My First Tortoise Table (Detailed Build & Showcase!)

stiglitz

Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Seattle, Washington
There’s a lot of background information & questions that I’d like to include, but I thought I’d save all that for the post replies below and go straight to the build photos & videos since that’s what I assume most people clicked for. More information can be found below!!

July 4th, 2020, I acquired a 6-year-old male Hermann’s tortoise (we named him Hector). He came in a 40-gallon aquarium. The previous owners had him for 2 years, so I assume he lived like this all that time. No idea what his living conditions were for the first 4 years of his life. I have to move out of my place in 3 months, so I could have waited until then to build the larger enclosure to make my life much easier, but I knew I couldn’t bare to leave him in this stupid aquarium for another minute.
IMG-1063.jpg
Here’s a video of what he would do daily for hours on end..

The start. We have a box!
61595292960--3C05265E-B392-4621-A717-39B414F57CDC.jpg

Totally forgot to continue taking photos along the way, so here is the next one I took after the initial box was built. I especially like the horizontal molding pieces on the bottom and the thinner trim pieces up top.
IMG-1085.jpg

Second story is in. If you notice, it has legs as opposed to being screwed into the side walls. This is because we wanted to make it easy to slide in and out of the tortoise table in the event of cleanings and just in general it makes the entire table easier to move
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Ramp and railing installed
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The ramp is secured on by hinges. This way I can lift the ramp when I need to clean under it, and when I lift the second story out of the main cage the ramp can neatly and easily swing underneath for easy transport
IMG-1099.jpg

I decided to also add a wall underneath the second story, since I was hoping that he was going to use this space for sleeping. Just in case it made him feel more secure/cozy/private
IMG-1097.jpg

The wall is also not secured by screws in the event of a cleaning or if I decide to remove it in the future. It fits perfectly snug between the first story and second story with friction holding it in. I have no worriers of this falling down on him. It is already very secure with just the bare wood, and when the substrate is added it will hold it in even better on both sides. Hector actually proved to us that the wall is very secure, but more on that later!
IMG-1098.jpg

Lining the floors and walls with garbage bags to protect the wood from moisture. The wall & floor seams have also been caulked with non-toxic silicone.
IMG-1101.jpg

Time to move the table from the in-law’s garage to my apartment! The table was too wide to fit through my doorway, so we had to take off 4 out of the 6 legs once we completed the build just to make it fit. So not only did I have to disassemble, then reassemble the table once we were done building it, but I’m going to have to completely clean it out and do that all over again when moving out in 3 months. Yay me! But nothing is too much of a hassle when it comes to our pets, right?
IMG-1102.jpg

Finally in the apartment and mostly set up!
ya.jpg

Time to mount the lamp posts. Here I’m trying to make the fluorescent light fixture as parallel to the back wall as possible. Easier said than done
IMG-1110.jpg

8 stressful days later and the tortoise table is fully set up in all its glory!! He’s finally free of his glass prison.
IMG-1128.jpg
IMG-1111.jpg

He’s only been in the tortoise table for a day and he’s already gotten the hang of going up and down the ramp. The incline is perfect in my opinion. He doesn’t struggle and he goes up to his basking area quite frequently. See this video
IMG-1114.jpg

I was a little worried that he would just end up using his normal half log hide to sleep in since he’s used to it, but it seems that he’s already taken to the closed off area underneath the second story quite well. I put some timothy hay on both ends because I’ve read Hermann’s and Russian tortoises can be known to like snuggling up into the hay when sleeping for the night. I’ve kept the area in the middle free of hay in case he still prefers to burrow in the top soil. Inside the half-log I plan to stuff it with sphagnum moss and make that his humid hide.
IMG-1140.jpg

This is my first reptile ever so I’m a little paranoid about the heat bulbs. I’ve set up a little nanny cam so that I can see the outlet/surge protector/timer/thermostat and the lamps themselves in case something is on fire/smoking, or if one of the lamps happens to fall into the enclosure. I’m not sure how much I trust the clamps that came with the lamps that hold them. They seem solid enough, but I’d like to avoid complacency when it comes to anything that may be a fire hazard
Screenshot_2.jpg
IMG-1147.jpg

One thing that sort of turns me off about tortoise tables is how cluttered and unattractive the light set ups can be. I understand that lighting and heating is one of the most important factors to get right when it comes to tortoises, but I wanted to find a way to minimize the number of lamp posts used, as well as minimize any showing cords or chains. Here I came up with the idea of utilizing the lamp posts built for the heat lamps to also support the T5 fixture that houses the UVB bulb.
IMG-1146.jpg
IMG-1144.jpg

The posts holding the heat lamps are not screwed into the backwall of the enclosure yet. As I’ve said, this is my first pet reptile ever so other than the extensive research I have done online, I have no real-world experience to guide me regarding the height and lateral position of the heat lamps & UVB bulb. So, I decided to use some simple (but strong) clamps to secure the posts temporarily. If I’m happy with the light and heat distribution (and UVB levels), then I will permanently screw the posts in (much more on this later. I have many questions!).
IMG-1143.jpg
IMG-1142.jpg

I’m not entirely sure what Hector’s diet consisted of when he was with his previous owners, but all they gave me were some colorful Fluker’s processed (junk) food, and Zoo Med Grassland pellets. Coming from fish, dogs, and hamsters, figuring out what to feed our little guy is a bit daunting, but I have a good baseline of knowledge from my searches on the interwebs. Now it’s time to apply that theory into the real world and start learning and adapting! So far he doesn’t seem to like kale or radish greens too much, but he DEMOLISHED the dandelions and other weeds that I picked from my uncle’s fertilizer-free lawn. He also seems to like mustard greens. See this video. (yes I know I added way too much calcium). More on food below.

