What is the physiology behind pyramiding?

Tom

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I don't tell people how to raise Greek tortoises. Know why? I don't have enough experience. I've never raised a single one from hatchling to adult using any method. Sure I can answer basic question about them, but you will not see a Greek care sheet or humidity recommendation from me.

Likewise, Andy does not have enough sulcata or leopard experience to know what he is talking about. He is guilty of everything that he is accusing everyone else of. He dismisses or ignores evidence that does not support his preconceived notions and latches on to anything that does support them. He praises an author who has been criticized for lack of scientific data, citing decades of personal experience in its place, yet condemns others who do the same thing. He has never examined one single tortoise raised the way I raise them. He has no evidence whatsoever to back up any of his preposterous claims, so he keeps going back to what he does know better than anyone here, including me. He has used a hygrometer in some parts of the leopard range. I have not. I have, however raised hundreds of leopards and sulcatas in captive conditions and HE has not. If he had, then he would know, as I do, what will happen if you raise a sulcata hatchling on dry sandy soil, with 40% humidity. When I want to know how to raise a Greek tortoise in a naturalistic outdoor enclosure in or near their native range, I think Andy would be a great source of info. His apparent success speaks for itself. If you want to raise a smooth healthy sulcata, I would not ask him how to do it, since he has no idea.

Further, no one is claiming that any wild species lives in super high humidity 24/7/365. But it IS that high some of the time for leopards, and a lot of the time for sulcatas during the rainy season. I mlived through many miserable South African days with temps in the 90s and humidity over 90%. we had to keep hosing the dogs off to prevent heat stroke. Keep in mind that all this debate is about a 10% difference in recommended humidity. I recommend 80% based on my experience with sulcatas and leopards, and Andy has stated he recommends as high as 70%. Time has shown again and again what our attempts to replicate wild sulcata and leopard habitats will achieve. The last five years has demonstrated what a little hydration and humidity will achieve.

When someone can show me a dozen smooth sulcata hatchlings raised at 40% humidity on dry substrate with no humid hide, and actually discuss the details without throwing a hissy fit and quitting the debate, then that someone will have some credibility. I HAVE raised them that dry, so I DO know what will happen and what I'm talking about. Furthermore, that same someone ought to try raising them my way at least once so they will have at least SOME basis in fact and personal experience instead of posting fancy scientific articles about horse hooves in an effort to dodge the fact that he has never even raised a tortoise in the way he decries.

Another point to this discussion: Even in their native range, raising sulcatas dry in large captive environments is problematic. Tomas told me of the troubles they had when they first started their breeding programs and started rearing their hatchlings. He listed several problems that they were experiencing, and all those issues disappeared when they began irrigating the enclosures.

Like everyone else who has tried to argue this with me in the past, we are talking about apples and oranges. I'm not saying a Greek tortoise can't be raised smooth and healthy with lower humidity. I don't know if they can or can't. I've never done it either way. I HAVE however done it BOTH ways with lots of sulcatas and leopards, and so I feel pretty comfortable making a recommendation or two about them.
 

Kapidolo Farms

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Testudoresearch said:
To return to the very core of this matter as unfortunately far too much extraneous matter has been introduced...

Would any care to comment, for or against, the 'infamous' paper by Weisner and Iben which most pro-humidity proponents routinely cite as their prime source?

Does anyone see any problems with the methodology used there? Anything at all?

If you think it is a great piece of research, feel free to explain why it is to be relied upon.

Hey Andy,

I say "Because so far not much has been done in controlled groups and settings that is better". I get that careful ex-situ observation goes a long way, ask any astronomer, no variable control with that field of science yeah? But as biologist we get to control variables and measure effects and contend correlations with more research causation.

My interest to this thread was brought to me externally by a friend. Been reading my way through nothing new for several pages. Got here and figured I'd ask a seemingly reasonable question myself.

Keratin is an extracellular matrix, it is not cells, it is plastic, more plastic than the extracellular matrix of bone. Components of bone can be acquired for other physiological purposes, components of keratin do not seem to have this feature. Keeping both plastic while in the 'proper' shape is the half the deal, while keeping them in balance is the other half.

Not to mention the roles of gene processes that if not turned on early in life, do not function well later with a corollary that those turned on for a temporary environmental stress may not turn off so well after that stress abates.

Growing animals through the phase where a pattern (good or bad) tends to be set up for life is optimal/detrimental, to meet the needs of both the keeper and the kept (for the good and the optimal). Both needs are appropriate to consider. Good quality growth is good. Stopping and starting it, and keeping it constrained by wild type variables has no bearing on the animal as the constraints imposed by a wild life would have on a captive animal. They can inform us of how to meet optimal, but simply replicating the wild is not, IMO, being optimal.

We have decided that for ourselves, it is not a great leap to decided that for our captives. At least with out animals we are allowed to practice eugenics with out to much activism getting involved (it's not against the law).

As for this study W & I, it could be much better, I've shared what I think are it's shortcoming elsewhere on TFO. There was poor symmetry to sum it up. And it is only correlative, it does not show or demonstrate causation, which seems to be the 'bone' of interest in this thread's OP.

This is my question:

Without the burden of having to do the experiment - what limited variables, such as W and I did, explain your idea of an ex-situ limited variable experiment that would depict the result of humidity, and or diet etc, that compels or limits pyramiding?

Doing the research would be a great follow-through, but parse out an experiment that would give statistically significant (yeah redundant) results indicating anything, single or covariants, that can be applied in captivity to eliminate or reduce the factors that create tortoise monsters.

