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Sudden death of 3 month old Indian Star

Discussion in 'Indian Star and Burmese Star tortoises' started by UniqueMind, Sep 30, 2019.

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  1. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Hi everyone
    I have very sadly today lost my nearly 3 month old indian star however I cannot understand why and would really appreciate some expert help so that if I am to look after a star again I don't repeat my mistakes.

    He was 3 months old, weighted 28g and was 5cm long (shell only). I have had him in my care for 1 month in which time he has gained 2g, and he was absolutely fine until yesterday afternoon when he began to act a little oddly.

    His enclosure was caged at the front but covered top back and sides for humidity. He had a basking spot of around 35c and the rest of the enclosure never dropped below 22c

    He was on a mix of orchid bark and grass as substrate, and so could always nibble at the grass (which he did most days) as well as eating from his food bowl which had a variety of weeds grown especially for him indoors using purchased tortoise food seeds as well as herbs such as basil and coriander for variety.

    He was lively and inquisitive between naps and wasn't showing any signs of ill health.

    yesterday morning he was happily eating away in the morning, but in the afternoon I noticed him hanging out in his hide where he usually only went to sleep / nap. I brought him out to check on him and he didn't seem lethargic, wasn't moving in any odd ways, just acted nervous of me (as usual - he's only known me a month) when I handled him. I noticed that he pooped 3 times in a row which was unusual but as he was still moving around I wasn't overly concerned.

    He continued the pacing of his hide rather than around his full enclosure for the rest of the day until he settled down as usual before he lights went out. This morning I went to check on him as he is usually up and about pretty soon after his lights turn on at 7.30am to find that he had died in the night.

    I have called the breeder I purchased him from who seems just as confused as I am so I wondered if any of you other seasoned keepers could shed any light? I hate the idea that I could have done something wrong that could have hurt him but nothing was different yesterday than the last month during which he has been fine.
  2. dsgncore

    dsgncore Member

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    Hello there and i am very sorry for your loss, and really i can relate to you cause we both experienced this horrible sudden death of our stars.

    Here's link to mine :

    https://tortoiseforum.org/index.php?threads/172656/ 20190115_185818.jpeg
  3. Maro2Bear

    Maro2Bear Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Greetings.

    Very sorry to hear of your loss, very sad and heartbreaking.

    It might help to upload a few pictures of your enclosure, and also specifically address your lighting and heating. Pix of your lights and also where/how you were heating. What type of thermometer?

    22c sounds a bit low - so depending on where you were measuring and what gauge makes a big differencd.

    Sorry again...
  4. Maro2Bear

    Maro2Bear Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    As a follow-up, take a read of well respected @Markw84 ’s info on how to raise a young Indian Star

    https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/how-to-raise-a-healthy-star-tortoise.159167/


    The reason why I noted your low 22C temperature:

    To properly control heat and humidity, you will almost always have to go with a closed chamber. Open tortoise tables do not work and are extremely bad for these type tortoises, especially their first few years. Humidity should always stay around 80% and temperatures should never drop below 80°f (27°C). They need a basking area where it is around 100°f (38°C). Daytime overall temps in the enclosure should be in the 80°f – 90°f (27°C - 32°C) range. A humid hide should be provided that holds humidity, provides security, and stays around 82°f (28°C), This means that even when living in a humid, tropical environment, the conditions inside of an open enclosure, inside a house, with proper basking lights – cannot create this constant, warmth and high humidity that is preferred.
    BrookeB likes this.
  5. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    We encounter this sooooo much that I will give the long version for those who wish to take the time to read...

    I firmly believe that most problems we have with baby tortoises are simply because we fail to provide the proper conditions for a baby tortoise to complete its development and become a stronger and healthy juvenile. That is: proper heat and humidity. That is the starting point for tortoise keeping. Without it, diet, calcium, UVB, exercise, etc will not matter. But this is the most overlooked (or perhaps misunderstood) part in my opinion in seeing how most people set up their new tortoises when they get them.

