Sudden deaths of RF hatchlings

Alex and the Redfoot

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Hello!
I've been hanging around the forum for a while and one thing strikes me: there is a fair amount of topics on RF hatchlings dying unexpectedly.

Cases look similar:
1. Hatchling is several months old. Often bought from a pet store or reptile expo. Weight 30-35g.
2. Within 1-2 months of living in the new home tortoise stops eating, becomes less active and passes away. No obvious symptoms like blood, discharges, worms in feces, seizures and whatever else.

I assume that "hatchling failure syndrome" like with arid and semi-arid species is less likely to happen.

Another assumption is that we have statistics games: there are more RFs bought and deaths ratio is the same as with other species (and we get less messages from happily growing tortoises owners).

Nevertheless, maybe anyone has ideas what is happening and what we should pay attention to? Common husbandry risks like using moss are known. But may be there are others common flaws in starting RF babies? Or common diseases affecting tortoise babies without obvious symptoms?
 

Littleredfootbigredheart

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I’ve noticed the same thing and would also be interested to know more on why it happens with RF hatchlings☹️

I suppose one possible contributing factor is they’re considered a more social species, which obviously we all know to be true, however only under the right circumstances with the correct male to female ratio.
I think even though people try and house other tortoises in pairs, it seems to be more common amongst red foots under this assumption of them living socially, I believe pet stores are more likely to misguide people into thinking their new red foot hatchlings can live in a pair, which then obviously just causes stress between the two. Idk.. maybe that’s adding to the issue, just a theory😕

I don’t know why it’s happening with lone hatchlings though😣
 

KarenSoCal

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There are significant differences between RF's and other commonly kept species when it comes to their husbandry. Maybe those differences play a role.

First big difference: They like extreme humidity and wetness. We have trouble enough getting new "desert" species owners to keep humidity high enough. Are they being kept humid enough? Or are they so wet that they breathe in mold hiding in the substrate?
Second big difference: They don't need UVB, or at least not nearly as much as "sunny" dwellers. Could too much UVB cause problems?
Third big difference: They like their lights dim. Other species get bathed in copious amounts of artificial light or sunlight. Could stress from too bright an enclosure make them sick?
Fourth big difference: They need more protein than other species. Are new keepers giving them the proper amounts of meat of the correct types?

These are just thoughts that popped into my head...I have never kept a RF. It seemed that examining the differences could lead someone familiar with RF to think of something. I hope someone does. It's sad to think of so many of these beautiful tortoises dying so young.
 

mojo_1

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I know when I got Mojo he came with a wealth of bad information. The poor little guy was a trooper, it took me about a month before I found this forum to confirm what I thought was bad information, and also gave me the correct information. Off the top of my head mojo was 24-26 grams when we got him. I'm surprised he made it to be honest. Much longer and he might not have.
 

Littleredfootbigredheart

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There are significant differences between RF's and other commonly kept species when it comes to their husbandry. Maybe those differences play a role.

First big difference: They like extreme humidity and wetness. We have trouble enough getting new "desert" species owners to keep humidity high enough. Are they being kept humid enough? Or are they so wet that they breathe in mold hiding in the substrate?
Second big difference: They don't need UVB, or at least not nearly as much as "sunny" dwellers. Could too much UVB cause problems?
Third big difference: They like their lights dim. Other species get bathed in copious amounts of artificial light or sunlight. Could stress from too bright an enclosure make them sick?
Fourth big difference: They need more protein than other species. Are new keepers giving them the proper amounts of meat of the correct types?

These are just thoughts that popped into my head...I have never kept a RF. It seemed that examining the differences could lead someone familiar with RF to think of something. I hope someone does. It's sad to think of so many of these beautiful tortoises dying so young.
You raise some interesting points!
 

wellington

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I think most of the points brought up so far are likely the reasons. Not all at once but probably a few of them at different times.
We don't have the RF breeders on here like we used too. When we did, there were lots of babies being hatched and very few of them had losses. Some rarer ones being hatched and most if not all of those even made it, at least to the point of being sold, after that who knows
I think the ones at the pet stores have had a very bad start from the point of being laid. Then the pet stores does everything wrong. If it's a big box pet stores, the tortoise goes to a warehouse first. Then who knows how long it's there, with all the wrong care, then finally sent to the store for more bad care. When bought, set up correctly, it may be a total shock and stress to their system. If kept in lousy conditions like they likely came from, they would likely still die, just at a slower pace with more illness and signs, before the passing
Just another thought.
 