I think that’s about it. Much more detailed & crucial information can be found in my post replies below. Thanks for stopping by!
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IMG-1134.jpg
 

stiglitz

Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Seattle, Washington
*Anything that has a (number) listed after it means that I will be asking a question about the specific topic in the next post reply below. The numbers are for easy reference

Background Information
For the past two years I have researched about tortoise husbandry online on and off. But, when I’m “on”, I’m researching religiously for hours on end, bookmarking useful pages/TFO threads, and taking notes. I haven’t researched about tortoises for a good 4-6 months, so I am a bit rusty. July 3rd is when we came across the Craigslist ad for him. It was a great deal but much more importantly, I could see from the photos that the conditions he was living in were horrendous. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I just hate seeing tortoises in enclosures that are too small for them, let alone ones that are made of see through material like glass. So, less than 24 hours after inquiring about him, we brought him home. I knew that he needed to get out of the aquarium, receive proper heat levels & UV, have access to a proper, healthy, & varied diet, and so much more. So I brought out all my notes, opened up all my bookmarked websites, and completely reviewed everything I researched since 2018.

Tortoise & Enclosure Information
Hector’s carapace length is 5.5 inches and his width (his “waist”, if you will) is 4.5 inches. The substrate is plain top soil. 3 inches deep all the way around, although it’s bordering 3.5 – 4 inches deep underneath the second story (he loves to burrow when he sleeps at night). This tortoise table is 5 feet long, 3 feet wide, and the walls are 1 foot high. This size is all I could fit in my apartment at the moment, but as I previously stated, I am going to be moving out in 3 months. I will most definitely be getting a bigger space and will most definitely extend this tortoise table to be bigger by AT LEAST a foot in both dimensions. Hopefully (and ideally) I can make it even bigger than that. Currently I am in the process of building him an outdoor enclosure, as I acknowledge that literally nothing beats good ole’ fashion sunlight. Facilitating Hector’s natural behaviors, lifestyle, and diet is my #1 priority, especially since I intend to keep him for the entirety of his life.

Lighting & Heating (PLEASE see questions section in post below)
His basking bulb is the light above the second story. It is a 150W Exo Terra Basking Spot Light(Question 1) and makes his basking area 95-110°F(Question 2) depending on what area you are measuring. The other dome light fixture contains a 65W incandescent flood lamp bulb and provides ambient temps anywhere from 73 to 85°F(Question 2) depending on what area you are measuring. The fluorescent light fixture is 3 feet long and is the SunBlaster T5 HO and does NOT have a reflector. Currently it is housing the ReptiSun 10.0 T5 HO bulb. The bottom of the bulb is 6 inches away from the highest point of Hector’s shell(Question 3). The bulb is about 9 inches away from the top of the substrate(Question 3). The heat lamps are on for 14 hours of the day, while the UVB bulb is on for 4 hours of the day(Question 3).

From the photo below I assume Hector is receiving a UVI level of between 3 to 6(Question 3). However, my career is in research science, and although I’m sure that the data from the photo below (as well as the data from the RAWG UV Tool from uvguide.co.uk) was obtained in a very professional and accurate manner, it still is not quantitative enough for my standards. In my opinion the UVI levels that are being provided to your tortoise NEED to be confirmed without a single doubt, because UV is just such a crucial part of their entire existence. So, I purchased a Solarmeter 6.5R to get real, concrete answers. It is arriving in a couple days and I’ll be sure to update you guys with the UVI readings at different heights with my specific fixture + bulb combination.
Screenshot_2.jpg

Feeding
So far I have fed him kale, radish greens, dandelion, other miscellaneous lawn/garden weeds, Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise pellets, and collard greens. I sprinkle his food with Fluker’s calcium supplement w/ D3 twice a week. I might supplement MinerAll once a week as well. Lastly, I’ve provided him with a cuttle bone in case he wants to munch on it, but so far he hasn’t touched it. I plan to feed him a much more varied diet once some of my shipments come in and I get to know my local grocery stores a bit better. So far I see that they have romaine lettuce (not the best nutrition-wise, but good water content. Plan to feed only occasionally), water cress, bok choy(Question 4), collard greens, arugula(Question 4), cilantro, and turnip greens. I will need to search different stores for more. I can’t find endive, escarole, or radicchio anywhere ☹. I have ordered dried mulberry leaves, hibiscus flowers, calendula flowers, dandelion leaves, and cactus chips from @Kapidolo Farms which I’m pretty excited about! I am also thinking of buying some Herbal Tortoise Hay from @TylerStewart / tortoisesupply.com. I think I’ll throw in some Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise food and/or Mazuri tortoise food every so often as well to increase variety.

