Is plant toxicity really an issue?

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GeoTerraTestudo

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A lot of people are interested in which plants may be toxic to tortoises. However, it seems that my tortoises only like to eat plants that are safe, and never try to eat more exotic fair. In captivity, some pet tortoises might not have a good diet, but that has more to do with safe foods in the wrong proportions, rather than plant toxicity. If pet tortoises eat too much fruit, for example, it's only because they encounter more than they would in the wild. And if they can't detect pesticides and herbicides, it's only because they have no evolutionary history with this chemicals. Moreover, tortoises can even detoxify some plants that would be dangerous for mammalian herbivores, such as sheep and horses, to consume. Thus, except for artificial chemicals and unnatural abundances of food, it seems that tortoises have excellent nutritional wisdom, and instinctively know what is good to eat, and what is not.

Given the above understanding of tortoise feeding behavior, I am a bit puzzled as to why people are concerned about tortoises' eating toxic plants. If it's safe to eat, they'll eat it. If not, not. Right? Maybe we should be more concerned with the right amounts of good plants to give them, rather than toxic plants. Has anyone out there ever actually had a tortoise or turtle become ill or die as a result of its eating a toxic plant?
 

JoesMum

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I will extend that. generally my tort will avoid all plants on the 'toxic' list, however he actively enjoys eating some others that are on the list (e.g. clematis and buterccup)

I think it is reasonable to assume that a tortoise's digestion does not work in the same way as ours. (After all many species cannot tolerate fruit like we can)

They do seem to know and, when they make mistakes, they don't seem to eat enough to do any damage.

I certainly have no qualms about anything growing in my garden and Joe is completely free range.

Where I do think there is a risk is for those in more cramped quarters, be that indoors or out. With insufficient good stuff available, they may choose to eat more of the bad and that's when the damage is done. It's those picking plants to feed or planting up an enclosure that need to be aware most.
 

wellington

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I figure we need to be more careful about having toxic plants because they may normally not come across the kind we have. So they wouldn't know if they should eat it or not. I figure their native plants they would know which are to eat and which isn't. How many really have only their native plants. I would rather play it safe, as if it does make them sick, you may find out too late.
 

terryo

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I agree. I think if your tortoise or turtle garden is big enough and has enough plants for them to choose from, they'll do the right thing. But if you have a small pen, then you have to choose carefully. I've had box turtles for years, and so did my Dad. We've never watched what we planted and never had a sick boxie. My Cherry Head's garden is smaller, so I'm more careful about what I plant, although she rarely eats the plants, except for a few that she likes. Early in the Spring when the box turtles come out from hibernation, they will nibble on small sprouts coming up because worms and bugs are still scarce, but I believe they only eat what's OK for them.
 

Baoh

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I think the extent of concern I typically see expressed is far overblown and approaches paranoia.
 

GBtortoises

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For me there is no debate here. I agree with GeoTerra, JoesMum & terryo. I will go as so far to say that when I pick weeds for my tortoises which is nearly two full 33 gallon size trash bags about every 2-3 days, I pay little attention to what underlying weeds I am ripping out of the ground along with the known "safe" ones. I steer away from the very obvious known toxic weeds when I see them but there is no doubt that I pull up several of them when picking taller safe weeds. I've been doing that way for over 25 years and have yet to have a problem that could be attributed to them eating toxic plants. Some of my enclosures have Boxwood shrubs planted in them, a supposed known toxic plant. I planted them because they grown thick and low and provide good shade. My tortoises totally ignore them despite the plants having very green, very lush leaves within their reach.
I'm a firm believer that they know more about what they can eat than we do.
 

Lulu

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I only care because mine mow things down so fast in their enclosures that I have to pick from the rest of the yard. I have a pretty limited set of stuff to choose from (mallow, chickweed, hawksbeard, etc.), so I just pull the stuff I know is good to give to them. I don't worry about the things they can access themselves because I agree they will probably only eat what they're supposed to eat. I care more about not wasting my time grabbing things they won't or shouldn't eat, and when I seed their enclosure (kind of pointless now in the hot season when they're eating like pigs and things grow slowly), I want to make sure I'm seeding with things they can eat.