So even if the experiment is not done, you have the precedent of first idea here on TFO, yeah?

So far it would be a fair explanation that higher RH in a micro climate (closed chamber) works. This also emulates a zoo exhibit system that is still in place and has been in use for 40 years at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Some chelonians there in the same chambers for well over 20 years, all indoors all the time. Doing as well as wild counterparts.

Another off topic and now alternate thread is regarding over head artificial heat. There is a big difference between having an ambient just below the operating temps for an animal, with a slightly hotter spot, than having an entire enclosure heated with a hot spot. That is why I have suggested a use of many lower wattage heat sources over a wider area, against an ambient that is at just slightly less than what the heat spot/area creates.

Among others, mikeh (by description here on TFO) has sorted this out with different mechanisms as has Yvonne (as I've see it).

There are many studies of in-situ and ex-situ examples of "operating" temperatures of many chelonians, as well as studies indicating basking is not necessarily a straightforward thermoregulatory behavior. But I digress into the abyss of an informative, fun, messy topic.

Any ways:

Propose the study that would subvert the W & I study, towards the purpose of better understanding of the physiology of pyramiding, or even the correlative variables of physiology of pyramiding for ex-situ inside management of chelonians.

Yeah outside this and outside that. What IS the indoor controlled climate/diet tight variable control experiment that will segway to common pet tortoise keeping, indoors?
 

FLINTUS

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Tom said:
Further, no one is claiming that any wild species lives in super high humidity 24/7/365.
I have to disagree with that. Kinixys erosa, homeana and chelonoidis denticulata will rarely be found in areas of less than 80% RH. Chelonoidis carbonaria and the species of indotestudo and manouria-depending on which part of the range they occupy-will very rarely be found in less than 60% RH.
I do not doubt that humidity has a role in maintaining good health for most species of chelonia, however, I disagree with how unnatural the humidity is. While the shell is smooth, I think long term there may be some negative affects. If constant high humidity-yes they'd have it in the wild, but for very short periods at a time- is providing smooth growth, then it is obviously compensating for something else which is lacking in the care of these guys which I'm sure as the whole group of captive bred humidity raised sulcatas and leopards get older we'll find more about. Tom, even you have to agree this is unnatural compared to the wild. But the shell is growing smoothly at least. So I would guess there is still something which has not been figured out in terms of sulcata and leopard care.
 

Testudoresearch

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wellington said:
I am totally confused now. That article/study shows high humidity played a big role in the test tortoises not pyramiding, while the dry tortoises did pyramid. Isn't this going against what you are trying to say and discredit Tom for saying? Isn't this the total opposite from what you are trying to promote?

Let me repeat.

1. No-one is trying to "discredit" anyone. That's a truly bizarre and utterly baseless suggestion.
2. No-one is saying that humidity is not a factor.
3. What is being discussed are the links between assumed cause and effect, and the physiological mechanisms involved (the title of the thread).

I hope that clears up the confusion for you.
 

Testudoresearch

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I have no desire to see this very useful thread deteriorate into a slanging match. I choose therefore not to respond to some of the comments made above.

I will simply state some facts, however.

1. Regarding my supposed "lack of experience" with leopard tortoises this needs addressing. The facts are that I personally kept leopard tortoises for 20 years and bred them regularly (from 1984 to 2005). I was also heavily involved with the handling of illegal trade seizures and worked closely with customs and wildlife agencies in several countries. In that capacity I was often responsible for the day-to-day care and rehabilitation of up to 200 animals at a time. I was further adviser to government agencies in Tanzanier and Kenya on both rehabilitation and captive breeding programs for G. pardalis. I also studied G. pardalis at many locations in South Africa and recorded data from approximately 400 wild specimens. I also produced a 90 minute long TV program on the ecology and conservation of tortoises in South Africa that featured G. pardalis extensively. I am still a consultant to several zoos and rescue centers where both G. pardalis and G. sulcata are maintained. I no longer keep them personally, however, as I now work more or less exclusively with Testudo species and am in daily contact with wild specimens. If you wish to call that "lack of experience" by all means carry on.

2. Please do not lose sight of the fact that I have not once denied - ever - that there is a real effect from environmental humidity. So, I am not saying, and never have, that Richard Fife, Tom, or anyone else is wrong when they report that. Quite the contrary, way back in 2000 I wrote a chapter in one book entitled "Further Insights into the Nutritional Requirements and Disorders of Tortoises; Protein, Energy, and Environment". In that, I said this:


"One interesting aspect of the environment-development interface that requires further investigation is the possible impact of localized humidity upon rapidly growing keratin. Keratin is a fibrous protein formed of coiled polypeptide chains that are combined into supercoils of several polypeptides linked by disulphide bonds between adjacent cysteine amino acids. Aggregates of these supercoils form microfibrils which are embedded in a protein matrix. The resulting structure is strong, but relatively elastic. Keratin is also hygroscopic - to the extent that for many years human hair was employed in laboratory humidity measuring equipment as the sensor mechanism. Hair comprises dead keratin cells, while the keratin of a tortoise's shell is living, however, there is undoubtedly a differential in the fluid content between inner and outer surfaces (even though the thickness involved is only a fraction of a millimeter) especially in hot, arid environments). It has been noted that carapace ‘pyramiding’ tends to be worse when animals are reared at high growth rates in very dry as opposed to the same rate of growth in more humid environments. It is interesting to speculate upon the possible mechanisms for this. The most probable cause is that the fluid content differential in very dry environments creates physical stresses within the keratin layer that have the effect of exerting influence upon the rapidly developing (and relatively plastic) underlying bone"

"Feeding, growth and environment are inseparable in ectotherms. It is impossible to consider one factor without reference to others. In this sense, it is quite true to state that environment plays a critical role in growth and development. It does so, however, because it influences food intake, feeding behavior, and the way in which the consumed foods are processed. Bone structure and development is not directly affected by temperature, water or ambient humidity, and it is quite erroneous to assume any such direct link, save for the possible influence of humidity upon the keratin outer layer of a turtle's shell as discussed above. The primary causal factor of growth is food intake and utilization. Carapace deformities are primarily caused by nutritional disorders, but may be amplified under certain environmental conditions."


