Urgent Help, new owner, baby Indian Star Tortoise

Hiro__Protagonist

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2020
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Cape Neddick, Maine
Hi folks,

This forum was recommended to me by people on reddit's r/tortoise and I am really desperate for some help. This is a long story, so I will try to give all relevant detail:

I decided that a tortoise would be a good pet for us. We wanted something beautiful that didn't need lots of walks or vet visits and could be comfortable in an enclosure in the house. I researched a bit and decided that for our home, a smaller size tortoise would make sense. I searched further and found some lists of tortoises that were easy to raise and narrowed my list down to a russian, an eastern hermann's or an indian star tortoise. I found what looked like a reputable dealer with a snazzy website, and although they did not have russians or eastern hermann's in stock, they did have small Indian Star Tortoises.

I did not want a hatchling as I thought the care would be too hard, so I chose a "well started baby" which should have been about 8 months old. Wanting to be sure that I started our new pet off right I also ordered a complete tortoise house kit from the same seller including a house, food, bedding lights, humidifier, etc. I waited until the correct day to be sure the tortoise came on the right day, and made my order. Apparently this sort of thing is common knowledge in the reptile community, but apparently there are lots of unscrupulous dealers.

The first issue occured when the tortoise was supposed to arrive on a tuesday and didn't. I wrote to the dealer, who despite having charged me, had never sent me tracking etc. They said "oh, sorry, going out soon" and then on Friday "he'll be there today." On Friday the 26th of June, William arrived. He came in a small deli container, and nothing else of any kind arrived. No house, no food, nothing. We put him in a plastic file box, ran out to the store to get some coco fiber bedding (recommended on another care sheet) and put a temporary incandescent light for him. We kept him warm, took him outside to get warm, and ordered a tortoise house for him from amazon.

He did not eat the dandelion and plantain greens we offered him, and having absolutely no experience with tortoises, we opted to pick him up and feed him. He ate from our hands, not well, but he ate. We gave him a little bath each morning and felt like he was doing OK. It was in the 70s in his cage at night, and since one forum had said 80 to 90 in the day and 70 at night, we thought this was fine. His humidity was in the 60% range (Maine is humid this summer).

The other items from the dealer never showed up, so i ordered the same wooden cage from amazon. It was expensive, but reasoning it would work for him for his whole life, I just got it. We filled it with the coconut bedding and when his other items continued to be mysteriously delayed, we went out and got him a ceramic heat bulb and the UVB light recommended by our local pet store (coil type). We tried to keep his huge house warm and still took him outside often to get sun in his smaller, plastic bin during the day.

Each day he ate less and less. We also noticed that he was more lethargic and was not opening his eyes. Finally on Sunday the 5th, he did not eat at all. When he continued to be lethargic on Tuesday, we took him to the local vet. Once we showed up, she let us know that she did not have lots of experience with tortoises and that this was a "notoriously difficult, exotic species." She, and people on the forums on reddit, let us know that he was very dehydrated and that that was the main problem.

I freaked out, went out to all the local pet stores and got him a complete new home. I got a glass enclosure in a bid to keep as much humidity as possible in. I got rid of the coil UVB light (it literally has a tortoise pictured on the box) and got a bar style light. I replaced the bedding with reptibark, got him a basking incandescent, and made sure his humidity never goes below 80%.

He still has no interest in food and barely opens his eyes. The only time he is at all active is when we bathe him each day. he opens his eyes and moves around, but then goes back to immobility once his 20 to 30 minute bath is over. The dealer finally told us that he should be given an amount of food three times bigger than his shell so when he gets out of the bath we put him on a giant pile of soaked mazuri LS tortoise chow and cut up dandelions, plantain and kale leaves. He still is not eating at all and if left alone he does not move at all.

Please help us, I am happy to answer any questions at all and his new house looks like this. 20200710_193257.jpg
 

turtlesteve

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Sep 23, 2012
Messages
296
Ok. First, read this thread and it should get you up to speed on basic care.


That is not a “well started” hatchling it is basically fresh hatched (I hope). If it’s 8 months old it’s in bad shape as it looks a few weeks old.

Daily soaks and proper temps / humidity are key here. With the open screen top I suspect you are losing heat and humidity. Please get some temperature measurements in various places - warm side, cool side, in hide box. Buy a $20 IR thermometer from the hardware store if you don’t have one yet.

Also get some close ups of the tortoise carapace and plastron (upper/lower shell).
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Messages
49,587
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Steve's advice was all good.

This is not a species I'd suggest for a first timer. And especially not a little baby.

Sounds like you got the usually bad advice and wrong products, but your newer sett up looks pretty good. This species likes it hot. What is your night temp? How are you heating him? Heat and hydration are most important right now. If the cfl bulb burned his eyes, it might take a few days to recover. Warm soaks will speed the recovery and keep him hydrated.

