Outdoor Houston Habitat for Russian Tortoise

QuiKSilvR615

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May 17, 2022
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Houston, Texas
Hey everyone!

This is my first time posting and I'm very new to all of this, never owned a tortoise before. I'm wanting to setup an outdoor habitat for my little guy and have a few questions! Thank you so much for any feed back and glad to have found this place.

I plan on using cinder blocks (8x8x16") stacked 2 high in a rectangle formation directly on top of my St. Augustine grass in my backyard near my 6' tall fence to provide afternoon deep shade. with a few hides, water soak, feeding dish, etc.

- Do I need to dig those cinder blocks down a bit? Or are they wide enough that my small Russian tortoise wont dig out.
- Do I need to line the bottom of it with a tarp or something before putting down the top soil to prevent fire ants? What do I do if fire ants get in?
- What outdoor heat solutions have you seen for the winter cold nights? Just run an extension cord to a heat lamp?
- In heavy rain do I need to worry about my tortoise drowning?

I also just need ideas if there's a thread I could be pointed to with people posting pics of their outdoor habitats.

Thanks again for any help provided!
 

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wellington

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Hello and Welcome.
I laid fencing over the ground and set the bricks, I used fencing, on top of that. Then he can't dig out. They will try.
I don't deal with fire ants, but possibly dig a trench around the outside of the enclosure, lay pond liner or drip edge in it and fill with water to keep them out.
In the cold months you can either hibernate him, bring him inside for the cold days and nights or build a hide big enough for him to stay in a few days and at night. A small radiator space heater, or a heat panel might be enough to heat.
 

Tom

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Hey everyone!

This is my first time posting and I'm very new to all of this, never owned a tortoise before. I'm wanting to setup an outdoor habitat for my little guy and have a few questions! Thank you so much for any feed back and glad to have found this place.

I plan on using cinder blocks (8x8x16") stacked 2 high in a rectangle formation directly on top of my St. Augustine grass in my backyard near my 6' tall fence to provide afternoon deep shade. with a few hides, water soak, feeding dish, etc.

- Do I need to dig those cinder blocks down a bit? Or are they wide enough that my small Russian tortoise wont dig out.
- Do I need to line the bottom of it with a tarp or something before putting down the top soil to prevent fire ants? What do I do if fire ants get in?
- What outdoor heat solutions have you seen for the winter cold nights? Just run an extension cord to a heat lamp?
- In heavy rain do I need to worry about my tortoise drowning?

I also just need ideas if there's a thread I could be pointed to with people posting pics of their outdoor habitats.

Thanks again for any help provided!
Start with this. I explain the outdoor housing and an ideal shelter:

Russians don't "dig out". They just dig down into the dirt for shelter, kind of like a stingray in the sand. It doesn't hurt to put down a barrier. Another technique is to put a rim of paving stones around the inside of the enclosure walls.

Russians can climb cinderblocks. They are amazing escape artists. You will need an overhanging lip of some sort at the top of the enclosure, and the corners need to be capped.

Prevent fire ants by getting rid of them in and around the enclosure area, and continually pushing them back and eradicating them from your whole property and the area outside your property. Amdro ant granules usually work for them. Just don't let your tortoise or other animals get to the granules before the ants carry it down to their colony. I sometimes put a metal basket over the treated area until the granules are gone.

The enclosure should be on higher ground. The night house should be on the highest ground in the enclosure. If that part of your yard floods, then yes, you need to worry about flooding.
 

QuiKSilvR615

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Houston, Texas
Thank you guys so much! Spent all day in the 90 degree humid Houston weather moving cinder blocks and bricks around 😅 I read through all your posts (Including the one linked) and I think I am on the right track. I still need to setup a temperature controlled "night box" and I need to frame the top cover chicken wire. I also have some terracotta pot saucers for his water soaking areas on the way from Amazon.

I have the umbrella that I can open for especially hot days to give extra "deep shade" (I think its called), I cover the part of the enclosure that is the highest elevation (made it into sort of a hill on that end) with wood for shade, then under it is his hide, food tray and a water dish thing.. Gonna add more too it. But I'm happy with it so far!
 

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Tom

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Here are my thoughts:
1. Its too small. For outdoors, go much bigger. I count about 80 x 32 inches if those are 16 inches blocks. 96x48 is a minimum, but quadruple that is better outdoors.
2. There needs to be an underground retreat in addition to the umbrella. Speaking from experience, a little wind will remove your umbrella for you and leave the little man cooking in the sun. Having an underground retreat will save him from overheating.
3. I know this is a work in progress, but it needs some potted plants, logs, boulders, etc... This is another reason to go bigger. Once you have all the furniture in it, there will be a lot less walking room.
4. Chicken wire will stop birds, but it won't stop dogs or raccoons.