That being said, I'm not going to plant something obviously toxic in their enclosure, like mother of millions. Livestock eat it and die, and arguably they should know better as well. I am going to research those things that I put into their environment, just to be on the safe side.
 

clare n

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All fair comments and a very insightful thread.
I asked the question regarding plants outside that are bad for my tortoise earlier today. Some of us are not experts, and have not been keeping tortoises even 1/10th of the time a lot of you all have, what research we do is often conflicted by different websites, full of mis leading information. (Hence why we join here.) People know what they can and shouldn't eat, that does not stop them- hence many peoples poor diets etc leading to health problems. Things that are bad for you are always the nicest. I simply asked if anyone uk wise had pointers on things to remove from the garden, if any, because I CARE. Now I know thanks to kind comments afterwards, and further pointers from yourselves. I'm rather unappreciative of the word "paranoid" I think those of us that do ask these questions are not "paranoid" just mis informed and given a lot of mixed information. In 40 years time I may look back and think... That was a stupid question.... But until then, many of us are new tortoise keepers that are trying to do our best.
 

dmmj

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Personally I have never been a fan of the theory that tortoises don't eat what is not good for them. This maybe be a little OT but we all know of the stories of sulcatas, who eat just about anything they can get a hold of, mardi gras beads, plastic bags, dry wall, and the list goes on. I do know what may be toxic to mammals is not toxic to tortoises in general sometimes, but like I always say I would rather be safe than sorry.
 

clare n

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Thanks joesmum I'll give it a look :)
wasn't having a go, I'm as happy as the next to let Phillip just get on n do his thing, I don't obsess over it and it certainly doesn't keep me up at night lol. Was just after pointers, gratefully received all by the way, read a few other people that asked the same question, just would like people to look back at the start of their hobbies- nobody is perfect ;) doesn't make us obsessive or paranoid, just eager to learn new things. Two years and I'm still learning every day.
 

Baoh

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clare n said:
All fair comments and a very insightful thread.
I asked the question regarding plants outside that are bad for my tortoise earlier today. Some of us are not experts, and have not been keeping tortoises even 1/10th of the time a lot of you all have, what research we do is often conflicted by different websites, full of mis leading information. (Hence why we join here.) People know what they can and shouldn't eat, that does not stop them- hence many peoples poor diets etc leading to health problems. Things that are bad for you are always the nicest. I simply asked if anyone uk wise had pointers on things to remove from the garden, if any, because I CARE. Now I know thanks to kind comments afterwards, and further pointers from yourselves. I'm rather unappreciative of the word "paranoid" I think those of us that do ask these questions are not "paranoid" just mis informed and given a lot of mixed information. In 40 years time I may look back and think... That was a stupid question.... But until then, many of us are new tortoise keepers that are trying to do our best.

I do not know you at all. If you do not take an approach that is paranoid in nature, then describing someone as paranoid does not apply to your situation.

However, if you thought it applied to you when I obviously spoke in a general sense, then you might...just...be...paranoid. The sentence preceding this one is a light joke, in case you could not tell. I would not want it to be misconstrued.
 

clare n

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Not taken badly at all, didnt take it personally,certainly won't ruin my day. ;) Just noticed it applied to quite a few similar questions posted in one day from other newer members such as myself,that's all. Just getting the point across that we are all here to learn, many people ask many questions and I read the occasional ones that get shot down in flames. All here for the same reasons, positive feedback is always more productive, whatever stage of the tortoise journey you are at :D <3
 

