The End Of Pyramiding II-The Leopards

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Tom

The Dog Trainer
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For those who missed the first "End of Pyramiding" thread, I've been on a 20 year quest to figure out what causes pyramiding in our captive tortoises and how to prevent it. I've been researching, reading and talking to people all over the world trying to put together all the pieces of the puzzle. It finally all started coming together in 2007 when I read Richard and Jerry Fife's book "Leopard Tortoises". In it they discussed humidity and humid hide boxes for hatchlings as a preventative for pyramiding. Later, I met Terry K and Danny here on the forum and they added the info about shell spraying and dehydration in hatchlings, respectively.

For the last four months or so I've put what I've learned, and been taught, into practice in an experiment with my three sulcata hatchlings. The results have astounded me. They are smoother and healthier than I hoped for in a best case scenario. You can see the thread and results here:
http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-The-End-Of-Pyramiding

A lot of folks, both publicly and privately, voiced concerns about the level of moisture and humidity and the possibility of problems because of it. I proceeded with all of this very carefully and gradually reached this level of "wetness" over several years of experimentation with my other sulcata, Daisy, as well as observing many other torts going through something similar. It was not done haphazardly or without caution. The end result has been hatchlings of a "desert" species of tortoise absolutely thriving in swampy conditions. I believe a key element has been to keep them warm, 75-80 minimum, around the clock along with all the humidity. During the day they also have a 100-110 degree basking spot for around 12 hours.

Well that first experiment has been, and continues to be a resounding success, but it was only a few individuals of one species. Now I'm going to do it again with a different species and more individuals.

Introducing my new hatchlings. These are the South African subspecies of Leopard tortoise. Geochelone pardalis pardalis. They get bigger, are more cold tolerant, and are generally regarded as hardier than the regular subspecies. I feel it important to emphasize these points, as this experiment might not yield the same results with the normal babcock subspecies, although I'm pretty sure it will.
Some of them will be from the group in the first pic and some of them will be from the group in the second pic. I've been holding off posting this because I was waiting until I had selected the final ones that I will keep, but that might not happen for months. These are all so perfect and I'm really having trouble picking. I cherry picked them all and there is just nothing wrong with any of them. If it wasn't so much work I would just keep them ALL! Anyhow they are all receiving the exact same care, conditions and diet.
oh8ta8.jpg

2dl1x6b.jpg


They are being housed on wet coco coir which keeps the humidity right around 80-90%. The room is kept around 80F degrees night and day. They have access to a humid hide box, but seldom use it, just like my sulcatas. The tops of their enclosures are partially covered to keep humidity in. They get warm water soaked every day, sometimes twice a day. Their food gets sprayed with water before and while they eat it. Their carapaces get sprayed with plain water several times a day. They also get out for sunshine and exercise for an hour or two a day. Are all these measure completely necessary? I don't know. Once I grow some smooth, then I will try to figure out just how much, or how little, moisture is actually necessary. It should be noted that my part of the country is particularly dry most of the year. I don't know how well this much moisture will work in other parts of the country, but from my experience, as long as they don't get cold and wet at the same time, no one should have any trouble. I have been criticized for going so far over board with all the wetness. Part of the reason is to demonstrate that even at the extreme end of the "wetness" spectrum, they come to no harm, grow smooth, and turn out very healthy. I'm hoping that this will make others more comfortable using more humidity with their torts. I'm keeping them completely identical to my recommendations on this care sheet: http://tortoiseforum.org/Thread-How-To-Raise-Sulcata-Hatchlings-and-Babies

Here we go again...
 

Neal

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This is cool Tom! I know you'll keep us all updated, can't wait to see their progress.
 

ChiKat

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YAY I was waiting for this thread :D Can't wait to watch these little ones grow smoothly too!
So how many will you be keeping?

Do you plan on eventually experimenting with conditions, such as keeping them on dry substrate but spraying carapaces and offering humid hides, etc ?
 

dmmj

The member formerly known as captain awesome
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Once again I am eagerly awaiting the results. I wonder if somehow tom can publish this data, so the naysayers can be quiet? I of course am already convinced.
 

