Researching Sand

ShirleyTX

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I'd like to start a discussion about sand. Sand has been a villain in tortoise circles for many years. Please read my whole post with an open mind -- I know a common reaction is "sand is evil". But I'd like to share some research I've done and ask you some questions, if you please. And I would be so happy if no one flames me!

Let me start with questions, and then I will share some thoughts.

1) Who among us has had one of our OWN reptiles suffer a sand impaction?

2) Was the impacted reptile(s) a tortoise specifically? If not, what was it?

3) Was your impacted reptile exposed to calcium based sand or quartz (silica) based sand?
If you don't know, just tell me what you know. Was it called play sand? Mason's sand? Did it come from a home improvement store, an educational store, or from an online source? I may be able to make a likely guess.

Some things I've learned so far:
-- Calcium sand clumps easily. It forms into a solid in the digestive system.
-- Some reptiles (allegedly) eat sand on purpose. (Some of you are laughing right now because you know your tort will try to eat anything that doesn't move, LOL.)
-- Much commercially available quartz (silica) sand is man made. It is pulverized rock. It has not spent centuries on a beach or in the desert. The grains are not smooth.
-- Some commercial sand is highly processed, reducing dust and ensuring a uniform size. Cheaper sand is not; it is dusty and has many sizes & shapes of particles in it.

Maybe you've guessed what I'm thinking: maybe not ALL sand is bad.
How do we account for the keepers who've had impacted animals and the keepers who've used sand for years with no trouble? Perhaps the highly varied quality of sand accounts for this.

I would welcome ideas about where my logic is weak, and ideas about further research. I've spoken with a geologist that specializes in sand, as well as a herp vet who specialized in tortoises. I will surely appreciate thoughtful comments. Thank you so much.

Shirley

PS Why am I interested in this? I have a 3yo Egyptian tortoise. In the U.S., we mainly use oyster shell as a substrate. But overseas, sand is the primary component. (If anyone is interested in why no one anywhere uses soil mixtures, I can explain that as well.) Anyway, I'm seriously considering switching from shell to sand, so... Trying to be smart about it.
 

Grandpa Turtle 144

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Hello Shirley
A few people may get loud but please just except it ,don’t worry about it !
A little about me : I’ve been raising torts for about 19 years , I’ve got 51 adults including Egyptians , and multiple types . And they are like my children ! So more to you if you can’t prove that my torts don’t need sand of any kind ! Why gamble on it ! But thank you for questioning it ! That’s why we are here to pick at each other’s brains and learn as much as we can .
 

ShirleyTX

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@Grandpa Turtle 144 Hi there! I always see your posts but did not realize you are a fellow Egyptian keeper. (51 adults of many species. Wow. I can barely keep up with one. Do you ever post photos?)

Do you keep your Egyptians indoors or out? Mine has field trips outside but lives inside.

And one more, if you don't mind.... What substrate do your darlings live on?

PS I am hoping that I can move to sand, really. Convincing myself I"m not going to kill her, LOL.
 

wellington

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@Tom can answer some of these with the impactionshe had seen.
I would question why do you have such a want too use sand? Something that if your wrong about, and your tortoise dies of the sand impaction, there is no going back.
If your insistent, I would make sure to mix it with dirt not use just sand. Be sure your enclosure is big enough to have a non sand area to feed and water on and that the non sanded area is far away from the sanded area.
I wouldn't take the risk personally. By the time you know something is wrong with a tortoise, it's very wrong.
 

Tom

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I've seen multiple cases of leopard geckos, bearded dragons and several species of tortoises. Some were on pet store bought sand, some were on play sand, and some were in whatever sand was already there in the yard.

Your question is a reasonable one and I have no desire to flame anyone. I do, however, have a desire to discourage people from using any kind of sand in their substrate because I've seen first hand the damage it does. Find a tortoise vet near you and ask permission to sit in on just one tortoise impaction surgery. Just one. Take in those sights, sounds and smells... You won't want to use sand anymore after that.
 