That is entirely accurate and I stand by it. We have subsequently learned a lot more, but in general, that remains the position. I actually do not see how this is antagonistic to anyone. Do remember - that was published in the year 2000, exactly 14 years ago....

3. We have subsequently done a lot more work to pin this down and tie these elements together. This involved a very, very substantial investment in both technology and in time. As a direct result, we now understand the actual physiological mechanisms. Humidity is certainly a factor. So is the peculiar mode of cell proliferation in certain species of chelonians. So too is diet and the formation of healthy, strong bone. We also are beginning to get a much clearer picture of the role of basking lamps, their acute dehydrating effects, and are just beginning to see how various IR wavelengths can have profound effects on living tissue. This is all very new stuff. It is not even in the textbooks yet.

4. Points of divergence from some commentators. I have said (and stand by it) that claims of a direct effect upon the internal skeleton by external ambient humidity are unsupported by any evidence whatsoever and that there is no known mechanism that could facilitate this. That is why I have referred to the supposed humidity-bone linkage as a "red herring". It is not what is happening. The direct effect is on the keratin. Not the bone. The bone then deforms to "follow" the keratin.

A summary of those findings was first presented in September 2010 at a conference in Valencia and online in November 2010

I also do not agree with those who claim that juveniles of semi-arid habitat tortoises spend a large proportion of their lives in "high humidity" situations. Certainly not in ultra-high humidity situations. I have personally been avidly collecting field data on this since 1990 and have an absolute mass of measurements from all over the place... and I consequently feel that quite a lot of the information out there on this is very misleading.

My task has not been to "discredit" anyone or prove anyone's husbandry methods "wrong" - but to investigate the causes and to identify the mechanisms involved. Nothing more. That was and is the sole object of everything I and those I have worked with on this over the past 14 years has been directed towards.

I have no desire to personally "discredit" Weisner and Iben either. They had some good ideas, but the execution of the project was (unfortunately) not very good.
 

Yvonne G

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Testudoresearch said:
I also do not agree with those who claim that juveniles of semi-arid habitat tortoises spend a large proportion of their lives in "high humidity" situations. Certainly not in ultra-high humidity situations. I have personally been avidly collecting field data on this since 1990 and have an absolute mass of measurements from all over the place... and I consequently feel that quite a lot of the information out there on this is very misleading.


I'm old, so my memory fails me quite a bit, but it is MY contention, and I THINK other's who believe in the high humidity theory, that you use the high humidity for the first year of the hatchling's life. After that you start weaning them off the high humidity and they start living most of the day outside. So, in my case (and I THINK in Tom's case too) we're only talking about the first year of a hatchling's life.
 

Levi the Leopard

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Yvonne G said:
I'm old, so my memory fails me quite a bit, but it is MY contention, and I THINK other's who believe in the high humidity theory, that you use the high humidity for the first year of the hatchling's life. After that you start weaning them off the high humidity and they start living most of the day outside. So, in my case (and I THINK in Tom's case too) we're only talking about the first year of a hatchling's life.

Yes, Yvonne you are correct.

My leopard hatchlings spend their time in the high humidity with only a little time outside at first. As they grow in size so does their time outdoors. By the time my largest leopard was a year old (5") he was outside all day long in a heavily planted pen and could choose his own preferred micro climate. Here in SoCal that means no 80%+ RH.
He still slept inside but has recently moved outside full time at 6".
 

Testudoresearch

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Yvonne G said:
Testudoresearch said:
I also do not agree with those who claim that juveniles of semi-arid habitat tortoises spend a large proportion of their lives in "high humidity" situations. Certainly not in ultra-high humidity situations. I have personally been avidly collecting field data on this since 1990 and have an absolute mass of measurements from all over the place... and I consequently feel that quite a lot of the information out there on this is very misleading.


I'm old, so my memory fails me quite a bit, but it is MY contention, and I THINK other's who believe in the high humidity theory, that you use the high humidity for the first year of the hatchling's life. After that you start weaning them off the high humidity and they start living most of the day outside. So, in my case (and I THINK in Tom's case too) we're only talking about the first year of a hatchling's life.

Let me play Devil's Advocate here and raise a couple of practical questions.

1. It is certainly not the case that those tortoises in the wild are being subjected to 80%+ RH and constant high temperatures (+26C) around the clock and for 365 days a year. They get some wetter, more humid periods, with some extremely arid, dry periods and some moderate periods. There are no constants in the wild. So... why do they allegedly need it in captivity?

2. Why is the level of humidity being advised so high? Even in the 'rainy season' air humidity levels are not normally that high for extended periods. Air movements and the warm sun reduce levels very rapidly in those environments.

