't have an explanation for that, but this one variable was the only difference, and I've seen it over and over again. We had another member in FL recently that I told this same stuff to. She was understandably skeptical. She moved the tortoise inside in a closed chamber as I recommend, and within a month, she couldn't believe what a positive difference it had made. The growth rate went up and the carapace smoothed out, as promised. It works.

The baby doesn't have to live this way for ever. Just until it gets to about 5-6 inches. At that point it can go outside into a large enclosure and just be brought in to sleep at night, weather permitting of course. By about 8-10 inches, you can move it outside full time with a heated night box.

@Patrick McMullen , ... Babies don't do well outside all day. ....

Please clarify "outside all day". I have been giving babies time to explore in the yard in the sunshine using the guideline: "My general rule is an hour of access to sunshine per inch of tortoise."

Then, I soak them and bring them 'inside', to an wooden enclosure with a screened top and no bulbs on the shaded, screen-ed in lanai, where the hide has temperatures and humidity in the 90's this time of year. I didn't think this was equivalent to 'outside all day', but you seem to suggest that anything besides a closed container is considered 'outside'. Is this correct?
 
Last edited:

Patrick McMullen

New Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2020
Messages
14
Location (City and/or State)
Clermont
The pyramiding is being caused by:
1. The bulb. MVBs are extremely desiccating.
2. The open topped enclosure. Even if the humidity outside is high, the humidity inside the enclosure with the bulb will be lower, especially near the heat lamp.
3. Having them outside. I've done many side-by-side experiments with sulcata clutch mates. Even when conditions are similar according to the hygrometer and thermometer, the ones outside all day pyramid and grow 2-3 times slower than the indoor ones on the same quantity of the same food. I don't have an explanation for that, but this one variable was the only difference, and I've seen it over and over again. We had another member in FL recently that I told this same stuff to. She was understandably skeptical. She moved the tortoise inside in a closed chamber as I recommend, and within a month, she couldn't believe what a positive difference it had made. The growth rate went up and the carapace smoothed out, as promised. It works.

The baby doesn't have to live this way for ever. Just until it gets to about 5-6 inches. At that point it can go outside into a large enclosure and just be brought in to sleep at night, weather permitting of course. By about 8-10 inches, you can move it outside full time with a heated night box.

@Patrick McMullen , what Mark was saying is that the conditions in an open topped enclosure are going to be different than a closed chamber. And the growth result
The pyramiding is being caused by:
1. The bulb. MVBs are extremely desiccating.
2. The open topped enclosure. Even if the humidity outside is high, the humidity inside the enclosure with the bulb will be lower, especially near the heat lamp.
3. Having them outside. I've done many side-by-side experiments with sulcata clutch mates. Even when conditions are similar according to the hygrometer and thermometer, the ones outside all day pyramid and grow 2-3 times slower than the indoor ones on the same quantity of the same food. I don't have an explanation for that, but this one variable was the only difference, and I've seen it over and over again. We had another member in FL recently that I told this same stuff to. She was understandably skeptical. She moved the tortoise inside in a closed chamber as I recommend, and within a month, she couldn't believe what a positive difference it had made. The growth rate went up and the carapace smoothed out, as promised. It works.

The baby doesn't have to live this way for ever. Just until it gets to about 5-6 inches. At that point it can go outside into a large enclosure and just be brought in to sleep at night, weather permitting of course. By about 8-10 inches, you can move it outside full time with a heated night box.

@Patrick McMullen , what Mark was saying is that the conditions in an open topped enclosure are going to be different than a closed chamber. ... They do best in an indoor closed chamber set up until they gain some size.

I have a ceramic heat lamp and have been researching humidifiers for times when Florida weather conditions aren't naturally ideal. It does seem counter-intuitive that artificially recreating the same temperatures and humidity that exists 'outside' would be preferred.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,495
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I have a ceramic heat lamp and have been researching humidifiers for times when Florida weather conditions aren't naturally ideal. It does seem counter-intuitive that artificially recreating the same temperatures and humidity that exists 'outside' would be preferred.
Admittedly yes it does seem counter-intuitive, but in practice we see the same results each way over and over again. Outside on the lanai is still outside and open to the outside air. A closed chamber inside an air conditioned/heated house with more stable temps just works a lot better.

