Behavioural Help with my Hatchling Hermanns

scarlettedenrose

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Hi! I’m new to the forum and bought my first tort about a month 1/2 ago after wanting one for years (I’m sixteen). She’s a about 10 weeks old now I think, and I’ve slowly got used to her personality and traits which have helped me adapt her lifestyle to benefit her and keep her safe as best I can. We already have a bearded dragon in the house, so I wasn’t completely new to reptile care when I got her, which helped a lot. I’ve done lots of research and I think I’m doing ok as a new owner.
My only problem is her love of climbing! I try to encourage exploring and safe climbing but recently she’s been determined to scale the walls of her tort table, which has often resulted in her flipping over. This became much more serious yesterday as my dad (who VERY luckily was home at the time) found her upside-down in her water dish, struggling to keep her head up (though the water is very shallow). If he hadn’t had found her, I’m terrified to think what I would have found coming home from school. I’ve always had rocks in the dish to give her something to push or lay against when in the water, as the dish is quite large. I’ve seen her trying to climb the walls next to her dish (it’s a corner one) so this must be how she fell over into it.
I’m attempting to ‘baby-proof’ the sides by angling them but I’m still at a loss as what to do about the dish problem. It’s too big to move into the middle so I’m looking for something smaller to use. I’m not sure how shallow I can make the water before she can’t use it to drink or bathe at all. I’ve also tried to draw her attention to potential climbing objects in the middle of the table like large rocks and bits of wood, and making obstacles she can’t see past to draw more interest and exploration, but I can’t get her away from the walls! Even as I’m writing this she’s trying to climb them and has been trying all day. The table is about 1.5x2.5 feet and she’s only tiny, plus the floor space was my biggest concern before buying her and I’ve put a lot of effort into giving her enough space to roam, so I don’t think it’s that? Or does she need more room? I can’t put her outside yet (even for a little bit) as I live in the Northern UK, so it’s just too cold and wet with no sun, especially for a hatchling.

I hope this isn’t too much information all at once. I’m just anxious about her safety when I’m not at home and it would be useful to know if this behaviour comes from natural interest, boredom, or (though I hope not) a need to escape, so that I can adjust the table accordingly and give her a stimulating and stress-free environment.
Thanks!
Scarlett :)
 

Yvonne G

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Pictures would be helpful to us. Pictures of the enclosure and the tortoise.

Baby tortoises are prey, and they don't feel safe in a wide open space. But we can help you better once we see what you have.
 

scarlettedenrose

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Here you go. I included a few hiding spots when I first got her but right now she likes her big house to burrow in. There’s grass everywhere at the minute, it’s due for a clean out this weekend.
28FFD40D-0A2B-4C1F-818B-7DD6BAE05747.jpeg 44871502-F736-4C54-85A4-34915B4AEB47.jpeg F5F57C69-AE2E-43E5-BB30-3214A9E414E3.jpeg This is the dish. She’ll try to climb the clear plastic wall in particular (the window is covered) and tip over backwards. I’ve moved it into the middle for now.

6A632642-B22C-4B64-952E-9834BD29B4DD.jpeg F293D683-6327-4678-ADA9-A37DE82544BB.jpeg 6412A791-DC60-4CA7-A8B1-2893C24005E5.png F9137457-90F2-46E7-8F6B-EC7DABC22DF4.png 077E6B1C-F006-41D3-8E6E-6697AC1AA101.png I’ve moved around a lot of the objects to see how she responds. Usually her first instinct is to climb onto anything she can!
 

NoxidMullac

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Hello and welcome! Your tortoise is beautiful, and you’ve clearly gone to so much effort to create her a stimulating and personal home. I am not hugely experience myself but I have learned so much from this forum, hopefully you will benefit from this community as much as I have. One small recommendation I have would be to cover the lower half of your glass/plastic front - if a tortoise can see through it, they will persistently try to get through it. This has the potential to cause distress. Best of luck and keep us posted on how your little one grows 😊
 

Yvonne G

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I see a few things that I can help you with.

