Basic Redfoot Care, by Madkins (Posted for review and critique.)

Madkins007

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(Note 1.-- some of the formating got jumbled when I cut and pasted the Google Docs page here. I'll try to clean it up.

Note 2. This was posted to offer other options for new keepers and is meant to serve as a sticky to this forum, or to be easily printed out. Please review and critique it in that vein.)


Basic Redfoot Tortoise Care
By Mark Adkins (madkins007)

Redfoot tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria, also called red-foot, red-footed, red-legged, and other variations) are a medium large species (generally about 12” long as adults) from northern and central-eastern South America. There are several regional variants with distinctive patterns, including a popular variant from eastern Brazil often called ‘cherry-head’ for the bright colors on their head and forelimbs. For more information about this species, check out these sources:
CONSIDERATIONS

Tortoises are popular pets, and once you get the housing and environment right, are fairly easy to care for- but there are a few things to think about before you get a pet tortoise.
  • Tortoises that come from tropical areas need consistently warm, humid habitats that can be difficult or expensive to provide- especially if you live in a cool or dry locale.

  • Tortoises need a lot of floor space in their habitats- about 8 times their shell length by 4 times their shell length. That means an adult redfoot needs about an 8’ x 4’ habitat- a pretty large space- especially when you need to keep it warm and humid all the time.

  • Tortoises are kind of boring compared to other animals. They spend much of their time hiding and sleeping. They generally do not like to be handled- although they often enjoy having their chins or necks scratched. If you are not really ‘into’ tortoises, it is a lot of money and energy for something you will not see that often.

  • Tortoise pets take some planning. You should have a plan for power outages, especially in the winter. Do you have a vet that can handle reptiles? Are you ready for a pet that can easily live 80 years?

  • For more considerations, see http://tortoiselibrary.com/welcome-2-2/is-a-tortoise-the-right-pet

If none of this scared you off, let’s talk about keeping redfoot tortoises!

HOUSING

Tortoises do best in large enclosures with areas to hide in and explore. For up to about 6-8” total shell length (such as one 6” or two 4” tortoises), you can use large aquariums, vivariums, and plastic tubs, or an outdoor pen. Over about 6-8” total shell length generally needs tortoise tables, indoor pens and/or outdoor pens. You can find many plans and ideas on-line, such as https://sites.google.com/site/tortoiselibrary/Indoor-Housing

There should be a substrate that keeps them clean, they can nestle in, and that supports their humidity needs. A few inches of cypress mulch, ‘orchid bark’, and 'no scent' hardwood mulches work well for this but you can learn about other methods such as the 'bioactive substrate system’ (http://tortoiselibrary.com/indoor-housing-2/substrates-1/ ).

Provide hides and shelters like broad-leaf plants (that are child-safe), partially buried plant pots, hollow logs, small plastic tubs with holes cut in the sides, etc. Provide drinking and soaking water in a container that can be sunk to the rim; is large enough for the entire tortoise to rest in; is deep enough to cover about ½ of the shell; and is easy to get into and out of. Keep the water bowl clean and filled.

Outdoor pens are the best option for tortoises once they get a few inches long. The pen can be a temporary structure just used for short, supervised periods, or a safe, secure structure the tortoises can live in as long as the weather allows. Again, you can find more online, such as http://tortoiselibrary.com/indoor-housing-2/outdoor-housing/

ENVIRONMENT

Forest tortoises like it warm, but not hot, mid- to upper- 80’s F work nicely. They want high humidity- around 95%, but do not do well in wet conditions for long. They need fresh air and adequate lighting. They do need some vitamin D, which they can get from the sun or UVB lamps. Sunlight is best, but the UVB rays do not penetrate glass or plastic. Avoid overly bright lighting and make sure there is shade or hiding places available.

There are many ways to heat, light, and humidify the habitat, depending on your situation, local climate, and more. In general, the cooler or drier your climate, the more adaptations it will take. Make sure you follow the instructions on anything you use in or near the habitat.

Try This:

For tortoises up to about 6-8” total shell length:
  • Get a large aquarium or plastic tub, about 30 gallons minimum, with as much floor space as possible

  • Get a piece of Plexiglass to cover the top. Drill several 1/4” or so holes down the middle lengthwise to let air and UVB light in.

  • Put a few inches of Cypress mulch on the bottom. Build one end up into a hill to explore.

  • Put a small plastic box with a lid and a hole in the side in the warm end as a hide.

  • Get a couple of small hardy, child-safe plants, like ferns, and sink the pots in the 'cool' end, or hang them from the side of the enclosure.

