Russian Tortoise Peeling Scute Edges / Shell Health

tee_tee_bee

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Hello. First timer here. I very recently acquired a Russian tortoise that I was told is probably around 4 years old. We’ve had her since December 31st. I’ve enmeshed myself on a crash course in learning absolutely as much as I can about Russian torts to make sure we give her a great home. Of course, my learning started after my husband surprised me with our tort, Pinecone (PC). So I felt behind the game – no clue about her background, etc. Guessing from all my reading she’s probably wild caught and I feel bad about that. Also they sold my husband a 30 gal tank to start and told him it would last her a couple of years. Bawh. We immediately ordered her a 2’x4’ tortoise habitat to test it out, durability etc, since this model you can buy a 2nd one and connect them. We’d had it a week and think we’ll get the 2nd one soon.

I wanted to ask some of you with a lot more knowledge about PC’s shell health. Attached is a picture. One of the front scutes is chipped off pretty bad. It seems to have happened a while ago and has already healed. I’ve been watching it and checking it though. Never any discharge, softness, etc. What I’m more worried about is the peeling between the scutes. Reading more and more, I’m thinking this is just a sign of longer term dehydration but I’m not sure. I also read about the light being too close, which could burn the scutes but I don’t think that’s the case here – plus this seems more long term than something we could have done in 18 days with her. Also I have read about bacterial or fungal infections to the shell causing peeling but from what I read that’s usually localized to areas. PC’s peeling seems to be slight, not big chips coming off, but all over her carapace between the scutes. Her plastron doesn’t seem to have any issues or dryness. I think that when we got PC, she may have been somewhat dehydrated. Her skin was pretty flakey – face and legs. Looking at her now that seems to have gone away. Yay. I’ve been reading some about shell conditioners and oils but want to make sure that I’m not masking a bigger problem before trying that out.

I know from reading the more info the better so: We give her three soaks a week about 20 – 25 mins. I brushed the her carapace w/ a soft toothbrush for the first time last night. After her soaks we let her dry out and explore & exercise on the living room floor on an old beach sheet in a penned in area for a while. She’s a good eater, all greens - no fruit. We give her a mix of greens daily. In the rotation are collards, mustard greens, swiss chard, escarole, endive (her fave), mizuna, dandelion, various lettuces and cucumber slices as a treat once a week. I toss the daily greens with Herbal Hay from Tortoise Supply to up her fiber content. A sprinkle of calcium powder three times a week and a sprinkle of multi vitamin powder once we week, different day. I did buy the Broadleaf Testudo seed mix from Tortoise Supply that we’ll plant soon. Luckily, we have a couple of community garden plots with tons of greens growing to get us started.

Her substrate about 3 or 4” of repti bark in the main area (3’x2’) and in the hide area (1’x2’) there is about 5” of coco coir and 1” of repti bark that used to be on top but got mixed in from me trying to keep the coco coir from drying out completely. SoCal is dry. There is also a 1” coco coir mat on the bottom of the whole enclosure.

We have a few thermometers and humidity gauges at various points in her enclosure. I try to keep the humidity at 50 to 60% but it’s difficult in her main area w/ the heat and our general dry weather. It’s usually in the 40s in the main and between 50 and 60% in the hide. I also check surface temps a temp gun to make sure each area is in the right range. We try to keep her basking plate (a flipped over terracotta saucer) at 90 – 100 F surface temp. She does frequent the plate, when not digging, napping or grazing.

All in all, I think we’re doing good by PC. I’m just a little worried about the peeling between the scutes and would love any feedback.

20210117_154830.jpg
 

Yossarian

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Welcome,

The tort looks a bit small for 4 years old it might not have had the best nutrition up to now but growth can vary quite a bit, I doubt that you can know it is a "she" yet, that probably cant be determined until it grows a bit more.

The shell doesnt look too bad, I can see the scute that broke off, underlying the scutes is bone, overtime the bone will form a new layer of shell over it if the tort is healthy and getting everything it needs. Russians can have very rough looking shells anyway and they can be very hard on them all by themselves. I wouldnt worry about it tbh, worry about getting things right going forward and the shell will take care of itself. It sounds like basically you are on the right track with the torts care, I dont see anything to worry about other than definately get second enclosure and combine them, 4ft x 8ft is generally a bare minimum for these guys as adults. Ive tagged the care sheet for you though it sounds like you have seen it.

As for the wild caught issue, most russians are unfortunately, the regulations where they are from are very lax and they are somewhat of a fad pet.

The Best Way To Raise Any Temperate Species Of Tortoise | Tortoise Forum
 

Yvonne G

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Your tortoise is probably a lot older than 4. Looks more like 8 or 10.

There's no way for us to know what he endured prior to you getting him, but I'm going to guess a very hot light hanging too low and extremely dry conditions. All the new growth is burned and dried out.

You can help him start growing better by setting him up correctly (a SLIGHTLY humid environment with the correct heat and lighting no closer than 12" from the top of his shell) .

You can also try the hot oil treatment (not too hot). Warm up some cold pressed coconut oil and paint his shell with it paying particular attention to the new growth between the scutes. Leave it on for about 15 minutes then polish it off with a soft, absorbent cloth.
 

tee_tee_bee

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Jan 11, 2021
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Lakewood, CA
Thanks, Yossarian! Really appreciate the advice and the link. I had read some others on this site but don't think I came across that one.

Thanks, Yvonne! Appreciate the advice on the hot oil treatment. Definitely going to try it out this weekend. PC is on the basking plate a lot but the light is far enough from the top of the shell and we check the temps regularly, so hopefully the shell will work itself out.

I'm just glad that a couple of way more experienced owners don't think the shell as it is now is something to stress over. Yay!

We were told that our tort is a she and about four but my guess is the pet store based the age on size. I did a bit of reading and based on her tail, if she's already developed the tail seems female but if she's still too young there's a chance she's a he. Either pronoun is fine with me. Here's a pic of PC's tail.
 

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