Sulcata Hatchling Pyramiding Experiment

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Tom

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I've recently built a three tier hatchling tortoise table. See it here, post #34:
http://tortoiseforum.org/thread-12973-page-3.html

The main reason for building it is to test out all these pyramiding theories. I intend to do two hatchlings per tub, just to show some consistency. All six babies will be from the same clutch and genetically identical (Don't get technical! You know what I mean. Same mother and father). There are a lot of possible variables and that is the reason for this post. I already have three adults that were raised on this same ranch, in this same room, in the same outdoor sunning/exercise pens on the same diet I'll feed these. The difference will be humidity. My three current adults were all raised in very dry, hot, arid conditions because I mistakenly thought that's what they needed. So we know what will happen if they are raised dry, here in this location on the local weeds and grasses. This is my "control", so to speak.

I would like ideas from you ladies and gentlemen about what would be the best way to raise these three separate pairs to best as many of the prevailing theories as possible.

For starters, the room humidity is now around 50% 24/7. It used to be in the single digits. They will all be raised on the same orchid bark/soil substrate. Formerly I used rabbit pellets and then "Sani-Chips" until they were big enough to be moved outside on to the dirt, permanently. The tops of their tubs will be partially covered with plexi-glass to keep the moisture and humidity up. Room temp is 75-77 at night and 80-86 during the day. It will probably hit the low 90's during the hot summer months.

For one tub, I will use an 18" square Kane heat mat on the surface, instead of an overhead heat bulb. One breeder has been raising smooth South African Leopard babies using this as part of his strategy. The other two tubs will have 50 watt incandescent, overhead flood bulbs with the height adjusted to offer a basking spot on a flat rock of about 100-110 degrees.

I thought the next variable could be diet. Maybe raise one pair on spring mix with regular calcium and vitamin fortification. One pair on grass, weeds and cactus, with no supplements. And one pair on Mazuri, again no supplements.

They will all get one or two hours of sunshine a day, in a large, watered pen, for most of the year and no other artificial UV.

I'm a ways away from starting this experiment as I have to hatch out the babies. I've got two different sources that are going to give me eggs as soon as they see some. One is the guy who gave me Daisy, so I know the eggs will be vialble. I may incubate 8-10 just to make sure I get six healthy hatchlings to start with.

I will want my peers to review this experiment at all phases, starting now, before I even begin. The point is to end the arguments once and for all. We can see right now what happens when I raise them dry in this area. I will keep all other variables the same and see what happens when I raise them with humidity and moisture.

To recap: Same species, same location, same water, same diet, same supplements, same room, same temps, same set-up, DIFFERENT humidity and moisture levels. We will see, first hand, what happens. I intend to post a weekly or monthly pictorial update and keep it going for at least a couple of years.
 

kimber_lee_314

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This is really interesting! I'd love to be part of something like this - although will you feel bad for the ones that pyramid (if they do?)
 

RichardS

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You can't introduce multiple variables in a simple experiment. Stick to humidity or intensity of overhead lighting, or diet, but not all three.
 

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What are you going to do with the babies after the few years? Are you prepared to raise them if you can't find homes? How are you justifying bring more Sulcatas into this world? Not sure I agree with that even though it is for science (and believe me I love experiments)... Also, I think quite a bit of research has been done on this subject and some rather good care sheets are out there to minimize pyramiding. I don't quite understand your goal as in my opinion we have the answer to your questions. Don't get me wrong I think its a great idea, but I'm not sure I understand why you are wanting to do it.
 

Tom

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kimber_lee_314 said:
This is really interesting! I'd love to be part of something like this - although will you feel bad for the ones that pyramid (if they do?)

Unless I'm just dead wrong, none of them will pyramid. I do feel bad on a regular basis that I didn't know better sooner for the benefit of my older tortoises.

RichardS said:
You can't introduce multiple variables in a simple experiment. Stick to humidity or intensity of overhead lighting, or diet, but not all three.

You are right, but this is just going to be a bit of an informal experiment to prove to myself what I'm already pretty sure of. Over the next couple of decades, I'll suss out all the finer points. This is mainly to determine if high humidity and moisture will prevent pyramiding, assuming all else is good. The diet and different heating methods are just to see if anything else makes a difference for pyramiding or growth rates.

tortoisenerd said:
What are you going to do with the babies after the few years? Are you prepared to raise them if you can't find homes? How are you justifying bring more Sulcatas into this world? Not sure I agree with that even though it is for science (and believe me I love experiments)... Also, I think quite a bit of research has been done on this subject and some rather good care sheets are out there to minimize pyramiding. I don't quite understand your goal as in my opinion we have the answer to your questions. Don't get me wrong I think its a great idea, but I'm not sure I understand why you are wanting to do it.

