Tips For Raising Baby Tortoises

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Tortoises, as a group, have long been among the most popular pet reptiles. Their wide availability coupled with their outgoing personalities and straightforward care have made them favorites among beginning and advanced hobbyists alike.

Recent advancements in the understanding of tortoise biology and captive care requirements have resulted in the widespread captive breeding of many popular species. The result has been a surge in the availibity of baby tortoises, and consequently a lesser demand for wild caught adult animals.

By and large, keeping tortoises is simple and straightforward given that a small amount of research is done on the part of the prospective keeper. Nonetheless, raising very young animals to adulthood does offer certain challenges that must be taken into consideration.

In general, the care and general requirements for keeping baby tortoise is quite similar to those of adult animals. However, there are certain tips and tricks that pertain specifically to young tortoises that shall be outlined below, and in turn should help to ensure a healthy, happy life for your pet.

Tip #1. Temperatures

Basic laws of physics dictate that objects with a smaller mass will heat up more rapidly than a similar object of larger size in an identical environment. This applies to tortoise husbandry in the sense that baby tortoises will reach and be able to maintain a proper body temperature faster and more efficiently than an older animal. As a result, extra consideration should be taken when providing basking spots for smaller animals. While a 100 pound sulcata may be able to safely bask at 110 degrees for hours, similar conditions would prove quickly detrimental to a baby.

Simply monitor basking temperatures closely, and be absolutely sure that your pet can easily move away from the heat source. Take care that the entire enclosure does not become too hot, and preferable one should create a thermal gradient having one end of the enclosure heated and the other end close to room temperature. Some research regarding the requirements of the species you have and the invest in a high quality thermometer should ensure that all goes well.

Tip #2. Hydration.

Tortoises are found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from desert to rainforest. As a result, some species are more likely to actively seek out potable water than others. Many desert and Mediterranean species drink only opportunistically during the wet seasons, and in captivity will rarely drink from a bowl without prompting. Additionally, in the wild some species which may live in the hottest and driest parts of the world, also spend most of their days in cool, moist burrows. This is a survival tactic that has evolved over time to prevent rapid dehydration and desiccation of desert dwellers.

To prevent dehydration of baby tortoises, always provide a shallow bowl filled with clean water. While it is true that many species get most (but never all) of their water requirements from their food, it never hurts to add a shallow dish, even they seldom use it. Additionally, weekly or bi-weekly soaks in room temperature water are advised. This tactic nearly always elicits a reflexive drinking response in tortoises. The water should be no deeper than the animals chin, and replaced immediately if the animal defecates.

10 to 15 minute soaks are sufficient, and will ensure proper hydration as a replacement for the shelter provided by burrows they may inhabit in the wild. Even tropical tortoises should be offered water via this method.

Tip #3. UV Light

In the wild, tortoises bask in the sun as a way to regulate body temperature. In addition to the heat afforded by the sun, the animals are also receiving direct, natural sunlight that allows for proper biosynthesis of vitamin D3, which in turn is vital to calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.

In captivity, natural sunlight should be utilized if possible, although always sun your tortoises in an open air (not glass) enclosure, and make sure that they do not get too hot. A few hours a week can make a big difference in the overall well-being of your tortoises. When they are not outside, the use of artificial lighting is required. Special bulbs designed specifically for this purpose should be used. These bulbs, typically in the form of a fluorescent tube, emit ultra violet B rays (UVB) which are of the same wavelength as those put off by the sun. 10 to 12 hours of light is recommended for most species.

Tip #4. Diet and Supplements

Tortoises of all ages and size should be provided with a varied and healthy diet. This becomes more important when dealing with younger animals. As they go through their stages of rapid growth, the need for a balanced diet complete with proper calcium and vitamin supplementation is a must.

Different species will have their own unique dietary needs, so be sure to carefully research the requirements of the type of tortoise you have, and closely follow the guidelines provided in books and elsewhere. Take care not to feed any single food item too frequently. The more types of food that your pet receives correlates directly with the amount of varying vitamins and mineral that they will be ingesting.

As for supplements, one with calcium and vitamin D3 should be used at every feeding for young animals, and less often as the animal reaches adult size. Older tortoises housed exclusively outdoors under natural sunlight do not require dietary D3. A multivitamin is also a good idea, although a varied diet is usually adequate. Just to be safe, lightly dust your pets food with a reptile multivitamin once every week or so.

Tip #5. Reduce Stress

While tortoises are tough, hardy animals, the are subject to stress, as is ant other living creature. Babies especially should be raised in a low stress environment. This is easily accomplished by paying close attention to your husbandry regimen, and by limiting handling of baby tortoises.

Small tortoises are often quite appealing to young children, and occasional supervised handling by them is acceptable, but prolonged periods of being picked up, flipped over, and occasionally dropped are obviously undesirable. The best bet is to limit owner-pet interaction to gentle petting and hand feeding until they reach a slightly sturdier size.

In Closing

There is simply no feasible way to present to you everything that you need to know about baby tortoise care in this forum. However, assuming that you already have a decent grasp on general tortoise husbandry, and that of your individual species, the tips above should be an adequate supplement to your existing knowledge base.

With dozens of tortoise species now readily available to hobbyists, making generalizations like above can be dangerous. Although the information provided here should safely apply to all species, it is of the upmost importance that you take the time to research the specific needs of any tortoise species you choose to keep.

Tortoises make incredible, long-lived pets, suitable for nearly any household. I hope that the tips I have shared with you here will only aid in making your tortoise keeping experiences rewarding and successful!