I've tried raising sulcatas with just one overall temp. like what you'd get outside on the lanai, and that also produced poor results. They need a warmer area to go to and heat up. Hence the need for a basking lamp for this species, where tortoises like RFs don't seem to need a basking area. Once the tortoise is bigger and able to live outside full time, they can use the sun as this warmer area. Babies just don't seem to do as well with that routine. I've tried this all so many ways. Variations on so many themes. And watched others get the same results when they do it the same.
 

Markw84

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
4,431
Location (City and/or State)
Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
The issue with an open enclosure - and outdoors - is that it is indeed an open system. When you place a light or Ceramic Heat Emitter over an open enclosure, the physics demand that a draft is created. The warmer, drier air under the bulb is drawn upwards, along with the water it contains. Air from the nearby enclosure areas are drawn in, heated, rises, and repeat. It is not a stable environment. It is constantly drying. Having to spray it down or add water repeatedly tells you that. Anything in that system is constantly drying. A little at a time. Even the hides are drying. If they were not, you would never have to add water to keep the humidity up. So the tortoise is also drying. The only way to stop that is by creating a much closer to stable micro-climate. One where you don't have to add water, humidifier, or spray down the enclosure to keep the humidity at 95%. My closed chambers stay at 95% and I don't add water or spray down the substrate except when I first set up the enclosure. No drying. The warmer air under the basking light or CHE rises, hits the ceiling, circulates to the cooler part of the enclosure where its relative humidity level rises right back up. The air is pulled back under the basking light and the cycle repeats. Moisture is not leaving the system.

In the wild, tortoises have become masters at finding and exploiting as close to a closed system as they can find. Deep cover under a bush and in a pallet, or dug into a burrow with their body plugging the tunnel where they rest. Measurements there show the humidity remains at a virtual 100% even in a climate that outside is 15% humidity. It does not dry out. It remains moist.

In an open system things are constantly drying out. Water must be added back into the system to retain higher humidity. In Florida that is the rains. Then the lush foliage and lakes release their moisture and things start to dry until the rains come again. 70% - 80% humidity on average, but things are drying constantly. Moisture must be added again.

By creating a closed system we can slow this process down to a point very much like the burrow or deep cover pallet the tortoise would naturally seek out. We can tell by seeing we rarely have to add more moisture to the system. If you have to constantly add moisture - run a humdifier, pour water in the substrate, spray down the enclosure - we know our system is constantly drying. And so will our tortoise.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,495
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
The issue with an open enclosure - and outdoors - is that it is indeed an open system. When you place a light or Ceramic Heat Emitter over an open enclosure, the physics demand that a draft is created. The warmer, drier air under the bulb is drawn upwards, along with the water it contains. Air from the nearby enclosure areas are drawn in, heated, rises, and repeat. It is not a stable environment. It is constantly drying. Having to spray it down or add water repeatedly tells you that. Anything in that system is constantly drying. A little at a time. Even the hides are drying. If they were not, you would never have to add water to keep the humidity up. So the tortoise is also drying. The only way to stop that is by creating a much closer to stable micro-climate. One where you don't have to add water, humidifier, or spray down the enclosure to keep the humidity at 95%. My closed chambers stay at 95% and I don't add water or spray down the substrate except when I first set up the enclosure. No drying. The warmer air under the basking light or CHE rises, hits the ceiling, circulates to the cooler part of the enclosure where its relative humidity level rises right back up. The air is pulled back under the basking light and the cycle repeats. Moisture is not leaving the system.

In the wild, tortoises have become masters at finding and exploiting as close to a closed system as they can find. Deep cover under a bush and in a pallet, or dug into a burrow with their body plugging the tunnel where they rest. Measurements there show the humidity remains at a virtual 100% even in a climate that outside is 15% humidity. It does not dry out. It remains moist.

In an open system things are constantly drying out. Water must be added back into the system to retain higher humidity. In Florida that is the rains. Then the lush foliage and lakes release their moisture and things start to dry until the rains come again. 70% - 80% humidity on average, but things are drying constantly. Moisture must be added again.