Instead of that reptile bowl for water (those work better for lizards and snakes) get a clay plant saucer. It doesn't have to be too big, just big enough to have a little space around the tortoise when he's inside it. Sink it down into the substrate so the lip is even with the ground. The sloping sides are much easier for a small tortoise to climb out of.

I'm thinking one of those bulbs is the UVB bulb? Get rid of that one and use instead a T5 tube type fluorescent UVB bulb. You can buy them at lightyourreptiles.com, or just put "fluorescent UVB reptile bulb" in your search engine. Some folks use a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) for heat without light.

Get a piece or broken cement or a rough piece of tile for the feeding station. This helps keep the beak trimmed as he scrapes picking up the food.

Move your thermometer or whatever that round thing is down to tortoise level.

Get rid of that substrate and use either fir bark, coco coir or cypress mulch, and moisten it slightly.

Your little guy probably won't eat grass until he gets bigger, and maybe not even then. They eat mainly broad leaf weeds and plants.

Now to the stuff I really like about your enclosure.

It's a great size and he'll be able to live in there for quite a long time.

I love that he has a second floor. Some tortoises really love to climb up and down. Some even like to slide down if there's that function.

It's nice that he lives in the oasis with all the palm trees, etc. And all the big rocks for sight barriers makes it much more interesting for him. Would it be possible to tape the palm trees on the outside of the glass instead of the inside? It may last longer outside.

You might consider adding a few more plants inside the enclosure to block off that 'open' look. He might be climbing the sides because he doesn't feel safe out in the open like he is and is trying to escape to find a safer place to live.

You've done a nice job setting up your little guy. I really like it!
 

scarlettedenrose

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Leeds, West Yorkshire
Hello and welcome! Your tortoise is beautiful, and you’ve clearly gone to so much effort to create her a stimulating and personal home. I am not hugely experience myself but I have learned so much from this forum, hopefully you will benefit from this community as much as I have. One small recommendation I have would be to cover the lower half of your glass/plastic front - if a tortoise can see through it, they will persistently try to get through it. This has the potential to cause distress. Best of luck and keep us posted on how your little one grows 😊
Thanks so much! I was nervous to post at first but it’s so reassuring to know there are people who started off like me. I’ve already learned so much I hadn’t thought of before! I see your point about the plastic front - I though she would be too small to see over it but that could definitely be the reason she keeps climbing there. I really appreciate the welcome and advice - and Jana says thank you!
 

scarlettedenrose

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Leeds, West Yorkshire
I see a few things that I can help you with.

Instead of that reptile bowl for water (those work better for lizards and snakes) get a clay plant saucer. It doesn't have to be too big, just big enough to have a little space around the tortoise when he's inside it. Sink it down into the substrate so the lip is even with the ground. The sloping sides are much easier for a small tortoise to climb out of.

I'm thinking one of those bulbs is the UVB bulb? Get rid of that one and use instead a T5 tube type fluorescent UVB bulb. You can buy them at lightyourreptiles.com, or just put "fluorescent UVB reptile bulb" in your search engine. Some folks use a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) for heat without light.

Get a piece or broken cement or a rough piece of tile for the feeding station. This helps keep the beak trimmed as he scrapes picking up the food.

Move your thermometer or whatever that round thing is down to tortoise level.

Get rid of that substrate and use either fir bark, coco coir or cypress mulch, and moisten it slightly.

Your little guy probably won't eat grass until he gets bigger, and maybe not even then. They eat mainly broad leaf weeds and plants.

Now to the stuff I really like about your enclosure.

It's a great size and he'll be able to live in there for quite a long time.

I love that he has a second floor. Some tortoises really love to climb up and down. Some even like to slide down if there's that function.

It's nice that he lives in the oasis with all the palm trees, etc. And all the big rocks for sight barriers makes it much more interesting for him. Would it be possible to tape the palm trees on the outside of the glass instead of the inside? It may last longer outside.