Littleredfootbigredheart

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I think most of the points brought up so far are likely the reasons. Not all at once but probably a few of them at different times.
We don't have the RF breeders on here like we used too. When we did, there were lots of babies being hatched and very few of them had losses. Some rarer ones being hatched and most if not all of those even made it, at least to the point of being sold, after that who knows
I think the ones at the pet stores have had a very bad start from the point of being laid. Then the pet stores does everything wrong. If it's a big box pet stores, the tortoise goes to a warehouse first. Then who knows how long it's there, with all the wrong care, then finally sent to the store for more bad care. When bought, set up correctly, it may be a total shock and stress to their system. If kept in lousy conditions like they likely came from, they would likely still die, just at a slower pace with more illness and signs, before the passing
Just another thought.
Yeah I too think it’s unfortunately the case, for the most part they just aren’t started right, then to be placed in the right environment is still very stressful for a young vulnerable hatching, it must be a shock to their system😣
 

wellington

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Yeah I too think it’s unfortunately the case, for the most part they just aren’t started right, then to be placed in the right environment is still very stressful for a young vulnerable hatching, it must be a shock to their system😣
Like fish. You don't just plop a fish from one tank to another with out prep work of acclimating them. Maybe the proper conditions for tortoises of any species, needs the same acclimating time if bought from a poor source. Just a thought.
Hate the idea of having to tell someone to keep housing the tort in poor conditions and slowly get them into the proper set up. It's usually get them set up right ASAP.
 

Littleredfootbigredheart

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Like fish. You don't just plop a fish from one tank to another with out prep work of acclimating them. Maybe the proper conditions for tortoises of any species, needs the same acclimating time if bought from a poor source. Just a thought.
Hate the idea of having to tell someone to keep housing the tort in poor conditions and slowly get them into the proper set up. It's usually get them set up right ASAP.
I know, maybe it’s especially true for hatchlings though that they need more acclimating☹️
 

Tom

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The way to answer this would be to know how those babies that don't make it are started after hatching, and how they are housed in their first few weeks. I find that most tortoise breeders don't start babies correctly. Here are some common mistakes that I see will all species:
1. Using perlite, or "HatchRite", which has perlite in it, as an incubation media. Unlike other reptiles, tortoises come out of their egg and eat some of their substrate. If perlite is ingested, it can cause a general failure to thrive that will eventually kill some percentage. I've seen this first hand in a group of 20 Sudan sulacatas that I bought in 2012. Necropsy confirmed this. I see many breeders and you tubers using and recommending perlite.
2. Skipping the brooder box. Many breeders take a baby right out of an incubation chamber and move them straight into an enclosure. This is a mistake for many reasons and it can cause several problems.
3. Failure to soak hatchlings daily. I frequently hear: "Well who soaks them every day in nature...?" This question is both ignorant and stupid. Answering it is usually fun for me, because I'm a little mean that way.
4. People watch Camp Kenan and other sources of bad care info and house them in open topped enclosures. This is not good for any baby, but its especially hard on RFs due to their need for high humidity.
5. People seem to read care info for temperate species, and incorrectly apply that to RFs. I've seen sooooooo many new keepers with open topped enclosures, basking spot bulbs, and night temps dipping into the low 70s or 60s. I'm pretty sure most people reading this understand why all three of those things are not conducive to sustaining life for a baby RF.
6. Moss was previously mentioned, but this is so prevalent in almost every baby RF enclosure. I'll bet moss impaction is a big factor in the number of baby RF deaths.
7. Similarly, many people use bought-in-a-bag soil for housing them, and I'll bet this contributes to a fair amount of deaths too.

These are the biggest factors that I have noticed over the years. I'll bet that most of these deaths can be explained by one or more of these factors.
 

dd33

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Disease, disease, disease.

There are so many known tortoise diseases out there. New ones are being described and diseases that are associated with other type of reptiles are jumping to tortoises.

Not enough people submit dead animals for necropsy and not enough veterinarians know what they are looking at when performing them. Add to this, not all labs know how to run the diagnostic tests to screen for diseases or know what they are looking at with histology. Too many people who breed tortoises continue to sell animals after finding out that they have serious disease in their collection. People considered reputable, members of this forum, veterinarians even...

Cryptosporidium wipes out hatchling tortoises and the symptoms look EXACTLY like what this forum speculates is an improperly started tortoise. Testing for Crypto is likely to cost several times the price of the tortoise so it is almost never done. If it is diagnosed it likely cannot be treated and it not easy to clean up after. Older animals are less impacted so they continue to breed and spread disease.

TINC and probably Cryptosporidium are rampant in Florida collections. Redfoots and Galapagos are being hit particularly hard. I have had a few conversations with people from the Zoo world and there is concern about the future of tortoises in captivity with the near ubiquitous state of disease. In Florida, TINC infected Galapagos have become the norm.

I try not to get too negative about this but the situation sucks. Buying a tortoise is a roll of the dice, it doesn't matter how the tortoise was started if its sick.
 

