Leopard Tortoise Care Sheet

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Neal

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I typed this up for leopards specifically. I know we have different threads of how people care for their tortoises, I wanted to share how I personally like to care for them and my thoughts on general husbandry. The intention is not to include every little detail one should know, but rather provide the framework that they can build off of. I don't think anyone one should obtain all of their info from one single source, be it web site, forum, or care sheet. This is provided only as a supplement to other information available from all resources.​

Housing:

Indoors

I use a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tub filled with 6 inches of peat moss and two inches of cypress mulch on top. I provide a plastic shoe box with the lid on top and a hole cut out of the top of one of the sides big enough for the tortoise to get in and out easily. The hide box is filled with peat moss and a thin layer of sphagnum moss is placed on the top. It is buried in the substrate so that the bottom of the opening is level with the top layer of the substrate in the tub. The hide is covered with two inches of sphagnum moss and is placed below a Mercury Vapor Bulb about 12 inches. I plant tortoise grazing seed and timothy hay in there every two weeks so that there is always a fresh supply of growing food in their enclosure. I use plexiglass to cover the top of the entire enclosure to maintain heat and humidity. I cut holes in the plexiglass to accommodate the MVB fixture and the CHE fixture.

Outdoors

Weather permitting, I keep my tortoises outdoors as often as possible. I live in the desert southwest where temperatures in the summer can get well over 110F. I keep all of my tortoises, even new hatchlings, outdoors 24/7 during the summer. The key to keeping young tortoises outside in extreme hot weather is to provide a lot of shade and areas where the sun does not shine directly and is easily accessible so they do not risk overheating. It’s also important that the areas that get the hottest part of the sun be open and clear of any rocks, large clumps of grass, or obstacles of any type. This will decrease the risk that the tortoise will flip itself on its back and get caught in the heat. Shaded areas in my hatchling pens will not get above 90 degrees ground temperature when the ambient temperature is near 110F. It is also important in my opinion to provide a hide box in the shade that also acts as a source of elevated humidity. When trying to determine if it is warm enough to put the tortoise outside I use a 75F threshold. If the shaded areas are above 75F, then I feel comfortable placing them outside. The sunny areas will obviously be warmer than the shaded areas, so when the ambient temperatures is 75F, they will have areas in their enclosure that will allow them to elevate their body temperatures to appropriate levels.

Heat:

Understanding and knowing how to control the temperatures in your tortoise enclosure is a critical aspect in tortoise husbandry. Tortoises, like all reptiles, are cold blooded and depend on environmental elements to meet their heating requirements in order to digest its food and maintain overall good health. For tortoises less than 4 inches I try to maintain temperatures in their enclosures between 75F at the lowest, and 105F at the hottest except when they are outdoors, as mentioned above. When they are indoors I provide a basking spot directly beneath a Mercury Vapor bulb and on top of the humid hide, which is the 105F zone. At night the heat is maintained using a 100 watt ceramic heat emitter from Zoomed. The temperatures in the entire enclosure are never below 80F. A tortoise instinctively knows what temperatures its body requires, so by offering a variety of temperatures in your enclosure, the tortoise will be able to move to different areas in the enclosure to regulate its body temperature to desired levels.


Humidity:

For leopard tortoises less than 4 inches carapace length, I maintain an average level of humidity of about 50% throughout the enclosure. This is done by soaking the soil in the enclosure, using a spray bottle, and using a small humidifier when necessary. The humidity inside the hide box is around 80 - 90%. When maintaining high levels of humidity, it is important to monitor the ambient temperatures to make sure they do not get to dangerous levels. As mentioned, the hide boxes I use are located right beneath the mercury vapor bulb which creates temperatures inside the hide at about 85F.

Feeding:

I feed tortoises less than 4 inches long, two times a day; once in the morning and once in the evening. In the morning they will get any one of the following, or a random combination of:

Fresh grass, hibiscus leaves and flowers, dandelions, succulents, Romaine lettuce, spring mix, kale, carrots, mustard greens, or escarole.