3. Note what Richard Fife has said. That spraying the carapaces alone appears to produce a similar result to the use of humid hides. When you consider the properties of keratin, it is logical why this would have an effect, producing an intense temporary 're-hydration' effect. Provided you do not 'bake this off' too quickly with over-exposure to basking lamps, to me this would seem a far safer and more natural approach, as it would approximate the dew point cycle that occurs in even quite hot, arid habitats under certain circumstances (do not confuse the dew point with relative humidity. This is a fundamental technical error that I see constantly on pet keepers forums). Here is a helpful chart that demonstrates the difference.

Dewpoint-RH.jpg


Also note that Richard Fife does not subject his tortoises to 24/7 constant high humidity. He provides a "humid hide" only and the rest of the area is what he calls "dry" (I do not have current information on what exact level that is). My question is this. If Richard Fife is indeed raising nicely formed tortoises (including leopards and sulcatas) using just the humid hide approach (and I have no reason to disbelieve him - he is a genuinely good, skilled keeper and has shown great dedication to trying to solve this problem), why are enforced 24/7 super-saturated conditions required as advocated by some on this forum? The two situations are entirely different.
 

Dizisdalife

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Testudoresearch said:
Let me play Devil's Advocate here and raise a couple of practical questions.

1. It is certainly not the case that those tortoises in the wild are being subjected to 80%+ RH and constant high temperatures (+26C) around the clock and for 365 days a year. They get some wetter, more humid periods, with some extremely arid, dry periods and some moderate periods. There are no constants in the wild. So... why do they allegedly need it in captivity?

You'll get no argument from me about the absence of constants in the wild. The short answer here is: this is what has worked in captivity. We are talking baby tortoises here, in a small enclosure, with hot lamps. Very drying, and you know how quickly they can dehydrate. I am sure you have seen this, right? Serious problem. Much worse than pyramiding, I think. For the most part these small enclosures are void of plant life or any thing else that would be found in the wild to hold the moisture that nature provides. They remind me, even the ones I used, of a prison cell. A water dish, a feeding dish, a basking rock, and a hide.

Okay. So why keep it at a constant? I can only speak from my experience here. Once I began to see smooth growth I was unwilling to risk a lower humidity range for fear that the pyramiding would return. I did not start with a hatchling. My rescue was about 8 months and had started to pyramid. The high humidity arrested the pyramiding so I continued with it.

Testudoresearch said:
2. Why is the level of humidity being advised so high? Even in the 'rainy season' air humidity levels are not normally that high for extended periods. Air movements and the warm sun reduce levels very rapidly in those environments.

I have not spent any time in the wild observing the climate there. In the small enclosure for my baby sulcata when the humidity fell, even for a short period of time, the carapace got dry. Because of the hot lamps we use in these small tanks I am afraid of dehydration as much as pyramiding. Yes, there are other ways to prevent dehydration, but once again, the short answer is this is what works.

Testudoresearch said:
3. Note what Richard Fife has said. That spraying the carapaces alone appears to produce a similar result to the use of humid hides. When you consider the properties of keratin, it is logical why this would have an effect, producing an intense temporary 're-hydration' effect. Provided you do not 'bake this off' too quickly with over-exposure to basking lamps, to me this would seem a far safer and more natural approach, as it would approximate the dew point cycle that occurs in even quite hot, arid habitats under certain circumstances (do not confuse the dew point with relative humidity. This is a fundamental technical error that I see constantly on pet keepers forums). Here is a helpful chart that demonstrates the difference.

It has been two years now since my tortoise has lived in an indoor enclosure and the tendinitis from squeezing that spray gun trigger is finally gone. The effect is temporary, it does bake off too quick, and from what I see the tortoises are over-exposed to hot lamps. I learned that tip here on TFO. Outdoors I just turn on the sprinklers or use the "mist" setting on my garden hose nozzle. Lots easier on the tendons.

Testudoresearch said:
Also note that Richard Fife does not subject his tortoises to 24/7 constant high humidity. He provides a "humid hide" only and the rest of the area is what he calls "dry" (I do not have current information on what exact level that is). My question is this. If Richard Fife is indeed raising nicely formed tortoises (including leopards and sulcatas) using just the humid hide approach (and I have no reason to disbelieve him - he is a genuinely good, skilled keeper and has shown great dedication to trying to solve this problem), why are enforced 24/7 super-saturated conditions required as advocated by some on this forum? The two situations are entirely different.
I have recently heard a little of this. Very interesting, but I feel that I haven't got the whole story and therefore have no comment. It just proves that we don't know all there is to know. Super-saturated is is not what is suggested here, I think you know that and are just digging the methods where you can. I will tell you though, my baby spent most of his time in a humid hide. I would guess that if Richard Fife's babies do the same they are spend most of their time in a 80% humidity environment.

There is one member of TFO that has a 19 month old smooth sulcata he has raised since hatchling with no spot light or CHE for heat. He has made his own heated tiles that warm the enclosure to the desired temperatures. Beautiful specimen. I am confident he has a humid hide, not 100% sure. If Richard Fife is doing something like this I would expect his tortoises to be smooth. See, there just isn't enough info presented here for us to really know what Fife is doing differently.

Other TFO members are sure to have a different slant on answering these questions. There is certainly more to be said. But heck, it's not what you find in the wild, it's just what we find works in captivity.