    Baby tortoises emerge from the egg looking quite a bit like miniature adults. But we cannot be fooled into believing they are already complete, hardy animals like an adult. Their shells have barely started calcifying and are mostly cartilage. Their organs are still developing and gaining the ability to metabolize the hard-to-digest foods they will learn to live on. Their small size which allow a mother to at least pass an egg from it's body, leaves the small baby easily desiccated and at the mercy of its surroundings for heat as its small body will gain and lose heat and moisture so quickly. The egg was dug into the earth in a place where ground temperatures were much more stable and did not experience the nighttime drops that happens just 6 inches or so above them. Surrounded by shell they were immersed in fluid to protect them from any dehydration.

    Suddenly, they hatch. They often remain in the nest chamber protected with high humidity and more stable temperatures for up to a month before digging out. This gives more time to start to develop and absorb their yolk sacs with the remaining nutrition it contains to start growth and begin calcifying bones. They often will eat their eggshells for added calcium. They need this hatching-temperature protection and extremely high humidity as a transition to the "real world".

    When they emerge, they normally have waited for rains to soften the earth. Which also means high humidity and new tender plant growth for their first foods. The rains come in the hot season so the temperatures are normally more ideal along with that moisture from the monsoons. They must quickly find places to hide - both from predators and from the conditions as there will be more and more dry spells and they cannot live in those conditions yet. Most will not make it. Literally, 99% will die. Even if we assume half of that is from predation, still 98% of the remaining are killed by the "great conditions they have in the wild"! Yet time and again people want to argue and talk about emulating their "conditions in the wild" as the best way to keep them. We cannot look at the conditions we see in the wild. We have to look at the micro-climates the lucky few baby tortoises manage to find in the wild, in the good year when a few babies can survive.

    To me that is best found by also looking at what conditions must be met for an egg to allow a tortoise to begin life and develop in that protected shell? For the species we normally see the most - the old before-the-creation-of so-many-genus scientist gave us so many names. The OLD Geochelone genus which included leopards, stars and sulcatas all in that same genus. This is temperatures in the 86°-88° range and in 100% humidity in a protected shell. That is what they need to start to grow. That is their optimal metabolic temperatures. When they hatch, that is what they need to find to survive. When conditions change and drier seasons come, they must dig down or find bushes to push under where humidity can remain close to 100% even on days when the weather conditions show humidity at 30% at a weather station. They also come from areas of the world where ground temperatures stay relatively warm. Even on cold "winter" days the ground temperature is still in the high 70°s. So they know digging in a little, especially under a bush or bank, is warmer temperatures if the day is cool, or better temperatures if the day is too hot. If they cannot find that - as most cannot - they die.

    So how do we create an environment like that in our homes, in captivity? Most homes are cooler than that, especially in the winter. So the enclosure we choose must be insulated. We must keep in mind a thermometer in the middle of the tank and a few inches above the substrate is not the whole story. What is the temperature in the corner where the tortoise instinctively pushes, down at the bottom with the substrate pushed aside? That is where the young tortoise instinctively knows the best temperatures and humidity is. But our enclosures (both inside and outdoors) are backwards in that regard in our temperate climates of the US and Europe. As they dig in, it gets cooler. Much cooler than their optimal 86° they need.

    I have found the only way to reliably do this is an insulated, closed enclosure. AND... the bottom should be insulated most importantly. That is where they live, and the ground is what they live by. In our areas, the bottom of the enclosure is by far the coolest and therefore most dangerous part of the enclosure. An open top, or screen top will make this even worse. Create an enclosure for your tortoise that never drops below 80° in the coolest, deepest corner of the enclosure, even on the coldest, darkest night of the year in your home. Maintain humidity in the center of the enclosure at 80%. That means it will be 100% in the hide or under a plant, and probably 50% directly under the basking light midday. But that conditions will create a place where when your young tortoise warms up in the warmer areas and moves to a part of the enclosure just 2° cooler - it can have condensation forming on its shell! Now you have a good baby-raising enclosure. Now provide the good diet, proper UVB exposure a daily soak and enough room to exercise, and you will have a tortoise that thrives.

