Introduction and care questions

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kdcoon69

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Hi! I originally posted most of this to the "Welcome" section, but thought it might be more appropriate to post here as it is sulcata related. I'm hoping to get some more in depth insight from the experienced users here. I'm also new to forums (being more used to a yahoogroups format), so I apologize if this is considered a double post and would appreciate any correction on posting procedure.

Hi. I'm new to the group and, like many others here, I'm looking to give better care to my two sulcata tortoises. Some background...

My tortoises were approximately 1 year old on Oct. 1, 2009. I got them as hatchlings about 10-11 months prior. I've been keeping them inside due to their size, but they have a fairly large area (a 3.5' x 3.5' kiddie pool) to roam and have a UVA/UVB heat lamp on 8-12 hour cycles for "sunlight". They also have a hide box. I rarely take them outside as I have dogs that might think they're toys and/or I have seen the occasional bird of prey (falcon, hawk) in my eucalyptus tree. However, I live in southern AZ (Phoenix area) and plan to transfer them outside permanently once they are of sufficient size.

Their substrate is cypress mulch (recommended by a local pet store that "specializes" in fish and reptiles). Their diet is ~98% bermuda grass with occasional (once per month) dark leafy greens (romaine lettuce mostly) and the very rare carrot shaving or strawberry (3 times per year). I started soaking them at 1 year (twice per week), but not before that as one of the web sites I read suggested soaking *juveniles* (over 1 year), but said nothing about soaking *hatchlings* (under 1 year). Though in retrospect, this may have been a mistake.

Anyway, I thought I was doing fairly well with care with advice from the local pet store (though I've since learned they have been wrong about multiple things), but I think I'm starting to see some slight pyramiding in their shells and I'm concerned that I'm not doing something right. I've attached a few pics so that some of the more experienced in the group can (hopefully) tell me if I'm on the right track. Regardless, I feel I can (and should) be giving better care to my little guys and I'm hoping this group will help me.

I've already been informed that I may need a calcium supplement and am buying some cuttlebone this afternoon. Would you recommend an additional calcium supplement? Also, I saw that some people add powdered phosphorus, but haven't really heard the justification for this. Lastly, I was told that I need to moisten my substrate.

I haven't had time to go through the thousands of previous posts so as not ask redundant questions, but I will do so ASAP to avoid redundancy, but I hope someone will help with my immediate questions as I wish to stop the pyramiding *now*.

Some immediate questions I have...

1. Is pure cypress mulch an acceptable substrate or should I add something else?
2. I was told to moisten the substrate. How much water should I add? Should I add to the entire enclosure or only certain parts (i.e. under the lamps)?
3. How deep should I keep the substrate (assuming only cypress mulch)?
4. I realize I need to vary the diet more, but how much (and how often) should I feed a juvenile sulcata (just over a year old)?
5. I want to let them roam the back yard (with supervision) when the weather is nice... are there any normal plants that I need to keep them away from? How can I know whether my grass is going to be toxic to them?
6. Are there any other sulcata keepers in the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale area that I might be able to chat personally with about some of these issues.
7. Does anyone know of a good herp/tort vet in the Phoenix metro area?


Thanks. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Keith
 

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Yvonne G

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kdcoon69 said:
Some immediate questions I have...

1. Is pure cypress mulch an acceptable substrate or should I add something else?
2. I was told to moisten the substrate. How much water should I add? Should I add to the entire enclosure or only certain parts (i.e. under the lamps)?
3. How deep should I keep the substrate (assuming only cypress mulch)?
4. I realize I need to vary the diet more, but how much (and how often) should I feed a juvenile sulcata (just over a year old)?
5. I want to let them roam the back yard (with supervision) when the weather is nice... are there any normal plants that I need to keep them away from? How can I know whether my grass is going to be toxic to them?
6. Are there any other sulcata keepers in the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale area that I might be able to chat personally with about some of these issues.
7. Does anyone know of a good herp/tort vet in the Phoenix metro area?

Keith
1. & 2. I LOVE cypress mulch for substrate. You can moisten it and it doesn't turn sour or moldy. The lights dry out the top layer and it stays moist underneath. Pretty important for a growing tortoise. I pour a pitcher of water (depending upon the size of the habitat) over the entire habitat substrate then stir it up with my hands then smooth it back out.

3. It would be nice to have it as deep as the tortoise is high so he can cover himself, but sometimes the sides of the enclosure don't allow for that depth. If I'm remembering correctly, you are using a kiddie pool as a habitat. You could probable use a depth of 4 or 5 inches.

4. If you go strictly by the care sheet at africantortoise.com, then you would only be feeding grasses, weeds and maybe hay. This is one of the best sites to gather your research. However, I feed my babies differently. I use mainly Spring Mix, and to that I add washed turnip greens, dandelion greens, maybe a bit of shredded zucchini or yellow squash, occasionally bell pepper or other veggies. Once the sulcata has grown large enough to be outside 24/7, I don't feed at all. I have a large male, Dudley, and he only eats what grows in his pen. Sometimes I'll toss him a branch off the mullberry tree. Even in the winter, when his Bermuda grass is dormant, he still has to scrounge around and forage for whatever grows there. (its not as bad as it sounds as there are many winter weeds that grow) I think you should put down a pile of food once a day. A nice handful to start. If he cleans that up real fast, it wasn't enough, so give him more. You'll have to figure out how much he needs by the way he acts. And once a day is plenty.

5. I don't think there is any toxic grass, however some is more palatable than others. They really like regular old Bermuda, however the hybrid Bermuda doesn't appeal to them at all. I've also planted some elephant grass in the leopard and sulcata pens and they don't eat that either. If you have an oleander bush anywhere near your backyard, get rid of it. Very toxic! There is a list of toxic plants here: http://www.sniksnak.com/plants-toxic.html but most toxic plant lists were made up with mammals in mind. Tortoises seem to be able to eat the alkaline-type plants more safely than mammals.

6. & 7. I'm sure we have Arizonians on the forum and hopefully some of them will introduce themselves to you. As for the vet, on our home page there is a link to a vet list we have compiled.

Welcome to the forum!!
 

kdcoon69

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5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 17, 2009
Messages
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What about additional calcium and phosphorus supplements? Is cuttlebone sufficient?

Keith
 
M

Maggie Cummings

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Yvonne has already given you the best advice and a link to what I believe to be the most informative care sheet available. Your babies are starting to pyramid because they have no humidity. Sulcata need about 80% humidity for optimal growth and I believe that is what's wrong, not enuf humidity...
Sulcata need 4 things to grow healthy with smooth carapace's... correct food, best UVB bulb, lots and lots of exercise and 80% humidity. Now I know you are screaming into your monitor... humidity?...what humidity??? In the wild Sulcata create burrows 20 or 30 feet long, then they poop and pee in there and create that humidity we talked about. So you need to be able to recreate that humidity and I don't think you will be able to do that with a kiddie pool.
Right now as we speak it is 77 degrees with 80% humidity in Senegal...that's the largest Sulcata range...

And I SO appreciate that you realize how dangerous it is to mix dogs and small tortoises. You cannot believe the damage dogs can do to a tortoise...It's pretty awful...
 

Yvonne G

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10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
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Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
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I sprinkle a calcium supplement over the babies' food once a week. Others use it more often, others not at all. If you are using a UV bulb, then calcium without D3 would be good. Some people buy human calcium tablets w/o D3 at the health food store and grind them up to sprinkle over the food. Its a lot cheaper this way. Also, its hard to find a reptile calcium powder w/o D3.
 
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