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Turtles and Tortoises Don't Like Change

Yvonne G

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When I first started keeping turtles and tortoises in the late 1980s I realized there was a need for a turtle rescue in my area. As people found out I kept turtles and tortoises I was almost always asked if I wanted another one. So the Clovis Turtle and Tortoise Rescue was born.

The Rescue was operated here from my home for the past thirty five years or so and during that time I've learned quite a bit about turtle first aid and how turtles and tortoises act and react.

In my experience, turtles don't like change (I'm going to use "turtles" instead of having to type "turtles and tortoises" all the time). They are territorial and they navigate through their territory by the location of the objects in it.

So when you bring a new-to-you turtle home from the pet store, or a breeder, or a person on Craig's list, or wherever, that turtle is going to be stressed out by the change in living arrangements.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and there are a few turtles out there that just seem to be happy no matter where you put them. But as a general rule, turtles are stressed by being moved to a new home.

One thing I learned very early on in my rescue days: You can't take in a turtle that has been living indoors in substandard conditions and right away set him up outside in optimal conditions and expect him to thrive. You have to make this change gradually. Likewise, that baby you bought a year or two ago that has now outgrown his indoor quarters also needs to be changed to outdoors gradually.

When the weather is nice enough for your indoor baby to go outside, take him out and let him roam his SAFE and inescapable outdoor set up for about an hour, then bring him back inside. You can gradually, over a month or so, increase the time outside until he's staying outside all day and only being brought in at night. You have to pay attention to him during his outside time and make sure he's eating and finding his hiding places on his own.

When I take my indoor turtle outside, I set him down in front of the food then quickly step out of his sight, watching from a safe distance to make sure he's going to eat.

Stress shows itself in a couple different ways - not eating, runny nose, hiding all the time, third eyelid swelling. If this happens when you make your move, you'll have to go a bit more slowly with the change. Once he realizes he's going to be brought back into his safe indoor territory, he should accept being put outside more readily.

Sometimes one of us may bring home a new turtle that just marches around his new enclosure like nothing new is going on. He eats, he explores, he acts normally. Then the next day he's depressed, hiding, not eating and you wonder what the heck is going on. This is also perfectly normal. You just have to give him time to understand this new place is safe and nothing bad is going to happen to him.

In this case, I allow him to 'sulk' for a day or two, then I start taking him out and placing him in front of the food every time I walk by the enclosure. He'll eventually get the message.

So be patient and let your turtle tell you what he needs.

If any of you have something constructive to add to this thread about your experience making changes in your turtle's life, please feel free to add your stories.
 

Tom

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Good post Yvonne. I'm always surprised when people don't understand this concept. Gradual desensitization. If done correctly from the time they are babies, this transition is seamless and easy for the tortoise. I think all the daily handling of moving them in and out is also a great desensitizer and gets them used to people and being handled too. Also allows the keeper to put their hands on the tortoise daily, which will hopefully allow any problems to be seen sooner, rather than later.

I know of a very experienced tortoise breeder that moved from a cold climate with all indoor housing to FL. He talked about how he moved them all to indoor housing in FL and when the pens were ready, he moved them all outside. He was pleased that his losses and sickness were minimal. I asked him why he didn't gradually desensitize them with short sessions to the great outdoors and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. It was as if the thought never occurred to him. He stammered an answer: "Uhh, because you can't..." What? I said: "You already had them set up indoors. Why couldn't they go outside for an hour a day and then back inside? Over time, you could leave them out longer and longer until they stay out all day eventually." Essentially, I outlined the same plan you just explained in your OP here. It was clear that this was a totally new concept for this man and he'd never done anything like this before. Since this is how I have always done it, I couldn't comprehend his lack of comprehension!
 

JoeWells

Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2020
Messages
43
Location (City and/or State)
Morro Bay
I’m glad I got to read this post as it will be my situation soon enough. At what age should I start acclimating it to the outdoors? My tort is 5-6 months old and I keep it in an enclosed indoor enclosure. I live on the central coast of California where the weather is somewhat moderate. It does get a fair bit colder in the winter but rarely freezes so I’ve been waiting for the warmer trend to bring it outside. I have a great spot picked in my back yard for its eventual move outside. Is it ok to start weekly or daily trips outside if the temp is in the mid 60’s? I can start putting together a safe outdoor hang spot if so. This is my enclosure for the time being, any suggestions?FEE546CD-C4D2-4B35-810A-5BE2A5868188.jpegE3C6E910-6038-481F-B761-9F79146E12DD.jpeg
 

maggie18fan

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2018
Messages
350
Location (City and/or State)
Corvallis Oregon
When I first started keeping turtles and tortoises in the late 1980s I realized there was a need for a turtle rescue in my area. As people found out I kept turtles and tortoises I was almost always asked if I wanted another one. So the Clovis Turtle and Tortoise Rescue was born.

