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How to raise a Healthy Star Tortoise.

Discussion in 'Indian Star and Burmese Star tortoises' started by Markw84, Jul 14, 2017.

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  1. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Stars, Leopards, and Sulcata tortoises are almost identical in care requirements, especially their first few years to get them started properly and thriving. These tortoises, their first few years, will fail to thrive and be active, unless you provide proper heat, humidity, and light.

    Leopard and star hatchlings are amongst the more sensitive tortoise hatchlings to raise properly. I treat them the same. Both are also extremely prone to pyramiding if not kept very humid. They also need a lot of warmth. I always follow what I call the 80/80 rule for tortoises I refer to as "monsoon tortoises". I keep them at a minimum of 80°f (27°C) and 80% relative humidity. I use the term monsoon, because most of the information out there for Leopards, Sulcatas, and Stars is outdated. It incorrectly assumes since they are from areas that get very dry and hot, they are a "desert" species. They are not. The have to hide and aestivate and wait out the drier seasons, and grow and thrive when the monsoons come. The monsoon season is what you want to duplicate in their housing.

    To properly control heat and humidity, you will almost always have to go with a closed chamber. Open tortoise tables do not work and are extremely bad for these type tortoises, especially their first few years. Humidity should always stay around 80% and temperatures should never drop below 80°f (27°C). They need a basking area where it is around 100°f (38°C). Daytime overall temps in the enclosure should be in the 80°f – 90°f (27°C - 32°C) range. A humid hide should be provided that holds humidity, provides security, and stays around 82°f (28°C), This means that even when living in a humid, tropical environment, the conditions inside of an open enclosure, inside a house, with proper basking lights – cannot create this constant, warmth and high humidity that is preferred.

    The best substrate I have found is orchid bark. Pet shops sell it as reptibark, but it is about 5 times more expensive if sold by a pet shop as opposed to going to a garden center and buying fine grade, pure, orchid bark. It holds moisture well, and will not mold. All my tortoises thrive no it. I put about 3" (8cm) layer in the enclosure and, in a 3’ x 6’ (1m x 2m) enclosure, will dump about 2 gallons (8 liters) of water in and mix it all up so the bark is uniformly moist. That keeps the humidity up and simulates the conditions they would be actively growing in the wild. Never let the temps drop below 80°f (27°C). Never use a heat pad, or heat from below.

    To control heat and light you will need:

    A UVB/UVA source: They need UVB exposure to properly manufacture vitamin D3 so they can utilize calcium they need for proper bone growth. Outside, full sun just a few hours a week will do this. If you live in a climate where regular outside time is going to be offered, you do not have to worry about buying a special UVB producing bulb. Keep In mind the sunlight must be unfiltered and not blocked by window glass, screen or plastic covers. Be sure to guard against overheating and provide shade as well. But you will still need good balanced lighting and proper heat and basking light and heat for the indoors enclosure. If regular natural unfiltered sunlight is not possible, you need to provide a UVB source. UVA is also critical for proper health and activity. It is a key trigger for activity, breeding, and feeding. Be sure you have both adequate UVA and UVB available. A Fluorescent tube is the best for this. Arcadia is a great brand. If you look, you can find it, but it is made in Europe. There are other brands in the US, but I prefer the Arcadia, and especially their remote-ballasted fixtures. That will keep a moisture-proof connection for the tubes and the heat of the ballast out of the enclosure. I use the T5 HO 12.0 46" bulb. (Some use a MVB (mercury vapor bulb) for both heat and UVB, but I find they are impossible to use in a properly enclosed chamber as they will overheat the enclosure. That is why the fluorescent tubes are by far the best choice. Also the MVB tend to stop putting out good UVB within 4-8 months (by actual measurement.) The fluorescent tubes I use continue to provide good UVB for a few years. I always check UVB output with a solarmeter 6.5 to ensure proper exposure.

    Ambient light: I like to create as close to natural sunlight as possible for the indoor enclosure. I use a second fluorescent fixture for this from the UVB fixture. There are also now excellent LED lights available. Either designed more for growing plants will be a great fit. You are looking for a light that produces a color temperature of 5000K – 5500K and a CRI (color rendering index) of above 90. Using that as your ambient light along with several potted plants for hides/broken shade, and you will have a great lighting environment. I have this fixture on a timer for a 14 hour photoperiod. With this setup, you can then limit the UVB light to a 4 hour, midday photoperiod simulating brighter midday sun, and save substantially on the need to replace the bulb as you are only using it less than 1/3 of the lighting time.