I have never seen him drink from his water dish(Question 5). Nonetheless, I am diligent about making sure that if there’s water in the dish, it is clean. I soaked him in warm water for 15 minutes once, however I have stopped doing this for now to avoid stressing him out since he’s in a new environment and a new enclosure(Question 6).
 
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stiglitz

Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Seattle, Washington
Question Time!

Question 1) From brief research, I see on TFO that people generally advise against using the spot type basking bulbs sold by pet companies. Why is this?

Question 2) Here is a picture of the temperatures of the various spots in the enclosure. I used a very accurate digital infrared laser thermometer to obtain these readings.
Screenshot_1.jpg
How does the heat distribution/gradient look? I’m thinking that some areas might be too cold. For Hector I kind of prefer more areas to be in the low to mid 80s as opposed to all these 70s seen here, but maybe it is okay? He doesn’t seem to bask more than what I think is normal, and his activity levels/behavior is healthy in my opinion. If more heat is needed, maybe I could move the first-story heat lamp towards the basking light direction (denoted by red arrows) and add a second heat lamp of perhaps a lower wattage to the empty lamp post. What do you think?
Another question: do you think the cool area (blue box) is too dark/poorly lit? If so, I could probably add a dome light to the empty light fixture and if extra heat is not needed, just use an LED bulb to light it up.

Question 3) Is 6 inches too close to the tortoise for my fixture + UVB bulb combination? I’m not talking about the amount of UVB & UVA received; more so what I am curious about is the potential for damage to the animal’s eyes or any other type of damage/detrimental effects that can occur. I haven’t really researched this aspect of UV bulbs much.
Assuming that I am in the range of a UVI level of 3-7 with my setup (I’m anticipating levels in the range of 5-7 if the guidelines that I have been reading are somewhat accurate, but I will know for sure once I get my Solarmeter), is 4 hours enough time for my tort to receive proper levels of UV? For those of you that like to have your UV bulbs on for only part of the day for a few hours to simulate the higher levels of UV from the mid-day sun, approximately what are your UVI levels and how long do you keep the bulb on?

Question 4) In my area I see baby arugula, baby bok choy, and other baby/young greens. Is this okay to feed? I feel like I read somewhere that the younger leaves do not contain as many nutrients/fiber so it’s pointless, but I have no idea where or when I read that (or if I even read that at all)

Question 5) Should I be concerned that I have never seen him drink from his water dish? I’ve definitely been busy from building the table and throwing myself into all the husbandry research, but I still feel like I should have caught him drinking at least once. I know some tortoises don’t drink out of water bowls nearly as much as others simply due to personality(?), but I thought I’d ask. I will still make sure he gets proper hydration from humidity, mistings, his diet, and regular soakings.

Question 6) When should I start soaking him again? I didn’t want to stress him out so I only did it once. He seems pretty comfortable in his cage already and his personality is really coming out, so maybe I will start tomorrow…

Question 7) He does this weird thing where he rams the walls. He only does it in two specific areas (see this video). This is what I was referring to earlier when I said he showed us that the wall below the second story is secure! What is this behavior?? He does it more often than I’d expect.
 
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stiglitz

Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Seattle, Washington
Closing
I’m just now starting my journey, but I would like to share a few words about my experience up to this point for anyone reading this that is also a beginner like me or who has recently become interested in tortoise keeping: Tortoises (and every other pet) are really cute and fun, but before anything else they are a responsibility. When you adopt one of these lil fellas, the only way (in my opinion) to be a fully adequate and sufficient owner/pet parent is to be ready to learn every day and devote a lot of time into educating yourself for the ultimate benefit of your animal. Everyone is different and possesses different levels of skill and competency, but if you are to provide the proper life for an animal, especially one with diverse (and sometimes demanding) needs like a tortoise, be willing and capable. These last 8-9 days have been ridiculously stressful for me. Me being the nerd I am, I calculated that I lost in total around 10-12 hours of sleep due to making this tortoise table happen. I had to consider heat lamp & UV bulb heights, research different light fixture and bulb combinations, price check different websites, determine the materials and tools required for building, alter the layout over and over, educate myself on what woods are safe to use ……. The list goes on. And I STILL have more to research & learn! I haven’t even looked into growing my own plants at home! I have a serious black thumb so I don't know how that's going to work. I don’t want to scare anyone away; everyone’s experiences will be different (and I admittedly go overboard with projects of this nature). But, after ~2 years of research, many trips to the store, many in person & online purchases (and even more returns), crappy fast food, and dozens of pages of graph paper, I’ve arrived at something that I can be proud of. And you can too.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for your time. I’ve lurked on this forum without an account for almost 2 years, so it means a lot that you took the time to read my first post. Specifically and especially I’d like to thank @Tom, @Yvonne G, @Kapidolo Farms, @Markw84, @JoesMum, and @GBtortoises. You don’t know it, but you taught me everything that I know and are the reason why my tortoise dreams have come to fruition (as corny as that sounds).

Cheers.
 