When I first became a member of TFO the most common Thread title was "my tortoise has a runny nose". So most of the discussion was about respiratory infections and treatments. Tortoises were being kept in open top enclosures with poor heat control and little or no accurate temperature measurements. Suggesting the use of "closed chambers" with constant heat and humidity has benefited that aspect of caring for a baby tortoise as well as helping with the pyramiding. We amateur keepers need simple instructions. What I am saying is that the "constant" humidity level, or the "constant" temperature level is maybe more necessary for the keeper than it is for the tortoise. Again, some of our more experienced keepers will have different views on this.
 

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While human needs are satisfied by 45 minutes exposure to the sun a week, reptile veterinarian and researcher Dr. Alison Alberts states that 30 minutes exposure to the sun a day is sufficient for green iguanas. What about the tortoises? I don't know. But in 1994 Charles Innis already pointed out that a tortoise that had been maintained outside in a warm sunny climate during the summer would probably synthesize and store enough vitamin D3 to last it through the winter.

According to Medicine and Surgery of Tortoises and Turtles(2004), the vitamin D metabolism in chelonians is poorly understood. Although Ulrey & Bennet in 1999 reviewed some chelonia data:
The serum 25[OH]D level in adult desert tortoises housed outdoors in Nevada was 8.2 ng/ml (n = 14) with a range from less than 5 ng/ml (n = 3) to 16.5 ng/ml. Also the apparently healthy juvenile desert tortoises and juvenile African spurred tortoises housed indoors and fed diets containing about 2000 IU vitamin D3/Kg had serum concentrations of 25[OH]D less than 5 ng/ml. No measurable changes in serum levels were seen after oral dosing with vitamin D2/D3. What did "apparently healthy" mean here?

In his research Plasma concentrations of 25-hydroxycholecalciferol in 22 captive tortoises (Testudo species) published in 2008 Eatwell studied 22 tortoises of the Testudo species. The tortoises received no artificial light but were exposed to unfiltered sunlight in southern England during the summer months and hibernated during the winter. There were no dietary sources of cholecalciferol, but the diet had a calcium:phosphorus ratio of approximately 7.4:1 and the calcium constituted 2.4 per cent of the dry matter; it contained 20.7 per cent protein, 5.2 per cent fat and 45.6 per cent crude fiber. The result showed that none of the tortoises became ill or died during the study, and no significance signs of disease were observed and the results of the blood biochemical analyses and hematological profiles were within reference ranges reported previously. The author found that the concentrations of 25-HCC measured in his study were comparable to those previously reported in tortoises housed indoors (Ullrey and Bernard). The author also stated that the use of artificial UVB sources should be considered when tortoises are kept at higher latitudes, if it is found that the concentrations of 25-HCC in wild tortoises are similar to those of lizards. Eatwell's referneces did not show us the data that of wild tortoises but the lizards. Maybe the tortoises in England only need high calcium diets instead of artificial UVB to maintain their health if they are exposed to unfiltered sunlight during the summer months. I don't know.

If a medical doctor extrapolates these findings of the tortoises to the human health. What would happen to him? And what about the reactions of his/her patients? That must be very interesting.

Erich
 

lilacdragon

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Dizisdalife said:
The short answer here is: this is what has worked in captivity. We are talking baby tortoises here, in a small enclosure, with hot lamps. Very drying, and you know how quickly they can dehydrate. I am sure you have seen this, right? Serious problem. Much worse than pyramiding, I think. For the most part these small enclosures are void of plant life or any thing else that would be found in the wild to hold the moisture that nature provides. They remind me, even the ones I used, of a prison cell. A water dish, a feeding dish, a basking rock, and a hide.

But that's dreadful! A "prison cell".
That's exactly what these "tortoise starter kits" I see in so many pet stores are... prison cells.
At the risk of offending hundreds of people, which I do not intend to do deliberately... Why on earth are we improving methods of growing tortoises in prison cells? Shouldn't we be decrying this in the strongest possible terms, and instead be developing methods of housing tortoises in far better conditions altogether?

I totally agree with Dizisdalife in her analysis of the reasons why these prisons cause abnormalities. I would add that not only are the lamps too hot, they also produce FAR too narrow beams. The tortoises are heating the middle of the carapace far more than the rest of the body. That is a disaster waiting to happen...

Frances
 

Testudoresearch

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paludarium said:
According to Medicine and Surgery of Tortoises and Turtles(2004), the vitamin D metabolism in chelonians is poorly understood.

What I don't understand is why you can write all that and still refuse to address a couple of simple, straightforward, direct questions that have been put to you more than once...

A reminder (again):


I did earlier ask you some specific questions which you have totally ignored. Please answer them. I am sure if you can find time to attack the methodology of highly respected researchers like Justin Gerlach you can at least find 10 minutes to answer some direct questions that will allow us to evaluate your contributions. The first questions concerned the Weisner & Iben paper:

Simple question.

Do you find the methodology used in that study valid and acceptable?


Second question.

Define:

Low humidity (typical range)
High humidity (typical range)

Third question:

How much time have you personally spent in arid and semi-arid habitats? Where is your data? Photos? Evidence that supports the claims you make? Not second-hand or anecdotal. YOUR data - please?


You constantly criticize other people's work. It is only fair and reasonable that we get the chance to assess yours. Please direct us to where we can see it.

Until you do so, I feel it is utterly pointless engaging in any further dialogue with you.
 

lilacdragon

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Hi, Erich.

paludarium said:
While human needs are satisfied by 45 minutes exposure to the sun a week, reptile veterinarian and researcher Dr. Alison Alberts states that 30 minutes exposure to the sun a day is sufficient for green iguanas.
Indeed. But green iguanas don't wear clothes.
And how many humans get 45 minutes exposure to the sun a week? In temperate climates, modern humans typically expose no more than 10% of their skin to daylight (head and bare arms and hands) and as for sunlight - how often do people employed indoors actually go outside in their lunch hour, and how many days per year is it actually sunny during the lunch break?

