Vivarium/ outdoor pen questions

Ember909

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Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
57
Location (City and/or State)
California
There are a few points that I don't understand about the environment for a Greek tortoise. I think that a lot of these questions have been addressed before, but many of the answers I've seen seem confusing and/or contradictory, so help and clarification would be much appreciated. One thing is what kind of humidity I should provide. As far as I can tell, Greeks don't need added humidity (please correct me if this is wrong). Is it still important to provide a humid hide box? (I will also be providing non-humid hides in either case.) And, how deep should the substrate be? I read that 6-8 inches is okay for females as long as a nesting box is provided. I plan to get a male (and if I get a female I will almost certainly not breed her), so is the nesting box still important?

I know that a basking bulb and UVB tube are essential. Should there be another heater or something to keep that end up to temperature? If not, you can skip the next paragraph.

For controlling the temperature, I think the usual way is to connect the heat producers to an electronic thermometer, so they turn off and on to keep the temp stable. Should the heat bulb, or the additional heater, or both, go on and off to maintain the right temps? And what do people recommend for the additional heater?

I'm also going to keep it in an outdoor enclosure when I can. The breed is a Mesopotamian (Golden) Greek, which I hear is relatively cold tolerant. So what temperatures are safe for it? Should there be a heat bulb out there, too? (It's in a fairly sunny area, but we have a lot of trees around us, so it's far from permanently warmed.)

Plus... this might be a really dumb idea... but if a humid hide is important/good, would it work to have a basin for humidity, with a hole in the bottom, that was connected to a pipe going down, across, then up into an external funnel, so that it can be refilled from the outside? I was imagining, if the funnel was at the same height as the basin, you could easily check water level and add more without opening up the hide. This might be a bad idea, but I figured it's worth sharing. This is a half-minute drawing of what I had in mind. Photo on 11-23-20 at 8.08 PM.jpg
 
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passwordstaco

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Sep 1, 2020
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LOS ANGELES
I am also in Calfornia(Los Angeles) with a Meso Golden Greek and looking to do something similar. Thanks for kicking this off and would love to hear what others did to be successful with this specific breed.
 

maggie3fan

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Crazy Train
S
I am also in Calfornia(Los Angeles) with a Meso Golden Greek and looking to do something similar. Thanks for kicking this off and would love to hear what others did to be successful with this specific breed.
Tortoises come as species, dogs come in breeds... :)
 

Ember909

Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
57
Location (City and/or State)
California
I wonder if I did something wrong... usually someone knowledgeable would have answered by now...:confused:
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
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Messages
51,969
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
There are a few points that I don't understand about the environment for a Greek tortoise. I think that a lot of these questions have been addressed before, but many of the answers I've seen seem confusing and/or contradictory, so help and clarification would be much appreciated. One thing is what kind of humidity I should provide. As far as I can tell, Greeks don't need added humidity (please correct me if this is wrong). Is it still important to provide a humid hide box? (I will also be providing non-humid hides in either case.) And, how deep should the substrate be? I read that 6-8 inches is okay for females as long as a nesting box is provided. I plan to get a male (and if I get a female I will almost certainly not breed her), so is the nesting box still important?

I know that a basking bulb and UVB tube are essential. Should there be another heater or something to keep that end up to temperature? If not, you can skip the next paragraph.

For controlling the temperature, I think the usual way is to connect the heat producers to an electronic thermometer, so they turn off and on to keep the temp stable. Should the heat bulb, or the additional heater, or both, go on and off to maintain the right temps? And what do people recommend for the additional heater?

I'm also going to keep it in an outdoor enclosure when I can. The breed is a Mesopotamian (Golden) Greek, which I hear is relatively cold tolerant. So what temperatures are safe for it? Should there be a heat bulb out there, too? (It's in a fairly sunny area, but we have a lot of trees around us, so it's far from permanently warmed.)

Plus... this might be a really dumb idea... but if a humid hide is important/good, would it work to have a basin for humidity, with a hole in the bottom, that was connected to a pipe going down, across, then up into an external funnel, so that it can be refilled from the outside? I was imagining, if the funnel was at the same height as the basin, you could easily check water level and add more without opening up the hide. This might be a bad idea, but I figured it's worth sharing. This is a half-minute drawing of what I had in mind. View attachment 311650
You've been reading and reading and reading all sorts of stuff... Everyone you ask will give you different answers to these questions. The problem is: The vast majority of those answers are based on old incorrect info that has been parroted and passed down from generation to generation. Much of it is wrong. Much of it has been improved upon. People who learned tortoises 20, 30, 40 years ago, still stick to the things they've been doing for all these years, and either don't know, or don't want to know that new info has been learned. New comparison experiments have been done. We understand more about tortoise biology, raising hatchling, diet, hydration, pyramiding, UV, substrate and so much more than at any time in history. Most long term tortoise keepers haven't kept up. Some have. This is why there is so much conflicting info.