    A Basking area light: Your tortoise needs to be able to heat its core body temp up to properly metabolize food. A tortoise also needs to be able to heat their skin to allow for the metabolism of Pre-vitamin D to Vitamin D3. This happens primarily in the thinner skin on the backs of their legs and neck which you will see them stretch out and expose while basking. This takes a few hours of basking time a week. Basking also stimulates activity. I use simple incandescent FLOOD bulbs. 50-65 watts is plenty, hung above the basking area adjusting height to get a temperature of 38°-39° directly below at tortoise shell height. Do not use a spot type bulb. They focus the heat in too narrow a place and will overly desiccate the carapace. I have my basking lights on the same timer as my ambient lights - that is set for 14 hours a day of light, followed by 10 hours of complete darkness.

    Night heat/overall temp control. You need to ensure the temp never drops below 80°f (27°C). You want total darkness for proper night rest. I use a CHE (ceramic heat emitter) for this connected to a thermostat set for 81°f (28°C). This will probably only kick on briefly at night as the lights will provide enough heat during the day. It will kick on if the enclosure temperature drops below 81°F (28°c) and back off once it reaches 82°F (29°c). A CHE heats by emitting far-IR - which is a deeper heating, less desiccating type of IR heat. They emit no visible light. Do not use any type of incandescent "night light" like the red, or blue, or black night lights. Tortoises have much better color vision than humans, and can see wavelengths we cannot. They actually have 4 types of cones in their eye vs. humans who have only 3. Colors look much different to them, and are key triggers for activity, eating, circadian and circannual rhythms. Red lights are well within their vision and red triggers many eating choices. Blue is also very visible to them, in fact, they can see ultraviolet light that is invisible to us. Blue also is a key Circadian trigger. In addition to all this, all these incandescent night bulbs also emit far more near-IR than they do visible light. Near-IR is infrared radiation that is very close (near) the wavelength that is visible light. It is far more desiccating to the carapace of the tortoise, and maintaining proper carapace and keratin hydration is key to preventing pyramiding.

    Always have clean drinking water available in a source big enough for the tortoise to get into and soak. About twice as long as the tortoise is. Something with sloping side is needed. No vertical sides like the water bowls pet shops sell. I use the clay saucers that go under flower pots. They work perfectly.

    Soak your tortoise in a bath of warm water daily for 30 minutes or so as much as possible. This is extremely important for overall health and hydration. Use an opaque tub our tortoise cannot see out of and ensure the water stays in the 86°f (30°C) to 98°f (37°C) range. For depth of water, I like the water to come up to just above where the marginals meet the costals on the tortoise. I start with water that is about 98°f (37°C) and by the time it has cooled to 88°f (31°C) or so, your tortoise will probably have pooed in the water and it will need changing anyway. Your tortoise will normally poo in the bath water and this will actually dramatically reduce mess in the enclosure that would have to be picked out. Your tortoise will learn to stretch out and "bask" in the soak for a bit and then become quite active, like he is trying to get out. I like this as it is a valuable exercise time for him. Kind of my tortoise treadmill. Exercise is very important to overall health, muscle/bone development, and proper bowel movement (gastro-intestinal health).

    These tortoises need room to roam. Exercise is an important key in proper growth and muscle/bone development. I start hatchlings in a 3' x 6' (1m x 1.8m) enclosure. That will work for their first 2 years. (1 year for a sulcata). Once they hit about 5” - 6” (13cm - 16cm), I would go with a 3’ x 8’ (1m x 2.4m) enclosure as a minimum. They need a place they can feel secure. I always provide a hide for them. Some will use it, and others prefer hiding under a plant. I always include potted plants in the enclosure that are tortoise edible. I keep the plants in a 6-8” (15-20cm) clay pot that they cannot tip over, nor destroy the plant. I will space 3 – 5 plants throughout the enclosure. I let it grow and as it creates an overhang, it creates an ideal and natural hide for the tortoise. It creates sight barriers in the enclosure and makes it much more natural looking. It is also creating light gradients and broken shade type lighting. As it grows further, it provides some food the tortoise can nibble on as it can reach the newer, longer growth. Best plants for this are tortoise safe, and do well in warm, humid, lower light situations. I use: Boston Fern, Pothos Ivy, Spider Plant, Aloe, Coleus, and Prayer Plant. The first 3 are the easiest to grow in an indoor enclosure. The others will work but sometimes need rotating to a better window sill for rejuvenation, then back in the enclosure.