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ShirleyTX

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@Grandpa Turtle 144 . Thank you for the photos. Your "kids" are a beautiful bunch, and your enclosures look so comfortable and pretty. Looking at the photos, it seems you've done a wonderful job of giving all of them nice shade. I'm fairly certain I saw one of them smiling.
 

ascott

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I'd like to start a discussion about sand. Sand has been a villain in tortoise circles for many years. Please read my whole post with an open mind -- I know a common reaction is "sand is evil". But I'd like to share some research I've done and ask you some questions, if you please. And I would be so happy if no one flames me!

Let me start with questions, and then I will share some thoughts.

1) Who among us has had one of our OWN reptiles suffer a sand impaction?

2) Was the impacted reptile(s) a tortoise specifically? If not, what was it?

3) Was your impacted reptile exposed to calcium based sand or quartz (silica) based sand?
If you don't know, just tell me what you know. Was it called play sand? Mason's sand? Did it come from a home improvement store, an educational store, or from an online source? I may be able to make a likely guess.

Some things I've learned so far:
-- Calcium sand clumps easily. It forms into a solid in the digestive system.
-- Some reptiles (allegedly) eat sand on purpose. (Some of you are laughing right now because you know your tort will try to eat anything that doesn't move, LOL.)
-- Much commercially available quartz (silica) sand is man made. It is pulverized rock. It has not spent centuries on a beach or in the desert. The grains are not smooth.
-- Some commercial sand is highly processed, reducing dust and ensuring a uniform size. Cheaper sand is not; it is dusty and has many sizes & shapes of particles in it.

Maybe you've guessed what I'm thinking: maybe not ALL sand is bad.
How do we account for the keepers who've had impacted animals and the keepers who've used sand for years with no trouble? Perhaps the highly varied quality of sand accounts for this.

I would welcome ideas about where my logic is weak, and ideas about further research. I've spoken with a geologist that specializes in sand, as well as a herp vet who specialized in tortoises. I will surely appreciate thoughtful comments. Thank you so much.

Shirley

PS Why am I interested in this? I have a 3yo Egyptian tortoise. In the U.S., we mainly use oyster shell as a substrate. But overseas, sand is the primary component. (If anyone is interested in why no one anywhere uses soil mixtures, I can explain that as well.) Anyway, I'm seriously considering switching from shell to sand, so... Trying to be smart about it.

Dealt with a CDT that was solid impacted....a tortoise that was in the dying stages....took several weeks into months to get the sand out....I would not recommend sand. The sand that this tort had impacted was none that was added...just a poor selection in the initial enclosure....did I say I would not recommend sand at all...of course there is going to be some in the enclosure if you are using a natural settting....but realize, a tortoise in the wild reaches up and bites/eats from the growing plant and not off of the ground (cut and presented) in a pile of chopped food...so when the tort in the wild goes through sandy areas...they are not eating from food laying on the surface covered in sand but rather reaches and bites from the plant that may be growing in the sand...big difference...
 

Toddrickfl1

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Dealt with a CDT that was solid impacted....a tortoise that was in the dying stages....took several weeks into months to get the sand out....I would not recommend sand. The sand that this tort had impacted was none that was added...just a poor selection in the initial enclosure....did I say I would not recommend sand at all...of course there is going to be some in the enclosure if you are using a natural settting....but realize, a tortoise in the wild reaches up and bites/eats from the growing plant and not off of the ground (cut and presented) in a pile of chopped food...so when the tort in the wild goes through sandy areas...they are not eating from food laying on the surface covered in sand but rather reaches and bites from the plant that may be growing in the sand...big difference...
Good point never thought about that
 

ShirleyTX

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Just a question. Does any tortoise naturally live on sand?

Yes, many tortoises' natural habitat is sand, including the Egyptian tortoise (which is what I keep). The natural habitats of different species vary a great deal in terms of geologic origin, mineral composition, texture, solidity, etc. Mostly when people use sand in an enclosure, they buy "play sand" at a toy store or home improvement store and chuck it in.

What I am trying to determine is: can sand be a safe and beneficial substrate, if properly chosen and deployed. Thank you for your question!
 