You might consider adding a few more plants inside the enclosure to block off that 'open' look. He might be climbing the sides because he doesn't feel safe out in the open like he is and is trying to escape to find a safer place to live.

You've done a nice job setting up your little guy. I really like it!
Wow, this is really useful, thank you! The plant saucer idea I’ll definitely use, that sounds much more safe and practical and we’ve got loads of them lying around. Unfortunately the table came with those fittings for the bulbs, so I can’t move them, but I could get a UV strip to hang above the table instead. I’ll have a look for a new substrate when I clean her out next, though I might have to get it online as my local shop only seems to sell one kind for desert tortoises. The cement/tile thing sounds good too - she has cuttlebone but I’ve never seen her use it. I’ve moved the thermometer and the grass is actually bedding - she drags it in and out of the house all the time and burrows into it, usually making a mess while she’s at it!
You make a good point about the palm trees - they came with the enclosure but have been looking a bit worse for wear so I’ve been thinking of just taking them off altogether. I hadn’t thought about putting them on the outside of the glass, that way she could still have them and they wouldn’t be a problem. And thank you especially for the plant suggestion, that actually makes a lot of sense and maybe there’s a bit too much open space and she’s feeling unsafe. If anything, it might give her something else to climb on!
This is a big help, I feel much more on track now! It’s good to know I’m doing some things right (I was worrying about the enclosure size) as well as room to improve.
 

Lowstorm

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They sell better substrates at hardware stores like lowes, home depot, or menards in the US. Look in the gardening department instead of at pet stores!
 

Tom

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That dry substrate needs to go ASAP. Its an impaction risk, and it makes it too dry in there for your baby.

The cfl type UV bulb might be your problem. Those sometimes burn their eyes and shouldn't be used. Some tortoises hide from them and other frantically try to get away from them. They keep selling them because people keep buying them. They are not an effective UV source anyway. The bulb Yvonne mentioned is indeed a strip type. ZooMed Makes one and so does Arcadia. The T5 HO type is what you want.

Do you let the baby out on the floor to run around? This is not recommended and this can also cause the kind of restlessness you are seeing.
 

scarlettedenrose

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That dry substrate needs to go ASAP. Its an impaction risk, and it makes it too dry in there for your baby.

The cfl type UV bulb might be your problem. Those sometimes burn their eyes and shouldn't be used. Some tortoises hide from them and other frantically try to get away from them. They keep selling them because people keep buying them. They are not an effective UV source anyway. The bulb Yvonne mentioned is indeed a strip type. ZooMed Makes one and so does Arcadia. The T5 HO type is what you want.

Do you let the baby out on the floor to run around? This is not recommended and this can also cause the kind of restlessness you are seeing.
Hi Tom. I've looked at a few more posts recently and everyone seems to have the same negative response towards this kind of substrate, so you're right, it will have to go. I also noticed when I first got her that her little feet would sink into it and I was worried she wouldn't develop good strength in her legs if she couldn't walk across a solid surface, so for now I've lined it with shells which has made it much more solid. I've heard good recommendations for cypress mulch or a dirt-based substrate like what you could find outside, but I'm not sure where to look. My local place only uses this kind so should I buy online?
Thank you for the strip bulb suggestions, I'll look into them today. No, I don't let her out of the enclosure to roam as my room has a LOT of stuff that she could choke on and honestly, I'd lose her. I've been waiting for the weather to warm up so that I can make her an enclosed space outside since she does seem restless to escape, but it's still too cold.
Thank you for the advice! The situation is worrying me a little more now as she climbs the walls all day every day at the moment - even right now. She flips over all the time and even though she is more than capable of righting herself most of the time I'm still very anxious. She's also been ignoring her food to climb instead? Right now schools are closed so I've had more time to notice this behaviour.
Cheers!
 

