Please review Journey's home

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darthsmozers

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Hello everyone,

We've had Journey for a few months now, since October. Going on 4 months or so. We're still trying to perfect some things here and there, and I thought it might be helpful to get some opinions about his home all at once.

Below are some details of the home, followed by photos. Its long, but I'm hoping to give a full description at once instead of making many new posts. I also decided to post here in the Regarding Russians section rather than the generic "Enclosures" section to focus solely on our Russian.

Details:
Substrate: We used ReptiBark on the opinion of the PetSmart store. Since then, after seeing how dusty it can be, we've moved to Aspen. Journey was very angry with us after we changed his substrate to something new, but he's over it now. He currently has a mix of what was left of his ReptiBark, mixed with a brick of Aspen, with newspaper underneath it all for easy cleanup every month or two. I'll note that he loves to burrow little homes for himself under the newspaper, like little tents.

Food and water:
Water dish is available at all times, though we've only seen him use it once in three months. We assume he gets his water from his greens and from his weekly soakings. His greens are a small amount of a mix of red leaf lettuce and collard greens daily, with calcium dust 2-3 times a week. We recently bought Timothy hay, and the one time we used it sweet talk him into his new substrate, he seemed to like it. Haven't used it as part of a routine yet, though.

Moisture:
We soak him once a week in lukewarm to room temp water, usually for about 15 minutes. The water is only enough for him to stand in and not have his face in it. I usually pour water over his shell to wet his shell. Soaking him is interesting, as he's guaranteed to go to the bathroom 3-4 times during his soaking, requiring a constant change of water. Keeps him regular though? I've seen some of you use a spray bottle to keep the humidity up. We have a cheap little analog humidity reader sitting in the corner of his terrarium, and it reads 40%. Yet, we recently had the humidity checked in our apartment as we get some moisture on the windows at times this winter, and we were told our apartment is humid. So not sure what the real level is, and we don't have a digital humidity reader yet. But, we try to stay up on the weekly soakings. I have to say, I think the ReptiBark retained humidity better than the Aspen, but it was also very dusty with an aroma. What should the humidity level be, and would more frequent soakings make up for not spraying him down like some here do?

Shelter:
Journey has a hollow half log on the cool end of his home, which he sometimes goes in after we change out his substrate and he's mad with us, or after eating his breakfast but before basking. Recently, I increased the substrate to see if he would climb on top of the log, and sure enough he did! Funny little guy. But his usual shelter is the little newspaper tents he makes. As I mentioned, we have newspaper (well, really junkmail and grocery ads) under all the substrate for easy cleanup every month or 6 weeks. He makes little tents and buries himself under the newspaper, which is under the substrate, and he does this usually in the warmer area under the lamps.

Lighting and temperature:
After much frustration when we bought him and soon after when we learned the PetSmart recommendations were all wrong, we finally bought a Powersun UVA 100w light for daytime (630am to 7pm), and we have it on a timer that switches to a red bulb for night time. The UVA bulb is on the side of the terrarium pointing straight down, approximately 15 inches from the substrate. The red lamp is at an angle, as the dome is rather small and we don't have a setup to make it horizontal. But, its a night lamp for heat anyway, so I figured that wouldn't matter. That is located above the middle of the terrarium. Cool-end temps where the log and food dish is stay steady around 70-75, and the warm end is usually 90s in the day and 80s at night (but these are according to an ewually-cheap analog thermometer like the humidity reader, so its hard to tell. They're located in the corners of his terrarium.)

Other features/asthetics:
We have a stick from outside, bug and rot free, smooth with no bark, that lays lengthwise in his terrarium, just as something to climb over easily. We also have a rock in the corner on the UVA side of the home, which he'll sometimes lay on while basking. Similarly, we have a small rock in another corner just for asthetics. All told, the contents of his home consist of the newspaper and substrate, food and water dishes, a stick, two rocks, and the log shelter. (and lamps, of course, but they're not "in" the home.)