ShirleyTX

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@ascott . Thank you Angela! You are the only person who actually answered my questions with the exact specificity I need.

It seems to me that it took many years of trial and error before keepers decided on the perfect soil mix for their tortoises. And that "perfect mix" still varies between keepers. Some like coco coir, others swear by top soil, there's the mulch crowd..... There are just as many variations of sand, but we don't talk about those variations. We buy play sand or mason's sand, and that's that.

There is some interesting work being done by European and Libyan & Egyptian keepers, using sand-based substrates. In the case of Libya and Egypt, they are often dealing with wild caught adults. In Europe, captive breeding is becoming more common. Soil and other organic matter is not an option for Egyptian tortoises, so I think some study of sand is worthwhile.

Thanks again!
 

ShirleyTX

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@Tom can answer some of these with the impactionshe had seen.
I would question why do you have such a want too use sand? Something that if your wrong about, and your tortoise dies of the sand impaction, there is no going back.
If your insistent, I would make sure to mix it with dirt not use just sand. Be sure your enclosure is big enough to have a non sand area to feed and water on and that the non sanded area is far away from the sanded area.
I wouldn't take the risk personally. By the time you know something is wrong with a tortoise, it's very wrong.

This is the third time I have posted about substrate for my Egyptian tortoise and it is the third time you have objected to what I post. This time, I feel you are implying I am about to kill my tortoise.

So, for the third time, I will explain....

Egyptian tortoises cannot live on organic matter. No soil, coir, mulch. The bits of matter that float about are too large for their delicate nares. Their native land is virtually sterile and their immune systems are weak. Any pathogen, fungus, or mold in the enclosure can quickly become deadly. Therefore, the two recommended substrates for Egyptian tortoises is either oyster shell or sand. Additions to the sand of other non-organic material, such as clay, is sometimes used as well. Organic matter gives their tiny feet little traction, and can adversely impact the development of their legs.

The source of this information includes to name just a few:
Posts in the Egyptian tortoise section of this forum
Hermanni Haven (Chris Leone, expert U.S. breeder & published in Reptiles magazine)
Ralph Till (expert U.S. breeder and published in The Batagur)
Arizona Tortoise Compound
Tortoise Supply Company
Frank Indiviglio (published on The Reptile Blog)
(and I think Ed Pirog although I can't find a proper reference at the moment)

The experts above recommend primarily oyster shell with sand as second choice. Currently I use oyster shell. I decided I wanted to find out more about sand which is why I posted my questions. As I've learned more about sand, I believe it is often deployed incorrectly and is not good. What if I could learn how to deploy sand safely? It might help others too. On the flip side, maybe what I will learn is that sand is not a good substrate, no matter how carefully deployed.

I feel I may sound irritated, and I guess I am. But I don't mean to hurt your feelings. I feel like you assume I'm not a knowledgeable keeper. But I am.
 

Grandpa Turtle 144

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Me again Shirley
Remember where your at : The TFO isn’t saying your a bad keeper . But there was a person talking about Phx worms and her box turtle and how great they are as food for the box turtle ! And the next person wanted to know if they should start feeding their Leopard tort Phx worms ! So if they say something positive a bout sand every baby tort will start getting sand . We have kids on here from 12-40 years old that say give your Russian torts fruit when we say fruit should be given very rarely . So please relax have fun and enjoy your torts as I do . And continue to learn and teach on the TFO ![emoji217]
 

wellington

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This is the third time I have posted about substrate for my Egyptian tortoise and it is the third time you have objected to what I post. This time, I feel you are implying I am about to kill my tortoise.

So, for the third time, I will explain....

Egyptian tortoises cannot live on organic matter. No soil, coir, mulch. The bits of matter that float about are too large for their delicate nares. Their native land is virtually sterile and their immune systems are weak. Any pathogen, fungus, or mold in the enclosure can quickly become deadly. Therefore, the two recommended substrates for Egyptian tortoises is either oyster shell or sand. Additions to the sand of other non-organic material, such as clay, is sometimes used as well. Organic matter gives their tiny feet little traction, and can adversely impact the development of their legs.