By creating a closed system we can slow this process down to a point very much like the burrow or deep cover pallet the tortoise would naturally seek out. We can tell by seeing we rarely have to add more moisture to the system. If you have to constantly add moisture - run a humdifier, pour water in the substrate, spray down the enclosure - we know our system is constantly drying. And so will our tortoise.
Eloquent Mark. I would not have thought to explain it in this way. I don't ever add water to my enclosures either. In fact spillage from the tortoises going in and out of the water saucers sometimes makes it too wet and I have to leave the doors partially open to try to get it to dry out a bit.
 

Learning123

Member
Joined
Sep 1, 2020
Messages
32
Location (City and/or State)
Riverview
Yes, your tortoise is pyramiding. I would bet you are using an open type enclosure and that is most of the problem. Can we see a picture of the enclosure and the types of lights you are using? That will help us help you.

In Florida, even though you have higher humidity, the humidity of the microclimate created in an enclosures (both indoors and outdoors) is very different than the meteorological humidity. An enclosure, and how it is set up, creates its own microclimate.

There are a plethora of pictures of baby and young sulcatas here on the forum. You can see plenty of examples of smooth sulcatas now. Read the care sheet here and there is a great example of what we strive for in a baby sulcata that is smooth there - https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threa...ulcata-leopard-or-star-tortoise.181497/unread

Here's a picture of one of mine

View attachment 306103
So the brown spots mean pyramiding?
 

Markw84

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
4,431
Location (City and/or State)
Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
So the brown spots mean pyramiding?
Pyramiding is valleys forming between the original scute centers as the tortoise grows. With sulcatas, the new growth comes in a much darker brown that lightens over about 3 years. The signs of a young tortoise pyramiding is the valleys that start forming between the original scute centers with the new growth. I've noted them here from the original picture in this post. Compare those areas to the sulcata I pictured in my 2nd reply post and you can see the new growth has come in level in a sulcata that is not pyramiding and growing smooth.

baby sulcata pyramiding with notes.jpg

Here's a photo I looked back and found of a smooth sulcata I had grown in one of my experiments with notes:

my smooth sulcata with note on keratin growth.jpg
 
Last edited:

Learning123

Member
Joined
Sep 1, 2020
Messages
32
Location (City and/or State)
Riverview
20200913_121047.jpg
Thank you. I'm just feeling paranoid. I just got this little tort myself not sure on his/her age though. And I've learned so much on here on how to prevent pyramiding. So now building our own enclosures for indoor and outdoor.
 

kirbytherussian

New Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 21, 2014
Messages
16
Here is his current enclosure- it is open top. The humidity this morning was 85 percent, and I read it just now and it was 60.
So what I’m reading so far says I should make him an enclosed habitat, inside. Then, keep the humidity at 90 percent?
 

Attachments

  • image.jpg
    image.jpg
    1.6 MB · Views: 30
  • image.jpg
    image.jpg
    1.8 MB · Views: 31

Teez

New Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2020
Messages
12
Location (City and/or State)
Lake Worth Beach Florida
about soaking ...the water can only be maybe a half inch or so deep so the little guys don't drown...so how does the keeping the bottoms wet, help the upper shell? Just curious, wouldn't misting be better? along with a high humidity? I appreciate Markw84's photos examples. Thanks all
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,495
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Here is his current enclosure- it is open top. The humidity this morning was 85 percent, and I read it just now and it was 60.
So what I’m reading so far says I should make him an enclosed habitat, inside. Then, keep the humidity at 90 percent?
An indoor closed chamber will help tremendously. Then, you have to make sure you have the correct bulbs and use them correctly, as the wrong bulbs will dry out the carapace and cause pyramiding even in a high humidity closed chamber. Its all explained in the care sheet.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
54,495
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
about soaking ...the water can only be maybe a half inch or so deep so the little guys don't drown...so how does the keeping the bottoms wet, help the upper shell? Just curious, wouldn't misting be better? along with a high humidity? I appreciate Markw84's photos examples. Thanks all
I keep the water about halfway up the shell. As they slosh around, the carapace does usually stay wet, but soak is more for hydration than carapace wetness. Misting the carapace, daily soaks, and high humidity, are all part of the equation for a healthy, smooth sulcata baby.
 
Top