Care of Tortoises ( Testudo species)
Spur-thigh tortoise (Testudo graeca), Hermanns tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Horsfield tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi).
Tortoises are solitary animals and only naturally come together to compete for territory or for reproduction. If more than one is kept, no more than 5 individuals of same species and sex should be kept in the same enclosure. The female has a shorter tail while males have a longer tail and a concave plastron (lower shell).
· We do not recommend vivariums for Tortoises as they have poor ventilation which predisposes them to respiratory infection. Also tortoises do not recognise glass as a barrier and can damage themselves trying to get through the glass. An open top habitat with solid sides is best. These units are sometimes commercially sold as 'tortoise tables.' These tables should be at least 1 metre x 50cm, with solid barrier sides at least 15 - 30cm deep.See www.tortoisetrust.org for guidelines. Provide hides, stones and logs and deep substrates for burrowing in.
· Background temperature 21- 27ºC and allow to drop to 21ºC at night. Allow the tortoise to choose the temperature at which they are most comfortable. This heat is provided through either a heat mat (on the side of the habitat, not the bottom); ceramic heat bulb or the whole room can be maintained at this temperature.
· Basking temperature: 30 - 40ºC. This enables the tortoise to warm up to its optimal body temperature. This is a lamp or light situated at one end of the enclosure to allow for basking during the day (leave on for 9 - 15 hours per day depending on the season).
- Tortoises should NEVER be allowed direct contact with heat sources as this will result in thermal burns (even through a shell). As tortoises will bury themselves, we do not recommend under floor heating. Basking lights should be high enough to allow for manoeuvring around.
· Relative humidity should remain between 30 - 50% (higher humidity for younger tortoises), and can be provided through mist spraying or placing a shallow water bowl in the habitat.
· UV light is important for behaviour, and vitamin D3 absorption. UVB light doesn't penetrate through plastic/glass and gets diminished over time so bulbs must be changed every 6 months. It should be on for 9 - 15 hours of UV light per day depending on the time of year.
· Allowing exposure to natural sunlight is best, but allowing tortoises to roam freely in gardens is not recommended due to attacks from birds, dogs, foxes, etc. A safe outdoor penned off grazing area is best.
· . Substrate should be dry and well-drained to prevent shell and respiratory infection. We DO NOT RECOMMEND--hemp, bark, commercial reptile sand, wood chip as they can cause death due to blockages. The best substrate is 50/50 mix ratio of play sand and top soil (free of pesticides) of at least 50mm deep for small tortoises and 75mm deep for larger tortoises (allows burying behaviour).