The source of this information includes to name just a few:
Posts in the Egyptian tortoise section of this forum
Hermanni Haven (Chris Leone, expert U.S. breeder & published in Reptiles magazine)
Ralph Till (expert U.S. breeder and published in The Batagur)
Arizona Tortoise Compound
Tortoise Supply Company
Frank Indiviglio (published on The Reptile Blog)
(and I think Ed Pirog although I can't find a proper reference at the moment)

The experts above recommend primarily oyster shell with sand as second choice. Currently I use oyster shell. I decided I wanted to find out more about sand which is why I posted my questions. As I've learned more about sand, I believe it is often deployed incorrectly and is not good. What if I could learn how to deploy sand safely? It might help others too. On the flip side, maybe what I will learn is that sand is not a good substrate, no matter how carefully deployed.

I feel I may sound irritated, and I guess I am. But I don't mean to hurt your feelings. I feel like you assume I'm not a knowledgeable keeper. But I am.
Did I misunderstand your original post? You mentioned if I remember correctly as I didn't go back to reread, that you knew about the dangers of sand and you wanted experienced opinions and proof if possible. I alerted Tom as he has seen first hand the damage of sand. I gave my opionion as far as why use it if you don't have too.
I have found many places that doesn't recommend sand. Also keep in mind that in the wild, they likely are not eating the grasses and weeds in the sandy areas. So yes, they have areas of not just sand. A person keeping one in an indoor enclosure, and using only sand as a substrate, well, increases the likelyhood of ingesting sand and is not really the tortoise would be living in the wild.
 

CandyAss

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I get where you're coming from Shirley! Whenever I'm told "never do...", I want to know why. I like science-based reasons. I like dialog that expands my understanding of a subject. I'm new to tortoises, so I'm asking a lot of questions. Right now, when I repeatedly hear a "never do...", I'm going to take that advice, but still seek to find the why. I'm new to tortoises - not animal care.
That being said, I looked up the Regional Studbook for Egyptian Tortoises, and under the husbandry section it recommends soil, sand, or a mixture of both for the substrate, and a minimum enclosure size of 12"×48"×12". Of course, there wasn't an explanation of why, but the list of people and institutions that contributed to the husbandry guidelines is pretty impressive. If you're in Texas, you might be close to a zoo that houses and/or breeds them. Abilene, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston Zoos all have them. Zoo Keepers love to answer smart questions and talk about the animals they care for. The only time I ever shut up about birds now is to talk about tortoises!
 

Cheryl Hills

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I get where you're coming from Shirley! Whenever I'm told "never do...", I want to know why. I like science-based reasons. I like dialog that expands my understanding of a subject. I'm new to tortoises, so I'm asking a lot of questions. Right now, when I repeatedly hear a "never do...", I'm going to take that advice, but still seek to find the why. I'm new to tortoises - not animal care.
That being said, I looked up the Regional Studbook for Egyptian Tortoises, and under the husbandry section it recommends soil, sand, or a mixture of both for the substrate, and a minimum enclosure size of 12"×48"×12". Of course, there wasn't an explanation of why, but the list of people and institutions that contributed to the husbandry guidelines is pretty impressive. If you're in Texas, you might be close to a zoo that houses and/or breeds them. Abilene, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston Zoos all have them. Zoo Keepers love to answer smart questions and talk about the animals they care for. The only time I ever shut up about birds now is to talk about tortoises!
Just a warning, not all zoos raise there animals theright way. They often go by old outdated info especially where tortoises are concerned.
 

CandyAss

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Just a warning, not all zoos raise there animals theright way. They often go by old outdated info especially where tortoises are concerned.
The Zoos I referenced are all accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The vast majority of Zookeepers have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and many have a masters. Zoos that are accredited by the AZA are required to participate in Species Survival Plans - science based programs that strive to maintain and create populations of animals that are genetically diverse and healthy, often with the goal of, or in support of, reintroduction programs. Most of the large, well known zoos have an entire division dedicated to wildlife conservation through science.
There are zoos that have failed to advance with the times, but they are pretty easy to spot.
 
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