All of your questions are answered in this thread, but I'll go ahead and address them one by one below too. https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/the-best-way-to-raise-any-temperate-species-of-tortoise.183131/

  1. How much humidity? For a baby or adult? Babies need more. Its not as critical for adults, but one concept to understand is that our captive environments tend to be much drier, and lacking in humid microclimates, when compared to how they live in the wild. Babies need damp substrate, humid hides, and at least moderate humidity in their enclosures. Adults can tolerate drier conditions, but still benefit from humid hides and moderate humidity. Dry conditions are survivable not optimal. Babies should be soaked daily. Adults are fine with soaks once or twice a week depending on weather. I soak more in our hot summers. Somebody somewhere in the country might be keeping them all dry all the time. They can survive this, but they grow slower and pyramid. They also form urates, and sometimes bladder stones because of the dehydration. This can be fatal in some cases. Also keep in mind that the person typing the info you are reading might live in a completely different environment than you. Care for tortoises up and down the east coast, is going to be different than care for them in our SoCal desert basin. Any care advice given by anyone should serve as a general guideline, and each keeper should know that they have to fine tune things in their own enclosures, daily and seasonally as well.
  2. Substrate should be either coco coir for babies, or fine grade orchid bark or cypress mulch for adults. No soil. No sand. No peat. 3-4 inches is plenty. No need for a nesting box for a lone female.
  3. Basking bulb is essential. Indoor UV tubes are not. People in warm climates can easily meet their tortoise's UV needs with real sunshine. Ambient heat requirements depend on the room temperature and your heating equipment. Let your thermometer be your guide.
  4. There are four elements to heating and lighting:
    1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt incandescent floods from the hardware store. Some people will need bigger, or smaller wattage bulbs. Let your thermometer be your guide. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb. You need to check the temp with a thermometer directly under the bulb and get it to around 95-100F (36-37C).
    2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT, as long as your house stays above 60F (15-16C) at night.
    3. Light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish. Strip or screw-in bulb types are both fine.
    4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. If you want it anyway, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html
    5. Your basking bulb should be on a timer, not a thermostat. Your ambient heat, if you need it, should be on a thermostat.
    6. What temps are safe outdoors? This depends on many factors. Season, temperatures, dryness, wind, enclosure configuration, amount of sun hitting the ground in the enclosure, size and age of tortoise, etc... There isn't a one size fits all number for this answer. If the tortoise has been inside for a few weeks in winter because of rain and cold, then I might take the tortoise outside for some sun, exercise and grazing when we get a 65 degree sunny dry day. But if its 70 degrees, overcast, and the ground is still wet from a previous rain, I wouldn't take the tortoise outside. There are many factors to consider.
    7. Basking bulb outside? Not usually, but if you are housing an adult outside full time, and want a way to control the variables outside, then a basking bulb in a heated house work fantastically in our climate. See the care sheet for more explanation.
    8. No need to reinvent the wheel with your humid hide design. Just dump some water on the substrate under there periodically, and that is all you need to do.
I think this info will get you going in the right direction and explain some of the discrepancies you've come across, but questions are welcome.
 

Ember909

Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
57
Location (City and/or State)
California
You've been reading and reading and reading all sorts of stuff... Everyone you ask will give you different answers to these questions. The problem is: The vast majority of those answers are based on old incorrect info that has been parroted and passed down from generation to generation. Much of it is wrong. Much of it has been improved upon. People who learned tortoises 20, 30, 40 years ago, still stick to the things they've been doing for all these years, and either don't know, or don't want to know that new info has been learned. New comparison experiments have been done. We understand more about tortoise biology, raising hatchling, diet, hydration, pyramiding, UV, substrate and so much more than at any time in history. Most long term tortoise keepers haven't kept up. Some have. This is why there is so much conflicting info.

