advice requested from Tom

Mama Longneck

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May 14, 2022
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Phoenix
Hi there Tom. I'm a new owner of a juvenile sulcata (2ysr old). After reading just a few of your posts I've come to trust your advice far more than the often contradictory information I gather from googling tortoise related things. I've only owned Little Foot for about 3 weeks. She (obviously I don't actually know the sex yet, just an educated guess based off of temperment) has some pyramiding already and I was wondering if you can tell me if there is a way to reverse it at all or at least prevent it from getting worse. From what I gather from you it's due to dehydration or insufficient humidity. I live in Phoenix, Az so although I have plenty of heat, it's very arid so I am currently trying to create the humidity for her myself. I give her shallow bath time almost every day, temping the water to ensure it's 90-100 degrees when I pour it in, and letting her soak until she wants out (5-20 min). The majority of her enclosure substrate is ZooMed Eco Earth coco fiber with some cypress mulch over coconut fiber carpet. Part of the enclosure is a wooden hutch which is just the coconut carpet for her natural rock slab for food and water dish to remain mostly substrate free. Her hide away rock cave is in the hutch as well, but I put substrate within in it as I feared she wasn't getting enough humidity without it. I keep the all substrate moist, but not dripping or soppy. She hates being misted so I stopped but not sure if that's the right decision. I have a large dirt backyard that she spends at least 2 hours a day roaming (and most of the day 3x a week on my days off). And now she has developed some whitening color above her eyes. I think that might also be a sign of too low humidity but am not sure. Sorry to go on a whole diatribe, I just wanted to give you enough info about her living conditions in case you think there is anything I'm doing wrong or should be modifying in any way. I also bought ReptaidXL Immune Support supplement but am not sure how often I should be giving it to her as it's highly concentrated and I have read varying suggestions on the frequency. She also has cuttlebone that disinterests her completely, haha. I just read your suggestion of the MineralAll supplement and plan on purchasing that as well. I make and feed her a "salad" of Timothy hay with assorted leafy greens and alternating veggies, sprinkling on calcium powder 2-3x a week. I'm trying to take great care with all non hay/grass food as to make sure she processes the right amount of calcium and doesn't get too much phosphorus. But she tends to just pick out the non hay parts, and I don't know how to get her to eat more hay (just providing her with the hay doesn't work). And I chop up the hay in a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to make it more appealing to her. I am in the process of growing some different grasses/weeds as well as flowers for her but that will take a bit of time since I'm too paranoid about pesticides/fertilizers from anything I'm not growing from seeds myself.

Little Foot is just about 5 inches from end to end of her shell (not including legs or head when sticking out) and weighs around 1.5 lbs. She lives completely outdoors. Should she indoors at all (in an enclosure of course, not just roaming the house). I do have a second bedroom I can dedicate to her. I want to get a closed chamber per your suggestion but I'm a bit ignorant and don't know exactly what that would be or how I would make it. Can I keep it outside if I maintain temp and humidity? I get home from work after dark so she is already asleep and I don't like waking her up to move her inside. Is that a mistake?

I attached some pix to show the pyramiding (I'm growing increasingly concerned about it) and the whiteness above her eyes.

Thanks Tom! Little foot 2 Little foot
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Hi there Tom. I'm a new owner of a juvenile sulcata (2ysr old). After reading just a few of your posts I've come to trust your advice far more than the often contradictory information I gather from googling tortoise related things. I've only owned Little Foot for about 3 weeks. She (obviously I don't actually know the sex yet, just an educated guess based off of temperment) has some pyramiding already and I was wondering if you can tell me if there is a way to reverse it at all or at least prevent it from getting worse. From what I gather from you it's due to dehydration or insufficient humidity. I live in Phoenix, Az so although I have plenty of heat, it's very arid so I am currently trying to create the humidity for her myself. I give her shallow bath time almost every day, temping the water to ensure it's 90-100 degrees when I pour it in, and letting her soak until she wants out (5-20 min). The majority of her enclosure substrate is ZooMed Eco Earth coco fiber with some cypress mulch over coconut fiber carpet. Part of the enclosure is a wooden hutch which is just the coconut carpet for her natural rock slab for food and water dish to remain mostly substrate free. Her hide away rock cave is in the hutch as well, but I put substrate within in it as I feared she wasn't getting enough humidity without it. I keep the all substrate moist, but not dripping or soppy. She hates being misted so I stopped but not sure if that's the right decision. I have a large dirt backyard that she spends at least 2 hours a day roaming (and most of the day 3x a week on my days off). And now she has developed some whitening color above her eyes. I think that might also be a sign of too low humidity but am not sure. Sorry to go on a whole diatribe, I just wanted to give you enough info about her living conditions in case you think there is anything I'm doing wrong or should be modifying in any way. I also bought ReptaidXL Immune Support supplement but am not sure how often I should be giving it to her as it's highly concentrated and I have read varying suggestions on the frequency. She also has cuttlebone that disinterests her completely, haha. I just read your suggestion of the MineralAll supplement and plan on purchasing that as well. I make and feed her a "salad" of Timothy hay with assorted leafy greens and alternating veggies, sprinkling on calcium powder 2-3x a week. I'm trying to take great care with all non hay/grass food as to make sure she processes the right amount of calcium and doesn't get too much phosphorus. But she tends to just pick out the non hay parts, and I don't know how to get her to eat more hay (just providing her with the hay doesn't work). And I chop up the hay in a seemingly unsuccessful attempt to make it more appealing to her. I am in the process of growing some different grasses/weeds as well as flowers for her but that will take a bit of time since I'm too paranoid about pesticides/fertilizers from anything I'm not growing from seeds myself.