In his research Plasma concentrations of 25-hydroxycholecalciferol in 22 captive tortoises (Testudo species) published in 2008 Eatwell studied 22 tortoises of the Testudo species. The tortoises received no artificial light but were exposed to unfiltered sunlight in southern England during the summer months and hibernated during the winter. .....The result showed that none of the tortoises became ill or died during the study, and no significance signs of disease were observed and the results of the blood biochemical analyses and hematological profiles were within reference ranges reported previously.

Yes, that was an interesting study. But "unfiltered sunlight in Southern England" is hardly an advertisement for good vitamin D levels in a species adapted for a much higher UV Index during morning basking periods?
(A recent study conducted at Bristol Zoo, in Southern England, found that the sunlight was insufficient to generate adequate vitamin D in outdoor-housed callitrichid primates..)

The author found that the concentrations of 25-HCC measured in his study were comparable to those previously reported in tortoises housed indoors (Ullrey and Bernard).

This is not surprising. And not just because of the low strength of English sun.
Serum 25(OH)D levels in humans are often compared to "those previously reported" ... and then considered "normal", because the "normal range" was established, long before vitD metabolism was well understood in humans, by sampling large numbers of deficient human beings!

If a medical doctor extrapolates these findings of the tortoises to the human health. What would happen to him? And what about the reactions of his/her patients? That must be very interesting.

But Erich, there is no need for that extrapolation to be done. It has already been done. It is mainstream medical thinking! It goes like this: "We are all "normal" and we don't "normally" get rickets, so living a modern lifestyle with virtually no sun exposure and low 25(OH)D3 levels is absolutely fine."
But it isn't optimal. It really isn't.....

Frances
 

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The Weisner and Iben paper - some thoughts

The paper by Wiesner and Iben has been uncritically cited numerous times and used frequently as key source material in discussions and reference texts related to the problem of so-called “pyramid growth” in tortoises. One of the most striking recent examples is this statement, by world famous chelonian expert Peter C. H. Pritchard in his chapter “Evolution and Structure of the Turtle Shell” which features prominently in “Biology of Turtles” (CRC Press, 2008) pages 71-72:

“It has long been believed that the condition resulted primarily from a diet too rich in protein, and an alternative cause was believed to be an unnatural ratio of calcium to phosphate (sic) in the diet ... secondary causes were attributed to overfeeding, dietary fiber, temperature, UV light and so on... however current belief is that the condition derives from excessively dry conditions and when hatchlings are raised on a substrate of wet sphagnum, shells will develop normally (Weisner & Iben, 2003).

My italics. Note how other factors are dismissed by use of the past tense, and “current belief” identifies “excessively dry conditions” as the sole cause and “wet sphagnum” as the sole solution. The inconvenient fact that “wet sphagnum” (or anything like it) is not typically present at all in semi-arid tortoise habitats is entirely overlooked... and no physiological mechanism of any kind is suggested that could account for such an effect.

Furthermore, the above quotation is not directed merely at Leopard and African Spurred tortoises. It is directed at all tortoises, without exception or limitation.

With such uncritical acceptance, and such widespread and influential citation it is extremely important that the claims made by that paper, and the methodology employed to arrive at them, are indeed examined most carefully and with a critical eye. It is also important to highlight and identify cases where the paper is misinterpreted and misquoted as this creates yet another layer of obfuscation and confusion.

Humidity measurement and control

The most striking criticism of the data cited in their paper "Influence of environmental humidity and dietary protein on pyramidal growth of carapaces in African Spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata)" is that the bands of experimental humidity employed are so profoundly overlapping and are of such wide individual range. Sulcata Sandy and Frances have already highlighted this glaring and fundamental defect that runs through the whole paper. The terminology used is also contradictory in the extreme. For example, they define what they term “dry environmental conditions” as consisting of the ranges “24.3-57.8 % and 30.6-74.8% relative humidity”. They then go on to define “humid conditions” as comprising “45-99% relative humidity”. It is difficult to know what to make of this, when a relative humidity of (for example) 45% is described as “humid” in one sentence and then classed as “dry” in another.

It is also the case that very few ecologists or geographers would normally accept relative humidity of 74.8% as in any way representing dry conditions, or 45% as representing humid conditions (such conditions are normally defined as those containing a high percentage of water vapor; noticeably moist). The use of such inconsistent and erratic definitions applied to the measured relative humidities must therefore give rise to serious concern and further confuses the earlier claims made in respect of “dryness” or “humid” conditions allegedly experienced in natural habitats.