DeanS

SULCATA OASIS
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You are "THE TORTOISE GURU" :p I'd take some off your hands for comparison sake...given that we BOTH have the same basic approach (with slight variations). But, I know you couldn't part with one of them, let alone a few. Gorgeous...every single one of 'em!
 

Az tortoise compound

Active Member
5 Year Member
Location (City and/or State)
Arizona
I think it's a great idea. I have a few question for you though. It is my understanding the sulcatas you have been raising over the the last
20+ years( I think) were your "control" group. What will you use now? Do you think it will have as much of an impact on the adult look as it will with sulcatas? It seems to me it is much easier to tell the differences in WC and CB sulcatas than it is leopards. Anyway, I can't wait for the updates and results. Good luck!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
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ChiKat said:
YAY I was waiting for this thread :D Can't wait to watch these little ones grow smoothly too!
So how many will you be keeping?

Do you plan on eventually experimenting with conditions, such as keeping them on dry substrate but spraying carapaces and offering humid hides, etc ?

I can't decide how many to keep. Sometimes I think six other times 12. Luckily, I don't have to decide for a while. I went and personally hand picked these from my friends bins of hatchlings. Now I'm stuck trying to cherry pick from my two batches of cherry picked hatchlings. Too hard to choose. They are all so perfect and healthy.

I do plan on doing those experiments, but not with any from these batches. I want to raise some smooth Leos first (no easy feat) and next year, I'll start messing around a bit. This year, its all wet, all the time just like the sulcatas. So far, so good.

dmmj said:
Once again I am eagerly awaiting the results. I wonder if somehow tom can publish this data, so the naysayers can be quiet? I of course am already convinced.

I've been thinking about that too. I've also been thinking about sharing what I've learned at tortoise "meetings" and such. I don't think I know everything, but I have learned quite a bit over the years, and I love to share it. If these leopards grow smooth, I'll really have something to rant about. I'll have facts and pictures to prove what I'm saying, the naysayers will have what? Emotions and outdated, incorrect info? The best way to get people to see what we've learned here is to calmly, repeatedly, publicly, out-debate the nay-sayers. Easy to do when the FACTS are on your side.

Tortuga_terrestre said:
They are beautiful..you must be so proud..these will truly be more beautiful with age. Cant wait to see the results.

Thanks. Me too.

DeanS said:
You are "THE TORTOISE GURU" :p I'd take some off your hands for comparison sake...given that we BOTH have the same basic approach (with slight variations). But, I know you couldn't part with one of them, let alone a few. Gorgeous...every single one of 'em!

Couldn't part with them?!! You think I'm going to keep three dozen? Well only 20 or so left. They are for sale. I did a for sale post, but we aren't allowed to get comments or bump it up for 7 days. Seriously, if you want a few, I'll give you a really good price, since I know darn well how you will raise them and I just want to see it. Plus since you are so close we could trade back and forth in a few years to get the best sex ratios. Hey, at least you know these have been started right.



Az tortoise compound said:
I think it's a great idea. I have a few question for you though. It is my understanding the sulcatas you have been raising over the the last
20+ years( I think) were your "control" group. What will you use now? Do you think it will have as much of an impact on the adult look as it will with sulcatas? It seems to me it is much easier to tell the differences in WC and CB sulcatas than it is leopards. Anyway, I can't wait for the updates and results. Good luck!

I raised my current adult sulcatas from hatchlings that I got from the late and VERY GREAT Walter Allen in July of 1998. However, I've been messin' with sulcatas and leopards for almost 20 years. I don't have any pics from any old leopards. I've only had a camera and computer since '05 and I quit leopards out of pyramiding frustration long before that. It should be pretty easy to look at any other captive raised leos and compare them to mine. Even the relatively smooth captives are pretty bumpy. They look very different than the wild caughts. I have a theory that lumpy imports were not "wild caught", but captive raised over there and then sold and imported. When I was over there in '99 and '05, I saw a total of 6 wild leos, actually in the wild. All of them were totally smooth. I didn't even realize what they were until later, because they looked soooo different. By contrast, I saw lots of "normal" looking lumpy ones in captivity. People in Africa raise them in captivity and then turn them loose or put them in their "gardens" (back yard). I literally saw hundreds of them in captivity. So, I'm speculating that when a direct import comes over here and its lumpy, it was captive raised, caught up or bought and sold to importer/exporters. I realize my experience is limited, but this is what I personally witnessed. I'm not saying that t impossible for one to pyramid in the wild. I'm saying that that doesn't seem to be the case to me.

