Proper UVB for Hatchling Tortoises?

khepur

New Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Phoenix, Arizona
Hello! I'm Khepur, and I am very much a newbie with owning tortoises, and the ones I'm caring for aren't technically 'mine' but I've fallen in love and desperately want to give proper care. They are three Arizona Desert Tortoises (probably Gopherus agassizii) and are around two months old. I've been caring for them for a month (long story short, the owner thought they'd do fine at the bottom of a birdcage with no lights/heat/substrate and my bleeding heart intervened) and I have learned a lot in that time from this forum and everyone's posts here. I know I still have tons more to learn so I'm reaching out and hoping someone has advice for me on UVB.

I initially started out using a compact fluorescent but after a week or two of having that I discovered how dangerous they are and switched to using three Zilla Slimeline T8 Flourescent Desert Fixtures, with the 18-inch bulb that came with it; it's currently 14 inches above their enclosures (all three are in separate 32inx20in cement mixing tubs, with individual heating and lighting). I've been using this light for several weeks and after further research, I'm starting to worry it's the wrong bulb to provide adequate UVB. Is there a better bulb or fixture to use? I'm assuming I can use other brand bulbs in this fixture as long as they fit.

If I could give these little guys more access to real sunlight I would, but we've been having rainstorms and the temperature has dipped enough to make me nervous about them being outside and away from their heating. I've been using the care guide for temperate tortoises provided on here almost religiously, so I feel fairly confident about the heating, substrate, food, etc, but it's the UV that's really stressing me out here since it's so important.

This is my first time caring for reptiles and I know I fit the picture of a frantic first-time mother, to be honest, but I just want to make sure they're healthy and growing well. I'm terrified at the idea of losing them, through my own fault or from their rough start. Any and all advice is sorely welcome!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
57,639
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hello! I'm Khepur, and I am very much a newbie with owning tortoises, and the ones I'm caring for aren't technically 'mine' but I've fallen in love and desperately want to give proper care. They are three Arizona Desert Tortoises (probably Gopherus agassizii) and are around two months old. I've been caring for them for a month (long story short, the owner thought they'd do fine at the bottom of a birdcage with no lights/heat/substrate and my bleeding heart intervened) and I have learned a lot in that time from this forum and everyone's posts here. I know I still have tons more to learn so I'm reaching out and hoping someone has advice for me on UVB.

I initially started out using a compact fluorescent but after a week or two of having that I discovered how dangerous they are and switched to using three Zilla Slimeline T8 Flourescent Desert Fixtures, with the 18-inch bulb that came with it; it's currently 14 inches above their enclosures (all three are in separate 32inx20in cement mixing tubs, with individual heating and lighting). I've been using this light for several weeks and after further research, I'm starting to worry it's the wrong bulb to provide adequate UVB. Is there a better bulb or fixture to use? I'm assuming I can use other brand bulbs in this fixture as long as they fit.

If I could give these little guys more access to real sunlight I would, but we've been having rainstorms and the temperature has dipped enough to make me nervous about them being outside and away from their heating. I've been using the care guide for temperate tortoises provided on here almost religiously, so I feel fairly confident about the heating, substrate, food, etc, but it's the UV that's really stressing me out here since it's so important.

This is my first time caring for reptiles and I know I fit the picture of a frantic first-time mother, to be honest, but I just want to make sure they're healthy and growing well. I'm terrified at the idea of losing them, through my own fault or from their rough start. Any and all advice is sorely welcome!
Hello and welcome. You are off to a great start! I love what you've written here, and I'm happy to help.

You could probably keep all three together if you wanted. Trios and groups of babies are usually fine. It pairs that are a problem. There is also no reason they can't stay separated, if you prefer that. If its working, then by all means, leave it alone.

T8 UV tubes need to be about 10-12 inches over the tortoise for them to get any UV benefit. They don't make much UV at all. Only a UV meter can tell you for sure. This is the only UV meter that works for our purposes: https://www.solarmeter.com/product/model65r/
Its a good investment and over time it will save you money on bulbs and give you tremendous peace of mind

Many people over emphasize UV. They can go weeks without it. Their bodies store it in times of plenty. Try to get them some real sunshine in a safe outdoor enclosure at least two or three times a week when weather permits. When weather doesn't permit, they will be fine for several weeks at a time. You can use a calcium supplement with D3 during these times, and adding some Mazuri to their diet will also get them some D3. If you want a good indoor UV source, I like the Arcadia 12% HO bulbs. These make strong UV and can be mounted higher. One 46 inch tube might be able to supply UV to all three of your tubs. If not, you can get a separate 22" tube for each tub. Mount them about 18-20 inches over the tortoises and set them on a timer for 2-3 hours mid day. This will make the bulbs last for years. Your current UV tubes can be used for lighting along with the basking bulbs, set on a timer for 12-13 hours a day. In climates like our, indoor UV really isn't needed. We get plenty of warm sunny days, even in winter.

