I can put myself as a true novice keeper after reading your in depth knowledge & experiences into raising your red foot tortoises with no lack to attention & care, I only had my first red foot less than a year & a half ago & acquired additional members 3 & 4 months ago respectively. I had not prior experiences when acquiring my first red foot tort as a baby estimated at approximately 5 months old weighing 96 grams & now already 1300 grams in just 17 months. I only provided her with all the basic things initially the reptile pet shop suggested & from some information online, I gained confidence from my considered decent results & bought home the additional 2 babies a month apart from each other. This was a decision I have pondered for many months after hearing all of the arguments against raising small numbers of tortoises in limited indoors setting in a single enclosure & "of not the same age group". Except for the 2 smaller babies of same age I kept my yearling separately at feeding & the entire day except in the same enclosure at night to sleep with lights out. I still find your care sheet useful despite me living in a region where there's more like 3 weather sessions with mild winters & high humidity summer months, I agree with you the initial estimated cost was far higher than what I had expected for the tortoises' upkeep & maintenance. But I don't regret it one bit raising them because what I learnt in the process & the experiences & joy far out weighed any expenses, my red foots were never aggressive towards each other despite what other keepers had experienced & I believe buying at a reptile shop or at a breeder is more likely to get females that naturally less hostile & easier to keep.@cdmay @Madkins007 @CharlieM @allegraf @kathyth @Yvonne G @Redfoot NERD @Will @Tom @Markw84 @TechnoCheese
Please find and critique this draft care sheet. I have included a handful of people at the top that I recall conversing with fairly regularly on TFO prior to my previous hiatus or that have participated in the discussion of the care sheets.
I was planning to add photos, but I just haven't found the time yet. This is a very crude working draft and I wanted to get input prior to finalizing anything. Please don't hold back on constructive criticism. Also, please contribute new writing or delete what you feel is inapplicable. At the least, perhaps this will spark further discussion.
I live in northeast North America. This care sheet is intended to provide those that live in northern latitudes, perhaps like mine, with a rudimentary guide for maintaining healthy redfoot tortoises. Having said this, my cost to maintain these animals is likely to be much higher than those that live in tropical and neotropical climates that more closely align with redfoot’s natural conditions.This is something you may want to think about if you’re considering a redfoot as a pet.
I have raised 4 hatchlings from one breeder since 2011. The below information is what has worked for me and may not work for everyone. There are many more experienced keepers and breeders here and otherwise that will likely disagree with statements contained in this sheet. My hope is they provide constructive criticism to improve what is written in this care sheet.
Most of what is written below was distilled from the citations at the end of the document. My knowledge is miniscule compared to those who are referenced below along with those I mentioned above.
I run a closed chamber with sliding glass to keep as much heat and humidity in as possible. Otherwise, I’d never maintain the appropriate levels of either where I live and my tortoises (and I) would suffer for it. Specifics on heat and humidity follow:
I partition my enclosure into two zones. On one side, it’s cool, dark, and humid (80-82⁰F, 70% humidity) and on the other it’s warm, bright, and drier (85-87⁰F, 60% humidity). I paired my lighting to match the heating regime for natural effect. I like to provide them the choice to meet their needs – whether they are seeking cool/humid/dark or warm/dry/bright. This is best accomplished with a larger enclosure.
I use ceramic heat emitters to heat my enclosure and provide a basking area on the warm, bright side. I find my tortoises basking in early morning and late evening. They’ll be directly under the light, sometimes with their limbs and necks extended. I place a large piece of slate there to amplify the heat for them. The basking bulb is on my Herpstat and has a sunset/sunrise setting to simulate a natural photoperiod (day/night cycle) as much as possible. My CHE’s are also on the Herpstat and it regulates the temperatures within the entire enclosure. The temperatures are programmed to drop (ranges shown above) at night and increase in the daytime to simulate natural cycles. Though, as I’m writing this I realize a difference of 2⁰F is probably negligible and I may increase the range.
