Save me from the Pet Store

Bartlebie

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So glad I found these forums, and so glad someone sent me to the tortoise starter threat. Following the guide, here are some notes and some questions about our new testudo (Russian identified, thanks to the welcome thread!).

Indoor/Outdoor – We live in San Antonio – I think the climate is good for him out doors, we will likely try to get him out more often. We bring him out once a week for an hour and keep a good eye on him while he roams around a dried out concrete enclosed pond that has mulch and soil on the bottom. We are careful not to have anything that looks like food in there so he doesn’t accidently digest the unapproved floor.

Adjustment – it seems like we probably shouldn’t let him roam around in the mulch and native soil even for a little while? I’ll have to build him something new; luckily we have a lot of space for San Antonio.

Finding stuff we need – Ok, I guess we did this part wrong. We listened to Pet Co complete. Got him in a 1-1/2 x 3 foot enclosure that was left over from our late bearded dragon. I guess this will be ok size for him for now, I think he is about 4 inches or so. I’ll dig around here for a resource on enclosure size for tortoise size. The substrate in his normal enclosure is a standard tortoise substrate they recommended, as it “could hold the humidity better.” But it looks like it moves too much under him as he walks around, and he is really active. He’s got a ramped water bowl that I’ve seen frowned upon in a number of threads.

Food – we’ve been feeding him a variety of greens from the grocery store. His favorite is broccoli. I see the grocery store greens is also frowned upon. I’ll have to figure out which grasses and plants around here are safe for him; should I research by each possible plant, or is there just a few to stay away from? He gets fed once or twice a day. He LOVES to eat. I’m always worried about over or under feeding him because he likes to eat so much.

Heating and lighting: We did a get a fresh new UV bulb. His Hot side basking spot seems to sit around 95 degrees. We have his lights on a 12 hour timer. No heat source at night and our house stays comfortable. Finally this seems to be something we’ve gotten right?

Humidity - We spray his enclosure occasionally, and dampened the substrate a little before putting him in. Humidity seems to be staying around 55, which also think is right after reading this. Is it right for his size though?

The enclosure – yes it’s a glass enclosure. And at 1-1/2 x 3 feet, he obviously won’t be able to stay here forever. I’ll do a lot of research on here and build him something cool and healthy. But how long will his current situation be adequate for him? Upon reading more, it seems he may already have grown to big for 1-1/2’ x 3’?

Substrate – will have to go to fine grade orchid bark, hopefully this weekend. I’ve got the pet store recommended tortoise substrate right now.

Water dish – see above; I actually thought this was a really good water bowl for him but apparently I was wrong. Seemed easy to get in and out of if he wanted to.

Soaking – while I have NO idea how old mine is, its not a hatchling. However, we’ve only been soaking him once a week, and this seems to little based on the write up. While great advice is in this soaking section, it’s a little more subjective than other parts of the guide. Is there a more precise soaking by size and climate write up somewhere?

Supplements – he has some supplements the pet store recommended, but I think we aren’t doing enough. Twice a week right now, on grocery store food.

The far left light isn't on from the picture. Do I need to move this thread to a different section?
 

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Yvonne G

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You have an adult russian. He's not going to get much bigger, if at all. Rather than working with the indoor enclosure, figure out a safe and secure outdoor yard. Can he escape from the pond?. It might be a good place to make him a habitat. Add a lot more dirt , some shrubs, maybe a potted tree, a waterer, a couple hiding places and a feeding tile. I'm seeing lots of possibilities for that dry pond. How big is it? Russians may be small but they need a lot of room
 

Tom

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I'll answer point by point:
  • Your outdoor enclosure can just be on the ground and use the native dirt. I like them to have an underground retreat for hot weather. Dig a hole with a sloped entrance, cover it with some 2x12s, and pile a bunch of dirt back on top of the boards. Works great. Be sure to make the outdoor enclosure escape proof. Cap the corners and be sure there are no foot holds on the walls. I swear Russians can levitate...
  • Your current substrate is orchid bark, and that is fine indoors.
  • Your current tank is way too small. They need a lot more space to walk inside their enclosures than lizards or snakes. 4x8 feet is what you need.
  • Stay away from broccoli. Favor endive, escarole, cilantro, arugula, and add in other stuff for variety. Also mix in dried leaves from kapidolofarms.com, and herbal hay from tortoisesupply.com. Learn your local weeds, because those are the best and they are free. Also look for hibiscus, lavatera and mulberry leaves. Grape vine leaves, Gazanias and so much more. It will take time to learn all the plants, and it will take time for your tortoise to get used to all the new stuff and recognize it as food.
  • Basking temp sounds good. What type of UV bulb did you get? CFL bulbs are no good and can burn their eyes. If you got one of those turn it off ASAP.
  • Terra cotta saucers sunk into the substrate for food and water. That ramped one is a flipping/drowning hazard. Get rid of it ASAP.
  • Once a week soaks will keep him alive. Twice a week is better, especially during hot weather. There is no scientific study behind this. Drier climates and hotter weather need more attention to hydration. That's all.
  • If this is a male, you shouldn't need much supplementation. Once a week for vitamins and twice a week for calcium. With a good weedy leafy diet, you can skip both.
All of this and more is explained here:
 