Alex and the Redfoot

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Disease, disease, disease.

There are so many known tortoise diseases out there. New ones are being described and diseases that are associated with other type of reptiles are jumping to tortoises.

Not enough people submit dead animals for necropsy and not enough veterinarians know what they are looking at when performing them. Add to this, not all labs know how to run the diagnostic tests to screen for diseases or know what they are looking at with histology. Too many people who breed tortoises continue to sell animals after finding out that they have serious disease in their collection. People considered reputable, members of this forum, veterinarians even...

Cryptosporidium wipes out hatchling tortoises and the symptoms look EXACTLY like what this forum speculates is an improperly started tortoise. Testing for Crypto is likely to cost several times the price of the tortoise so it is almost never done. If it is diagnosed it likely cannot be treated and it not easy to clean up after. Older animals are less impacted so they continue to breed and spread disease.

TINC and probably Cryptosporidium are rampant in Florida collections. Redfoots and Galapagos are being hit particularly hard. I have had a few conversations with people from the Zoo world and there is concern about the future of tortoises in captivity with the near ubiquitous state of disease. In Florida, TINC infected Galapagos have become the norm.

I try not to get too negative about this but the situation sucks. Buying a tortoise is a roll of the dice, it doesn't matter how the tortoise was started if its sick.
I'm afraid you could be right. This is a new point of view to me (scaring, to be honest). This could explain why RFs are frequently hit. Probably adenovirus fits in the picture too, at least, from description here:

Tom, wellington and Karen have suggested good ideas as well and most likely we get weird combinations of all these factors. And that makes understanding such cases much harder.

Also, you are right about vets and diagnostics cost which adds to the problem.
 

dd33

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I think that Tom's advice is the best for starting hatchlings. I have tried to follow it exactly with the hatchlings I have been lucky enough to raise. Following it religiously might even get a diseased tortoise through the fragile hatchling phase and up to a size where it can survive despite being sick.

The overlap in the venn diagram of people selling sick tortoises and people who do not start baby tortoises correctly is likely significant. So what is it that killed the tortoise, less than perfect care when young or the underlying disease?
 

Alex and the Redfoot

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I think that Tom's advice is the best for starting hatchlings. I have tried to follow it exactly with the hatchlings I have been lucky enough to raise. Following it religiously might even get a diseased tortoise through the fragile hatchling phase and up to a size where it can survive despite being sick.

The overlap in the venn diagram of people selling sick tortoises and people who do not start baby tortoises correctly is likely significant. So what is it that killed the tortoise, less than perfect care when young or the underlying disease?
Bad start/care and stress make them more vulnerable to diseases and definitely plays role in infection manifestation... Even bunch of worms can kill a weakened animal. However, more aggressive infections pose danger for perfectly healthy tortoises too. And tortoise populations aren't that high to let viruses mutate to "attenuated" forms. Sigh...
 

cooky_luvs

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The main thing that stuck out to me in your question was that you’re discussing 30-35g Redfoots, that’s likely the main issue because they should never be sold at that size. That’s the average redfoot hatch weight, that means the babies are being hatched and immediately sold. Young tortoises need time to become established before having to deal with the many stresses that come with change / traveling to expos or petstores / being shipped etc. Even if the new keeper is doing everything correctly, such an abrupt early change will cause stress but imagine the new owner isn’t doing things right and that baby tortoise didn’t even have a chance to establish yet.

It’s simply irresponsible for a breeder to sell them directly out of the egg like that. They should be at least keeping them for several months and observing actual growth as confirmation of health. Doing otherwise is setting up the tortoise and the buyer to fail.

Personally, I would never sell a baby under 50 g but generally, I wait till about 80-100. I figure the least I can do for the little babies is get them as strong as possible so they are able to withstand any potential faults in their future care if there are any.

A lot of good points were also mentioned so imagine if they weren’t first established and then any of the other things mentioned is also a factor, the babies won’t stand a chance.
 

Alex and the Redfoot

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The main thing that stuck out to me in your question was that you’re discussing 30-35g Redfoots, that’s likely the main issue because they should never be sold at that size. That’s the average redfoot hatch weight, that means the babies are being hatched and immediately sold. Young tortoises need time to become established before having to deal with the many stresses that come with change / traveling to expos or petstores / being shipped etc. Even if the new keeper is doing everything correctly, such an abrupt early change will cause stress but imagine the new owner isn’t doing things right and that baby tortoise didn’t even have a chance to establish yet.

It’s simply irresponsible for a breeder to sell them directly out of the egg like that. They should be at least keeping them for several months and observing actual growth as confirmation of health. Doing otherwise is setting up the tortoise and the buyer to fail.

Personally, I would never sell a baby under 50 g but generally, I wait till about 80-100. I figure the least I can do for the little babies is get them as strong as possible so they are able to withstand any potential faults in their future care if there are any.