Tom

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Hi Tom. I've looked at a few more posts recently and everyone seems to have the same negative response towards this kind of substrate, so you're right, it will have to go. I also noticed when I first got her that her little feet would sink into it and I was worried she wouldn't develop good strength in her legs if she couldn't walk across a solid surface, so for now I've lined it with shells which has made it much more solid. I've heard good recommendations for cypress mulch or a dirt-based substrate like what you could find outside, but I'm not sure where to look. My local place only uses this kind so should I buy online?
Thank you for the strip bulb suggestions, I'll look into them today. No, I don't let her out of the enclosure to roam as my room has a LOT of stuff that she could choke on and honestly, I'd lose her. I've been waiting for the weather to warm up so that I can make her an enclosed space outside since she does seem restless to escape, but it's still too cold.
Thank you for the advice! The situation is worrying me a little more now as she climbs the walls all day every day at the moment - even right now. She flips over all the time and even though she is more than capable of righting herself most of the time I'm still very anxious. She's also been ignoring her food to climb instead? Right now schools are closed so I've had more time to notice this behaviour.
Cheers!
For small Testudo, my preferred substrate is coco coir. It is sold under several names, like "Eco Earth" for example. You can also find it in bulk in garden centers much cheaper than pet stores. You'll need to hydrate the compressed block, add about 8 inches of it to your tank, and then hand pack it down. It can be a little messy, but its good for them to be able to dig down into it. After about two weeks it settles in and get a little less messy.

You never said which type of UV bulb you are using. Is it the cfl screw in type?
 

scarlettedenrose

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Leeds, West Yorkshire
For small Testudo, my preferred substrate is coco coir. It is sold under several names, like "Eco Earth" for example. You can also find it in bulk in garden centers much cheaper than pet stores. You'll need to hydrate the compressed block, add about 8 inches of it to your tank, and then hand pack it down. It can be a little messy, but its good for them to be able to dig down into it. After about two weeks it settles in and get a little less messy.

You never said which type of UV bulb you are using. Is it the cfl screw in type?
Ok, I’ve had a look online and found a good-looking ZooMed earthy substrate that I can have delivered if I can’t get to the garden centre (unfortunately they are all closed due to coronavirus), but I’ll keep that in mind for when (hopefully!) they open again. The bulb is a screw in, it came with the table when my parents bought it but I think it’s quite old. I’ll include a photo.
 

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Tom

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Ok, I’ve had a look online and found a good-looking ZooMed earthy substrate that I can have delivered if I can’t get to the garden centre (unfortunately they are all closed due to coronavirus), but I’ll keep that in mind for when (hopefully!) they open again. The bulb is a screw in, it came with the table when my parents bought it but I think it’s quite old. I’ll include a photo.
There are three suitable substrate choices. Fine grade orchid bark, coco coir, and cypress mulch. Which one are you getting?

Those are the type of bulb NOT to use. I would unscrew it ASAP. Your tortoise will be fine with no UV for weeks if necessary while you find and procure a safer, better alternative. Get a T5 HO tube from Arcadia or ZooMed for indoor UV and use it in conjunction with your incandescent basking lamp. You can supplement with a calcium supplement containing D3 in the mean time.
 

scarlettedenrose

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Leeds, West Yorkshire
There are three suitable substrate choices. Fine grade orchid bark, coco coir, and cypress mulch. Which one are you getting?

Those are the type of bulb NOT to use. I would unscrew it ASAP. Your tortoise will be fine with no UV for weeks if necessary while you find and procure a safer, better alternative. Get a T5 HO tube from Arcadia or ZooMed for indoor UV and use it in conjunction with your incandescent basking lamp. You can supplement with a calcium supplement containing D3 in the mean time.
I was hoping to get a coco coir type from the garden centre, as soon as I find one that’s open. Ok, I understand about the bulb. I’ve seen a few T5 tubes by Arcadia that look good. Looks like I’ve still got a lot
to learn! Thanks!
 
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