Sandy Substrate

ILikeTortoises

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Hi all -

I'm setting up a new enclosure for my Egyptian juveniles, and am looking for recommendations from someone who's had success with sandy substrates for this species. I'm thinking about moving away from the crushed oyster shell I'm currently using to go with something a bit more naturalistic - both to allow for better burrowing and to incorporate more live plants in my setup.

I have a care book that recommends a 4:1 ratio of washed playground sand and powdered loam, though I can't find powdered loam anywhere and no one seems to know what I'm talking about when I ask. I've also read care sheets that recommend a mixture of decomposed granite, top soil and mason sand. I found washed playground sand at home depot and a ZooMed clay excavator product from a local pet store (see attached). ZooMed also has a desert sand product ("Reptisand"), as does ExoTerra.

If you've had success with a sandy substrate for Egyptian indoor enclosures, I'd be all ears. Trying to do as much research as possible before making big changes for my little guys. Thanks!
 

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Maro2Bear

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Interesting. I did always wonder about the reported requirement for oyster shell substrate for Egyptian tortoises. Anyhow, “loam” is one of those broad gardening terms that good gardeners try to achieve in the soil of their vegg gardens. Not quite the thing one buys at HD.

What is Loam ➡️
Im not sure whats best for Egyptian torts. Just be careful with “blended” organic type soils.

Good luck
 

ILikeTortoises

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Interesting. I did always wonder about the reported requirement for oyster shell substrate for Egyptian tortoises. Anyhow, “loam” is one of those broad gardening terms that good gardeners try to achieve in the soil of their vegg gardens. Not quite the thing one buys at HD.

What is Loam ➡️
Im not sure whats best for Egyptian torts. Just be careful with “blended” organic type soils.

Good luck
The washed sand/powered loam mix recommendation comes from an Egyptian tortoise book published in Germany (see attached). It may be a term lost in translation when the book was printed in English... it says "loam powder" can be found in specialty shops... but I haven't been able to find anyone who knows what I'm referencing here in the US. I think maybe they are referring to a powdered clay-like material to help bind the larger sand particles.

Sandy substrates for this species are popular most everywhere outside the US. I'm not sure how or why crushed oyster became the gold standard substrate for Egyptians in the US - I feel like it must have had something to do with poor outcomes for imported specimens back in the day that may have expired from impaction or respiratory disease and keepers were looking for a substrate that was bacteria/fungi-free and safe if ingested to rule out those causes of morbidity and mortality. But that's just a hunch.
 

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turtlesteve

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Egyptians have an uncharacteristic low humidity requirement best achieved with a porous substrate.

Chris Leone covers substrate pretty thoroughly here:


In talking with one of the Egyptian breeders in Florida, I was told they need moderate to high humidity, but are very intolerant of damp substrate. I personally suspect they’ll do great in a humid closed chamber on a bark or mulch substrate as long as the substrate is not wet.

I think the logic is that oyster shell stays dry. Also the large pieces don’t stick to food but it’s not harmful if occasionally ingested.

What say you @[email protected]?
 

ZenHerper

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In talking with one of the Egyptian breeders in Florida, I was told they need moderate to high humidity, but are very intolerant of damp substrate. I personally suspect they’ll do great in a humid closed chamber on a bark or mulch substrate as long as the substrate is not wet.

I think the logic is that oyster shell stays dry. Also the large pieces don’t stick to food but it’s not harmful if occasionally ingested.

What say you @[email protected]?
Native air in the mornings can be very damp indeed, but that dries away pretty well. Yes, the ground should remain dry.

Large, flat feeding plates should be used as a layer of security against substrate ingestion.
 

TeamZissou

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The loam being available in stores must be a Europe thing. I've never seen pure loam powder available as it is described in the book. I believe the goal of that is to get some amount of clay into the sand mixture to increase the stability of the substrate as well as to hold some humidity.

In addition to the use of sand, Schramm and Beidenweig also seem to advocate for slightly higher humidity during certain periods of the year than what you see recommended in the US. On the other hand, they also do forced estivation by raising the enclosure temperature, along with no spraying or soaking for several months while the tortoises are down, but still offer water and a little food.