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Kapidolo Farms

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
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It's difficult to figure if I like your narrative, effort, or build best! I have two Herman's (don't tell anyone). They seem interactive and aware of the keeper, so I'll figure your Herman's will like you as much as the new larger enclosure. :cool:
 

Ribena

New Member
Joined
Jul 12, 2020
Messages
20
Location (City and/or State)
Cardiff UK
There’s a lot of background information & questions that I’d like to include, but I thought I’d save all that for the post replies below and go straight to the build photos & videos since that’s what I assume most people clicked for. More information can be found below!!

July 4th, 2020, I acquired a 6-year-old male Hermann’s tortoise (we named him Hector). He came in a 40-gallon aquarium. The previous owners had him for 2 years, so I assume he lived like this all that time. No idea what his living conditions were for the first 4 years of his life. I have to move out of my place in 3 months, so I could have waited until then to build the larger enclosure to make my life much easier, but I knew I couldn’t bare to leave him in this stupid aquarium for another minute.
View attachment 299901
Here’s a video of what he would do daily for hours on end..

The start. We have a box!
View attachment 299902

Totally forgot to continue taking photos along the way, so here is the next one I took after the initial box was built. I especially like the horizontal molding pieces on the bottom and the thinner trim pieces up top.
View attachment 299903

Second story is in. If you notice, it has legs as opposed to being screwed into the side walls. This is because we wanted to make it easy to slide in and out of the tortoise table in the event of cleanings and just in general it makes the entire table easier to move
View attachment 299904
View attachment 299905

Ramp and railing installed
View attachment 299906
View attachment 299907

The ramp is secured on by hinges. This way I can lift the ramp when I need to clean under it, and when I lift the second story out of the main cage the ramp can neatly and easily swing underneath for easy transport
View attachment 299908

I decided to also add a wall underneath the second story, since I was hoping that he was going to use this space for sleeping. Just in case it made him feel more secure/cozy/private
View attachment 299909

The wall is also not secured by screws in the event of a cleaning or if I decide to remove it in the future. It fits perfectly snug between the first story and second story with friction holding it in. I have no worriers of this falling down on him. It is already very secure with just the bare wood, and when the substrate is added it will hold it in even better on both sides. Hector actually proved to us that the wall is very secure, but more on that later!
View attachment 299910

Lining the floors and walls with garbage bags to protect the wood from moisture. The wall & floor seams have also been caulked with non-toxic silicone.
View attachment 299911

Time to move the table from the in-law’s garage to my apartment! The table was too wide to fit through my doorway, so we had to take off 4 out of the 6 legs once we completed the build just to make it fit. So not only did I have to disassemble, then reassemble the table once we were done building it, but I’m going to have to completely clean it out and do that all over again when moving out in 3 months. Yay me! But nothing is too much of a hassle when it comes to our pets, right?
View attachment 299912

Finally in the apartment and mostly set up!
View attachment 299913

Time to mount the lamp posts. Here I’m trying to make the fluorescent light fixture as parallel to the back wall as possible. Easier said than done
View attachment 299914

8 stressful days later and the tortoise table is fully set up in all its glory!! He’s finally free of his glass prison.
View attachment 299915
View attachment 299916

He’s only been in the tortoise table for a day and he’s already gotten the hang of going up and down the ramp. The incline is perfect in my opinion. He doesn’t struggle and he goes up to his basking area quite frequently. See this video
View attachment 299917

I was a little worried that he would just end up using his normal half log hide to sleep in since he’s used to it, but it seems that he’s already taken to the closed off area underneath the second story quite well. I put some timothy hay on both ends because I’ve read Hermann’s and Russian tortoises can be known to like snuggling up into the hay when sleeping for the night. I’ve kept the area in the middle free of hay in case he still prefers to burrow in the top soil. Inside the half-log I plan to stuff it with sphagnum moss and make that his humid hide.
View attachment 299918

This is my first reptile ever so I’m a little paranoid about the heat bulbs. I’ve set up a little nanny cam so that I can see the outlet/surge protector/timer/thermostat and the lamps themselves in case something is on fire/smoking, or if one of the lamps happens to fall into the enclosure. I’m not sure how much I trust the clamps that came with the lamps that hold them. They seem solid enough, but I’d like to avoid complacency when it comes to anything that may be a fire hazard
View attachment 299919
View attachment 299920

One thing that sort of turns me off about tortoise tables is how cluttered and unattractive the light set ups can be. I understand that lighting and heating is one of the most important factors to get right when it comes to tortoises, but I wanted to find a way to minimize the number of lamp posts used, as well as minimize any showing cords or chains. Here I came up with the idea of utilizing the lamp posts built for the heat lamps to also support the T5 fixture that houses the UVB bulb.
View attachment 299921
View attachment 299922

The posts holding the heat lamps are not screwed into the backwall of the enclosure yet. As I’ve said, this is my first pet reptile ever so other than the extensive research I have done online, I have no real-world experience to guide me regarding the height and lateral position of the heat lamps & UVB bulb. So, I decided to use some simple (but strong) clamps to secure the posts temporarily. If I’m happy with the light and heat distribution (and UVB levels), then I will permanently screw the posts in (much more on this later. I have many questions!).
View attachment 299923
View attachment 299924

I’m not entirely sure what Hector’s diet consisted of when he was with his previous owners, but all they gave me were some colorful Fluker’s processed (junk) food, and Zoo Med Grassland pellets. Coming from fish, dogs, and hamsters, figuring out what to feed our little guy is a bit daunting, but I have a good baseline of knowledge from my searches on the interwebs. Now it’s time to apply that theory into the real world and start learning and adapting! So far he doesn’t seem to like kale or radish greens too much, but he DEMOLISHED the dandelions and other weeds that I picked from my uncle’s fertilizer-free lawn. He also seems to like mustard greens. See this video. (yes I know I added way too much calcium). More on food below.