Note – I have invested in very expensive equipment (Herpstat) to regulate my enclosures heating, lighting, and humidity because it takes so much effort to do so where I live. I also feel it is my responsibility to mimic natural conditions as much as possible while the tortoises are house-bound for fall/winter seasons. I feel it is best for their physical and mental health to do so. I will emphasize here (and throughout this care sheet) how important it is to allow tortoises to reside outside as much as possible when conditions permit.
I use a Zoo Med Reptisun 10.0 tube in my enclosure for UVB exposure and a halogen flood lamp for a basking/heating location in the day. I feed my tortoises beneath the UVB light to ensure they stay beneath and obtain some exposure regularly.
There is nothing better than natural sunlight and weeds for UVB exposure and natural stimulation for your redfoot. Mine are outside regularly whenever temperatures and conditions permit. They even go out on cloudy and rainy days if the temps are correct (≥65⁰F). When they were hatchlings, I didn’t bring them out unless temps were ≥70⁰F. It’s important to provide tortoises of all ages shade to avoid overheating.
Living in northeast North America, humidity is a major challenge for maintain healthy redfoots during late fall and all of winter. For me, it’s the most difficult parameter to control. Here are some approaches I’ve used in an attempt to maintain humidity at a minimum of 70%. There are many ways to accomplish this and the listed approaches are in no way an exhaustive representation of how one could maintain a humid climate for their captive redfoots.
One approach I have used in the past was to place waterproof heat ropes/cables under the substrate and maintain ~ an inch (3 cm) of water beneath the substrate. I attached the heat ropes to steel mesh with wire ties and would periodically dump water into the enclosure. Please note, I line my enclosures with pond liner, which is relatively costly but saves me a lot of hassle. I have used Big Apple Herp and Hydrokable heat ropes. I think I prefer the Hydrokables most but I have no doubt there are many options out there, just be sure they are 100% waterproof!
I recently built another closed chamber enclosure and piped ultrasonic humidifiers in using washer hose. This is regulated with some expensive equipment (Herpstat insert link to spyder robotics) to trigger them on/off when humidity dips below 68%. I’ve found this was less effective for producing smooth growth than heating water from beneath the substrate and two of my four tortoises are slightly bumpier than the others – though this may be anecdotal as other factors have also changed.
Recently I cooked up this contraption and placed a large plastic tote out to provide a humid hide in the enclosure. Insert images of humid hide setup. PHOTOS NEEDED
One idea I’ve recently come to is to create a false-bottom waterfall. I could use a similar contraption to the once pictured above and hook up a pump to circulate water upward into the enclosure for a water feature. Frankly, I haven’t had the time or energy to take this endeavor on yet…
If you’re struggling, a humid hide with some sponges attached to the inside could provide a humid refuge. I think it’s best to try to humidify the entire enclosure, but if you don’t have the means to do so or can’t maintain the humidity, this could be a solution. If you do attach sponges on the inside, keep them out of reach of your tortoises so they don’t consume them and become impacted!
I spray my tortoises with water daily to ensure their keratin is well moistened while growing. There is some evidence this assists with smooth carapace growth.
I don’t purchase substrate at the pet stores anymore because my tortoise enclosure is too large to economically do so. Instead, I go to hardware stores and purchase hardwood mulch, cypress mulch, and topsoil to use. I have used compressed bales of coconut coir in the past, but didn’t like the work involved to decompress it. Yard soil is another economical option if you have a dirt pile available.
Like humidity, substrate may be one of the most challenging things to maintain. It needs turnover for the microbes to break down wastes, fecal removal (if I can get to it before it’s eaten!), and a proper amount of moisture that helps to maintain humidity but is not sopping wet. The amount of wastes and moisture in the substrate can dictate rates of shell rot. Lots of wastes, no turnover, and high moisture levels can accelerate shell rot on the tortoise’s plastron. It’s a tricky balance that I feel I’m always battling with. If the substrate gets too dry and dusty, respiratory irritation can ensue. I don’t think this subject gets the attention it deserves and it makes keeping tortoises inside very difficult. Outdoors, many of these issues are regulated by the microbes, invertebrates, soil, and geology.