    We must also keep in mind that the breeder from which we got the tortoise should understand all this as well. That breeder should have allowed the hatching tortoise the perfect conditions of the nest chamber - 87° and 100% humidity - and complete protection for the fist week or so along with a good variety of proper foods to start the digestive system and organs working and developing properly.

    Tortoises are remarkably hardy and disease resistant. More so than most any animal. However - It is the environmental conditions that they are dependent upon.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2019
    Relic, Viola B, PA2019 and 4 others like this.
  6. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Hi everyone, thanks for your replies.

    The temperatures I was keeping him at were what the breeder recommended. I was using a 75w mercury vapor lamp for heat and an additional uvb bulb on the other side of the enclosure to ensure enough uvb wherever he was. The sensors were located in the darkest corner (inside the tunnel on the left) and the warmest spot (just in front of the warm hide on the right) and measured humidity and temperature. Humidity never dropped below 70% just below the heat lamp (and 35c) and always stayed at 99% in the tunnel (and 22-25c depending on time of day). I sprayed the full enclosure until the ground was moist once a day. Here is a pic of the enclosure and of Mort from a few days ago.

    thumbnail_IMG_20190922_100732.jpg thumbnail_IMG_20190921_090246.jpg
  7. Maro2Bear

    Maro2Bear Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Wow! Perfectly explained. Warm to hot throughout, high humidity in every corner. Thanks for all the need-to-know info and the why behind it.
  8. Carol S

    Carol S Well-Known Member 10 Year Member!

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    I am so sorry for your loss.
  9. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Hi,
    I posted the pics you requested, what do you think?
  10. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Hello everyone,
    I'm just following up again as I really would like to get to the bottom of this death so that it doesn't happen again.

    I understand from the above that my temperatures might have been a bit low, however having watched him thrive in those temperatures (eating well, gaining weight, active etc) up to the day before he died I wonder if that could be the cause of his death? I would have imagined that if this were the case that it wouldn't have been so sudden? Obviously I will adjust my set up to higher temperatures for any future stars but I just don't see this as the cause of such a sudden decline, am I wrong?

    I have posted photos of my enclosure and hope this might shed some more light on things as as far as I can tell I met all of the other criteria that Markw84 posted about.

    Please do let me know anything that comes to mind. Every tip helps!
  11. Maro2Bear

    Maro2Bear Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    I think @Markw84 really covered all of the main issues, especially the need to have a fully controlled (heat, humidity) enclosure. Your pix confirmed the use of a cage vice a full enclosure. Very hard to maintain optimal conditions. Good luck with new torts!
  12. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Yes it's a cage but covered (sealed except for the front panel) in clear plastic and therefore enclosed / able to maintain humidity.

    Do you really think it was the incorrect conditions that caused his sudden death despite him seeming to thrive up to that point?
  13. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    It is almost impossible to say with certainty what actually caused this without a necropsy.

    Since the death was so sudden with no signs of respiratory distress or swelling around the eyes, perhaps it was as simple as your tortoise choking on a large piece of food. This has happened with large tortoises with carrots, and I see what looks like green bean you tortoise is eating - so perhaps that was the issue?? That would be my guess without knowing more.

    For future reference for you - I will add that a cage with a plastic sheet covering is quite different than a closed chamber. It is extremely hard to get something like that to really hold heat and humidity to the extent that the whole enclosure is held to a constant temperature and humidity. Simply physics is working against us as the warm air from the lights and heater needs only a crack to start drafting and a very effective convection current is created. This draws the warm and humid air out of the enclosure and sucks in room temperature/drier air from any tiny cracks - normally form around the bottom of your cage unless you have the plastic completely taped and sealed along the entire bottom. 22° is too cold for a young star. Especially with high humidity. The high humidity must be with temperatures that do not ever dip below 27°. I do not see any night heat source in your picture or read that you mention. You need a non light emitting heat source like a Ceramic Heat Emitter, or a Radiant Heat Panel on a thermostat to ensure temperatures never drop below 27° in the coolest part of the enclosure. It is a good sign that your baby was gaining some weight, but I do look for a 28g star in my care to gain 8-12g in a month as an average.