I think that’s about it. Much more detailed & crucial information can be found in my post replies below. Thanks for stopping by!
View attachment 299925
View attachment 299926
 

stiglitz

Member
Joined
Feb 23, 2016
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Seattle, Washington
It's difficult to figure if I like your narrative, effort, or build best! I have two Herman's (don't tell anyone). They seem interactive and aware of the keeper, so I'll figure your Herman's will like you as much as the new larger enclosure. :cool:
Thank you! I think I should have left out the questions section for another post. Everything before that was long enough already and I think it may be scaring away other readers!🤣 Looking forward to receiving the dried leaves from your shop.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Messages
49,587
Location (City and/or State)
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That thing looks great. Its clear that a lot of thought and skill went into the design and features.

Something to keep in mind about "research". Most of what you find on tortoise care is old, out-dated and often wrong. The glass tank thing is an example of a persistent, frequently disproven myth, that just will not die. Nothing wrong with glass tanks, as long as they are of a suitable size. They don't make a size large enough for any adult tortoise, but glass tanks are good for starting babies.

In your enclosure, I would not use soil. Soil is made from composted yard waste. There is no way to know what it is, and in some cases its toxic. The makers do not intend for small animals to be living on it in indoor enclosures. Orchid bark or coco coir will work better.

Speaking of orchid bark, it is harder to find in some ares of the country. Where are you? Please go into your user profile and add a location. We don't need your address, but a general region would be helpful.

Your substrate should be lightly damp. Dampness will cause that hay to mold. I wouldn't use any hay in your enclosure.

Hope these things help. Questions welcome.
 
Joined
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Messages
34
Location (City and/or State)
North Carolina
Wow. This is an awesome post. Definitely badass in so many levels. I will also mention that I behaved in the same way before making the commitment to care for one of these great little animals. I think i spent about a year of guerrilla warfare style research binges before I felt that I was in a good position, both situationally and knowledge wise, to adequately care for a tortoise.

With that being said here are some of my thoughts.

Question 3)
I will preface this by saying that I am not an experienced keeper by any means. In fact I have only had the privilege of caring for a single hatchling indotestudo elongata, Groot, for the last 6 months.
First I think that 6" is far too close for the UV florescent bulb and could potentially harm the eyes of your tortoise the way a CFL bulb would. I do not have the experience to back that up but it just seem logical to me that 6" is too close.

So, on the matter of UVB exposure based on bulb distance I too struggled with finding the right height. What I ended up doing was a lot of research on the behavior of elongateds and from there I aimed to replicate what they would naturally experience in the best way that I could. I learned that elongateds are a crepuscular species that reside under forest canopy meaning that they receive little UVB when they come out to forage and even less at peak UVI times when in hiding. From there I looked to see what other keepers where doing and finally decided that the benefits of UBV, known and unknown, were a good enough reason to include that in my build (some elongated keepers do not). Ultimately I positioned my 24" Zoomed T5 fixture with the included 5.0 bulb 18" from the average mid-height of my tortoise throughout the enclosure (my light was long enough to cover the entire enclosure). This puts the UVI between 1 and 2 which replicates the average UVI exposure under a forest canopy so anytime Groot is out an about he is exposed to what he would normally meaning I run the light 12 hours a day. I am currently in the process of building his more permanent enclosure (which means I will be posting something like this soon!) and I am planning on including a basking bulb (at a higher UVI) that would go on and off periodically to replicate what little bright spots of sunlight make it down to the ground as the sun passes overhead.

I understand that this really only applies to forest dwelling species, but I hope that the process and my reasoning helps you figure out the placement of your light.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
49,587
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Question Time!

Question 1) From brief research, I see on TFO that people generally advise against using the spot type basking bulbs sold by pet companies. Why is this?

Question 2) Here is a picture of the temperatures of the various spots in the enclosure. I used a very accurate digital infrared laser thermometer to obtain these readings.
View attachment 299928
How does the heat distribution/gradient look? I’m thinking that some areas might be too cold. For Hector I kind of prefer more areas to be in the low to mid 80s as opposed to all these 70s seen here, but maybe it is okay? He doesn’t seem to bask more than what I think is normal, and his activity levels/behavior is healthy in my opinion. If more heat is needed, maybe I could move the first-story heat lamp towards the basking light direction (denoted by red arrows) and add a second heat lamp of perhaps a lower wattage to the empty lamp post. What do you think?
Another question: do you think the cool area (blue box) is too dark/poorly lit? If so, I could probably add a dome light to the empty light fixture and if extra heat is not needed, just use an LED bulb to light it up.