    An adult “monsoon” tortoises should be outside as much as weather will permit. A hatchling will do much better in a closed chamber like I've described, than they will do outside, even in "perfect" temperatures outside. I limit outside time for young tortoises to about 1 hour outside time per day max. for each 1" in overall length of your tortoise. So, I will limit outside time to 3 hours max in a day for a tortoise that is 3" (8cm) long.

    Food is obviously very important. Leopard and star tortoises are primarily leafy green, with some grass, eaters. Be careful to feed foods with proper calcium to phosphorus ratios. They need high fiber. They cannot digest, and it unbalances the gut chemistry, if you give them fruits. Keep it low protein. If you have to supplement with grocery greens go with endive, the darkest green parts of Romaine, green leaf, red leaf. If you can get opuntia cactus (prickley pear cactus) it is one of the best sources of calcium and a great food. Weeds are the best. Dandelion, mallow, plantain, thistle, filaree, sow thistle, milk thistle, wild mustard, colvers, chick weed, hawksbit, hensbit, cats ear, nettles. Lots of plants you can grow are also great foods. I grow as many edible plants as possible anywhere I need plants in my landscaping: Mulberry leaves, grape leaves, hibiscus leaves & flowers, Rose of Sharon, rose, gazanias, petunias, pansies, hostas, honeysuckle, geraniums, leaves and blooms from any squash/pumpkin/cucumber, most succulents like jade or aeonium. Grass is also great for fiber, so start adding a bit of fresh cut grass on top of the food. It may take a while, but they do learn to like it.

    For ideas, here is a few pictures of my enclosure I use. I've also added a picture of a 9 month old leopard and 10 month old sulcata from my group I have kept back to show you how a properly raised tortoise should look. Follow the guidelines above and you will see similar results. There is so much outdated information still given the majority of the time. It is base upon old misconceptions on these tortoises thinking them to be dry, desert animals. We now know they are really Monsoon Tortoises! Before you take advice from anyone on raising a tortoise, ask to see pictures of their tortoises they raised with their suggested methods. See if what they are proposing really works, and is not just repeated, outdated theories that we now know cause more harm than good...

    IMG_2876.JPG

    IMG_5184.JPG

    Smooth sulcata.jpg
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  2. MichaelaW

    MichaelaW Well-Known Member

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    Very well done.
  3. Bellerina

    Bellerina New Member

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    Thank you! This helps a lot!
  4. Jim Kowalik

    Jim Kowalik New Member

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    How come no heat pad underneath? Just curious as I found it to be a good way of boosting the ambient temp up a few degrees to keep it above 80 through the whole terrarium.
  5. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Not safe. Seen too many tortoises and other reptiles get burned by them. Safer and better methods exist.
  6. Jim Kowalik

    Jim Kowalik New Member

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    I did some experimenting with mine and it doesn't seem to give off much heat. It seems to only make the substrate directly underneath it feel slightly above room temp. Are they getting burned because they are too hot maybe? Also, I probably have a good 2.5 inches of substrate and glass between the pad. I'm just curious because my girl seems to love it but your post made me nervous about it.
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  7. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    The pads/mats sometimes malfunction, and sometimes they just create hotspots when the animal digs down and rests on it. Lots of people use them and think they are fine… until the day they realize they were wrong.
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  8. Jim Kowalik

    Jim Kowalik New Member

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    Gotcha. That makes sense. I unplugged mine after I read your post. Thanks for all the good info.
  9. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I'll just add my 2¢ worth. In addition to @Tom 's comments, I believe tortoises are "programmed" to regulate with sensations for heating from above. Heat from below is not a natural thermoregulation mechanism for chelonians. I believe they will sit on a heated substrate while their plastron heats, yet waiting for the core body temp and carapace sensation that would normally trigger them to stop basking. Although this may not be "burning" the plastron. I believe it is overheating it and can cause cell damage and abnormal plastral growth as we have seen so many times.
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  10. Jim Kowalik

    Jim Kowalik New Member

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    Excellent point! That actually makes a lot of sense. I've only had it for a few days, so hopefully they will take it back. No use for it now! I just added a fogger to my girls habitat and she seems to absolutely love it. Sometimes she curls in and settles to sleep right underneath where the fog drops down into the tank. That thing has made a world of difference with regulating the humidity and keeping it near 80%.
  11. Rt1jen