All of your questions are answered in this thread, but I'll go ahead and address them one by one below too. https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/the-best-way-to-raise-any-temperate-species-of-tortoise.183131/

  1. How much humidity? For a baby or adult? Babies need more. Its not as critical for adults, but one concept to understand is that our captive environments tend to be much drier, and lacking in humid microclimates, when compared to how they live in the wild. Babies need damp substrate, humid hides, and at least moderate humidity in their enclosures. Adults can tolerate drier conditions, but still benefit from humid hides and moderate humidity. Dry conditions are survivable not optimal. Babies should be soaked daily. Adults are fine with soaks once or twice a week depending on weather. I soak more in our hot summers. Somebody somewhere in the country might be keeping them all dry all the time. They can survive this, but they grow slower and pyramid. They also form urates, and sometimes bladder stones because of the dehydration. This can be fatal in some cases. Also keep in mind that the person typing the info you are reading might live in a completely different environment than you. Care for tortoises up and down the east coast, is going to be different than care for them in our SoCal desert basin. Any care advice given by anyone should serve as a general guideline, and each keeper should know that they have to fine tune things in their own enclosures, daily and seasonally as well.
  2. Substrate should be either coco coir for babies, or fine grade orchid bark or cypress mulch for adults. No soil. No sand. No peat. 3-4 inches is plenty. No need for a nesting box for a lone female.
  3. Basking bulb is essential. Indoor UV tubes are not. People in warm climates can easily meet their tortoise's UV needs with real sunshine. Ambient heat requirements depend on the room temperature and your heating equipment. Let your thermometer be your guide.
  4. There are four elements to heating and lighting:
    1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt incandescent floods from the hardware store. Some people will need bigger, or smaller wattage bulbs. Let your thermometer be your guide. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb. You need to check the temp with a thermometer directly under the bulb and get it to around 95-100F (36-37C).
    2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT, as long as your house stays above 60F (15-16C) at night.
    3. Light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish. Strip or screw-in bulb types are both fine.
    4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. If you want it anyway, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html
    5. Your basking bulb should be on a timer, not a thermostat. Your ambient heat, if you need it, should be on a thermostat.
    6. What temps are safe outdoors? This depends on many factors. Season, temperatures, dryness, wind, enclosure configuration, amount of sun hitting the ground in the enclosure, size and age of tortoise, etc... There isn't a one size fits all number for this answer. If the tortoise has been inside for a few weeks in winter because of rain and cold, then I might take the tortoise outside for some sun, exercise and grazing when we get a 65 degree sunny dry day. But if its 70 degrees, overcast, and the ground is still wet from a previous rain, I wouldn't take the tortoise outside. There are many factors to consider.
    7. Basking bulb outside? Not usually, but if you are housing an adult outside full time, and want a way to control the variables outside, then a basking bulb in a heated house work fantastically in our climate. See the care sheet for more explanation.
    8. No need to reinvent the wheel with your humid hide design. Just dump some water on the substrate under there periodically, and that is all you need to do.
I think this info will get you going in the right direction and explain some of the discrepancies you've come across, but questions are welcome.
During the summer time, 2 or 3 hours a week is completely doable, but not always in winter. Should I have the UVB bulb on only during the winter? And is too much UVB bad for tortoises? Thank you so much for all your help!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
51,969
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
During the summer time, 2 or 3 hours a week is completely doable, but not always in winter. Should I have the UVB bulb on only during the winter? And is too much UVB bad for tortoises? Thank you so much for all your help!
Where in CA are you? Totally different advice for San Francisco vs Palm Springs.

Yes. Too much is bad.
 

Ember909

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Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
57
Location (City and/or State)
California
Where in CA are you? Totally different advice for San Francisco vs Palm Springs.

Yes. Too much is bad.
So, I get temps of 80-100 in the summer, 60-75 the rest of the year. The place I have in mind for the outdoor enclosure gets direct sunlight most of the morning in summer, but not much in the afternoon.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
51,969
Location (City and/or State)
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I'm near San Fransisco.
HA! I was just using that as a hypothetical!

You want lots of sun during cooler times and lots of shade during hot weather. You might need two different enclosures for different times of the year.
 

Ember909

Member
Joined
Nov 2, 2020
Messages
57
Location (City and/or State)
California
HA! I was just using that as a hypothetical!

You want lots of sun during cooler times and lots of shade during hot weather. You might need two different enclosures for different times of the year.
I think I'll have to do that. There isn't anywhere I know of (other than my roof) that gets much sun in the late afternoon, though.

Do you know offhand what temps mean they should be in shade, sun, or indoors? Thank you for your patience. The kind of tort I am planning on, a Mesopotamian Greek, is fairly cold tolerant, but small.
 
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