Bartlebie

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Thank you both for the help. I do think I'll have to get to work this weekend building him an outdoor enclosure, as 4' x 8' seems a little big for the inside of the house. Maybe I can move him to a 4' x 8' in the corner of the kid's game room. As for the dried out pond with the mulch, its way too big I think to be a starting out platform. Its 15' x 18' right now, here is a picture below. But we have plenty of space to work with. But in addition to keeping him from getting out, we have rattle snakes and giant black squirrels that worry me. I think keeping stuff from getting in will be just as important. We also get Texas bark scorpions (not nearly as bad as Arizona bark scorpions). Caught 2 this year already. How concerning is that? Also, our neighbor said he saw some foxes recently, and I'd imagine that could be problematic as well.

I saw Tom you posted some cool habitats; I'm hoping I can glean some good ideas there.

Also, editing this to add: I think we may have gotten one of the bulbs you say is a big no-no. Is bulb not ok to use:
 

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Tom

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Thank you both for the help. I do think I'll have to get to work this weekend building him an outdoor enclosure, as 4' x 8' seems a little big for the inside of the house. Maybe I can move him to a 4' x 8' in the corner of the kid's game room. As for the dried out pond with the mulch, its way too big I think to be a starting out platform. Its 15' x 18' right now, here is a picture below. But we have plenty of space to work with. But in addition to keeping him from getting out, we have rattle snakes and giant black squirrels that worry me. I think keeping stuff from getting in will be just as important. We also get Texas bark scorpions (not nearly as bad as Arizona bark scorpions). Caught 2 this year already. How concerning is that? Also, our neighbor said he saw some foxes recently, and I'd imagine that could be problematic as well.

I saw Tom you posted some cool habitats; I'm hoping I can glean some good ideas there.

Also, editing this to add: I think we may have gotten one of the bulbs you say is a big no-no. Is bulb not ok to use:
That is a cfl bulb. I'd turn it off and return it. If you tell them why, the pet store people will be oblivious and probably tell you that the people on the internet are crazy. They just don't know better.

The pond area looks great, but the back corner area looks even better to me and out of the way of all the people. The wildlife shouldn't be a problem. Everyone everywhere has the same sort of wildlife all over the country unless you live in a NYC high-rise. The tortoise will be securely locked up in a night box at night, and its unlikely that the foxes will come around in the day time. Snakes and scorpions aren't a problem. I find rattlesnakes on my property two or three times a year, and out on the dirt roads nearby weekly or more. We have those horrendous evil ground squirrels and they don't mess with the tortoises.
 

Bartlebie

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thanks a lot. Out of the way of people? Do they not like people hanging around them? I had a red ear as a kid and it loved people. Two different animals, I know
 

Tom

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thanks a lot. Out of the way of people? Do they not like people hanging around them? I had a red ear as a kid and it loved people. Two different animals, I know
Normal human activities in and around a tortoise pen tend to cause problems for the tortoises. I noticed the kids toys in the picture. It would be safer for the tortoise to not be right in the middle of all the human activity.
 

Jan A

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Thank you both for the help. I do think I'll have to get to work this weekend building him an outdoor enclosure, as 4' x 8' seems a little big for the inside of the house. Maybe I can move him to a 4' x 8' in the corner of the kid's game room. As for the dried out pond with the mulch, its way too big I think to be a starting out platform. Its 15' x 18' right now, here is a picture below. But we have plenty of space to work with. But in addition to keeping him from getting out, we have rattle snakes and giant black squirrels that worry me. I think keeping stuff from getting in will be just as important. We also get Texas bark scorpions (not nearly as bad as Arizona bark scorpions). Caught 2 this year already. How concerning is that? Also, our neighbor said he saw some foxes recently, and I'd imagine that could be problematic as well.

I saw Tom you posted some cool habitats; I'm hoping I can glean some good ideas there.

Also, editing this to add: I think we may have gotten one of the bulbs you say is a big no-no. Is bulb not ok to use:
 

Jan A

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Welcome to the forum. Looks like some possibilities in your back yard for a cool tort enclosure. Thanks for doing some reading & realizing you have changes to make. Welcome aboard!!
 

Bartlebie

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I'm struggling a little with the correct UV replacement. Can someone help me identify a correct one? I'm going to transition him outside - but I need to build his outdoor enclosure over the next week or two and then I read the post about gradually transitioning him.

I found these on Amazon. On the starter sheet though, it isn't recommended to use the mercury one anymore.

I don't have a fixture for the longer one. If the longer fluorescent is the best way to go, though, we'll just get a fixture for it.

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Tom

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  • @Bartlebie

  • There are four elements to heating and lighting:
    1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt incandescent floods from the hardware store. Some people will need bigger, or smaller wattage bulbs. Let your thermometer be your guide. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb. You need to check the temp with a thermometer directly under the bulb and get it to around 95-100F (36-37C).
    2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT, as long as your house stays above 60F (15-16C) at night.
    3. Light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish. Strip or screw-in bulb types are both fine.
    4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. In the UK, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. I like the 12%. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html
 
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