I don’t use pine or cedar mulches as there are oils in these species that could act as respiratory irritants to my tortoises.
As others have stated, a varied diet is key. I provide dark leafy greens and mushrooms as staples with fruit and animal protein occurring less frequently. I also don’t feed my subadults every day as their metabolism is much slower than mammals/birds. I skip feeding them 1-2 days at a time.
Though I don’t use hard rules, I generally provide fruit ~1/week in limited quantities. Animal protein I provide once every 2-3 weeks, again, in limited quantities. I’ve found I prefer feeding whole animals to my group (frozen pinky mice/adult mice; preserved and living insects; earthworms; etc.) though pieces of cooked chicken and the like are fine. I don’t feed hard boiled eggs, it seems to settle poorly with the tortoises and make a mess out the enclosure.
Food quantity is debatable and is based on what you provide. Rich foods like fruits, animal proteins, and prepared diets can quickly lead to obesity. @Madkins007 - no sense re-writing what you wrote years ago. See this discussion on the Donoghue Formula and Body Mass Index (BMI): https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/tortoise-weight-formula-tbmi.38420/#post-370350
When it comes to insects, I prefer black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens)larvae. They have a good amount of calcium. They are marketed as phoenix worms, soldier worms, etc. If you go on Amazon, you can find dried black soldier flies for a competitive price. My tortoises like these just as much as the live ones, they just aren’t as stimulating/fun to eat but may be preferable to those uncomfortable with live insects.
Here's some great food information for growing and scavenging:
Hides – I bury plant pots fully. This provides the tortoises a place to hide and allows them to climb on top of the hills for additional refuge from one another. Climbing also seems to keep them in better physical condition and probably helps stimulate them mentally (though I have no measure for this).
Plants in the enclosure – This can improve air quality and aesthetics much like in our homes. The trick is, your torts will likely eat whatever you put in there! Be sure it’s a plant they can eat and if you want it to remain in the enclosure, keep it from their reach. There is a possibility that they flip themselves to get out-of-reach plants. Something to consider.
Feeding– I feed entire foods when possible. This provides the tortoise(s) a challenge and keeps them engaged. Whole mangos are great, they’ll pick the pit clean and struggle for a bit doing so. Whole mushrooms are challenging too as they roll around when they try to eat them.
Hiding foods in places they normally wouldn’t eat, provides them a searching game.
Also, feeding live foods (like insects) can provoke an engaged response from the tortoise(s)
Multiple tortoises– Having more than one tortoise can provide the others stimulation. However, as others have indicated, it comes at the risk of antagonizing one another. A single tortoise will not be lonely. Pairs can be done, but it’s risky if they don’t have complimentary personalities or it’s a male and a female. In this case the male may harass the female insistently and cause great physical and mental strain. If interested in multiple torti, a minimum of three is often recommended. Though redfoots are more gregarious than many other species, there are no guarantees that a certain number will ensure all tortoises get along and thrive. As enticing as multiples may be, its simplest to own one.
Space is another consideration when owning multiple tortoises. The more you have, the more space you’ll need. The best way to approach this is to ask oneself: “what is the maximum space I can provide X number of tortoises”.
The Redfoot Manual: A Beginner's Guide To The Redfoot Tortoise (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1441494030/?tag=exoticpetnetw-20)
South American Tortoises, 'Chelonoidis Carbonaria, C. Denticulata and C. Chilensis' (Chelonian Library #3) - Vinke, Vetter, Vinke, and Vetter (https://www.amazon.com/dp/3899736036/?tag=exoticpetnetw-20)
All, please tear into this! Thank you!