So this "End of Pyramiding" thread doesn't have a control group. Its just a guy taking a stab in the dark and trying to raise some smooth South African Leopards. As before, whether I fail or succeed, we'll all learn something from it.
 

dmmj

The member formerly known as captain awesome
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I think that spreading the word is good, I met a lady at my last turtle club meeting ( the deworming clinic) and sh had 2 leopard there for deworming and they were pyramided, somewhat badly I talked to her and she was a firm believer in to much growth = pyramiding, and I felt so bad she was adamant about it, so I did not say anything. I felt truly bad because I could see serious in one case and the start of of it in her newer baby and she was like "I try and not fed them to much so their growth is slow" and I just wanted to scream "Increase the humidity"
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Platinum Tortoise Club
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dmmj said:
I think that spreading the word is good, I met a lady at my last turtle club meeting ( the deworming clinic) and sh had 2 leopard there for deworming and they were pyramided, somewhat badly I talked to her and she was a firm believer in to much growth = pyramiding, and I felt so bad she was adamant about it, so I did not say anything. I felt truly bad because I could see serious in one case and the start of of it in her newer baby and she was like "I try and not fed them to much so their growth is slow" and I just wanted to scream "Increase the humidity"

I find myself unable to hold my tongue in those situations. I do try to be tactful and find the best way to broach the subject, but I just can't let it lie. The tortoises suffer, if I do. I might not make friends with everybody, but I sleep better at night knowing that I tried. The majority of people won't listen, but some do. Please try David. You are in a unique position and you come in contact with a lot of people who need the help. Who cares if they don't like you at the end of the conversation? I've had them storm away all mad only to return later and ask more questions. Usually it hits them when they realize you have nothing to gain by fabricating a humidity story and arguing with total strangers about it. When they realize that you are sticking your neck out with nothing to gain, it makes them think about it.

Your lady is parroting what I parroted for many years. Look how small my adult sulcatas are, but still pyramided. 45-50 pound males at 12 years old. We were all ignorant and we were all wrong. Some still are.
 

Traveller

Member
5 Year Member
Location (City and/or State)
Ontario, Canada
Really interested in this as well.
Looking forward to reading all the updates.
My older leopard has a small amount of pyrimiding. which she
had when I got her at 3 years.
My younger leopard is fairly smooth but want to keep him
that way.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Traveller said:
Really interested in this as well.
Looking forward to reading all the updates.
My older leopard has a small amount of pyrimiding. which she
had when I got her at 3 years.
My younger leopard is fairly smooth but want to keep him
that way.

Hi Sue. Have we seen pics? Tell us what you are doing to prevent it in your young one. For some reason, some of the time, some leos seem sensitive about too much moisture. I'm not finding that to be the case with my 36 hatchlings, but its still early.
 

Yourlocalpoet

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Tom said:
I quit leopards out of pyramiding frustration long before that. It should be pretty easy to look at any other captive raised leos and compare them to mine. Even the relatively smooth captives are pretty bumpy. They look very different than the wild caughts.

I've never seen a completely smooth leopard but aside from being aesthetically pleasing what's the real significance? Tortoises can be healthy and still be pyramided right? I appreciate severe pyramiding is too often a herald to bad health but considering that you obviously take exceptional care to provide your tortoises everything they need to be healthy, is your motivation, (aside from proving 'the theory of humidity') just on a cosmetic level?
 

Tom

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Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
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Yourlocalpoet said:
Tom said:
I quit leopards out of pyramiding frustration long before that. It should be pretty easy to look at any other captive raised leos and compare them to mine. Even the relatively smooth captives are pretty bumpy. They look very different than the wild caughts.

I've never seen a completely smooth leopard but aside from being aesthetically pleasing what's the real significance? Tortoises can be healthy and still be pyramided right? I appreciate severe pyramiding is too often a herald to bad health but considering that you obviously take exceptional care to provide your tortoises everything they need to be healthy, is your motivation, (aside from proving 'the theory of humidity') just on a cosmetic level?