    Rt1jen Member

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    Tom is very knowledgeable and always provides detailed information. He's the first one I would ask. Not saying others aren't good but he is by far the best:D:)
  12. nuzul arief

    nuzul arief Member

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    hi there, I owned star and sulcata for a month now. the star is around 8.5cm. I found a bubble eyes on my star last week, but because I haven't use proper hygro/thermo I couldn't check the humid and temp. Now the tools was arrived. I use the open enclosure with additional humidifier and the humidity is around 73-85% and the temp is 82-86F. i have check the humid without using humidifier is about 70-73%. please advice what is the main cause the bubble eye and nasal discharge on tortoises?
    thanks IMG_20170911_190536.jpg
  13. no one

    no one Guest

    Thank you. I will save this thread.
  14. Ernie Johnson

    Ernie Johnson Member

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    Good stuff Mark and spot on.

    Did you build the enclosure in the first photo or is it commercially available?

    It would work great for my yearly parade of hatchlings Redfoots vs. what I currently use.

    Ernie
  15. Markw84

    Markw84 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Ernie

    Thanks! I did build it myself as I am fairly "handy" and like to build things. I got most of the design from @Tom 's closed chamber threads. I actually built a few to stack.

    IMG_4115.JPG


    Here's a thread on that build I did.

    https://tortoiseforum.org/posts/1295801

    If you're interested, here's a thread on my backyard "tortoise & turtle resort"

    https://tortoiseforum.org/posts/1352715

    And here's a post about an outdoor enclosure I made that is extremely efficient for the stars...

    https://tortoiseforum.org/posts/1486303
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  16. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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  17. Ernie Johnson

    Ernie Johnson Member

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    To say your handy is an understatement! My lord I'm envious.

    I'll write down the plans for future use.

    Here's my "enclosed chamber" used successfully from 2000-2015. This pic is from 5-7 years later. I had our neighbor, an 80 year old retiree who was a wiz with Carpentry build it for me and it's actually a double decker. It originally housed my then 3 month old, now 17+ year old Redfoot's, and served for many years as the pen for hatchling Redfoot's. Plywood with 1/4 inch plexiglass from panels and a misting system hung so not to cause an electrical short (I removed it before when this pic was taken.) It served us well until 2015 when we moved from Minneapolis to Dallas.

    And you can see from two stacked on top of one another how damp it stayed. Was actually quite easy to maintain a 80-90 degree, 75-85% humidity environment - back when most tort keepers thought high humidity was nuts for hatchlings of any species. ;-)

    Indoor Redfoot Habitat-1.jpg

    P2030204.JPG
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  18. kingsley

    kingsley Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Very Nice Mark, I use enclosed chambers for my Sri Lankan’s , and it definetely reduces pyramiding but they still do to some extent, in comparison to Platynota that virtually has no pyramiding what so ever under the same conditions.
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  19. Khushroo

    Khushroo New Member

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    Lets talk practically..ur saying indian stars r monsoon tortoises...and can't handle temperatures below 27.. that's bull. I am from.india and even in my generally hot weather the cold goes to 15 degrees..so what would the stars who live in the wild do?
    And secondly fyi indian stars r grassland torts not monsoon forests..they r mostly found in the state of Gujarat and upwards where there r barely Monsoon forests..only grasslands.
    And before u recommend UV bulbs why don't u recommend putting them in a the sun for.15mins a day...no need to put outside but u can put in a small tub and put it on it balcony where the morning sun comes
    .its way better than artificial lighting.
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  20. Khushroo

    Khushroo New Member

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    Indian stars are very choosy eaters..don't give them a specific leafy veggy to eat..mix and match it up..I had 4 torts..lost 1 recently. I spent hours reading online what to do and how to best take care of star tortoises but I realised after a year with them..it's all crap..ur tort is unique... treat it that way..all my 3 torts have different favourite foods..

    And one very very important things please note..I learnt this the hard way
    IF UR TORTOISE MOUTH OPENS FOR BREATHING OR EVEN A YAWN..TAKE IT TO A VET ASAP AND GET IT CHECKED UP...they don't need to open Thier mouth except to ear..it was too late for my tort...It opened its mouth to breathe once a while..maybe once in 10mins..there was no discharge from nose so i didn't worry about it...but when i.got her checked up cause she stopped eating..her lungs were getting pressed cause of gas in her stomach...she didn't make it ..
    Unnati sawant likes this.
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