The Rescue was operated here from my home for the past thirty five years or so and during that time I've learned quite a bit about turtle first aid and how turtles and tortoises act and react.

In my experience, turtles don't like change (I'm going to use "turtles" instead of having to type "turtles and tortoises" all the time). They are territorial and they navigate through their territory by the location of the objects in it.

So when you bring a new-to-you turtle home from the pet store, or a breeder, or a person on Craig's list, or wherever, that turtle is going to be stressed out by the change in living arrangements.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, and there are a few turtles out there that just seem to be happy no matter where you put them. But as a general rule, turtles are stressed by being moved to a new home.

One thing I learned very early on in my rescue days: You can't take in a turtle that has been living indoors in substandard conditions and right away set him up outside in optimal conditions and expect him to thrive. You have to make this change gradually. Likewise, that baby you bought a year or two ago that has now outgrown his indoor quarters also needs to be changed to outdoors gradually.

When the weather is nice enough for your indoor baby to go outside, take him out and let him roam his SAFE and inescapable outdoor set up for about an hour, then bring him back inside. You can gradually, over a month or so, increase the time outside until he's staying outside all day and only being brought in at night. You have to pay attention to him during his outside time and make sure he's eating and finding his hiding places on his own.

When I take my indoor turtle outside, I set him down in front of the food then quickly step out of his sight, watching from a safe distance to make sure he's going to eat.

Stress shows itself in a couple different ways - not eating, runny nose, hiding all the time, third eyelid swelling. If this happens when you make your move, you'll have to go a bit more slowly with the change. Once he realizes he's going to be brought back into his safe indoor territory, he should accept being put outside more readily.

Sometimes one of us may bring home a new turtle that just marches around his new enclosure like nothing new is going on. He eats, he explores, he acts normally. Then the next day he's depressed, hiding, not eating and you wonder what the heck is going on. This is also perfectly normal. You just have to give him time to understand this new place is safe and nothing bad is going to happen to him.

In this case, I allow him to 'sulk' for a day or two, then I start taking him out and placing him in front of the food every time I walk by the enclosure. He'll eventually get the message.

So be patient and let your turtle tell you what he needs.

If any of you have something constructive to add to this thread about your experience making changes in your turtle's life, please feel free to add your stories.
That is really good Y...
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
83,223
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
I’m glad I got to read this post as it will be my situation soon enough. At what age should I start acclimating it to the outdoors? My tort is 5-6 months old and I keep it in an enclosed indoor enclosure. I live on the central coast of California where the weather is somewhat moderate. It does get a fair bit colder in the winter but rarely freezes so I’ve been waiting for the warmer trend to bring it outside. I have a great spot picked in my back yard for its eventual move outside. Is it ok to start weekly or daily trips outside if the temp is in the mid 60’s? I can start putting together a safe outdoor hang spot if so. This is my enclosure for the time being, any suggestions?View attachment 285363View attachment 285364
Aw, a little Russian. Nothing cuter in my opinion! (Well, maybe a baby elephant)
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
83,223
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
When the weather is warm, and you have time to keep your eye on him, you can start now. But be thinking about a SAFE outdoor pen. With your little Russian, that means safe from birds being able to fly off with him.
 
Last edited:

JoeWells

Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2020
Messages
43
Location (City and/or State)
Morro Bay
Thanks Yvonne. I’ll do that. I’m a pretty protective tort parent so I’ll make sure everything is perfect. Thank you for all your advice throughout this forum, both you and Tom and many others have made this choice of getting a tortoise a wonderful experience. I’m so proud to say my little guy/girl is doing from what I can tell, amazingly
 

Maro2Bear

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
May 29, 2014
Messages
8,355
Location (City and/or State)
Glenn Dale, Maryland, USA
I’m glad I got to read this post as it will be my situation soon enough. At what age should I start acclimating it to the outdoors? My tort is 5-6 months old and I keep it in an enclosed indoor enclosure. I live on the central coast of California where the weather is somewhat moderate. It does get a fair bit colder in the winter but rarely freezes so I’ve been waiting for the warmer trend to bring it outside. I have a great spot picked in my back yard for its eventual move outside. Is it ok to start weekly or daily trips outside if the temp is in the mid 60’s? I can start putting together a safe outdoor hang spot if so. This is my enclosure for the time being, any suggestions?View attachment 285363View attachment 285364
Greetings. Just one little suggestion on your enclosure. You should probably get urself a new digital temp/humidity gauge, the kind that come with a remote sensor probe. You can then locate the probe at tortoise height, not up high where you have yours. Those small round analog gauges are notoriously inaccurate.

