Cherryhead enclosure and lots of questions

NDevon

Active Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
152
Location (City and/or State)
North Devon, UK
Hi, I have been reading your wonderful forum for a month now and keep coming back for more. Lots of research done in other places too, but this is the only forum I felt I could post in asking questions as the other places all seem so judgemental. I know I'm getting things wrong and I want to make it right, but unless I can get the answers that's going to be pretty difficult to do. There is also so much contradictory information out there, but at least here there seems to be some consistency to the answers and suggestions.

I am so jealous of so many of the enclosures I have seen, you guys put in a lot of effort caring for your lovely tortoises, you should be very proud. Me, well I'm from Devon in the UK, and tomorrow I travel a 300 mile round trip to collect my daughters two little Cherryheads, both very little, both very lovely. We have another reserved from the same clutch but it only hatched last week so will be some time before it can come home with us - I know I shouldn't have two, and I wasn't allowed 1 (by order of the family!). I have a lot of confidence in the breeder and we are very happy with our choice. Like so many people we went looking for a pet, we wanted something that would live longer than the recently deceased hamster and, well, you don't get much longer lifespan than a (well cared for) tortoise!

At first I thought I would just stick this big thing in the garden and occasionally tell it off for eating the flowers. Oh no. Lots of research later and we realise we want Redfoots, and we are all ready to go. I picked up their vivarium a couple of weeks ago, set about customising it - new UV tube, take out the hot bright heat lamp, add a 2nd floor/shelf so it had more space to explore, build a ramp/hide from polystyrene covered with spray foam then sealed and covered in coco soil, make wells so the two air vents in bottom corners wouldn't get covered in substrate and would allow ventilation (there are two large vents up high on the back wall too.

I have spent a few hours a day over a couple of weeks getting it ready, as well as continuing to read, read and read some more.

I now realise I've basically got it all wrong and I'm struggling to know what to do. I have put in too much effort and money to throw this out - I don't work as I care for my two disabled sons full time although money is not an issue in ensuring the tortoises have a good life, and the positive is I'm home 99.99% of the time.

What I thought I was doing by adding the shelf was making a nice dark humid area where they could hide out. What I've actually made is a large dark damp colder area. I guess now the heating simply doesn't get to it. The ceramic heater is mounted up top, the temperature in the rest of the vivarium is 29.5 to 30.6 day and night at the moment. I believe I am aiming for 31 so would you guys say it's too cold? The area under the shelf is averaging 23.4 to 24.1 and I think that is just too cold isn't it? Another question on heating, is it important that it all cools down at night? If so I need to change the thermostat for one wih night settings.

Substrate, the area undear the shelf is 2" of top soil with sphagnum moss on top, not a depth I can measure, I just covered it with a thin layer. The water bowl is also under here. The ramp/hill/hide is lightly covered in coco soil, and the area to the other side of the hill is deep coco soil with a line of plants along the end wall planted in top soil. Up on the shelf we have a strip of topsoil down the middle about 2-3" deep with plants in (nooooo idea if these will last the week but I'm trying) and then the rest of the shelf has maybe an inch of topsoil and forest floor bark on top. There are two hides up top, one is a nice piece of cork bark that is naturally shaped perfect for a hide, the other one of those little wooden hides made out of thin branches held together with wire. I put a coating of waterproof sealant on this and covered it in moss to make it look good but also for humidity purposes. Up top is a piece of slate where they will eat.

Internally the usable space measures 38" left to right, 18" back to front and 17" substrate to roof. The shelf goes right from front to back and 22" across I think, so it does add a fair bit of space. There are two sliding glass doors, although I realise these may not be good as the tortoises won't like being able to see out, reading stuff on here.

So my issues are:

The glass doors, which I could put something on if that would help but obviously my daughter wants to see her tortoises so not sure what to do. Comments?

The temperatures. I don't think I can get them higher, the thermostat is on full, unless I turn on the basking lamp, but I have read this is bad for their eyes and would hate to hurt them - comments?

Humidity is up and down, as low as 45% and as high as 95% shortly after a spraying, however the substrate has only been in for 48 hours so it may settle down soon. Also this is humidity up on the shelf in the warmest and driest part, other areas are much more humid. Comments?

The size of the vivarium is just too small isn't it? To be fair these guys are obviously teeny and I know people keep them in smaller, but I don't want to do minimums here, I want them to live in the best conditions we can provide.

I have a water bowl that is probably wrong, it's not deep and its sunk into the substrate but it isn't a flat plate like people suggest.

Lighting, under the shelf it's pretty dark, almost nighttime, even with light on the room and vivarium I can't see the back wall woo ut shining a light in. Is this good or bad?