JoesMum

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clare n said:
Thanks joesmum I'll give it a look :)
wasn't having a go, I'm as happy as the next to let Phillip just get on n do his thing, I don't obsess over it and it certainly doesn't keep me up at night lol. Was just after pointers, gratefully received all by the way, read a few other people that asked the same question, just would like people to look back at the start of their hobbies- nobody is perfect ;) doesn't make us obsessive or paranoid, just eager to learn new things. Two years and I'm still learning every day.
42 years and ditto :D
 

terryo

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I've had box turtles for over 30 years, and before that, my Dad had them. We never had a comptuer, so everything was trial and error, and going to the woods to observe what we could find. Now that we have computers, I'm so happy and I learn new things every day about box turtles. I'm also new to tortoises and only have mine 5 years. I think it's so great to come on here and other forums I belong to, and learn something new every day. IMHO, I don't think it matters how long you have your animals, you never stop learning. No one can possibly know everything.
I love this site and use it for my tortoise garden, all the time. Maybe it can help you too.

http://www.africantortoise.com/edible_landscaping.htm
 

yagyujubei

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If you go outside, get a handful of weeds, chop 'em up and mix with mazuri, I think it's important to know what you're adding to the food which will be eaten. Outside, I let them decide.
 

clare n

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I wish I had woods and places I could go to see them in their natural places :) unfortunately the only times we see them here is crappy pet shops where they will sell them to anyone that walks in with a wad of cash, or the countries zoos. I could write an essay on what a sparrow does or next doors cat that insists on crapping in my garden, but the day I take a walk thru holland brook and see a tortoise "running" wild I will faint in shock ;)
 

Baoh

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clare n said:
Not taken badly at all, didnt take it personally,certainly won't ruin my day. ;) Just noticed it applied to quite a few similar questions posted in one day from other newer members such as myself,that's all. Just getting the point across that we are all here to learn, many people ask many questions and I read the occasional ones that get shot down in flames. All here for the same reasons, positive feedback is always more productive, whatever stage of the tortoise journey you are at :D <3

No worries. I was not speaking about newbies. Some people have an OCD streak and are very concerned when routine is broken to the point they are (falsely) convinced disaster will occur from very minor changes that are really just insignificant. Play things safe when you are new to something. Once you have established a knowledge base and track record, feel free to branch out and seek the knowledge that caresheets and lists do not tend to provide. These latter tweaks can improve growth, reproduction, avoiding and managing illness, and more.
 

JoesMum

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Baoh said:
No worries. I was not speaking about newbies. Some people have an OCD streak and are very concerned when routine is broken to the point they are (falsely) convinced disaster will occur from very minor changes that are really just insignificant. Play things safe when you are new to something. Once you have established a knowledge base and track record, feel free to branch out and seek the knowledge that caresheets and lists do not tend to provide. These latter tweaks can improve growth, reproduction, avoiding and managing illness, and more.

I agree whole heartedly :)
 

Madkins007

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A few comments (you know me! :) )

1. Nutritional wisdom. This refers to an animal's instinctive knowledge of what is good and bad to eat- in captivity. Tortoises are considered to have poor nutritional wisdom insofar as they will often eat whatever garbage is available no matter how poor it is for them nutritionally (if they had good nutritional wisdom, they would not get MBDs so easily). Of course, since they can eat such a wide variety of foods and mostly live in places with such a poor selection of available options, they really don't need a lot of nutritional wisdom.

2. Plant toxicity. This is closely related to the above. Tortoises can eat a ton of stuff that will flat out kill a human and most mammals. MOST of the plants on toxic lists get there by being dangerous to some degree to humans, pets, and domestic animals. Only a few plants are widely considered really dangerous to tortoises- things like oak, lily, foxglove, oleander, and tobacco are the top of the list.

3. A lot of the plants on toxic lists just plain taste horrible! The reason they evolved toxins is to keep things from eating them! MOST of these plants taste bitter, soapy, 'sharp', or just plain nasty. Tortoises may not have high nutritional wisdom, but that does not make them stupid enough to not taste the things designed to warn them off.

So... yeah. Most of the paranoia over 'is this safe?' is unfounded. But then again, I think most of the paranoia over goiterinogens, oxalates, purines, etc. is unfounded as well.
 
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