Balcony day 1-advice please

J.Gatz

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We started our balcony enclosure today and I'd really appreciate any advice on how to make it the best possible for our little guy. I'm worried because Torterra walked around a little after we moved him in this afternoon, but spent the rest of the day hiding under the dahlias. The pet shop where we bought him had him in weird conditions, he was in shredded newspaper with tons of meal worms (they said Russian tortoises eat them which I don't think it's true...). He seems healthy (i need to find a vet) but I want to make sure he's in a good environment asap... Help please?

IMG_20150425_185916.jpg
 
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Lyn W

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Hi and welcome - it looks as if there is plenty of space. I'm still a novice myself and have a leopard whose needs may be slightly different, but I would probably use a bigger tray of substrate and more plants. Does he live indoors too? Only can't see any lights or heat sources for basking/uv rays etc which you may need unless your balcony is sunny and he can get direct sun, as well as a CHE for night heat.

If you haven't already found them have a look at the care sheets for Russians in the Species Specific section that will tell you what they need to stay healthy and there are some great ideas in the Enclosure threads, I have also found the Beginners Mistakes thread useful too. Some torts take a while to adjust to new surroundings so he may be hiding while he gets used to the change - just make sure he is warm enough and he may need a shallow warm soak to hydrate him but - check out the care sheets.

I have only had a tort since last summer and had no idea there was so much involved in tort keeping but there's lots of up to date info and advice from very experienced people who have helped tremendously, and I'm sure they will be along to advise soon.
 

J.Gatz

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Thanks for the reply @Lyn W ! I think I have an under-bed container in my kids' room, maybe that in addition to what's there now would be good? I'll hunt for more plants tomorrow... I originally planned to keep him indoors but couldn't figure out how to configure our small space with all of the heating needs (I too had no idea how much was involved! Been doing nonstop research this week). We live in Hawaii so it's generally hot and humid, the balcony is in direct sun for about 4 hours/day. Are additional heat sources are needed with those conditions? I'm still hunting for thermometers, the pet shops we visited so far didn't carry them... We did his first soak this morning, that was the happiest he's seemed since we got him :)
 

Lyn W

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The care sheets will probably be much more helpful than me -- they'll tell you what temps and humidity levels, diet, substrate etc your tort needs to stay happy and healthy. That's where I started and I ask lots questions or do searches and have lots of help from the many experts here. Mine has been a very steep learning curve - and still ongoing!
Some of the tips I've picked up are:
  • a regularly recommended sort of enclosure is a bookcase (as big as possible)with shelves removed and lined with plastic e.g.a shower curtain then filled with substrate plants etc
  • a CHE - think that stands for ceramic heat emitter - would probably be needed at night on a thermostat. They are similar to light bulbs but only give out heat as torts need darkness to sleep.
  • If you do buy lights don't buy the coil type as these can damage the torts eyes (one if the golden rules). I live in the UK so have been using mercury vapour bulb (MVB) all winter for UV rays.
  • Spider plants are recommended by a lot of people as they are bushy and safe if nibbled. Have you seen the Tortoise Table website? It tells you what plants are safe or toxic to torts
  • You could probably buy a temperature/humidity meter at local supermarkets or diy stores cheaper and more reliable than pet shop stock
  • terracotta shallow plant saucers make good water bowls sunk in substrate as they are cheap and easy for the tort to get in and out of (no steep sides to flip tort and drown him)
As I said I'm still a novice myself but hope I have helped point you in the right direction. Finding this website is definitely one of the best things I did.
 
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Lyn W

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Just saw these - there are some good ideas and opinions for balcony enclosures listed below in the Similar Threads section
 

Yvonne G

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Hi Jamie:

Here's what I would do if this were my Russian tortoise and my balcony: Remove everything you have in there and line the railing side with bricks to contain substrate from falling over under the white stuff you have in front of the railing. Put down a 3 or 4" bed of substrate, over the whole balcony. Sink a plant saucer down into the substrate for water and lay a tile or rough piece of cement, stepping stone or whatever, to feed him on. Add a couple of hiding places like half logs, etc. Then put the plants back, sinking them into the substrate too.

What you have there is too busy. I see no need for all the different containers if you just put substrate all over the whole floor. You can add some stepping stones for you to walk on if you want.

Your weather in Hawaii is probably warm enough that you don't need lights or heat. Does the sun shine in there at all throughout the day?
 

Tom

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I agree with Yvonne's set up advice with one exception. I think you do need a heat sources. The weather in HI is nice and warm most days, but in a shaded area like that your tortoise needs a place to warm up. If the sun doesn't reach in there, then you need to give him and artificial "sun" spot to warm up under. In other words your warm ambient temps are good, but they still need a hot spot where they can get their body temp up above the 80 degree ambient.

Check these out:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/russian-tortoise-care-sheet.80698/
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/beginner-mistakes.45180/
 

J.Gatz

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Thanks so much for your responses! That's a great idea about the bricks. I was using the containers because I was worried about the substrate getting everywhere - bricks will be perfect! Do you think it's important to have areas of different types of substrate available?

I'm attaching a pic of what the sun looks like now at 9:30 AM, it'll get brighter and more intense as it gets closer to noon, and get shady towards 5. Is a heat source recommended? IMG_20150426_093533.jpg
 

johnsonnboswell

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You do not need different substrates. You need substrate everywhere your tortoise walks. Hard floors can damage feet and nails over time.
 

leigti

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I would also have areas where the substrate is at least six or 8 inches deep. Russians love to dig. As stated above put substrate over the entire area. Get yourself a temperature gun at the hardware store, that way you can measure the temperature all over the enclosure. I find that my outdoor enclosure is much warmer then I think it is, usually much warmer than the air temperature. Especially up against the walls.
 

leigti

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And just stating something from the beginning of your post, Russians do not eat mealworms or any other type of protein. I have heard that they will occasionally eat an earthworm but it is definitely not part of their normal diet. Just stick to the weeds and leafy greens.
 

J.Gatz

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Thank you @leigti ! I got a couple thermometers from Petco, hoping those work well... And thanks for confirming about the mealworms... I feel like my little guy might be traumatized from being in that tiny space with all those worms :(
 

J.Gatz

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Hi again! I'm attaching a pic of the latest version of the enclosure... Didn't have enough substrate to extend it as far as I intended. What do you think? I'm a little worried that the substrate will blow into my neighbors' balconies (I'm on the 2nd floor of a condo) so I was thinking about trying to plant some ground cover, but wondering if that might be too heavy for the balcony or if the roots could crack the concrete floor? Torterra has stayed burrowed in the pot (goes right back to that spot after his soak) and hasn't started exploring or eating much yet... We have an appointment at the vet on Friday.

balcony v3.jpg
 

leigti

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It's looking good. You can get big huge bags of cypress mulch or orchid bark or organic garden soil to fill in more of a area. And to make it deeper in spots. You can also keep it just moist enough so it doesn't fly away. Russians are very good climbers. How big are the spaces between the rails of your balcony? I think that plastic stuff that you were using will work very well to keep your tortoise in and it is probably too slick for him to climb up.
 

Tidgy's Dad

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Looks lovely, but a russian is going to escape from there, they are supreme climbers, so be careful, as leigti says.
 

J.Gatz

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Thank you! The plastic sheeting thing goes all the way around the balcony, it's 15" high...
 

leigti

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That's a good height. Just don't put anything close they can climb onto because all they need is one little foot above the lip and it's over :)
 
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