Behaviors:
Just for knowledge, here are some of Journey's observable behaviors. Much to my wife's delight, Journey is out and waiting by his food dish every morning the minute his night lamp changes to daytime. He spends about 20-30 minutes eating, sometimes he finishes and sometimes he leaves some left. He'll then walk over to the opposite end and bask for a little while. Then he'll bury himself back under the newspaper and remain there until the next morning. Question: Are Russians generally that sleepy and/or enjoy burrowing/hiding? These are observable during the week, and its limiting because we work. On weekends, though, he may not get to eat until we finally wake up. By then he's noticed we aren't feeding him at his normal time and he'll either go back to his little tent with his head poking out, or he'll chill out under the log waiting. It seems when we're home and its later than usual, he's more active. He'll walk along the glass back and forth if we're nearby. He'll bask and walk around. He'll spend a good few hours being pretty active when we're around, as opposed to weekday mornings when he eats, basks, and goes right back to his tent/burrow fairly quickly. (Although, who knows what he does if we're at work right?) As far as the bathroom, sometimes we'll find something in the terrarium once every few days, but he seems to save it all until his weekly soaking when he decides to go 3-4 times in the water. He'll urinate on occasion, sometimes leaving noticeable urates, sometimes not, always leaving urine though for us to spot clean.

Attached are three photos:
1 is of Journey's home with all the items labeled. Another is showing Journey climbing out of the little home he made in search of his breakfast, taken just this morning. The last is a closeup (but out of focus) photo of Journey eating his greens this morning.

IMG_1731_500wLabeled.jpg
IMG_1740_500w.jpg
IMG_1742_500w.jpg

The home is not as intricate as some others posted here, but we're still learning. We're open to any and all thoughts! And, we really appreciate it if you've taken the time to read this. Thanks!
 
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Meg90

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Everything looks good, but I would change his substrate to 100% aspen (which will be very dry) or use damp eco earth. (also called bedabeast, coconut coir, plantation soil) which will hold more humidity for him. He will be able to burrow into to both varieties. But I have heard bad things about reptibark.
 

ChiKat

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I agree with Meg about the substrate.
I will admit I only skimmed your post because I have to leave, but do you only offer red leaf lettuce and collard greens? Russians need much more variety. In the winter I feed my hatchling spring mix, turnip greens, collard greens, escarole, curly endive, dandelion greens, radicchio, etc. and he gets more variety in the summer when I am able to give him weeds.

Does the fact that he can see through the sides of his enclosure seem to bother him? I know that if my hatchling was in an aquarium he would constantly be trying to get out- he does this anyways in his wooden tortoise table :p
If it is bothering him you can tape paper to the sides.

I'm sure he would benefit from a larger enclosure as well. Many people use large storage containers as enclosures for their torts. I recently built my little guy a tortoise table and that was fairly easy to make. (Actually I'm lying, it was hell trying to build it, but that's only because I suck at carpentry. The average person would have had no problem! ;))
 

Stephanie Logan

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That is such a cute story! More PROOF of "reptile personality." :D

I vote with Katie that Journey may be outgrowing his enclosure. He is such a handsome guy, and that bit about the tent building with the picture of him coming up for air just made him even more endearing. :p

Let's see some more photos soon (once he's forgiven you for enlarging his habitat). ;)
 

darthsmozers

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Meg90 said:
Everything looks good, but I would change his substrate to 100% aspen (which will be very dry) or use damp eco earth. (also called bedabeast, coconut coir, plantation soil) which will hold more humidity for him. He will be able to burrow into to both varieties. But I have heard bad things about reptibark.

Thanks for your input. We do intend to go to 100% aspen, but we had a little bit of reptibark left and, in the interest of not wasting, we mixed it in with a brick of aspen, as you can see in the photos. We also wanted to ease the transition for Journey, who seemed fairly skeptical of the aspen at first. He does OK now, and upon his next home cleaning we intend to go fully to aspen.

However, I'm a little bit confused, and hope you can explain something. If the Aspen is so dry, how will it retain humidity?

I really liked the texture of the reptibark, but the dust and aroma bothered me when cleaning his home. I could see a layer of rest dust coating everything. I'm very glad we got rid of most of it, because I can't imagine how it may have bothered Journey.

ChiKat said:
I agree with Meg about the substrate.
I will admit I only skimmed your post because I have to leave, but do you only offer red leaf lettuce and collard greens? Russians need much more variety. In the winter I feed my hatchling spring mix, turnip greens, collard greens, escarole, curly endive, dandelion greens, radicchio, etc. and he gets more variety in the summer when I am able to give him weeds.