A lot of good points were also mentioned so imagine if they weren’t first established and then any of the other things mentioned is also a factor, the babies won’t stand a chance.
Yes, I agree. Thank you for pointing this out. Also, I've seen 6 months as a minimum recommended age for selling them but many keepers sell at 3 months when they are still fragile.

What is an approximate age of your hatchlings when they hit 50 and 80-100 grams?

I wonder if I can summarize all the points mentioned here in a short "buyer's guide"...
 

cooky_luvs

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Yes, I agree. Thank you for pointing this out. Also, I've seen 6 months as a minimum recommended age for selling them but many keepers sell at 3 months when they are still fragile.

What is an approximate age of your hatchlings when they hit 50 and 80-100 grams?

I wonder if I can summarize all the points mentioned here in a short "buyer's guide"...
If they are started correctly, they grow very well and very quickly. They usually hit 50 g for me within a month or two and generally 90 to 100 g within four months. Six months is not a bad rule but I’ve seen plenty of sellers selling six month old tortoises that are still only 40 g somehow, so I would say the size more than age matters. Also, a seller could be fibbing about the age, but they would have a much harder time fibbing about the size.

I breed leopards and red foots and I’ve had one single Leopard out over 200 fail to thrive and actually pass away and another Leopard that is a year old now and still hatchling size so I won’t sell it and never a single redfoot that i’ve bred has failed to thrive. Failure to thrive is rare when things are done right.

Edited to add: I’ve of course had some that died immediately during or after hatching if they hatched with issues, but I’m referring to ones that actually completely hatched and moved on to enclosures. Generally, if they are able to hatch and aren’t born with pre-existing issues they just need to be cared for correctly and they will thrive.
 

The_Four_Toed_Edward

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Yeah, many people come here to do research and haven't bought a tortoise yet. Buyer guides, species specific or not, would probably be helpful to many. Nobody wants a sick tortoise to start with.
 

cooky_luvs

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Thank you! That's valuable information. If you have time, can you tell how you grow them? There was a suggestion that protein deficiency can play role in hatchlings decline, for example.

There’s definitely a ton I could write, but I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible.

But when they pip I immediately move them off of the incubation medium to hatch onto damp paper towels, and move them to another very humid incubator that I treat as the brooder box Tom mentioned. They live there until their umbilicus completely absorbs. It sort of simulates the time they would spend underground before digging out in the wild. I feed them greens as soon as they come out of the egg and only greens intially so they get taste for it, don’t want picky tortoises lol. The umbilicus is supposed to be their nutrition initially but they will very much eat right away if food is offered, and I feel the sooner to get them eating the better. Also soaked once daily and they drink sooooo deeply especially with that first soak when they first emerge from the egg. After the umbilicus heals over I move into an enclosure, and that’s when they will start to get fruit and protein mixed in with their meals.

Once moved they are of course kept in enclosed chambers 85-90% humidity. I use t5 lighting for UVB and thermostat controlled top-mounted radiant heat panels for heat. I strongly believe uncontrolled intense heat lamps are inappropriate for redfoots especially young babies they are extremely desiccating. I keep radiant heat panels set to about 86 on average. Also lots of cover so they can move in and out of the UVB / light as desired.

As far as feeding and protein I do about 60% greens (plant matter), 30% fruit and 10% protein. The protein sources I tend to use for babies are dried black soldier fly larvae, mushrooms, mazuri (or chicken layer crumbles). I’ve heard some people say that babies shouldn’t have protein, and I don’t know where that comes from. I absolutely have always given babies protein. I do the dried black soldier fly larvae versus live because it seems that they digest them better, when I used to do live, I would find lots of undigested ones in their poo.

Tons of variety in their greens and fruit, I rotate through many different things to ensure variety and also incorporate dried leaves like mulberry, clover etc on top of meals. (Both of these plants are also complete protein sources). I feel that makes their fruit even healthier for them because the dried leaves will stick fantastically to the fruit.

Daily soaks always for all babies. Adequate hydration I feel is one of the most important things.

As far as the babies I actually keep I do all of the same things and keep that up until they reach about 1000g then I feel that they can be treated more like adults and be moved outdoors and not soaked daily anymore, etc. I’m very much an OCD perfectionist and smooth shells only for my babies ❤️ I’ve attached a photo of just a few of my personal youngsters.

I hear lots of breeders / keepers say things like they don’t get this or that in the wild like soaks, etc., but when keeping them captive I believe they should be provided a utopia with every single opportunity for success.

But back to the breeders that are selling them at like 30g, if they don’t care enough to grow them up at all first before sale, Imagine everything else that they are slacking on across the board. So much wrong there and it’s a shame.
 

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