Little Foot is just about 5 inches from end to end of her shell (not including legs or head when sticking out) and weighs around 1.5 lbs. She lives completely outdoors. Should she indoors at all (in an enclosure of course, not just roaming the house). I do have a second bedroom I can dedicate to her. I want to get a closed chamber per your suggestion but I'm a bit ignorant and don't know exactly what that would be or how I would make it. Can I keep it outside if I maintain temp and humidity? I get home from work after dark so she is already asleep and I don't like waking her up to move her inside. Is that a mistake?

I attached some pix to show the pyramiding (I'm growing increasingly concerned about it) and the whiteness above her eyes.

Thanks Tom!
Here was my answer to the first part:
I'm here to talk tortoises! Your questions are excellent and totally reasonable. I prefer to answer this sort of thing on the open forum so that other people in your position can learn too. Many people have been attacked or insulted or banned from other venues for asking simple questions or sharing something they have learned, so they want to learn and have the same questions you do, but they are once bitten twice shy, so to speak.

The first bit of info I need is the size of your tortoise. A 2 years old it could be 2 inches or 2 feet long.

My general rule of them is no more than an hour od outside time per inch of tortoise daily, and then a long soak on the way back inside. Soaks should be 30-40 minutes minimum. It doesn't matter if the tortoise wants out. Leave her in there. When they start marching agains the slick side of the plastic soaking container, we call that "the tortoise treadmill". Its great exercise. You can refresh with clean warm water as needed, and keep the water warm the entire time.

Indoor housing needs to be a large (4x8 foot) closed chamber. You can't maintain the correct conditions with an open topped enclosure. That is like trying to heat your house on a cold winter night with no roof. Or in Phoenix, its like trying to cool your house mid day in summer with no roof.

Stopping pyramiding in progress is much more difficult than preventing pyramiding in the first place. To stop it: Use a closed chamber with humidity 80+% 24/7. Damp orchid bark substrate will help. Have a humid hide, long soaks daily, frequent carapace spraying with de-mineralized water. Don't worry about it if the tortoise doesn't like it. You can use distilled, RO, or collected rainwater for this carapace spraying to prevent hard water stains. Use regular water for soaking and drinking.

Hay is for older larger sulcatas. I don't even start trying to introduce it until they are around 12 inches or more. When you do introduce hay, use orchard grass hay. Its the best. Bermuda hay can work too. Timothy is too stemmy. There are many ways to introduce hay into the diet. You can chop it with scissors, soak it to rehydrate it, and then mix it in with the other foods. I typically feed my tortoises their other foods on a bed of orchard grass hay and that alone will usually do it eventually. Many times, for large sulcatas, it just a question of gradually reducing the other foods and leaving them nothing else to eat. That is precisely what happens in the wild in the dry season after the rains depart and everything begins drying out and baking in the hot African sun.

Look for mulberry trees, grape leaves, hibiscus or lavatera leaves and flowers, and plant yourself a whole bunch of different types of spineless opuntia. The main diet of my adult grass eating tortoises is orchard grass hay and opuntia pads.

You don't need that Reptaid. Its gimmicky. You can use it up though. Maybe once a week. Calcium two times a week is great. MinerAll is great a couple of times per week to prevent rock eating.