The tortoise should have been shipped in a stryo lined cardboard box. It is not customary to ship supplies or housing items in with the tortoise. Its extremely expensive to ship them overnight, so the weight and the size of the box must be kept as small as possible. Food and other items can be shipped in a more economical way. For future reference, the tortoise buyer should have everything all set up running and thoroughly tested before ordering the tortoise. The seller should have checked this detail with you.

Read that care sheet and come back with all your questions.
 

Hiro__Protagonist

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2020
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Cape Neddick, Maine
Steve's advice was all good.

This is not a species I'd suggest for a first timer. And especially not a little baby.

Sounds like you got the usually bad advice and wrong products, but your newer sett up looks pretty good. This species likes it hot. What is your night temp? How are you heating him? Heat and hydration are most important right now. If the cfl bulb burned his eyes, it might take a few days to recover. Warm soaks will speed the recovery and keep him hydrated.

The tortoise should have been shipped in a stryo lined cardboard box. It is not customary to ship supplies or housing items in with the tortoise. Its extremely expensive to ship them overnight, so the weight and the size of the box must be kept as small as possible. Food and other items can be shipped in a more economical way. For future reference, the tortoise buyer should have everything all set up running and thoroughly tested before ordering the tortoise. The seller should have checked this detail with you.

Read that care sheet and come back with all your questions.
Thank you so much for the help. Yesterday, for the first time since sunday he took a few bites of food. he just pushed around the lettuce for 20 mins trying to eat it and eventually I picked him up and fed him 3 mazuri pellets from the tip of my finger. At least it is a step in the right direction.

These two sites listed Indian Star Tortoises as good choices and didn't mention how hard they would be to care for:



And I (stupidly in retrospect) thought "well, if it's one of the 5 easiest how hard can it be?"

I just want to do everything I can to be a good owner to the poor guy, even if it is already about 30 times more complicated than I had anticipated. He deserves nothing less.

His temp and humidity NOW seem correct. I am having trouble with the reptile humidifier as our ambient humidity is 73% so as soon as I turn it on his tank goes up to 85 to 90% humidity, even on the lowest setting. I am assuming at this point, the excess humidity is probably fine as long as he is also kept warm?

I have a million more questions, but I will try to organize them to make them less annoying to answer. Thank you and everyone else who has responded to the thread.
 

Hiro__Protagonist

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2020
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Cape Neddick, Maine
Sounds like you got the usually bad advice and wrong products, but your newer sett up looks pretty good. This species likes it hot. What is your night temp? How are you heating him? Heat and hydration are most important right now. If the cfl bulb burned his eyes, it might take a few days to recover. Warm soaks will speed the recovery and keep him hydrated.
Sorry, I was excited and realized I did not directly answer your questions. So the heating is a 150 watt ceramic heat emitter and a regular 65 watt incandescent for his basking spot. He also has a bar UVB bulb at the back (10). At night he is just above 80, during the day his basking spot is in the 90s. I leave the heat emitter on at night.
 

turtlesteve

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Sep 23, 2012
Messages
296
Ok the good news is I don’t see any major red flags from your close up shots, unless he’s keeping eyes closed all the time. The yolk sac healed really well. I think this baby has good odds as long as you can keep the enclosure appropriately hot & humid.

Given the wattage of lights you’re using and the small tank size it’s clear you are losing a lot out the top of the tank. You might be able to get by with the humidifier running but if you can seal the tank up better you won’t need it. I see two good options here:

1. put the entire tank, lights and all, inside a mini greenhouse tent.

2. Cover the top of the tank with a solid top and then cut openings exactly the right size for the light fixtures, leaving no air vents for heat or humidity to escape. Or, use the solid top and put UV light and heat inside the tank - but this will require new smaller fixtures.

Either way you will end up needing much lower wattage bulbs for the heat lamp and basking lamp.

Next goal is getting him eating good and sounds like you are making progress. If you can get them, hibiscus or rose of Sharon flowers are usually a favorite item. Also the original mazuri is often more readily accepted than the LS. Both of these can then be mixed into other foods to increase their appeal.
 
Last edited:

zovick

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Nov 17, 2013
Messages
766
Hi folks,

This forum was recommended to me by people on reddit's r/tortoise and I am really desperate for some help. This is a long story, so I will try to give all relevant detail:

I decided that a tortoise would be a good pet for us. We wanted something beautiful that didn't need lots of walks or vet visits and could be comfortable in an enclosure in the house. I researched a bit and decided that for our home, a smaller size tortoise would make sense. I searched further and found some lists of tortoises that were easy to raise and narrowed my list down to a russian, an eastern hermann's or an indian star tortoise. I found what looked like a reputable dealer with a snazzy website, and although they did not have russians or eastern hermann's in stock, they did have small Indian Star Tortoises.

I did not want a hatchling as I thought the care would be too hard, so I chose a "well started baby" which should have been about 8 months old. Wanting to be sure that I started our new pet off right I also ordered a complete tortoise house kit from the same seller including a house, food, bedding lights, humidifier, etc. I waited until the correct day to be sure the tortoise came on the right day, and made my order. Apparently this sort of thing is common knowledge in the reptile community, but apparently there are lots of unscrupulous dealers.