You make some good points and your question really made me think. After thinking about it for a while, I'll try to explain where I'm coming from.

I had only been "into" reptiles for few years when captive bred leos and sulcatas first started becoming available around 1990. I was part of that huge wave of popularity that put reptiles on the "mainstream" map. It was an amazing time in our hobby. So I find it terribly upsetting that after 20 years of practice, all we ever see is pyramided, disfigured animals. Its so bad that when someone makes a little tortoise statue or trinket, its covered in pyramided scutes. It just drives me nuts! We are doing it "WRONG"! For 20 years I have been one of the perpetrators of this "wrong"-doing and it is my mission in life to figure it out and put a stop to it. I'm motivated by horrible and overwhelming guilt. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these animals, but I've been turning them into grotesque, disfigured, shameful shadows of what they ought to look like for far too long. This doesn't happen in the wild, despite what some people say. I've seen wild tortoises, in the wild, all over the globe and I've never seen one pyramided. People claim to have seen pyramided, wild caught imports. I say that just because it was imported from another country, doesn't make it wild caught or mean that it was raised in the wild. People captive raise RESs here and (illegally) turn them loose in their local ponds all the time. If I go collect some of those and export them, are they "wild caught"? Well yes, sort of. A lot of people raise captive leopards in South Africa. Both subspecies. What do some of them do when their cute little baby outgrows his fish tank? Turn them loose. They're native anyway, right? I think you get my point.

The good news is: We are finally putting the puzzle pieces together and solving the problem. Richard Fife has been raising smooth Leos and sulcatas for several years. Terry K figured it out with redfoots. TerryO has produced the nicest looking shell on any captive tort of any species that I have ever seen, by following Terry K's program. Dean's got some nice looking smoothies and now I've produced three perfectly smooth little sulcata babies. There are several other noteworthy torts, and then there is YOU! You have done something right. Her shell is not perfect, but it is one of the best I've ever seen on a captive raised Leopard. I only hope I can get mine looking that good. If I do, I will consider it a monumental accomplishment.

To recap: I feel a sense of utter failure and shame every time I see a pyramided tort, especially my own. I feel a tremendous responsibility to do right by these animals and part of that is figuring out what they need. If Danny is right and pyramiding is actually CAUSED by chronic dehydration and the resulting organ damage in hatchlings, then we have been torturing these poor animals for decades. It must stop. My current babies aren't just smooth, they are the most robust, healthy looking torts, I have ever raised. They are growing very fast and evenly, they feel heavier than rocks and they just look perfect. I have to believe that the rapid growth and great health is due to all those well hydrated, healthy internal organs. I am finally, after all these years, figuring out how to do it "right".
 

DeanS

SULCATA OASIS
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...thanks for including me in such an elite group Tom! Of the (4) hatchlings I acquired, one (Snowflake) had already developed some pyramiding. I am glad to say that after 7 months in my care, her pyramiding has not progressed any further. In fact, it looks as if it's reversing...which of course, isn't possible...but the strict humidity, heat and hydration regimen that I subject her (and the other babies) to, has definitely 'stunted' the development of any further pyramiding. Even Aladar shows a minimal amount of pyramiding...but I know he was in the early experimental stages of what Richard Fife was working on in relation to heat, humidity and diet.

Here's to the end of pyramiding!
 

jackrat

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dmmj said:
Once again I am eagerly awaiting the results. I wonder if somehow tom can publish this data, so the naysayers can be quiet? I of course am already convinced.
You definitly have a point.It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much personal experience you have,supported by photographic proof,it doesn't become true for some folks until it is slapped between the covers of a book.
 

Tom

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These all started at around 34 grams when I got them a few weeks ago. They are now between 55-66 grams. They are growing nicely, super active, very hungry and, of course, very smooth.
6h6hpu.jpg

2hd78nk.jpg

2hf5ssw.jpg
 

Yvonne G

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They're starting to show their carapace pattern.

And YES!! That last picture is worthy of its own month on a calendar.
 

dmmj

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No the middle one looks like a pin up photo, from the 50's
 
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