Kate, a lesser man might be offended or insulted by your response. I'm only mildly irritated. First of all, I don't need any justification for bringing more sulcatas in to the world. They are wonderful outdoor pets and I wish there were more of them in the world.

Second, I'm not brining more into the world, the breeder is. I'm only incubating his eggs.

Third, I'm going to keep the babies. How cool will it be to have a herd of smooth sulcatas. If they pyramid, maybe I'll make some tortoise soup and give it to the starving, homeless people of the world.

Fourth, there is no care sheet that everyone agrees on and no one, except the few pros that do it regularly, really know how to prevent it. I want to prove it, at least to myself, once and for all. I don't want somebodies opinion of how to minimize it. I want to know exactly what causes it and exactly how to eliminate it and completely prevent it. Nothing less will satisfy me and there is no other way to get this info. If we had the answers to this, there wouldn't be such long debatable threads about it. In fact, very few people agree on this subject. Take one of these care sheets you've seen and raise a smooth sulcata or leopard by following it, then lets have a conversation.

I hope this clears up some of your questions. Even though, I'm mildly irritated, I do thank you for asking questions that made me give some more thought to what I'm doing. I know you mean well, but your time would be much better spent discouraging the breeding of dogs, cats, horses and other animals that are REALLY over-bred.
 

t_mclellan

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Tom;
Do I understand you correctly or is my CRS kicking in again?
You plan to keep the humidity the same in all 3 enclosures & feed different diets.
Am I correct? Wait! The CRS just took a break! MAYBE!
Humidity equal & food, lighting & heat will differ?
If this is the case I think I might agree with RichardS, That you will not truly achieve your goal.
Just a thought here;
If your going to do 3 set-ups, Why not 7?
This would allow you to keep the humidity equal in all 7 & alter lighting in 2, Alter heating in 2, Alter diet in 2. Allowing 1 to be the control from which all others differ?

Shoot me a PM. There are a few things I would like to discuss with you.
 

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There is another variable to offer, if I may? I read that the yolk sac provides continued nutrition for up to almost 9 months during the reabsorption phase[maybe this is why hatchlings don't need to have an acquired taste for weeds and grasses in the beginning]. Perhaps the other variable could be less feedings per week to better simulate "the wild"?
 

RichardS

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Hi Tom,
I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, but in the end, I don’t think you’ll be proving anything other than reinforcing something that you already believe in. That being the situation, it’s most likely best not to subject your pets to an experiment. Science is impartial. The whole idea of going into an experiment having already made up your mind does not make for good science.

In order for something like this to work and have the potential to prove anything, the experiment would have to take place over a number of years. I would also suggest using multiple species within the family Testudinidae to have any hope of applying your findings between species. Maybe use, carbonaria, elegans, pardalis, and sulcata? Two specimens for each would not be enough. Without doing the math, I would guess 5-10 in each group would give you a good average and take into account a few could die over the course of the experiment.

The animals would need to be dissected and have their bone growth examined by a qualified person to determine what the actual differences in growth were. The observations will need to be quantified so you could draw your conclusions based on the numbers.

You would need to document everything daily including weighing the food. You may have had to feed them separately, to ensure one bully in the group could not over eat. If you were planning to use a supplement, that may have required individual dosing as well to ensure equal intake.

Remember, its not what you know, its what you can prove. I think an experiment like this will happen, but it will be at a university where multiple people will be monitor the variables.
 

chairman

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I think the hobbyists of the tortoise world could greatly benefit from what you're trying to do, even if it isn't "scientific". Unless I'm reading things wrong, though, it sounds like your setups/diets are going to be too varied to really home in on "one" key pyramiding variable (assuming there is a primary variable). If you are looking to compare the results of three different husbandry approaches, what you are planning will work. If you're looking to identify a "key" pyramiding variable, you need to alter your approach a bit. At the maximum you can look at 3 variables, and that would be if you set up the tortoises exactly as they were the first time with one change for each setup. That would mean sani-chips, original diet, original supplements, original outdoor time, original access to water/soaking, original bulb type, original temps... you get the picture. But it sounds like you want to make some across the board changes from the original, which means you will need to set up a new control, and you can only test 2 variables. I think that would probably be the best approach.

My recommendation would be to set up the control in a sort of minimalist approach, the kind of thing you'd expect to see in your average "semi-informed" keeper... bark/soil substrate, hot hide(humid), cool hide(normal), incadescent bulb as heat source/basking spot. Keep the humidity at ambient. Feed a "standard" tortoise diet of mixed greens. Provide a cuttle bone. Supplement all, or only one (variable 2). Provide a shallow water dish.