Review this for more info and tips:

The Best Way To Raise A Sulcata, Leopard, Or Star Tortoise


When your tortoise gets over 8-10 inches or so, you will need to build something like this:

Single Tortoise Night Box


If you humidify the inside of the night box, and let her dig a burrow for summer, it will minimize the effects of your dry climate.

Questions and conversation are welcome! 😊
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
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Joined
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Messages
57,270
Location (City and/or State)
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Little Foot is just about 5 inches from end to end of her shell (not including legs or head when sticking out) and weighs around 1.5 lbs. She lives completely outdoors. Should she indoors at all (in an enclosure of course, not just roaming the house). I do have a second bedroom I can dedicate to her. I want to get a closed chamber per your suggestion but I'm a bit ignorant and don't know exactly what that would be or how I would make it. Can I keep it outside if I maintain temp and humidity? I get home from work after dark so she is already asleep and I don't like waking her up to move her inside. Is that a mistake?

I attached some pix to show the pyramiding (I'm growing increasingly concerned about it) and the whiteness above her eyes.
Part Two:
This is a tricky one... I'll explain: Your tortoise is too small to live outside full time, but only just barely. I don't like to move them outside full time until they are around 8-10 inches. The way my routine works is that I have an indoor 4x8 closed chamber, and they spend most of their time in that. They sleep in it and spend most of their days in it. I give them about an hour of sunning time outside in a large safe enclosure per inch of tortoise. So Little foot would be getting up to 5-6 hours a day of outside time, weather permitting. Then I soak them for 30-40 minutes and bring them back inside to the warm humid monsoon conditions. Here is the thing... Its probably around $1000-1500 to set up the closed chamber indoors with all the fixin's. Its not really worth it in your case. You tortoise will grow that last few inches in the next 4-6 months if all is going well. The pyramiding is already there. A closed chamber would help improve that and eventually reduce the effects, but your tortoise will be outgrowing the closed chamber so soon.

Here is the next factor: Something about living outside in the Phoenix area is magical for tortoises. I don't know why, but in spite of the hot dry desert climate, tortoises that live outside there tend to grow smooth. I can't explain it and I don't know why, but that is how it goes. If you have a shelter with the correct temps, I would just try to keep it humid inside the box and not worry too much about the pyramiding. If it goes the way it always goes, your tortoises growth will smooth out and begin looking much better.
I would go start a burrow where you want one and encourage the tortoise to dig its own burrow in the area where you want it. Phoenix is the best place in America to do this and it usually works great. In fall, probably late October or early November when the nights start to cool and the day time temp start staying below the mid 90s consistently, catch the tortoise above ground, block the burrow entrance with a sheet of plywood or something, and make him sleep in the heated shelter for winter time. Then in spring, when the days are consistently 90+, uncover the burrow entrance again.
 

Mama Longneck

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Joined
May 14, 2022
Messages
3
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Phoenix
Ok so let me first quickly explain her current outdoor enclosure. It’s a large dog crate with a concrete mixing tub inside. She only has access within said tub as far as the kennel is concerned. There is also a wooden hutch with ramp/wall. During the day the ramp is down to allow her access to the crate area and I close it up overnight and then put a towel around the hutch as to insulate it a smidge, at least from the wind (it has been pretty damn windy the last week here). I feel like such an asshole cause I’m only now realizing it’s not only not humid enough but not warm enough either, as it’s still dropping down to the 60s at night. What is the best way you’d suggest to insulate the enclosure? Or modify it? Ceramic heater and therm? The crate protects against local predators (cats, coyotes, raccoons) but most definitely provides no insulation. I’ve also recently noticed a seemingly infestation of mosquitoes that fly up every time I mix up the soil with water. Any suggestions on how to rid the enclosure of these pests?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
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Messages
57,270
Location (City and/or State)
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Ok so let me first quickly explain her current outdoor enclosure. It’s a large dog crate with a concrete mixing tub inside. She only has access within said tub as far as the kennel is concerned. There is also a wooden hutch with ramp/wall. During the day the ramp is down to allow her access to the crate area and I close it up overnight and then put a towel around the hutch as to insulate it a smidge, at least from the wind (it has been pretty damn windy the last week here). I feel like such an asshole cause I’m only now realizing it’s not only not humid enough but not warm enough either, as it’s still dropping down to the 60s at night. What is the best way you’d suggest to insulate the enclosure? Or modify it? Ceramic heater and therm? The crate protects against local predators (cats, coyotes, raccoons) but most definitely provides no insulation. I’ve also recently noticed a seemingly infestation of mosquitoes that fly up every time I mix up the soil with water. Any suggestions on how to rid the enclosure of these pests?
Do you mean a dog kennel like 6x10 feet? Or a dog crate? A crate is really too small for a tortoise this size.