Question 3) Is 6 inches too close to the tortoise for my fixture + UVB bulb combination? I’m not talking about the amount of UVB & UVA received; more so what I am curious about is the potential for damage to the animal’s eyes or any other type of damage/detrimental effects that can occur. I haven’t really researched this aspect of UV bulbs much.
Assuming that I am in the range of a UVI level of 3-7 with my setup (I’m anticipating levels in the range of 5-7 if the guidelines that I have been reading are somewhat accurate, but I will know for sure once I get my Solarmeter), is 4 hours enough time for my tort to receive proper levels of UV? For those of you that like to have your UV bulbs on for only part of the day for a few hours to simulate the higher levels of UV from the mid-day sun, approximately what are your UVI levels and how long do you keep the bulb on?

Question 4) In my area I see baby arugula, baby bok choy, and other baby/young greens. Is this okay to feed? I feel like I read somewhere that the younger leaves do not contain as many nutrients/fiber so it’s pointless, but I have no idea where or when I read that (or if I even read that at all)

Question 5) Should I be concerned that I have never seen him drink from his water dish? I’ve definitely been busy from building the table and throwing myself into all the husbandry research, but I still feel like I should have caught him drinking at least once. I know some tortoises don’t drink out of water bowls nearly as much as others simply due to personality(?), but I thought I’d ask. I will still make sure he gets proper hydration from humidity, mistings, his diet, and regular soakings.

Question 6) When should I start soaking him again? I didn’t want to stress him out so I only did it once. He seems pretty comfortable in his cage already and his personality is really coming out, so maybe I will start tomorrow…

Question 7) He does this weird thing where he rams the walls. He only does it in two specific areas (see this video). This is what I was referring to earlier when I said he showed us that the wall below the second story is secure! What is this behavior?? He does it more often than I’d expect.
Your questions:
  1. Incandescent bulbs produce high levels of IR-A. These rays desiccate the carapace and contribute to pyramiding. Most species need a basking bulb, but to minimize the damage, we use flood bulbs. Spot bulbs concentrate too much heat and desiccation into too small of an area. Flood bulbs spread the heat out more.
  2. Just opinions and preferences here: The upper basking spot it too warm. 95-100 is tops. I'd lower the basking bulb on the ground floor and try to get the basking temp up to 95. I'd put a flat rock or piece of slate under each basking bulb. Ambient temps in the 70s are fine. Try the LED bulb in the cool corner and see if you like it. See if the tortoise likes it. I think either way is fine.
  3. 6 inches is way too close, and yes it can burn their eyes. Use your UV meter to set the height when it comes, but I'd raise it up to over a foot between now and then. 4 hours is plenty of time for UV. I'd cut it to three.
  4. Read the care sheet for feeding recommendations. I avoid grocery store foods in favor of weeds, flowers, succulents and leaves of the right types. If you must use grocery store greens, you must add amendments. All of this is in the care sheet.
  5. I rarely see any of my tortoises drink. Regular soaking makes them not need to drink as often.
  6. Now. Soak early and often. Can't do it too much. For one this size, I'd soak twice a week. Every other day will hurt nothing if you want to do it that often.
  7. That's how they fight with each other, but I've never seen one do that to a wall like that. Odd.
 

stiglitz

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That thing looks great. Its clear that a lot of thought and skill went into the design and features.

Something to keep in mind about "research". Most of what you find on tortoise care is old, out-dated and often wrong. The glass tank thing is an example of a persistent, frequently disproven myth, that just will not die. Nothing wrong with glass tanks, as long as they are of a suitable size. They don't make a size large enough for any adult tortoise, but glass tanks are good for starting babies.

In your enclosure, I would not use soil. Soil is made from composted yard waste. There is no way to know what it is, and in some cases its toxic. The makers do not intend for small animals to be living on it in indoor enclosures. Orchid bark or coco coir will work better.

Speaking of orchid bark, it is harder to find in some ares of the country. Where are you? Please go into your user profile and add a location. We don't need your address, but a general region would be helpful.

Your substrate should be lightly damp. Dampness will cause that hay to mold. I wouldn't use any hay in your enclosure.

Hope these things help. Questions welcome.
Thank you for your kind words and helpful advice. I'll take them all into account and address them when I have the time, one by one. Right now though I am trying to prioritize the heat & UV levels :) . Once I get those squared away I'll move on to the substrate and hay etc. I've updated my profile now! I am in Seattle.