So, as I said I can't throw it out and start again, I'm sure the lovely lady will hold them for us but my daughter will be devasted, she is so excited about picking them up. What I want to do is bring them home and then this week get things spot on.

I think the only way to do this is extend the vivarium significantly. There isn't the space for another heat lamp under the shelf really, but if I had an extension I can add heaters in there and that will make a huge difference.

The vivarium is along a wall and to the left the wall then drops back into a large window area. I plan on adding a box that will measure 40" x 20" and the same height as the current vivarium. It won't just go on the side and make one long 78" length, but back towards the window, adding 20" to the current width of 38". This too will have two floors, but much more usable floor space, and I will link it by opening up the end of the existing vivarium. I then planned on adding an additional 2 ceramic heat lamps to this new section, one for each floor, and two thermostats so that I can be sure of the temperatures. For ceramic heat lamps do I want dimming or pulse thermostats? I currently have a very good pulse one.

I then planned on adding an additional UV stip light in this new section, but most of it would be fairly dark. I wanted to add some led strip lights in there so we can see the tortoises and also have a nice slow dawn and dusk effect as well as moonlight lighting, but people here don't seem keen on LED lights like this. They won't have to be bright as they can be dimmed down to almost zero, is there any harm in adding them? I am not sure about adding glass to this new section, it would be good for letting light in but people say it's bad, although it would mean we could see the tortoises of course, kind of seems pointless spending all this money if we don't even know if they are in there...

Lastly, my biggest decision is the top. I love the idea of a tortoise table, but worry about the heat and humidity. I think it is Tom on here who has explained very well how tortoises will not self regulate and make the right decision, so if they find somewhere they like they will go there even if it's not really warm enough. I thought about adding an additional ramp to the 'roof' and then having the whole area as a large tortoise table. I would have a simple way of sliding a panel across so they couldn't get up if I needed them to stay down in the vivariums. So it won't lose too much heat and humidity out through the opening to the roof I would add another roof covering some of the area, helping to keep heat and humidity in below, and adding a roof level to the very top.

So, yeah, it would have 4 levels..... It sounds stupid saying it now, but what is does is give the tortoises several times the amount of usable space, and that is important. What I'm not sure of is would I need to then add heating to the top levels? The room is very warm, it's a 450 year old cottage with walls 3' thick and very tiny windows so it's nice and cosy in winter and doesn't get too hot in the summer. I wondered if they could come out when someone was there but be put back and the door shut at other times and not really need additional heating. Or I could add heating to the top and regulate it. Comments?

I could of course not bother with the top two levels, but if I'm going to build the extension - which is bigger than the current vivarium - I may as well just buy wood that bit bigger and an extra couple of pieces so I can go on up. Alternatively, would it be better to make the top levels closed too so that I could completely control the environment? I feel like I may as well go as big as I can, we don't have the floor space but is could be almost as good as one big flat level.

With the humidity, does it need to be 80-90% at all times throughout the entire enclosure? Fine if it does, I can make that happen, just want to know, although I will invest in some misting or fogging system if that's the case to ensure I get it spot on.

So sorry for my long rambling post and so many questions. I am truly grateful if you have had the patience and energy to read this far and appreciate all your comments and advice. I know you will ask for pictures but I'm just too ashamed of the current vivarium to share pictures, it's far too small and I know I will be told everything I already know about it, not in the mood to be told off, I'm worried sick about these little guys as it is.

Best wishes to you all :)
 

NDevon

Active Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
152
Location (City and/or State)
North Devon, UK
I was looking at DIY fogging solutions, is that cold fog and if so is that ok? I guessed it would be no different really to spraying cold water in via a spray bottle or mist system and as its a short burst would disperse quickly and not do much to the temperature. How long do you fog for and how often? Manually or do you use some kind of timer?
 

christinaland128

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5 Year Member
Joined
Mar 20, 2014
Messages
1,617
Location (City and/or State)
Metro Detroit
I was looking at DIY fogging solutions, is that cold fog and if so is that ok? I guessed it would be no different really to spraying cold water in via a spray bottle or mist system and as its a short burst would disperse quickly and not do much to the temperature. How long do you fog for and how often? Manually or do you use some kind of timer?
Yes it's a cool mist humidifier. You wouldn't want to use a steam one, it could burn them. By the time the cool must hits the hot temps of my enclosure it's perfectly warm.

I keep my fogger on med/high most of the day but keep it low at night because cooler temps and moisture could lead to a respiratory infection.

So yes, manually. I just crank it up when the heat lights kick on around 11.
 