I offer Mazuri every evening. Every other day I sprinkled their morning meal with calcium supplement. I alternate calcium D3 and calcium without D3 each time I supplement if they are being kept solely indoors. If they are getting outdoors more than three times during the week I will only use calcium without D3.

Hydration:

Hydration is also a very important aspect in tortoise husbandry. Something I often hear or read from people who are new to the hobby is the belief that tortoises will receive all of their hydration requirements from the food that they eat. I do not agree at all with this way of thinking, as depriving a tortoise of water or means to hydrate itself can become deadly. Bladder stones and mineral buildups are common in dehydrated tortoises. A tortoise that is well hydrated will be more easily able to expel the un-needed minerals before they accumulate to harmful levels. Damaged kidneys and internal organs are also a threat to dehydrated tortoises. I soak my young tortoises every day for approximately 5 to 10 minutes in large containers of water. The water is filled so that it is about halfway up the tortoises carapace. In addition to daily soaks, they also have shallow dishes of water that they can easily walk in and walk out of.

Lighting:

When they are not able to get outdoors, I use a 100W Powersun Mercury Vapor bulb as the only source of lighting in the enclosure. Any type of UVB emitting bulb will be sufficient in my opinion as long as it is not a coil type bulb which have been known to cause blindness and other health issues in reptiles.

Health:

Tortoises are susceptible to a wide variety of ailments and disease. Tortoises under 4 inches, especially less than 1 year old, seem to be more easily susceptible to disease than adult tortoises. Most ailments can be prevented by adequate husbandry or by simply raising the temperature in the tortoises enclosure, but things do happen. Some tortoises simply have weaker immune systems than others. It is not my intent to list different diseases and symptoms, but there are enough resources readily available for your research. If you follow my guidelines above, health issues may be kept to a minimum. One thing I would recommend prior to purchasing a tortoise is finding a local vet that has experience with tortoises.

Pyramiding:

The vast majority of people in the tortoise hobby believe that exposure to high levels of humidity is necessary to prevent pyramiding. Exactly how much humidity and the frequency of exposure are not well understood and are often debated. Environmental conditions in the country and across the world vary so much; it’s difficult to recommend a one size fits all method to prevent pyramiding. For me, living in the desert southwest of the United States, the type of husbandry detailed in this care sheet has produced some of the smoothest shelled leopard tortoises commonly seen in the pet trade. It is my opinion that pyramiding in and of itself does not debilitate the overall health of the tortoises, and is primarily a cosmetic issue that only annoys the tortoise’s keeper. Practicing good tortoise husbandry in all respects will limit the amount of pyramiding, and more importantly, will provide your tortoise with ability to thrive in captivity.

Other notes:

The above husbandry examples and recommendations are based on my experience alone and are my opinion on how to successfully raise leopard tortoises. I am currently raising dozens of tortoises using the methods above and I have not had any health issues, and all of the tortoises are growing smoothly.
If you should have any questions please feel free to contact me or post the questions on this thread.

Written by: Neal Butler
 

Neal

Well-Known Member
10 Year Member!
Joined
Apr 15, 2010
Messages
4,918
Location (City and/or State)
Arizona
I have since changed my set-up so my basking area is in a different area than the hide. I recently installed a bunch of new lighting and the room was getting too hot so I had to make the changes. Here is what I used:



The inside of this tub would be filled with peat moss up to the bottom of the square opening. I would bury it in the substrate so the bottom of the square opening is level with the substrate outside of the hide. I would place the MVB not directly on top of the hide, but more so it's pointed on just one corner of the lid about 14 inches above it. This kept temperatures on top at about 105 and temps in the hide in the high 80's on one side and mid 80's on the opposite. I would build up the substrate around the backside of the hide so they can walk on top of it.
 
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