Your questions:
  1. Incandescent bulbs produce high levels of IR-A. These rays desiccate the carapace and contribute to pyramiding. Most species need a basking bulb, but to minimize the damage, we use flood bulbs. Spot bulbs concentrate too much heat and desiccation into too small of an area. Flood bulbs spread the heat out more.
  2. Just opinions and preferences here: The upper basking spot it too warm. 95-100 is tops. I'd lower the basking bulb on the ground floor and try to get the basking temp up to 95. I'd put a flat rock or piece of slate under each basking bulb. Ambient temps in the 70s are fine. Try the LED bulb in the cool corner and see if you like it. See if the tortoise likes it. I think either way is fine.
  3. 6 inches is way too close, and yes it can burn their eyes. Use your UV meter to set the height when it comes, but I'd raise it up to over a foot between now and then. 4 hours is plenty of time for UV. I'd cut it to three.
  4. Read the care sheet for feeding recommendations. I avoid grocery store foods in favor of weeds, flowers, succulents and leaves of the right types. If you must use grocery store greens, you must add amendments. All of this is in the care sheet.
  5. I rarely see any of my tortoises drink. Regular soaking makes them not need to drink as often.
  6. Now. Soak early and often. Can't do it too much. For one this size, I'd soak twice a week. Every other day will hurt nothing if you want to do it that often.
  7. That's how they fight with each other, but I've never seen one do that to a wall like that. Odd.
1. It seems you are right: after running the ExoTerra 150W Basking Spot bulb for 10 hours in a standard 8.5" diameter Fluker's dome fixture at 16 inches above the substrate, the temperature directly underneath the fixture was a whopping 122°F!!!! 3-5 inches on either side of the lamp was around 85-90°F.
2. Sorry, a bit confused here. After replacing the upper level basking spot bulb with another flood bulb, that leaves me with two flood bulbs: one on the upper level, and one on the ground level. Now, are you recommending that I get the area underneath BOTH flood bulbs around 95°F, or just the upper level flood bulb? I think you are recommending the latter: get the upper level around 95°F, and simply lower the ground level bulb a couple inches to get it a bit warmer, but not 95°F. This would make sense in terms of achieving a temperature gradient, but I just wanted to clarify.
3. I will attempt to raise the height of the UVB fixture. The main reason I had it so low was because I wanted the bulb to be entirely inside the enclosure and surrounded by the walls. The tortoise table is located in my living room and if I am at an angle where the bulb is in my peripheral vision, it really hurts my eyes. Not sure how I'm going to manage with the fixture being 12 or more inches above the tortoise's carapace and so far above & outside the enclosure.. As I mentioned previously, my fixture has no reflector. How much do reflectors help with preventing the light from significantly shining to the rest of the room, if at all? Any suggestions?
6. Will soak every other day. Did it today and he pooped, haha.
 

stiglitz

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Messages
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Wow. This is an awesome post. Definitely badass in so many levels. I will also mention that I behaved in the same way before making the commitment to care for one of these great little animals. I think i spent about a year of guerrilla warfare style research binges before I felt that I was in a good position, both situationally and knowledge wise, to adequately care for a tortoise.

With that being said here are some of my thoughts.



I will preface this by saying that I am not an experienced keeper by any means. In fact I have only had the privilege of caring for a single hatchling indotestudo elongata, Groot, for the last 6 months.
First I think that 6" is far too close for the UV florescent bulb and could potentially harm the eyes of your tortoise the way a CFL bulb would. I do not have the experience to back that up but it just seem logical to me that 6" is too close.

So, on the matter of UVB exposure based on bulb distance I too struggled with finding the right height. What I ended up doing was a lot of research on the behavior of elongateds and from there I aimed to replicate what they would naturally experience in the best way that I could. I learned that elongateds are a crepuscular species that reside under forest canopy meaning that they receive little UVB when they come out to forage and even less at peak UVI times when in hiding. From there I looked to see what other keepers where doing and finally decided that the benefits of UBV, known and unknown, were a good enough reason to include that in my build (some elongated keepers do not). Ultimately I positioned my 24" Zoomed T5 fixture with the included 5.0 bulb 18" from the average mid-height of my tortoise throughout the enclosure (my light was long enough to cover the entire enclosure). This puts the UVI between 1 and 2 which replicates the average UVI exposure under a forest canopy so anytime Groot is out an about he is exposed to what he would normally meaning I run the light 12 hours a day. I am currently in the process of building his more permanent enclosure (which means I will be posting something like this soon!) and I am planning on including a basking bulb (at a higher UVI) that would go on and off periodically to replicate what little bright spots of sunlight make it down to the ground as the sun passes overhead.

I understand that this really only applies to forest dwelling species, but I hope that the process and my reasoning helps you figure out the placement of your light.
Thanks for your insight! Super helpful. I never considered something like this, so it's refreshing to read another point of view and approach such as yours. Do your eyes get bothered from the UV bulb being so high and out of the enclosure? It's well known that UVI readings are lower in fixtures without reflectors compared to with reflectors, hence why I chose to go with no reflector. Since the bulb was going to be so close to the tortoise, I thought a fixture with a reflector would be overkill. I wanted the fixture to be IN the enclosure to prevent the light from shining outwards into the room and hurting my eyes. But now I'm probably going to have to raise it up, which will completely expose the bulb and really thrash my eyeballs! Does your fixture have a reflector? Does it do a good job of shielding the light from your eyes at multiple viewing angles?
 