For hatchlings, they also say that higher humidity is needed, yet stop short of prescribing a specific value. While the tortoises in the book seem to be smoother than what you see in the US, you can't argue with the success of people like Annette and Ralph who tend keep them on the drier side.

Ultimately sand will probably just get all over everything. The tortoises will track it onto their food and then most likely eat it. It's not ideal.
 

ShirleyTX

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I use a 4:1 mix of sand:Excavator for 2-3 inches in the bottom of the enclosure. I cover this with about an inch of oyster shell.

I soak the enclosure fairly thoroughly using a battery-operated plant sprayer. Many people use a fogger, which I think replicates the morning coastal fog even better (and I intend to get a fogger at some point). The goal is to get the water down into the sand. The oyster shell on top will dry quickly but the water in the sand will evaporate slowly, increasing the humidity in the enclosure. No wet feet, nothing organic that can grow mildew or fungus.

When I post about using sand, there is one member here who usually says I am killing tortoises. (I haven't LOL.) Oyster shell (which is fed to chickens to increase shell hardness) is pure calcium. If a tort swallows a piece, it eventually gets dissolved in the gut. I have the x-rays and vet bill to back this up, btw. My torts have a "dining room", a section of the enclosure partitioned off. The "floor" is a couple of tiles. Their feeding dishes are set onto the tile. Chance of them getting a bite of substrate with a bite of food is minimized.

I have an open top enclosure, which I regret. I wish I had a removable/ adjustable lid of some type. Kleinmannis do originate from an arid landscape, but they live no farther inland than 30km -- so, the air stays somewhat humid from the coastal waters.

Yes, Biedenweig/Schramm do change the temperature, food, and humidity to force aestivation; many European keepers do this as well. It is less popular in the United States. Aestivation is a survival mechanism when it is too hot or too dry or food is scarce. Keepers in the US have good breeding results without this. (The Biedenwieg/Schramm book is quite good, I just do not agree with the aestivation strategy.)

I hope this is useful, and I'm glad to share any other experience that you want to hear. :)
 

Tom

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Sand should not be used in any amount for any tortoise species. There are always people jumping up explaining how they've used it for years, it occurs in the natural environment, and its fine, but the reptile vets I work with say otherwise. I've seen countless cases of sand impaction involving many species and many husbandry circumstances. Sand is not an instant death sentence for every tortoise every time, but it is a death sentence for some tortoises some of the time, so why risk it? Use something safe.
 

ShirleyTX

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Hello @Tom, Are you mellowing a bit? You didn't tell me I'm killing tortoises LOL.

I hope you read my post closely to see how I use sand. Here is how I use it:

1) Sand mixed with Excavator dries to a hardened finish, much like packed sand on a beach. It would be hard for a tortoise to ingest by accident; the tort would need to work at it.
2) I use quartz rather than calcium sand, so the tort is not interested in it.
3) The hardened sand is covered by an inch of oyster shell. The one Egyptian I have that digs, will only dig in a shallow manner - not all the way to the sand.
4) No food is placed on sand or around sand. I have an area where I have placed a number of tiles on top of the sand/oyster shell. Then on top of the tile, I place the food dishes. I find no shell (or sand) in this area of the enclosure, so they won't get substrate when eating.

When wild Egyptians were imported to the US in the 80s and 90s, I have read that survival rates (especially for males) were appalling. Egyptians are "said" to have weak immune systems, and probably did when poached and transported. I do not know if that is scientifically proven and/or still true.... But most keepers stick to non-organic materials to avoid mildew and fungus and bacteria. Do we need to? I dunno. To quote you, "why risk it?"

I think, though, a better way to describe a good substrate is by listing some goals.
a) Tort feet must be dry.
b) Humidity should be at least 50%, and a lot more is better.
c) Substrate should not have any particles that can get stuck in the tiny, delicate nares. (Think about needle size stuff in soil and coco coir, that sort of thing.)
d) Material should not be a good host for fungus, bacteria, etc.
e) Material should not be very soft, the tortoise should not sink at all when walking. Some unevenness is encouraged for healthy hips and legs. (Is hip the right term? You see what I'm getting at.)
f) Enclosure should be designed to discourage eating anywhere close to anything loose.