I know you've read the care sheet, but I'll still emphasize that daily soaks are of vital importance for babies. Dehydration is the number one killer of DT babies. Damp substrate, correct temps, humid hide, and the right foods are all important too, but lack of water is a killer.

I'm very happy you rescued these babies, and you are welcome to ask as many questions as you want. And feel free to post lots of pics! :)
 

khepur

New Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Phoenix, Arizona
Hello and welcome. You are off to a great start! I love what you've written here, and I'm happy to help.

You could probably keep all three together if you wanted. Trios and groups of babies are usually fine. It pairs that are a problem. There is also no reason they can't stay separated, if you prefer that. If its working, then by all means, leave it alone.

T8 UV tubes need to be about 10-12 inches over the tortoise for them to get any UV benefit. They don't make much UV at all. Only a UV meter can tell you for sure. This is the only UV meter that works for our purposes: https://www.solarmeter.com/product/model65r/
Its a good investment and over time it will save you money on bulbs and give you tremendous peace of mind

Many people over emphasize UV. They can go weeks without it. Their bodies store it in times of plenty. Try to get them some real sunshine in a safe outdoor enclosure at least two or three times a week when weather permits. When weather doesn't permit, they will be fine for several weeks at a time. You can use a calcium supplement with D3 during these times, and adding some Mazuri to their diet will also get them some D3. If you want a good indoor UV source, I like the Arcadia 12% HO bulbs. These make strong UV and can be mounted higher. One 46 inch tube might be able to supply UV to all three of your tubs. If not, you can get a separate 22" tube for each tub. Mount them about 18-20 inches over the tortoises and set them on a timer for 2-3 hours mid day. This will make the bulbs last for years. Your current UV tubes can be used for lighting along with the basking bulbs, set on a timer for 12-13 hours a day. In climates like our, indoor UV really isn't needed. We get plenty of warm sunny days, even in winter.

I know you've read the care sheet, but I'll still emphasize that daily soaks are of vital importance for babies. Dehydration is the number one killer of DT babies. Damp substrate, correct temps, humid hide, and the right foods are all important too, but lack of water is a killer.

I'm very happy you rescued these babies, and you are welcome to ask as many questions as you want. And feel free to post lots of pics! :)

Thank you for the kind words and advice! It's a huge relief to know that I've been doing good so far ☺

They were all together at first, actually, but then I saw what could happen between pairs and the paranoia kicked in, lol. Since I've separated them they seem more active, less sleeping and more digging, drinking, walking, etc. Before they would spend most of their time trying to climb up the corners of the enclosure. I don't know much about interpreting tortoise behavior yet, but it didn't seem like a good thing. Now they do laps around their whole enclosures instead of sticking in one place, so I'm tentatively calling it a good decision to separate them.

Darn, that is a shame about the T8 bulbs ? I'm definitely aiming to get an Arcadia light, then; I'll just have to decide which length. The idea of one long one across all three boxes is actually pretty appealing to me, and it's definitely far cheaper lol! Man, that UV meter is pricey, but I'll definitely start saving up. The temp gun I use is a massive help, so I imagine the UV meter will be the same.

Thank you for schooling me on the UV! I had no idea they could go so long without it ? I have a small jar of Zoo Med calcium powder with D3 that I sprinkle their food with a couple of days a week, and I use the Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise Diet. The ingredients say that it has D3 supplements, but I'll check out Mazuri too if that's what you recommend.

I've been extra attentive to their water, no worries there! They all get ten minute soaks now in the evening, and a couple of times a day I mist down the enclosures. I use terra cotta bowls (like the ones that go under flowerpots) for their water dishes, and I've seen them soaking themselves and drinking without any intervention (the relief I felt was indescribable when I first saw them drink on their own after several days of soaking, I almost cried ?).

Thank you so so much for the help and advice! I'll start getting better at adding pictures on here, these babies are just too cute!