The criticism of the methodology employed goes far beyond mere terminology, however. The actual bands used in the experiment are cited as follows:

Group A: 24.3-57.8%
Group B: 24.7-55.5%
Group C: 30.6-75.8%
Group D: 47.9-99%
Group E: 45-99%

The authors state that these measurements represent the “mean of eight weekly measured values of the maximum and minimum relative humidity” in the experimental enclosures employed which consisted of a series of 100 X 80 X 80 cm glass terraria fitted with two sliding glass doors. Hiding places or “caves” made of brick measuring 30 X 65 X 10 cm were provided in each enclosure, and the substrate used was the same in all units, comprising 4-5 cm of “bark humus”. The humidity levels cited in the above table were “measured directly under the top pane”, which would mean at the very top of the inside of the unit close to the heat lamps (were the heat lamps on or off at the time?). They took a second set of humidity measurements in the caves of the “three humid terraria” (no mention at all is made of any such measurements in the “dry” terraria) which it is claimed were “10-15% higher” (than what?). It is unfortunately entirely unclear what these actual measurements were as no actual figures are given. If indeed the measurements were “10-15% higher” however, and were calculated on the same basis as Table 1, that would mean that humidity levels of up to 114% were achieved. This is a scientific impossibility (the maximum theoretical level of RH is 100%), therefore it is likely that they really meant “10-15% higher than the average ambient” - but they do not say this, and they provide no figures for what those averages might have been, so again, we are left without a clue as to what conditions these tortoises were really subjected to.

Also, no temperature measurements of any kind are provided anywhere in the paper. It is unclear why the authors considered this critical information unimportant. Information on temperature is absolutely essential when considering relative humidity and the dew point, for example. Temperature information is also extremely important when evaluating any method of tortoise maintenance.

Where to begin? Only eight weekly measurements with just the mean of the maximum and minimum values cited? This is statistically insignificant. As Frances eloquently points out, it could also mean almost anything in real terms. The range is so huge, and the method of measurement so unreliable and imprecise we have no idea at all what the true average relative humidity was for each group! None whatsoever. How can you possibly reach any valid conclusion on the effects of a particular level of relative humidity, when you are subjecting the tortoises to anything from 45% to 99% for unspecified periods as they did with ‘Group E’ for example, or 30.6% to 74.8% in ‘Group C’? Most people would regard 30% as quite dry and 75% as quite humid......the range is so enormous for each group that the results are completely meaningless. You cannot possibly infer anything from those results.

We simply have no idea at all of how long these animals were subjected to these various levels of humidity. Take ‘Group C’ again. In any 24 hour period, were they subjected to 30.6% for 6 hours and 74.8% for 18 hours? Or the reverse? Or some other period? We can only guess.

The method of taking a once weekly measurement from the very top of the tank is also incredibly misleading and inaccurate. Of far more relevance would be a set of continuously recorded levels at just above the substrate taken at various points (near the animals) - but they did not even measure these and we have no idea what they were. They would certainly not be the same as what was recorded at the top of the tanks where the heat sources were situated. Higher? Lower? We simply have no idea (again). It is also usual in trials like this to specify what equipment was used to obtain the measurements. This is important, as there is likely to be a big difference between the results obtained from say, a greenhouse hygrometer and a piece of properly calibrated precision laboratory equipment. The authors were aware of this, because they do cite the make and model of the atomic absorption spectrophotometer used. They fail to say what they used for the most important measurements of all, however... the hygrometers. This is a very disturbing omission. Did they use the same instrument for all the measurements? Was it calibrated? We just don’t know.

The method of humidity control employed is said to have consisted of 40 X 40 X 15 cm plastic bowls filled with demineralized water and “atomisers to produce fog”. The use of a “fogger” type atomizer to produce humidity is also problematic. These do not directly produce humidity. They produce water droplets that are then vaporized by temperature. We have no idea what these temperatures were, as already pointed out. They are very prone to producing a ‘cold fog’ on the bottom of the tank while creating very high humidity at the top... amphibian keepers like them for this very reason. They also produce a profound evaporative, localized chilling effect toward the bottom of the terraria. Anyone who has ever used one will recognize this characteristic. We again have no idea what the effects of this really were in this trial, because insufficient data is provided. We can be absolutely certain, however, that what was happening at “ground level” next to the animals would profoundly differ from what was recorded on those mere eight (!) occasions at the very top of the tanks.

Unfortunately, from an experimental point of view, other factors that would substantially influence the allegedly “controlled” humidity within these enclosures were also present: in each, a 13 cm diameter dish with drinking water, and the provision of soaked pellet food and “endive salad”. These would both evaporate adding to humidity within the units in an uncontrolled manner under the heat lamps. As so little environmental data is provided, it is impossible to guess what impact this may have had. It is disconcerting that this possibility does not even seem to have been considered by those conducting the experiment. It would have been preferable if feeding and drinking could have been conducted in a separate, isolated area within the “controlled” environment to eliminate this variable.

General maintenance

The authors state that while the animals were provided with “light for activity” for eleven hours a day, the UVB tube and heating light was only turned on for three hours in the morning (9-12 am) and 90 minutes each afternoon (3-4.30 pm). This is a quite unusual regime and is certainly not typical of what most captive tortoises experience. It would certainly have had some quite profound effects upon feeding, activity and upon digestive efficiency. It is yet another strange and unquantifiable variable present in this study. We cannot know what effects (if any) it had on the results or the behaviour of the tortoises.

One effect we can predict with confidence is that if the heat lamps were turned on for three hours in the morning, and again for 90 minutes in the afternoon, this would have had an immediate and massive impact on the RH experienced within the units, producing either a considerable rise, or a severe drying effect depending upon the amount of water evaporated within the unit. It is quite impossible it had no effect at all. This very considerable variable is not even mentioned by the authors and absolutely no data as to the levels that resulted is presented. The net result is that these tortoises experienced wildly fluctuating, unspecified levels of RH on a daily basis. It is hard to reconcile this with the claims subsequently made as to the effects of any one particular level or levels of relative humidity.

