New, accidental desert tort mom seeks guidance

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thatrebecca

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Gomez and Morticia Hello wise tortoise people!

My name is Rebecca. A couple weeks ago my husband and I were given two desert torts by a neighbor who had to move rather abruptly and couldn't take them. They're darling -- Gomez, 5, and Morticia, 3, and have been raised indoors together by this neighbor since they were hatchlings.

I'm not sure why he picked my husband and me to give the torts to -- we don't really know the guy, have no pets or kids and, aside from having a nice fenced yard in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, possess no special qualities to equip us for tortoise parentage. Frankly, we have no idea what we're doing. But we couldn't seem to say no, and these little dinosaurs have completely charmed us.

Anyway, we've turned about an 80-square-foot raised flower bed in our back yard into a sandy enclosure, built a small, south-facing burrow, added some rocks and drought-happy native plants and grasses. Eventually Gomez and Morticia will have the run of the whole yard, but we recently moved in and it hasn't been landscaped yet, jacuzzi hasn't been fenced, etc., so they are chilling in the flower bed for now.

For food, we've been giving them dandelions, mixed greens and shredded zucchini. I understand they need more nutritionally, but I'm a little confused about the varieties of pet store feeds that are out there and what's good and what's not, and would welcome advice on that.

Is there anything we can do to ease their transition to living outdoors in a new environment? The first few days they were very timid. Now they come out when they hear our voices and walk toward us. They seem pretty jolly by about 8am every day, walking their terrain and noshing and soaking up rays till the day heats up. At night they retire either to the burrow or to a nook of their own making.

The one thing that worries me is that I see them yawning a lot the last couple days. I read somewhere this is an early symptom of a respiratory infection. Can anyone advise? Is there anything about our setup that could be causing trouble? It's been unseasonably cool in LA the last few days and I wonder if moving from my neighbor's laundry room to my yard was a little traumatizing. I also worry because a landscaping crew has been kicking up a lot of dust, etc.

I think their prior parent loved them, but I'm not sure he totally knew what he was doing. After all, he dropped them on us and we definitely don't!

Anyway, any and all guidance is appreciated.

P.S. I keep trying to attach a pic. I'm not sure if it worked.
 
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Yvonne G

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Hi Rebecca, and welcome to the Forum!

Well, you're in good company here. We love tortoises. We love to talk tortoises. We LOVE giving new keepers info!!!

Tortoises are territorial, so moving them to a new home is a stressor for them. They might start to exhibit symptoms of a respiratory infection, but then again, it might just be stress. As long as they're eating I wouldn't worry just yet about the occasional open mouth.

We've had some pretty nice days here too (Central Calif.), and I've been putting my desert tortoise youngsters outside during the day, but I bring them in at night because it is still cooling down too much, I think, for their health. You can just bring yours in at night and keep them in a cardboard box, then set them back out in the morning.
 

thatrebecca

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Many thanks, for the welcomes, all, and for the advice, Yvonne. I didn't realize bringing them in at night was an option. Is there a good rule of thumb for what temps warrant sleeping inside?
 

ascott

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Welcome to the Forum :D and love love love their names, very funny....and Ditto on what Yvonne suggested

You can just bring yours in at night and keep them in a cardboard box, then set them back out in the morning.

Since you have youngsters, also a new yard and sounds like they have not figured a warmer spot to bed down for the night....You said you have a raised flower bed that you have set up with sand as the substrate? I personally would not have sand as the substrate--too much of an impaction risk....just my feeling :D

I have all adults, so the weather here has been aok, days 70s-80s and nights high 40s into the 50s--so all good here...

But remember, the torts you have are use to a warmer environment inside...so give them some time and until they have a permanent enclosure I would also have them out during the day and back in at night for awhile....:D I also would make sure that the enclosure is secure from predators (land and air attacks).....
 

dcwolfe

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For an accident you are sure lucky. These tortoise in my opinion are one of the most personable species out there. What also gives them there draw is they cannot be purchased or taken from the wild as they are protected. I hope for accidents like these on a daily bases :). They seem like they found a good home.
 

thatrebecca

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I agree, dcwolfe, we're pretty lucky!

Regarding the sand substrate, aoscott, what do you prefer instead? We used the sand cause we were able to plant some native grasses in it that they seem to enjoy playing in and nibbling on. They also love to fling the stuff around when they're digging into their burrow for the night. I haven't noticed them eating the sand. But I'm open to better suggestions...

They were ridiculously cute this morning eating some flowers. And I mean ridiculously. It was hard to go to work.

Cheers,
Rebecca
 

ascott

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Good ole fashion dirt from outside ....this would be my choice....there is nothing wrong with like a 75% dirt 25% sand mix if you are really partial to the sand....I have had horrible experience with an impacted adult fort due to sand....so I will never use it due to the increased risk of impaction....and you don't have to see them eating it for it to be happening.....just sharing for your point of reference, since you expressed this is all new to you.
 

Angi

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Welcome! I became a torty mom the same way :). Make sure all the plants in their garden are tort safe. Gazanias are hardy so are geraniums. You can try to plant some grass mine love the grass. I also buy organic radishes, lettus and greens to plant in their pen. Mine cone in at night and I am in San Diego, but I still think it is too cold.

GOOD LUCK!!!!!
 

Tom

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In addition to the above I would:

1. Soak them in a tub of warm shallow water two or three times a week for a while to make sure they are hydrated and do not get impacted.
2. Eliminate the sand. DTs are known for getting sand impactions. As they eat those plants, they will also be eating a little sand with each bite. The sand collects and clumps in their GI tract and can eventually lead to surgery or death.
3. Separate them. They will each do better all alone. Pairs are often problematic. These are solitary, territorial animals. They will likely start to fight as they get older, or if one is female and one is male, the male will seriously harass her. Neither of them needs the stress. They would much rather each be the king or queen of their own castle.
4. Build a nice big indoor enclosure for them too. You can just lay a 4x8' sheet of plywood down, attach some 2x12" sides and, VOILA! Perfect indoor enclosure. Add a humid hide box, some substrate, a heat lamp on a timer and you have a great indoor enclosure for cold nights and mornings. Above ground SoCal temps are too cold. When they have a larger outdoor enclosure with a burrow that goes down into the ground, they will be fine, but small ones that are used to the great INDOORS should not just be put out side and subjected to temps in the 40s, when they are acclimated to night temps in the high 60s or 70s. The time to move them outside more permanently is late spring- early summer when night temps aren't as cold, and day temps will reliably get hot. This way they can acclimate without the chills and possible respiratory infections, and as fall sets in you can either prepare them for hibernation, or move them back inside for the cold winter nights and days. I still put mine out on reasonably warm sunny winter days.

Hope this helps.
 

thatrebecca

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Thanks, Angie and Tom, for the additional input! One follow-up question:

At what age do a I separate them? There appears to be no harassment going on yet, and when I check inside their burrow they're often sleeping right beside one another contentedly. Am I imposing human logic on a tort world to draw the conclusion that they... like each other's company?
 
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