(This is an old picture from the first night I had them, back in december; their enclosures are far different and much more damp now! In order from left to right are Blue, Orange, and Yellow, their temporary names! They've made me much better at telling apart shell patterns.)
Screen Shot 2021 01 28 at 53358 PM

Here's a probably silly question: What temperature would you say is too low to take the hatchlings outside in? I've been avoiding any day lower than 75 degrees fahrenheit, but are they actually okay for lower temps?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
57,639
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Thank you for the kind words and advice! It's a huge relief to know that I've been doing good so far ☺

They were all together at first, actually, but then I saw what could happen between pairs and the paranoia kicked in, lol. Since I've separated them they seem more active, less sleeping and more digging, drinking, walking, etc. Before they would spend most of their time trying to climb up the corners of the enclosure. I don't know much about interpreting tortoise behavior yet, but it didn't seem like a good thing. Now they do laps around their whole enclosures instead of sticking in one place, so I'm tentatively calling it a good decision to separate them.

Darn, that is a shame about the T8 bulbs ? I'm definitely aiming to get an Arcadia light, then; I'll just have to decide which length. The idea of one long one across all three boxes is actually pretty appealing to me, and it's definitely far cheaper lol! Man, that UV meter is pricey, but I'll definitely start saving up. The temp gun I use is a massive help, so I imagine the UV meter will be the same.

Thank you for schooling me on the UV! I had no idea they could go so long without it ? I have a small jar of Zoo Med calcium powder with D3 that I sprinkle their food with a couple of days a week, and I use the Zoo Med Grassland Tortoise Diet. The ingredients say that it has D3 supplements, but I'll check out Mazuri too if that's what you recommend.

I've been extra attentive to their water, no worries there! They all get ten minute soaks now in the evening, and a couple of times a day I mist down the enclosures. I use terra cotta bowls (like the ones that go under flowerpots) for their water dishes, and I've seen them soaking themselves and drinking without any intervention (the relief I felt was indescribable when I first saw them drink on their own after several days of soaking, I almost cried ?).

Thank you so so much for the help and advice! I'll start getting better at adding pictures on here, these babies are just too cute!

(This is an old picture from the first night I had them, back in december; their enclosures are far different and much more damp now! In order from left to right are Blue, Orange, and Yellow, their temporary names! They've made me much better at telling apart shell patterns.)
View attachment 316598

Here's a probably silly question: What temperature would you say is too low to take the hatchlings outside in? I've been avoiding any day lower than 75 degrees fahrenheit, but are they actually okay for lower temps?
You are doing great! Most everything you said sounds perfect.

The ZooMed food is a great tortoise food supplement. I highly recommend it. The Mazuri is good too. You can pick one or the other, but I like to use all versions of all of them. Original Mazuri, Mazuri LS, ZooMed Grassland, ZooMed Forest, and ZooMed Gourmet. No need to buy them all, but all are good.

There is not a simple number for when to take them outside. Depends on dryness, air temp, ground temp, wind, how cold the ground is from the night before, etc... On a warm sunny day with no wind, and it hasn't rained for a while, I might take them out when the air temp is 60 or 65 because the ground temp in their sunning enclosure might be much warmer. Watch their behavior. If its too cold and they just park in the shade, there is no sense in having them out there. If it is cool and they are basking in the warm sun, then leave them a bit longer. Check their carapace temp with your infrared gun early and often. When hot weather returns, they will hide in the shade most of the time, and hopefully have an underground retreat to get away from the scorching surface temps in Phoenix.
 

khepur

New Member
Joined
Dec 30, 2020
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Phoenix, Arizona
You are doing great! Most everything you said sounds perfect.

The ZooMed food is a great tortoise food supplement. I highly recommend it. The Mazuri is good too. You can pick one or the other, but I like to use all versions of all of them. Original Mazuri, Mazuri LS, ZooMed Grassland, ZooMed Forest, and ZooMed Gourmet. No need to buy them all, but all are good.

There is not a simple number for when to take them outside. Depends on dryness, air temp, ground temp, wind, how cold the ground is from the night before, etc... On a warm sunny day with no wind, and it hasn't rained for a while, I might take them out when the air temp is 60 or 65 because the ground temp in their sunning enclosure might be much warmer. Watch their behavior. If its too cold and they just park in the shade, there is no sense in having them out there. If it is cool and they are basking in the warm sun, then leave them a bit longer. Check their carapace temp with your infrared gun early and often. When hot weather returns, they will hide in the shade most of the time, and hopefully have an underground retreat to get away from the scorching surface temps in Phoenix.

Ooh I'll look into getting some of those other food brands, it might be fun to give them a variety of different (safe) foods now and then!

60 degrees is a lot colder than I was expecting, but it's a relief to know they can handle those temps on good days! I doubt I'll have them by the time it gets really hot, but I'll pass that advice on to whoever ends up with each one.

I can't quite find the words to express my gratitude for getting advice from someone who really knows what they're doing! Thank you so much!
 

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