You can get away with a CHE on a thermostat for a little while longer if the ceiling is high enough, but you'll need something safer and better in the not too distant future. CHEs and heat lamps will slow-burn the top of the carapace on larger tortoises. If you get a burrow going for summer, you won't need any heat at all until fall.

Here are a couple of versions of night houses to peruse:

Are you sure the bugs on the grass are mosquitos? There are many types of flying insects that will colonize a nice damp lawn, but not usually mosquitos.
 

Donna Albu

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Peoria, Maricopa County, AZ
Do you mean a dog kennel like 6x10 feet? Or a dog crate? A crate is really too small for a tortoise this size.

You can get away with a CHE on a thermostat for a little while longer if the ceiling is high enough, but you'll need something safer and better in the not too distant future. CHEs and heat lamps will slow-burn the top of the carapace on larger tortoises. If you get a burrow going for summer, you won't need any heat at all until fall.

Here are a couple of versions of night houses to peruse:

Are you sure the bugs on the grass are mosquitos? There are many types of flying insects that will colonize a nice damp lawn, but not usually mosquitos.
HI All! We live on the north end of Phoenix - have 3 adult Sulcata living outside full time. If you want to come visit, you are more than welcome! Let me know, and I'll tell you how to find us.

In the meantime, we have two inside - a 2 1/2 yr old and a baby born last fall. I need to build an area outside for the older male. He loves it outside, and he's getting big enough.

Here is my newest trick: Now that it is warm, I put their soaking containers outside in the sun, put in the appropriate warm water, and in they go. They are usually out for 45 plus minutes. The sun keeps the water nice and warm. I keep an eye on them, and empty it and start over if the mess in the clean water. So I not only accomplish a nice long, warm soak, they are also getting sun time. They also get to run around in the grass when my great-grandson gets home from school (4 more days and summer break). Each needs a person watching where they go because, of course they NEVER go in the same direction. Plus the little one could fit threw the pool fence.

When the first sulcata hatchling was found in the yard 19 years ago, weighing in at 16.3 grams, I knew nothing about them, not even that they existed on our planet! So we've done plenty of things wrong, and lots of other stuff right. Andi is still on the small side, as far as adult females go, but she's happy, active and laying eggs. Hopefully this will be the last year for that, if we are successful at keeping her and Bolt apart.

But anyone is welcome to visit.

And to answer your question about the mosquitos, yup, there are lots of them now since the county put in catch basins for the rain runoff. They will lay eggs in your water bowls, and in the mud you create for your torts outside. The choice is bone dry habitat or mosquitos - not much of a choice. We have Dyntrap bug traps that work very well. A one acre one mid back yard, and a half acre in the middle of the habitat, coincidently right over one of the water bowls. They are pricey, but worth it.
 

TortoisesFLA

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FORGIVE ME I am not challenging anyone by any stretch here, but I had heard pyramiding occurred when the diet contained too much protein --?
 

Tom

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FORGIVE ME I am not challenging anyone by any stretch here, but I had heard pyramiding occurred when the diet contained too much protein --?
Questions and discussion of new and differing ideas is welcome here. Challenge away!

That is incorrect info, as is most of the info you find on sulcatas and tortoise care in general. Pyramiding is not caused by food. It is caused by growth in conditions that are too dry. Has nothing to do with calcium, diet, protein, or any of the other things you commonly read.

If you raise them on a high protein diet in the correct conditions, they will not pyramid. They will grow really fast, but they will be smooth. Conversely, you can feed them on a very low protein high fiber diet, and if it is too dry, they will pyramid. They will grow much slower, but still pyramid.
 

TortoisesFLA

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5 Year Member
Joined
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Messages
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Location (City and/or State)
West Coast of Florida
Questions and discussion of new and differing ideas is welcome here. Challenge away!

That is incorrect info, as is most of the info you find on sulcatas and tortoise care in general. Pyramiding is not caused by food. It is caused by growth in conditions that are too dry. Has nothing to do with calcium, diet, protein, or any of the other things you commonly read.

If you raise them on a high protein diet in the correct conditions, they will not pyramid. They will grow really fast, but they will be smooth. Conversely, you can feed them on a very low protein high fiber diet, and if it is too dry, they will pyramid. They will grow much slower, but still pyramid.
See that? THAT is why you are the go-to guy on here! Thanks so much.
 
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