Does the fact that he can see through the sides of his enclosure seem to bother him? I know that if my hatchling was in an aquarium he would constantly be trying to get out- he does this anyways in his wooden tortoise table :p
If it is bothering him you can tape paper to the sides.

I'm sure he would benefit from a larger enclosure as well. Many people use large storage containers as enclosures for their torts. I recently built my little guy a tortoise table and that was fairly easy to make. (Actually I'm lying, it was hell trying to build it, but that's only because I suck at carpentry. The average person would have had no problem! ;))

"ChiKat", thanks for your reply as well. We've been slow to diversify his diet as the grocery store near us lacks most of what you and others have listed. But you're right, we do need to work on that.

As far as being able to see through the walls bothering him, he really doesn't seem to mind. But great idea about the paper though.

When we bought him, we had no idea about the ease of a plastic storage bin. Hence, we bought the $150+ glass terrarium. My wife likes it because it looks nicer up on the end table we have him on next to the sofa, and she can watch him from anywhere. Consequently, the price tag of the terrarium means I'd be reluctant to discontinue using it anytime soon.

But we also want what's good for him. Its a 40gal terrarium, and he's only about 5 or 6 inches long. He seems to have plenty of room to roam around, and my photos didn't do it justice, though I notice many others here have much larger setups with tables, etc.

I'm a little upset the pet store was so ill-informing. They sold us nasty reptibark, the wrong lightbulbs, recommended a diet "rich in colors i.e. tomato", of course sold us on the most expensive terrarium, and seemingly told us he was less than a year, though some here have said he looks older. Needless to say I've been meaning to write them an educational letter, but I'm still learning myself...

Does the terrairum really seem that small? I'll have to get exact length and width measurements, but so far he seems to do OK. I appreciate your feedback!

Stephanie Logan said:
That is such a cute story! More PROOF of "reptile personality." :D

I vote with Katie that Journey may be outgrowing his enclosure. He is such a handsome guy, and that bit about the tent building with the picture of him coming up for air just made him even more endearing. :p

Let's see some more photos soon (once he's forgiven you for enlarging his habitat). ;)


Thanks for the feedback! As mentioned in my reply to another poster, I'm hesitant to discontinue using the current terrarium as we paid a hefty price for it (thanks PetSmart...) but I'll have to get exact measurements to post here.
We'll be sure to post more photos, too!
 

chadk

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Pet stores always seem to do that... But I have seen improvements. Last few times I've seen russian torts in big chain pet stores, they were on good substrate and eating good greens.


Yeah, forget the aspen. Not a good russian tort substrate. Look at the exapandaple eco-earth stuff mentioned above. You get it in brick form and it expands with water. Mix that with some organic soil. Then just keep it damp by adding a glass of water when needed. (when you grab a handful and squeeze, it should hold together, but not be dripping wet).

The glass tank looks fine for now, but you should be looking into a tort table of some kind. A book shelf on it's back with shelves removed can work great and you can get them for just about nothing on craigs list...
 

Tom

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You've gotten lots of good advice here. His behavior and personality tell me that you're doing a pretty good job. I'll only add a few things, since you asked.

When I've used repti-bark in the past, I've had to mist it a couple of times a day to keep them dust down. Not an issue if you are going to switch out of it. I also am a fan of the coco coir stuff.

You ought to get a decent temp probe so you can really verify your temps at the exact spot where Journey hangs out. These can be found for around $10 at Target or Wal-mart type stores. I got a really cool one from Lowes for $24 that is wireless. It has a little plastic box that is meant to be placed outside to tell you the outside temp and humidity. You can just move the little wireless box around the enclosure to accurately check temps and humidity everywhere.

I'd skip the newspaper when you switch to a different, moisture holding substrate. It'll just get soggy. I use a little hand broom and dust pan for substrate swap outs. You can add more hides for security or make the substrate deeper for him to dig in to, if you are worried about him losing his "tents".

I'd soak twice a week. Gets the poo out sooner, keeps them better hydrated and greatly reduces the need to swap out substrate( if he always poos in the water ).

Do you have or have you thought about an outdoor enclosure for warmer weather? Really good for their health and well-being.