NDevon

Active Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
152
Location (City and/or State)
North Devon, UK
Lots of thinking tonight, I have ordered a new caramic bulb, a bulb holder that I can screw to the wall and it's slightly angled downwards, a habistat high range pulse thermostat and a thermometer and hygrometer combined. I have thermometers and hygrometers already, but I wanted to have a whole setup for this one troublesome section under the shelf. By getting all of this in place I know I can control the heat under the shelf, and if I can control the temperature I'm closer to controlling the humidity. Just spent around £100 on some stuff to warm up a corner of a vivarium - these tortoises are expensive and I haven't got them home yet!

It's nearly 2am and I'm picking the little guys up this evening so need to sleep soon, all the order will be with me tomorrow (not when I wake up, the day after) so they will have to manage in the vivarium as it is for 12 hours or so but I'm sure they will be fine for that length of time!

I'm still planning on the extension but this buys me time, I won't have to rush things this way and I can do a better job, my mind earlier was on getting it done in a couple of days which would have cost more and been a much poorer quality job.
 

NDevon

Active Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
152
Location (City and/or State)
North Devon, UK
I started a topic yesterday and it was just far too long, I doubt anyone read it so I'm posting a cut down version getting to the point!

Hi, I have been reading your wonderful forum for a month now and keep coming back for more. Lots of research done in other places too, but this is the only forum I felt I could post in asking questions as the other places all seem so judgemental. I know I'm getting things wrong and I want to make it right, but unless I can get the answers that's going to be pretty difficult to do.

Today I collect my daughters two little Cherryheads. We have another reserved from the same clutch but it only hatched last week so will be some time before it can come home with us - I know I shouldn't have two. I have spent a few hours a day over a couple of weeks getting it ready, as well as continuing to read, read and read some more.

We have a reasonable size custom built vivarium, I added a full depth shelf covering about half the width, and built a tortoise hill / ramp / hide from polystyrene covered with expanding foam, sealed and covered in coco soil. Last night I placed an order for some new equipment so I could fix a cold spot, so that is going to be sorted tomorrow.

Internally the usable space measures 38" left to right, 18" back to front and 17" substrate to roof. The shelf goes right from front to back and 22" across I think, so it does add a fair bit of space. There are two sliding glass doors, although I realise these may not be good as the tortoises won't like being able to see out, reading stuff on here, but I also don't see the point in having a pet you can't see keeping them in a closed wooden box!

So my issues are:

Temperature - is it important that it all cools down at night? The only way to do that would be manually adjust the thermostats unless I buy all new ones with night settings - lots more money!

Lighting, under the shelf it's pretty dark, almost nighttime, even with light on the room and vivarium I can't see the back wall without shining a light in. Is this good or bad? I wanted to add some led strip lights in there so we can see the tortoises and also have a nice slow dawn and dusk effect as well as moonlight lighting, but people here don't seem keen on LED lights like this. They won't have to be bright as they can be dimmed down to almost zero, is there any harm in adding them?

Over the coming weeks I will be more than doubling the size of the enclosure. I love the idea of a tortoise table, but worry about the heat and humidity. I think it is Tom on here who has explained very well how tortoises will not self regulate and make the right decision, so if they find somewhere they like they will go there even if it's not really warm enough. I thought about adding an additional ramp giving access to the 'roof' and then having the whole area as a large tortoise table.

I would have a simple way of sliding a panel across so they couldn't get up if I needed them to stay down in the vivariums. I'm confident it won't lose much heat and humidity from the vivarium sections, what I'm not sure of is would I need to then add heating to the top level? The room is very warm, I wondered if they could come out when someone was there but be put back and the door shut at other times and not really need additional heating. Or I could add heating to the top and regulate it. Comments?

Lastly, with the humidity, does it need to be 80-90% at all times throughout the entire enclosure? Fine if it does, I can make that happen, just want to know, although I will invest in some misting or fogging system if that's the case to ensure I get it spot on.

Really appreciate any comments, not keen to add photos yet as its really not a great vivarium compared to the stuff I've seen from you guys?
 

Alaskamike

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Joined
Jul 2, 2014
Messages
1,742
Location (City and/or State)
South Florida
It sounds like you've invested considerable thought in the environment. One suggestion for accurate info & help is to check temps with a temp gun & avoid words like " cold, warm & hot" since these are relative terms & different for everyone.

Babies are more sensitive to temp variables as well as the need for 70-80% humidity & I would keep the entire enclosure in that range. And not let any area drop below 70f

Your plans look good to me. You have the right ideas.

Good fortune to you !
 
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