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Do your eyes get bothered from the UV bulb being so high and out of the enclosure?
Yes the light would definitely bother my eyes, but the Zoomed fixture comes with a reflector so I don't have to worry about that. For my second enclosure I spent a great deal of time looking for less expensive solutions to 48" T5 fixtures with reflectors when compared to the standard Zoomed one, but in the end I found that the cost savings were minimal at best (especially since the fixture I ended up going with did not include UBV bulbs like the Zoomed one does). If you are looking for a reflector here is what I ended up purchasing:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WHVGBZ1/?tag=exoticpetnetw-20

Here is what it looks like for reference ( I had to use 2 reflectors since my bulbs were too close together)
IMG_20200714_065456.jpg
 

stiglitz

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Yes the light would definitely bother my eyes, but the Zoomed fixture comes with a reflector so I don't have to worry about that. For my second enclosure I spent a great deal of time looking for less expensive solutions to 48" T5 fixtures with reflectors when compared to the standard Zoomed one, but in the end I found that the cost savings were minimal at best (especially since the fixture I ended up going with did not include UBV bulbs like the Zoomed one does). If you are looking for a reflector here is what I ended up purchasing:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WHVGBZ1/?tag=exoticpetnetw-20

Here is what it looks like for reference ( I had to use 2 reflectors since my bulbs were too close together)
View attachment 300009
Thanks much. Maybe I’ll give them a shot. My fixture is 36” long which is a rather uncommon length. They do have it in that length, but it says it’s for T6 bulbs which I’ve never even heard of.. hopefully it fits. How exactly does it mount onto the fixture? I have the SunBlaster fixture which is thinner and has much less surface area than the fixture in your photo
 

Tom

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Thank you for your kind words and helpful advice. I'll take them all into account and address them when I have the time, one by one. Right now though I am trying to prioritize the heat & UV levels :) . Once I get those squared away I'll move on to the substrate and hay etc. I've updated my profile now! I am in Seattle.



1. It seems you are right: after running the ExoTerra 150W Basking Spot bulb for 10 hours in a standard 8.5" diameter Fluker's dome fixture at 16 inches above the substrate, the temperature directly underneath the fixture was a whopping 122°F!!!! 3-5 inches on either side of the lamp was around 85-90°F.
2. Sorry, a bit confused here. After replacing the upper level basking spot bulb with another flood bulb, that leaves me with two flood bulbs: one on the upper level, and one on the ground level. Now, are you recommending that I get the area underneath BOTH flood bulbs around 95°F, or just the upper level flood bulb? I think you are recommending the latter: get the upper level around 95°F, and simply lower the ground level bulb a couple inches to get it a bit warmer, but not 95°F. This would make sense in terms of achieving a temperature gradient, but I just wanted to clarify.
3. I will attempt to raise the height of the UVB fixture. The main reason I had it so low was because I wanted the bulb to be entirely inside the enclosure and surrounded by the walls. The tortoise table is located in my living room and if I am at an angle where the bulb is in my peripheral vision, it really hurts my eyes. Not sure how I'm going to manage with the fixture being 12 or more inches above the tortoise's carapace and so far above & outside the enclosure.. As I mentioned previously, my fixture has no reflector. How much do reflectors help with preventing the light from significantly shining to the rest of the room, if at all? Any suggestions?
6. Will soak every other day. Did it today and he pooped, haha.
2. I would have two different basking areas since it is a two story enclosure.
3. If you run a reflector, it will block the light from coming out into the room. A 10.0 HO bulb needs to be around 16-18 inches away from the tortoise. It will not thrash your eyes from across the room.
 

stiglitz

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3. If you run a reflector, it will block the light from coming out into the room. A 10.0 HO bulb needs to be around 16-18 inches away from the tortoise. It will not thrash your eyes from across the room.
I have a pretty small living room (which is why I was only able to construct a 5 foot by 3 foot enclosure), so the tortoise table is only about three and a half feet away from where we sit on the couch. Plus, the enclosure is pretty high (three feet) so when we're sitting on the couch, eye level is actually below the UVB bulb. This will be worsened when the fixture is raised higher. But okay, I'll give a reflector a shot!

One thing that I'm struggling with is you said a 10.0 HO bulb needs to be around 16-18 inches away from the tortoise. But what if I get a low UVI reading at that distance? Lowering the fixture so the tortoise receives higher and more adequate levels of UVB would make sense, but we are trading that off with a higher risk of damaging the animal's eyes, right? How do we find a balance between safe distance and total UVB received by the tortoise?
 

Tom

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I have a pretty small living room (which is why I was only able to construct a 5 foot by 3 foot enclosure), so the tortoise table is only about three and a half feet away from where we sit on the couch. Plus, the enclosure is pretty high (three feet) so when we're sitting on the couch, eye level is actually below the UVB bulb. This will be worsened when the fixture is raised higher. But okay, I'll give a reflector a shot!

One thing that I'm struggling with is you said a 10.0 HO bulb needs to be around 16-18 inches away from the tortoise. But what if I get a low UVI reading at that distance? Lowering the fixture so the tortoise receives higher and more adequate levels of UVB would make sense, but we are trading that off with a higher risk of damaging the animal's eyes, right? How do we find a balance between safe distance and total UVB received by the tortoise?
For that bulb with a reflector, somewhere around 16-18 inches should be close. Let the UV meter be your guide. No problem to move it closer if you are getting low numbers. This will not hurt the tortoise's eyes.
 

stiglitz

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For that bulb with a reflector, somewhere around 16-18 inches should be close. Let the UV meter be your guide. No problem to move it closer if you are getting low numbers. This will not hurt the tortoise's eyes.
Great! One last question: Would you say that this information is out of date at all? Because I'm thinking of going with option 2. https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/uvi.174974/#post-1734639

Just making sure since you mentioned in one of your previous post replies that much information on tortoise husbandry is out of date like the glass aquarium myth.
 

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