For variable 1, using a kane mat instead of a bulb (since it sounds like you have already purchased the mat), make a duplicate setup to the control with the exception of the bulb. This will test whether heat from below affects pyramiding vs heat from above.

For variable 2, pick a variable and go with it. If you want to boost humidity, water the substrate daily. If you want to slow growth, feed less frequently. If you want to add UVA/UVB(above and beyond outdoor time), do that. If you want to supplement, do that. If you want to feed exclusively mazuri, do that. Just only pick one, and keep everything else the same as the control.
 

Annieski

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I agree with Chairman 100%. The control group is the most important--everything else works around what that set-up results are , with only one thing changing in each of the other groups, after the same basic set-up is established.
 

Tom

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Annieski said:
There is another variable to offer, if I may? I read that the yolk sac provides continued nutrition for up to almost 9 months during the reabsorption phase[maybe this is why hatchlings don't need to have an acquired taste for weeds and grasses in the beginning]. Perhaps the other variable could be less feedings per week to better simulate "the wild"?

I've never heard the 9 month thing. Interesting. I fed my current three big ones that way (and lots of others too) and all it did was make them undersized, but still pyramided.
 

Rhyno47

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Kudos Tom, good luck! But if you are going to make soup from the pyramided ones you should also have an experiment to see if pyramiding makes them taste worse than the smooth ones or the other way around.
 

Tom

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RichardS said:
Hi Tom,
I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, but in the end, I don’t think you’ll be proving anything other than reinforcing something that you already believe in. That being the situation, it’s most likely best not to subject your pets to an experiment. Science is impartial. The whole idea of going into an experiment having already made up your mind does not make for good science.

In order for something like this to work and have the potential to prove anything, the experiment would have to take place over a number of years. I would also suggest using multiple species within the family Testudinidae to have any hope of applying your findings between species. Maybe use, carbonaria, elegans, pardalis, and sulcata? Two specimens for each would not be enough. Without doing the math, I would guess 5-10 in each group would give you a good average and take into account a few could die over the course of the experiment.

The animals would need to be dissected and have their bone growth examined by a qualified person to determine what the actual differences in growth were. The observations will need to be quantified so you could draw your conclusions based on the numbers.

You would need to document everything daily including weighing the food. You may have had to feed them separately, to ensure one bully in the group could not over eat. If you were planning to use a supplement, that may have required individual dosing as well to ensure equal intake.

Remember, its not what you know, its what you can prove. I think an experiment like this will happen, but it will be at a university where multiple people will be monitor the variables.

No argument from me on all the technical scientific stuff. If, however, a guy raises a bunch of tortoises one way and has pyramiding, then raises a bunch another way, only changing one variable (humidity), and has no pyramiding, that will be "proof" enough for me. I'm not expecting this to stand up to scientific scrutiny. I do hope that it will stand up to the scrutiny of my peers, the majority of the forum members here. Thank you for your input.

I'm not "subjecting my animals to an experiment". I'm raising six new, awesome little babies the best possible way I know how. This is all I've ever done, but I know much more now than I did then.

chairman said:
I think the hobbyists of the tortoise world could greatly benefit from what you're trying to do, even if it isn't "scientific". Unless I'm reading things wrong, though, it sounds like your setups/diets are going to be too varied to really home in on "one" key pyramiding variable (assuming there is a primary variable). If you are looking to compare the results of three different husbandry approaches, what you are planning will work. If you're looking to identify a "key" pyramiding variable, you need to alter your approach a bit. At the maximum you can look at 3 variables, and that would be if you set up the tortoises exactly as they were the first time with one change for each setup. That would mean sani-chips, original diet, original supplements, original outdoor time, original access to water/soaking, original bulb type, original temps... you get the picture. But it sounds like you want to make some across the board changes from the original, which means you will need to set up a new control, and you can only test 2 variables. I think that would probably be the best approach.

My recommendation would be to set up the control in a sort of minimalist approach, the kind of thing you'd expect to see in your average "semi-informed" keeper... bark/soil substrate, hot hide(humid), cool hide(normal), incadescent bulb as heat source/basking spot. Keep the humidity at ambient. Feed a "standard" tortoise diet of mixed greens. Provide a cuttle bone. Supplement all, or only one (variable 2). Provide a shallow water dish.

For variable 1, using a kane mat instead of a bulb (since it sounds like you have already purchased the mat), make a duplicate setup to the control with the exception of the bulb. This will test whether heat from below affects pyramiding vs heat from above.