  • Sink a plant saucer to the rim in the 'warm' end as a water dish. Add some pebbles if needed to make it easier to get out of.

  • Use a plastic container lid with a small rim as a food plate.
  • Stick an easy-to-read thermometer and a humidity gauge on a wall in the warm end.

  • Position a long fluorescent UVB bulb over the holes on the lid.

  • Use a timer to turn the light on and off to allow a 10-11 hour day.

  • Heating and humidity will depend on the climate in the room the tub is in. The easiest overall option is this:

  • Be sure to offer plenty of shade and hides!
DIET

Once you get the hang of feeding redfoot and other tropical tortoises, it is really easy, but it takes a bit of work to get there. One of the main issues is that the foods they eat in the wild do not translate well to what we have in our stores and gardens. Tropical grasslands and forests tend to have a lot of vegetation, but it tends to be low in nutrients. Because of this, tropical tortoises eat almost everything they can find- insects, invertebrates, carrion, scat, fruits, leaves, fungi, succulents, and anything else they can digest. Captive tortoises, however, get much more nutritious food which means they get their needed nutrients more easily, but also means they can get fat or grow too quickly as well.

We are going to look at their food in three categories- prepared foods, like tortoise chow; base foods, like collard greens or dandelion leaves; and richer foods, like invertebrates or fruits.


Prepared foods, like Mazuri Tortoise Diet or Zoo Med Forest Natural Tortoise Food, offer an ‘all-in-one’ meal that can be fed as-is or along with fresh food. The benefit of ‘chows’ include the fact that the maker did a lot of research and worked hard to make it a balanced, complete food.

When using a prepared food, always follow the serving guidelines on the package. For example, Mazuri should not be served wet, and the serving size is 1-4% of the body weight. For smaller tortoises, you may need to break up the nuggets for smaller mouths.

Base foods are things that are low in sugars and moisture, but usually high in fiber and calcium. This would include most greens and leafy foods as well as things like mushrooms, cactus pads, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, as well as many things from your garden like mulberry leaves, dandelion leaves, hibiscus leaves and flowers, any flowers safe for humans, wild mushrooms, succulent and cactus pads or flowers, and so on. (Outside plants must be free of pesticide and other sprays. You can find several lists of safe or unsafe foods online.)

It is difficult to overfeed these kinds of food items, so you can usually let the tortoise eat as much of them as they want. When serving indoors, however, you want to remove the old food before it starts to smell or attract pests.

Rich foods include fruits, insects, meats, eggs, invertebrates, and so on. They generally have more calories, sugars, fats, proteins, and more. Some of these are not great for tortoises, such as...
  • Mealworms and other invertebrates with hard shells are hard to digest. Avoid giving them to young tortoises, or too many of them to bigger animals.

  • Fatty meats of any kind are hard on a tortoise’s organs. Avoid lunch or deli meats, hamburger, and that sort of thing.

  • Bananas, tomatoes, grapes, and other really sweet and sugary fruit should be kept to small, infrequent snacks. They can cause loose bowels, but that is not a problem once in a while.
Some things you may not think of are actually pretty good options:
  • Very occasional oily fish, like mackerel or salmon, offers easily digestible bones, omega fatty acids, and the like but tends to make smelly, runny poop.

  • Squash, pumpkin, cucumber, peppers, corn, peas, beans, eggplant, and anything else with seeds are actually fruits- and are generally better dietary options than things like apples, bananas, etc.

  • Unusual tropical and other fruits are mostly fantastic- papaya, figs, cactus fruits, horned melons, and so on are great options. Ethnic markets often have these and others at good prices.
Try this:
  • Make a small pile of a good quality tortoise chow- about the size of the tortoise’s head

  • Add a mixed salad about the size of the tortoise’s shell. It would be mostly dark, leafy greens with a few colorful additions (like shredded carrot, squash, blackberries, etc.)

    • The best greens are greens (collard, turnip, beet, mustard, etc.), spinach, kale, escarole, and Swiss chard.

    • Vary the salad as much as you can, as often as you can.
  • Once a week, mix in a pinch of fine calcium powder as insurance.
ROUTINE CARES

Routine cares are pretty easy once the housing and environment is running well...
  • Check and adjust lighting, temps, and humidity as needed.

  • Make sure each tortoise gets its fair share of food and eats well.

  • Clean up any old food or wastes.

  • Clean and refill the water dish.

  • Take care of plants, etc.

  • As needed, clean or disinfect walls, stir or change substrate, etc.

  • Make journal entries if keeping one. You can find info on-line about this.
Cares change a bit as tortoises grow.
  • Hatchling and baby tortoises need special care and should not be bought or sold until the egg yolk scar is closed.