Acurite has all kinds of options— https://www.walmart.com/ip/AcuRite-02067M-Digital-Thermometer-with-Wired-Temperature-Probe/402227678
 

JoeWells

Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2020
Messages
43
Location (City and/or State)
Morro Bay
Excellent. I’ll get right on that. I didn’t even think about how the humidity varies from ground level up
 

Blackdog1714

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Joined
Jul 30, 2018
Messages
1,595
Location (City and/or State)
Richmond, VA
Wouldn’t hurt to have one in hot end and one in cool end. I have the inkbird wireless and a single SensorPush. They both show a history/graph so it helps knowing how the heat/humidity fluctuates. The inkbird are cheaper but the SensorPush has a base option that would allow internet connectivity. Good luck
 

Cathie G

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 9, 2018
Messages
3,384
Location (City and/or State)
Lancaster
Good post Yvonne. I'm always surprised when people don't understand this concept. Gradual desensitization. If done correctly from the time they are babies, this transition is seamless and easy for the tortoise. I think all the daily handling of moving them in and out is also a great desensitizer and gets them used to people and being handled too. Also allows the keeper to put their hands on the tortoise daily, which will hopefully allow any problems to be seen sooner, rather than later.

I know of a very experienced tortoise breeder that moved from a cold climate with all indoor housing to FL. He talked about how he moved them all to indoor housing in FL and when the pens were ready, he moved them all outside. He was pleased that his losses and sickness were minimal. I asked him why he didn't gradually desensitize them with short sessions to the great outdoors and he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. It was as if the thought never occurred to him. He stammered an answer: "Uhh, because you can't..." What? I said: "You already had them set up indoors. Why couldn't they go outside for an hour a day and then back inside? Over time, you could leave them out longer and longer until they stay out all day eventually." Essentially, I outlined the same plan you just explained in your OP here. It was clear that this was a totally new concept for this man and he'd never done anything like this before. Since this is how I have always done it, I couldn't comprehend his lack of comprehension!
Saphire stands up as tall as he can in the spring. He tries to put his shell in my hand for me to carry him to his outdoor enclosure. He was an adult and that method still worked. After all these years, I still try to respect his instinctive responses though...and keep my hand and fingers carrying him safely for the both of us.
 

JoeWells

Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2020
Messages
43
Location (City and/or State)
Morro Bay
Greetings. Just one little suggestion on your enclosure. You should probably get urself a new digital temp/humidity gauge, the kind that come with a remote sensor probe. You can then locate the probe at tortoise height, not up high where you have yours. Those small round analog gauges are notoriously inaccurate.

Acurite has all kinds of options— https://www.walmart.com/ip/AcuRite-02067M-Digital-Thermometer-with-Wired-Temperature-Probe/402227678
Is that one just a thermometer or does it have the humidity too?
 

Charlie's pal

New Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2020
Messages
16
Location (City and/or State)
Atlanta, GA
Thank you, this is so helpful. I am starting to plan my outdoor enclosure but hadn't considered gradual acclimation. I will be taking my tortoise inside at night even in the summer because of the predators.
 

Cathie G

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Joined
Aug 9, 2018
Messages
3,384
Location (City and/or State)
Lancaster
Thank you, this is so helpful. I am starting to plan my outdoor enclosure but hadn't considered gradual acclimation. I will be taking my tortoise inside at night even in the summer because of the predators.
I still do also because of that. His enclosure also has lids covered with hardware cloth. You can't sit there all day on guard. We have hawks here and I'm afraid one might try. I've even had doves fly down to check out my Russian...while I was sitting there with him. I think she was trying to figure out if he was a snake.
 

Blackdog1714

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Joined
Jul 30, 2018
Messages
1,595
Location (City and/or State)
Richmond, VA
@Yvonne G thank you for starting this to remind us! My leopard had a wonderful hour in the new enclosure with some greens and a few mazuri pellets. I called her after the hour and she ambled right over to go back to her old enclosure! 😂
 

Keeley kerr

New Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2020
Messages
2
Location (City and/or State)
Wakefield
Hi I have the same problem
With mine At the moment he has come to a new house and he just is not eating he is very active on the go constantly what are the best things for them to eat and so I just leave him and see if he will go to his food he has been on some sort of pellets I have been told that are no good for him so I have moved to more of a fresh diet.
 

Cathie G

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Joined
Aug 9, 2018
Messages
3,384
Location (City and/or State)
Lancaster
@Yvonne G thank you for starting this to remind us! My leopard had a wonderful hour in the new enclosure with some greens and a few mazuri pellets. I called her after the hour and she ambled right over to go back to her old enclosure! 😂
That is so cute...and so like them. I agree. This is a really important topic of caring for a tortoise and any animal...but especially for a tortoise. Take it slow and easy.
 

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