This is a great first effort and it looks super nice. This will get your tortoise out for some sunshine while you plan out a much larger more permanent outdoor enclosure with a night box.
 

QuiKSilvR615

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Houston, Texas
Thanks! and yeah work in progress for sure.
What would an underground retreat look like? Agreed, the umbrella will likely be a problem for windy days but I thought that the wood covering his hut, water and food would be a place for him to cool off?
 

QuiKSilvR615

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Houston, Texas
I guess a more direct way to figure this out...What temps am I looking for? I have a laser temp gun. So like shade side high/low limits? and direct sun light high/low limits? 🤔
 

Tom

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I guess a more direct way to figure this out...What temps am I looking for? I have a laser temp gun. So like shade side high/low limits? and direct sun light high/low limits? 🤔
Your thermometer will tell the tale. I like to leave the little $12 digital thermometers that record the highs and the lows in the areas where the tortoise will hang out. On a hot summer day having the board over the end is kind of like putting the sun shade up in a car. Its still going to get roasting hot in the car. But if you were to move the car into full shade in an open garage, then it would only warm up to ambient.

To make an underground retreat I simply dig a hole with a shallow angle for a ramp on one end. Then I cover the hole with a board and pile lots of dirt on top of it. This design will flood in heavy rain, but it can work to keep them a bit cooler than the surface temps on hot sunny days.

The more involved way to do it is by sinking a box into the ground at the highest end of the enclosure with an insulated lid. Then have a covered tunnel to the surface. Finally, have a downhill sloped cover over the tunnel entrance. Bury everything but the hinged lid and the opening.
IMG 2346
IMG 2349
IMG 2356
IMG 2372 IMG 2388

If you want to get really fancy, install a RHP on the ceiling with a thermostat to keep the night time lows in early spring and late fall from dropping too low too soon.
IMG 2943

On a 112 degree summer day, it would only get in the the high 80s in this box.

The whole enclosure was 4x16 feet and it was for raising small babies. Adults were in 8x24 foot enclosures. The box was about 28 x18 if memory serves, and mode of scrap 2x12s. The lid had 1.5 inch rigid foam insulation sandwiched between plywood, and I weather stripped around the top where the hinged lid met the box.
 

QuiKSilvR615

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2022
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Houston, Texas
Your thermometer will tell the tale. I like to leave the little $12 digital thermometers that record the highs and the lows in the areas where the tortoise will hang out. On a hot summer day having the board over the end is kind of like putting the sun shade up in a car. Its still going to get roasting hot in the car. But if you were to move the car into full shade in an open garage, then it would only warm up to ambient.

To make an underground retreat I simply dig a hole with a shallow angle for a ramp on one end. Then I cover the hole with a board and pile lots of dirt on top of it. This design will flood in heavy rain, but it can work to keep them a bit cooler than the surface temps on hot sunny days.

The more involved way to do it is by sinking a box into the ground at the highest end of the enclosure with an insulated lid. Then have a covered tunnel to the surface. Finally, have a downhill sloped cover over the tunnel entrance. Bury everything but the hinged lid and the opening.
View attachment 344975
View attachment 344976
View attachment 344977
View attachment 344978 View attachment 344979

If you want to get really fancy, install a RHP on the ceiling with a thermostat to keep the night time lows in early spring and late fall from dropping too low too soon.
View attachment 344974

On a 112 degree summer day, it would only get in the the high 80s in this box.

The whole enclosure was 4x16 feet and it was for raising small babies. Adults were in 8x24 foot enclosures. The box was about 28 x18 if memory serves, and mode of scrap 2x12s. The lid had 1.5 inch rigid foam insulation sandwiched between plywood, and I weather stripped around the top where the hinged lid met the box.
Wow! Excellent! and that could double as a night box I'd guess too yeah? That's what I'm missing.. wait.. but wouldn't it flood in the rain?
 

Tom

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Wow! Excellent! and that could double as a night box I'd guess too yeah? That's what I'm missing.. wait.. but wouldn't it flood in the rain?
The one pictured was built on higher ground with the entrance tunnel and tunnel cover running down hill, so no it never flooded. Not even in heavy rain.

Yes. This was their "night box".
IMG 2407


This type can flood:
IMG 1391
But we get ZERO rainfall from about March through December every year. And very little rain even in the "rainy" season in January and February.
 

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