    • Raise on a clean surface like damp paper towels until the yolk is absorbed.

    • Offer small, easy to eat meals with little protein (maybe a juicy worm once in a while).

    • Pay careful attention to hides, moderate temps, good humidity, and low light.

    • Hatchling tortoises are driven to hide most of the time- let them!
  • Young tortoises, up to about 3-4”, can be treated a bit more casually.

    • They like to nestle down and hide in the substrate, so consider long-fibered sphagnum moss (fluffed and dampened) or something similar.

    • Continue to pay attention to temps and humidity, low light, etc.

    • They are also easily preyed upon, so supervise outdoor time.
  • Growing tortoises, up to about 7-8”, need plenty of food and room to grow.

    • Near the end of this phase, they will start to develop their external sexual characteristics.

    • Developing males often display their organs and mount anything they can- often quite noisily. You can tell a male Red-foot by

      • the long tail,

      • broader rear opening of the shell, and

      • developing in-curved plastron- there are many photos on-line showing this.
  • Adult tortoises, 7-8”+, are sexually mature and do well in mixed gender herds with plenty of space and nesting areas. Mating males, and egg-carrying or nesting females need additional food, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Dealing with tortoise reproduction and egg care is outside the purposes of this article- you can find that online and in books.

SOURCES

IMPORTANT NOTES
  • Product mentions or links DO NOT mean I endorse the product, and are meant to illustrate what I am talking about.

  • None of this is meant to be the last word on keeping redfoot tortoises. Keep doing your research and learning about these fascinating animals.
 

Toddrickfl1

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Awesome thank you for your effort. I don't know enough yet to offer a critique though.
 

Madkins007

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Awesome thank you for your effort. I don't know enough yet to offer a critique though.

Actually, someone like you is just who I would want to give me feedback about how readable and understandable the stuff is, and if you think that you could do this having read it. I mean, it IS written for new keepers or people with little experience so the more help I can get to make sure it actually speaks to them the better!
 

Toddrickfl1

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I think it's very understandable. I like the consideration part, kind of let's people know what they're getting into it what to expect.
 

Redstrike

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I'm tempted to take mine down and just go with this one. The information is provided in a more approachable format for readers to digest.

Just a thought?
 

Madkins007

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I'm tempted to take mine down and just go with this one. The information is provided in a more approachable format for readers to digest.

Just a thought?
Please don't. I think caresheets are like recipe books. You may have access to a dozen books with similar recipes for the same dish- but you LIKE the way THIS one presents it, and think that THIS one is harder to understand or less helpful somehow.
 

Yvonne G

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I'm tempted to take mine down and just go with this one. The information is provided in a more approachable format for readers to digest.

Just a thought?
Up to you. I had planned on pinning all of them once you all are finished with them. It is a bit of overkill having so many, but we all read as much as we can to try to enlighten ourselves, and it will be handy to have all our reading right here in one place.
 

TurtleBug

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Please don't. I think caresheets are like recipe books. You may have access to a dozen books with similar recipes for the same dish- but you LIKE the way THIS one presents it, and think that THIS one is harder to understand or less helpful somehow.

For all tortoise species on this forum, it would be nice to have several care sheets written by different long term keepers. If the papers were written in the same order and with the same subtitles, like diet, housing, etc., it would be easy to compare how keepers care for their tortoises. Different points of view are enriching. :)
 

Madkins007

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For all tortoise species on this forum, it would be nice to have several care sheets written by different long term keepers. If the papers were written in the same order and with the same subtitles, like diet, housing, etc., it would be easy to compare how keepers care for their tortoises. Different points of view are enriching. :)
That is one of the thoughts I had behind the Tortoise Library. The idea was to use use a template for the care and information for each covered species no matter who wrote the piece.

One problem logicistially is that you end up rewriting the same things over and over, like ideas for heating, lighting, diets, etc. so in the Library, I was trying to have articles on these issues so the care sheets would just link to them, then just offer specific details for the species being discussed. Such as, most forest tortoises eat the same fruit-heavy omnivorous diet, but some really like cacti, some almost only eat mushrooms, and one likes fish.

I had a vision at one point that sort of faded away as I spent less time here, that the Library would eventually serve much of the role of the stickies (as far as care issues) and be available for editing by trusted authors.
 

Madkins007

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It appears that nothing has been done to post an alternate care sheet yet. Is there anything else I can do to help?
 

Yvonne G

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It appears that nothing has been done to post an alternate care sheet yet. Is there anything else I can do to help?
I'm still waiting for the authors to let me know their works are ready to be pinned?????
 
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