    You did a fantastic job of setting the cage up with the plants and created a great area. In a properly enclosed chamber you will have a wonderful setup. You did so many thing great and we can see you did the best for your tortoise. I'm sure your next tortoise will thrive with your care.
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  14. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. There are such conflicting instructions coming from so many different sources that it's easy to believe you're doing the right thing only to find out it's not in the end.

    I'm surprised by how much weight you suggested he should have been gaining as the breeder I got him from suggested 2g every 2-3 weeks was the goal - have you been able to maintain this rate of growth for yours?

    It sounds as though so long as i can maintain humidity (the plastic covering is sealed at the bottom of the cage and did keep humidity very well, but I still might look into building a different more enclosed top), that if I add an extra heat source such as a ceramic bulb and run it all through a thermostat to increase ambient temperatures to 27c + that this would then tick all of the boxes?
    Gijoux likes this.
  15. TammyJ

    TammyJ Well-Known Member

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    This is great information.
  16. Farcryjj

    Farcryjj Member

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    Sorry for your loss.
    I think unless you live in a really humid climate and the humidity of your whole room is at 90%, it is impossible to maintain the humidity of your entire tortoise enclosure to be above 90% with an open front. You mentioned that the sensor for humity is in the tunnel, which dosen't mean that the other part of the enclosure can reach 90%. I'm saying that because I have a glass enclosure for my baby tortoise before. But without taping the one small crack for the sliding door in front, the humidity inside kept dropping below 80%. I was raising my Russian tortoise, therefore I didn't pay that much attention to correcting it. I'm mentioning it to you, simply because I notice that you have an open front entirely...
  17. Gijoux

    Gijoux Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club Tortoise Club

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    Mark84 you are amazing!!! You are kind!!! Thank you for centering me as I read all this.
  18. Gijoux

    Gijoux Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club Tortoise Club

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    UniqueMind you might also think about purchasing a Sensor Push Blue tooth device (Temperature and Humidity Monitor) so you can monitor the temp and humidity over time. So you can see what your humidity and temp are averaging. I'm not sure when or where, in your cage, you were taking a humidity reading when you got 70%, but in your picture, where we see the temperature gage it says your temp is 89 and your humidity is 23.5%. Humidity will be lowest under the light and highest on the cool side of the cage. This is the difficult part because first we need humidity, but with high humidity we must keep the temps up to prevent illness. When we get the temps up the humidity goes down. Your cage is so small that you will find it difficult to get a decent temp/humidity gradient for the tortoise. High temps around some plastics may cause the release of toxic chemical/gases that might be detrimental to a tortoise. I'm not experienced providing links to articles, but look up "closed chamber indoor enclosures" on this website and you will see a couple of options and lots of ideas. Best of luck to you and my heart hurts for you.
  19. UniqueMind

    UniqueMind New Member

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    Hi Gijoux,
    I hadn't heard of the sensor push but it sounds great, i'll look into it as it would be amazing to have all of that data on hand, thanks!

    re the temps you referenced in my pic they're actually the other way around - 99% humidity and 23.5c temperature - that's from a probe inside the cool tunnel, so the darkest, wettest part of the enclosure. there is also another probe just under the heat lamp whose readout you can't see on the right hand side - this is where humidity tended to stay around 70% (i never saw it lower than 65% before spraying) with a temperature of 35c.

    I know that my enclosure is small - the idea was for it to be for the first year or so (depending on rate of growth) so that it would be easier to control than a larger space. its 1m wide so there is plenty of space for a gradient so long as I get it set up right!

    Taking the advice above I'm planning to add in a ceramic heat bulb on a thermostat to bring up the overall temperature to around 27c, and to investigate creating an enclosed top to replace the bars / plastic covering - I'll be sure to check out how heat could affect any materials I use though, good call!
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