For variable 2, pick a variable and go with it. If you want to boost humidity, water the substrate daily. If you want to slow growth, feed less frequently. If you want to add UVA/UVB(above and beyond outdoor time), do that. If you want to supplement, do that. If you want to feed exclusively mazuri, do that. Just only pick one, and keep everything else the same as the control.

You are correct. I will narrow it down before it all starts. Thanks.

Annieski said:
I agree with Chairman 100%. The control group is the most important--everything else works around what that set-up results are , with only one thing changing in each of the other groups, after the same basic set-up is established.

Here's my tentative plan:
I'm using my current three big ones as a control. These new ones will have the same basic set-up except for substrate and humidity.

One tub will get the exact same diet and set-up as my older ones, but with the humidity.
The second tub will get the same set-up , but be fed primarily Mazuri.
The third tub will get same diet and set up as the first, but with a heat mat instead of an overhead bulb.

If I see any sort of health problems adjustments will be made. As I said before these are not scientific test subjects, they are my pets. The welfare of the animals is of primary importance to me. If I can advance tortoise knowledge without harming them in any way, I think I ought to.
 

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At first I was wondering why you were adding all the variables, because for example, if you had the hatchlings in the dry enclosure fed a different diet, how would you know what was causing the pyramiding- the dry environment or the diet?
But now that I see your plan on your most recent post, it makes more sense to me!
So now are all three tubs going to have the same amount of humidity?

Are you going to have a group where you keep the environment dry, but you just spray their shells? (the scute lubrication you were talking about)

That would be awesome if you could do this on a HUGE scale where you had tubs and tubs of tortoises, controlling different variables such as humidity, diet, lighting, etc.

This is very interesting and I can't wait to see the results! I hope you know you have to post updates (including pictures!) very often ;)
 

Tom

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ChiKat said:
At first I was wondering why you were adding all the variables, because for example, if you had the hatchlings in the dry enclosure fed a different diet, how would you know what was causing the pyramiding- the dry environment or the diet?
But now that I see your plan on your most recent post, it makes more sense to me!
So now are all three tubs going to have the same amount of humidity?

Are you going to have a group where you keep the environment dry, but you just spray their shells? (the scute lubrication you were talking about)

That would be awesome if you could do this on a HUGE scale where you had tubs and tubs of tortoises, controlling different variables such as humidity, diet, lighting, etc.

This is very interesting and I can't wait to see the results! I hope you know you have to post updates (including pictures!) very often ;)

I'm just planning this one for now, but down the road, I'd like to test out more theories. I think I will keep them all very humid and spray all the shells for this one. The variables will be diet and belly heat for this one. The main thing I want to accomplish here is to raise a smooth sulcata. I have every reason to believe this will work and no reason to believe it won't.
 

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Tom, if I may ask 1 question about the mats and belly heat---will they be able to leave the heated "ground"? My thinking of burrows and humidity is that there is an absence of solar heat in a burrow and the "natural" humidity[and addition of urine for moisture] is why a tortoise will retreat to a burrow to avoid the sun and weather.
 

Tom

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Annieski said:
Tom, if I may ask 1 question about the mats and belly heat---will they be able to leave the heated "ground"? My thinking of burrows and humidity is that there is an absence of solar heat in a burrow and the "natural" humidity[and addition of urine for moisture] is why a tortoise will retreat to a burrow to avoid the sun and weather.

Absolutely. The heat mat is 18x18" and will be on one end. The enclosure is 5x3'. Plenty of room to get away from it. There is a guy I've heard of raising smooth Leopards and this is one of the things he's been doing. I haven't talked to him yet, but I will before I get started. I've always thought of belly heat as a total no no. I've told everyone whose ever asked not to do it. However, Iv'e learned a few new things lately and I'm trying to keep an open mind. If its shell moisture that helps prevent pyramiding, then it makes sense to me that hot overhead lights aren't going to help with that.
 

chairman

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Initially I thought it was a little odd that you were contemplating the belly heat thing in the first place. But now that you've explained yourself it sounds like you may be on to something. The tortoise community now "knows" that baby tortoises have different humidity requirements than adults do (at least for several desert species)... I suppose it would also make sense that babies could would have different heat source requirements as well. Who knows, perhaps in a decade we'll all recommend using undertank heating for the first couple years and then swap to the MVBs later in life. The undertank heating would sure help with the humidity vs the bulbs.
 

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The other thing I was thinking of---if heat rises, the distribution should radiate outward which gives a bigger area and more of a varient--just as the sun does in a downward projection. Do the mats come in direct contact with the substrate? and how are they protected against electrical damage with pee and water contact? Just curious?
 
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