If you think of it in terms of goals, then there are probably many different ways to design an effective substrate.

I only know one herp vet (mine). Torts are his specialty. He has a large and varied collection of his own, including radiata that are successfully breeding and a few galops. He has been on field expeditions with other tortoise experts many times. So when he says to me, "I've treated reptiles with sand impactions. I've treated tortoises with other types of impactions. But I've never seen a tortoise impacted with sand" -- well, I believe him!

Anyway, I hope this catches you when you have a few minutes to really read why I do what I do. But at least perhaps you will know that I make decisions with research and care and due diligence.

Peace, Shirley
 

Tom

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Hello @Tom, Are you mellowing a bit? You didn't tell me I'm killing tortoises LOL.

I hope you read my post closely to see how I use sand. Here is how I use it:

1) Sand mixed with Excavator dries to a hardened finish, much like packed sand on a beach. It would be hard for a tortoise to ingest by accident; the tort would need to work at it.
2) I use quartz rather than calcium sand, so the tort is not interested in it.
3) The hardened sand is covered by an inch of oyster shell. The one Egyptian I have that digs, will only dig in a shallow manner - not all the way to the sand.
4) No food is placed on sand or around sand. I have an area where I have placed a number of tiles on top of the sand/oyster shell. Then on top of the tile, I place the food dishes. I find no shell (or sand) in this area of the enclosure, so they won't get substrate when eating.

When wild Egyptians were imported to the US in the 80s and 90s, I have read that survival rates (especially for males) were appalling. Egyptians are "said" to have weak immune systems, and probably did when poached and transported. I do not know if that is scientifically proven and/or still true.... But most keepers stick to non-organic materials to avoid mildew and fungus and bacteria. Do we need to? I dunno. To quote you, "why risk it?"

I think, though, a better way to describe a good substrate is by listing some goals.
a) Tort feet must be dry.
b) Humidity should be at least 50%, and a lot more is better.
c) Substrate should not have any particles that can get stuck in the tiny, delicate nares. (Think about needle size stuff in soil and coco coir, that sort of thing.)
d) Material should not be a good host for fungus, bacteria, etc.
e) Material should not be very soft, the tortoise should not sink at all when walking. Some unevenness is encouraged for healthy hips and legs. (Is hip the right term? You see what I'm getting at.)
f) Enclosure should be designed to discourage eating anywhere close to anything loose.

If you think of it in terms of goals, then there are probably many different ways to design an effective substrate.

I only know one herp vet (mine). Torts are his specialty. He has a large and varied collection of his own, including radiata that are successfully breeding and a few galops. He has been on field expeditions with other tortoise experts many times. So when he says to me, "I've treated reptiles with sand impactions. I've treated tortoises with other types of impactions. But I've never seen a tortoise impacted with sand" -- well, I believe him!

Anyway, I hope this catches you when you have a few minutes to really read why I do what I do. But at least perhaps you will know that I make decisions with research and care and due diligence.

Peace, Shirley
I read it the first time. I can't recall telling you or anybody they were killing tortoises. I irprobably said something to the effect of: recommending sand as substrate is likely to result in impacted tortoises.

You don't know what you don't know, and neither does your vet. Eventually, you will both learn, as I did.
 

jaizei

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The washed sand/powered loam mix recommendation comes from an Egyptian tortoise book published in Germany (see attached). It may be a term lost in translation when the book was printed in English... it says "loam powder" can be found in specialty shops... but I haven't been able to find anyone who knows what I'm referencing here in the US. I think maybe they are referring to a powdered clay-like material to help bind the larger sand particles.

Sandy substrates for this species are popular most everywhere outside the US. I'm not sure how or why crushed oyster became the gold standard substrate for Egyptians in the US - I feel like it must have had something to do with poor outcomes for imported specimens back in the day that may have expired from impaction or respiratory disease and keepers were looking for a substrate that was bacteria/fungi-free and safe if ingested to rule out those causes of morbidity and mortality. But that's just a hunch.


I think I'd interpret "loam powder" to be either silt or a mix of silt/clay. The powdery part of loam is typically the silt, but because it says loam that may suggest a mix of equal parts silt/clay.
 

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