The first issue occured when the tortoise was supposed to arrive on a tuesday and didn't. I wrote to the dealer, who despite having charged me, had never sent me tracking etc. They said "oh, sorry, going out soon" and then on Friday "he'll be there today." On Friday the 26th of June, William arrived. He came in a small deli container, and nothing else of any kind arrived. No house, no food, nothing. We put him in a plastic file box, ran out to the store to get some coco fiber bedding (recommended on another care sheet) and put a temporary incandescent light for him. We kept him warm, took him outside to get warm, and ordered a tortoise house for him from amazon.

He did not eat the dandelion and plantain greens we offered him, and having absolutely no experience with tortoises, we opted to pick him up and feed him. He ate from our hands, not well, but he ate. We gave him a little bath each morning and felt like he was doing OK. It was in the 70s in his cage at night, and since one forum had said 80 to 90 in the day and 70 at night, we thought this was fine. His humidity was in the 60% range (Maine is humid this summer).

The other items from the dealer never showed up, so i ordered the same wooden cage from amazon. It was expensive, but reasoning it would work for him for his whole life, I just got it. We filled it with the coconut bedding and when his other items continued to be mysteriously delayed, we went out and got him a ceramic heat bulb and the UVB light recommended by our local pet store (coil type). We tried to keep his huge house warm and still took him outside often to get sun in his smaller, plastic bin during the day.

Each day he ate less and less. We also noticed that he was more lethargic and was not opening his eyes. Finally on Sunday the 5th, he did not eat at all. When he continued to be lethargic on Tuesday, we took him to the local vet. Once we showed up, she let us know that she did not have lots of experience with tortoises and that this was a "notoriously difficult, exotic species." She, and people on the forums on reddit, let us know that he was very dehydrated and that that was the main problem.

I freaked out, went out to all the local pet stores and got him a complete new home. I got a glass enclosure in a bid to keep as much humidity as possible in. I got rid of the coil UVB light (it literally has a tortoise pictured on the box) and got a bar style light. I replaced the bedding with reptibark, got him a basking incandescent, and made sure his humidity never goes below 80%.

He still has no interest in food and barely opens his eyes. The only time he is at all active is when we bathe him each day. he opens his eyes and moves around, but then goes back to immobility once his 20 to 30 minute bath is over. The dealer finally told us that he should be given an amount of food three times bigger than his shell so when he gets out of the bath we put him on a giant pile of soaked mazuri LS tortoise chow and cut up dandelions, plantain and kale leaves. He still is not eating at all and if left alone he does not move at all.

Please help us, I am happy to answer any questions at all and his new house looks like this. View attachment 299677
Hi,
I am very sorry that you were given bad information and are having problems. The others who have responded here are good people and will help you get started giving your tortoise the proper care. Star Tortoises are indeed beautiful animals and once you restore its health a bit, it will be an enjoyable pet for your family. Your tortoise looks to be more like 8 weeks old than 8 months old, by the way.

As for me, I would like to know who is the "reputable dealer with a snazzy website" from whom you bought this animal? These unscrupulous idiots who flip and sell young tortoises to unsuspecting buyers need to be made known to all so that other people do not get taken as you did. Please give us the name of the dealer. Thank you.
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
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Messages
85,503
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Just one note I saw when looking at your pictures: UVB (which the tortoise needs for the calcium to work) is deflected by the screen, so you shouldn't put the UVB light on top of a screen.
 

Hiro__Protagonist

New Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2020
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Cape Neddick, Maine
So, an update on our little guy.

I have been working lots of shifts at work to try and keep it afloat during covid, so this update is later than I had wanted.

So we took everyone's advice to the extent that we have been able. I got him a new humidifier, some new, less wrong (?) lights, and a thermostat for his ceramic heat emitter. His temp seems steady. in the day, 95 directly under the lights, 80's in the other parts of the tank. At night, near the emitter stays a constant low 80's. As suggested, I got a infrared thermometer to check his temps, so far they have been consistently above 80. We keep his humidity above 80% with it very rarely going below with his humidifier on the lowest setting.

He kept his eyes closed for almost 5 days and remained almost immobile except during his baths, when he moved frantically. After awhile, he would open his eyes more often and accept a few bites of food from us. He was moving his bowels as well (not every day), so we knew food was moving through him.

Now, the last few days, his behavior has changed again. His eyes are finally open again. He seems to be opening his mouth a bit as though he is gasping and he excavated a small round space in his reptibark. We have also noticed that his bark seems to have bugs. They are very small and in all likelihood mites. We will change out all his bark today and with warm soapy water wash out the cage. The new bark and his hide have been baked in the oven at 250 degrees for 3 hours. We will remove his plant as well. Again, he is listless and not taking any food, but his eyes are open at least. So far today he has not taken food.

Again, any help is appreciated. I have attached a picture of his cage at present. We are working on constructing a new top with openings for lights and humidifier but I am not terribly handy.

Thank you all for the help. It is not much, but at least he is still with us. 20200718_165654.jpg
 

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