Finally, bigger is always better when it comes to tort enclosures, in my opinion.
 

darthsmozers

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Roachman26 said:
You've gotten lots of good advice here. His behavior and personality tell me that you're doing a pretty good job. I'll only add a few things, since you asked.

When I've used repti-bark in the past, I've had to mist it a couple of times a day to keep them dust down. Not an issue if you are going to switch out of it. I also am a fan of the coco coir stuff.

You ought to get a decent temp probe so you can really verify your temps at the exact spot where Journey hangs out. These can be found for around $10 at Target or Wal-mart type stores. I got a really cool one from Lowes for $24 that is wireless. It has a little plastic box that is meant to be placed outside to tell you the outside temp and humidity. You can just move the little wireless box around the enclosure to accurately check temps and humidity everywhere.

I'd skip the newspaper when you switch to a different, moisture holding substrate. It'll just get soggy. I use a little hand broom and dust pan for substrate swap outs. You can add more hides for security or make the substrate deeper for him to dig in to, if you are worried about him losing his "tents".

I'd soak twice a week. Gets the poo out sooner, keeps them better hydrated and greatly reduces the need to swap out substrate( if he always poos in the water ).

Do you have or have you thought about an outdoor enclosure for warmer weather? Really good for their health and well-being.

Finally, bigger is always better when it comes to tort enclosures, in my opinion.

Thanks for your reply, and sorry it took so long for me to reply.

Great advice, thanks! We started twice/week soaking this last week. We'll see how that goes! He recently had a dry piece of skin above his eye, but it was there long enough I could pick it off without hurting him.

Outdoor enclosure is a great idea, but we'll have to wait until we're not in an apartment anymore.

Gereral Update:
We finally found a place to buy dandelion greens - Whole Foods. We tried it out this morning for the first time mixed with some green-leaf lettuce, and he devoured it! The plan is to mix the lettuce, collard, and dandelion greens and begin finding ways to diversify his food based on the many suggestions here. So thanks everyone!

The other day he crawled his way on top of his Log, like a king of the mountain. We've only seen him do that twice now, and its hillarious!

Anyway, we'll post more pictures and updates along the way. Thanks everyone!

chadk said:
Pet stores always seem to do that... But I have seen improvements. Last few times I've seen russian torts in big chain pet stores, they were on good substrate and eating good greens.


Yeah, forget the aspen. Not a good russian tort substrate. Look at the exapandaple eco-earth stuff mentioned above. You get it in brick form and it expands with water. Mix that with some organic soil. Then just keep it damp by adding a glass of water when needed. (when you grab a handful and squeeze, it should hold together, but not be dripping wet).

The glass tank looks fine for now, but you should be looking into a tort table of some kind. A book shelf on it's back with shelves removed can work great and you can get them for just about nothing on craigs list...

So now I've seen suggestions swearing for and against Aspen. I guess that's just the nature of everyone's preferences, but any other opinions?
 

Stephanie Logan

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For substrate I use a mix of cypress mulch, coco coir, and sphagnum peat moss. The peat moss really helps to retain the moisture. :D

Oh, and I "discovered" another method of reducing the annoying gnat/tiny bug population: I boil some water in my teakettle, and while Taco is playing on the sunporch floor or outside in her pen, I pour this boiling water over the substrate, then stir it up a bit with a barbecue skewer. So I get warmth, "humidity", and presumably, dead bugs. :cool:
 

Floof

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I don't know enough about tortoises to really suggest anything care-wise, but, since there seems to be some confusion as to the enclosure's dimensions, I wanted to let those more knowledgeable know that the floor space of a 40 gallon "Breeder" style aquarium (which this appears to be) is about 3 ft x 1.5 ft.

To me, it seems unnecessarily small for a tortoise his size, as they really enjoy roaming, but, again, I'm still a beginner in the tort world myself and may well be wrong about that.

Also, from what I've learned around here, tortoises do best on a humidity-holding substrate... Which aspen is not. I've been using aspen for some years now with my snakes. IME, it's a very dry product that doesn't even begin to hold humidity and will often mold with too much moisture. No problem for my corn snakes, for whom humidity isn't all that important, but it can become a pretty significant issue for animals who do need humidity, especially those that spend all their time at ground level... From what I've learned here, tortoises fall into the latter category.

Hope this helps some! =)
 
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