Diet


There are a number of other serious methodological criticisms of this study that can be made, including the failure to adequate monitor and regulate actual calcium and phosphorus intake for the duration of the experiment, which would appear to have been highly variable and subject to individual preference (loose cuttlefish bone was provided in each enclosure and a tortoise could consume as much – or as little – of this as it preferred). Given that calcium intake and overal calcium to phosphorus balance is such a critical factor in bone development, the lack of control here is very worrying from the point of overal experimental validity. The authors conclude, however, that even on what they call a “higher protein” diet, the tortoises raised in what they call the “high humidity” (45-99% RH!) environment of Group E had less “pyramiding” than those raised on a lower protein diet in Groups A and B.

Curiously, the three lateral views of example tortoises from Groups B, C and D (no images whatever from groups A and E were published) all show growth abnormalities to some degree. There is an apparent slightly reduced level of deformity on the example tortoise from Group D compared to that of Group B. However, due to the lack of control over calcium intake and Calcium-Phosphorus balance (cuttlefish bone is rich in phosphorus) we cannot be sure how much of this effect might be due to any difference in humidity, or how much might be the result of different amounts of cuttlefish bone consumption or of food intake. It appears no attempt whatever was made to measure or record this variable. A very wide range of blood calcium, phosphorus values were recorded in each group throughout the study, but interpreting it is difficult when such unquantified variables are present. We also have no idea how truly representative the very few animals depicted really are.

It is interesting to contrast keeper’s often aggressive reactions to discussions of this topic on the internet, with their typically unquestioning acceptance of the validity of this paper. I tested this myself. Whenever discussing the matter I was met with demands for photographs to “prove” my results. Not just one or two photographs - but numerous photographs were often demanded. Even when photos were produced, their genuineness was questioned. Contrast this with the fact that this paper contains only three tortoises (out of fifty) that were depicted in photographs of rather poor quality, and that representatives of two of the experimental groups were not depicted at all. One might be inclined to reflect on the double standards evident here!

Finally - but certainly not least - the values of dietary protein provided in the diet are disturbing. By just about any normally accepted chelonian nutritional standards, all of these tortoises without exception were fed a high protein, highly digestible (low fiber, 10.9 to 13.4%) diet. Not one group was tested using a diet that could be defined as “low protein” or “high fiber”. The lowest protein level provided was 13.7% and the highest, a rather staggering 30.7% (both DM basis). It would have been far more realistic (and useful) if a genuine “low” protein, high fiber option had been included. This could be defined as something offering circa 7.5% protein (DM) and at least 30% fiber content, which more closely represents a typical ‘wild’ dietary profile. There is no question whatever that the dietary regime used would have promoted artificially high rates of growth in all of the groups. This fact is admitted by the authors.

Misquotes and distortions

In stark contrast to the claims of what I might term “vocal supporters” of this particular paper (who consistently misinterpret it and misquote it), at no time do the authors themselves actually seek to deny the role of protein intake in the development of ‘Pyramidal Growth Syndrome’ (PGS), indeed, in their summary they clearly state “it is understandable that the abnormal combination of a dry environment and a persistent high level of protein may lead to health disorders, such as PGS. Such management conditions are very common both in private and institutional situations, which probably explains the high prevalence of PGS in tortoises in captivity” and go on to state “some influence of dietary protein is probable”. Quite how anyone could read that and reach the conclusion that protein intake was considered “irrelevant” entirely escapes me.

They also openly admit that “the combination of dry environmental conditions and comparatively high growth rates induced by a nutritionally dense diet led to pyramidal growth in the African spurred tortoises of this study”, thereby also acknowledging the key role of high growth rates and diet - another link which “supporters” of this paper have consistently misrepresented. Do not forget the fact that all of the tortoises in this study - without exception - developed “pyramiding” to some degree or other! Not a single really smooth, deformity-free animal was produced out of the entire fifty. If this is a model for success, I must be missing something.

While I decry the methodology of this particular study, and many of the conclusions reached, I do actually agree with them on those particular points. High growth rates, promoted by nutritionally “dense” diets are also a factor and must be considered along with environmental influences. Each of these factors is involved and we need to consider them all. We should not concentrate on just one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

There is one other widespread distortion and massive misunderstanding of what this paper proposes. These authors absolutely did not advocate keeping tortoises at constant levels of very high humidity. Nowhere do they even suggest that. What they actually say is very different. They simply say that “areas with a relative humidity of nearly 100% for hiding should be provided to the tortoises at all times”. This is not at all the same thing as forcing animals to endure constant levels of high humidity. They are specifically referring to the provision of a “humid hide” where a tortoise can retreat - voluntarily - on a temporary basis - not recommending an enforced 24/7 “sauna” type environment with no means of escape. This latter is, unfortunately, an apt description of the conditions adopted by some keepers who refer to this paper as their inspiration.... where constant round-the-clock 80-90% humidity at high temperatures (26C+) is the only environment ever available to them. Such conditions deprive those animals of thermoregulation opportunities, subject them to constant levels of humidity that would only be experienced on an infrequent basis in nature, and which could have unknown metabolic and physical consequences over the long term.

It is a strange and somewhat ironic fact that the authors of this paper were really very close to identifying the true causes of “Pyramidal Growth Syndrome”. Their experimental methodology may have been defective, but the link between humidity and this type of growth is real. Had they persisted further, and inquired in far more detail into the one material that is extremely affected by humidity and that almost completely surrounds a chelonian - keratin - they might have arrived at a genuinely viable answer. Instead, they overlooked keratin entirely (the word is not mentioned once in the entire paper), and they sought refuge in vague, unsubstantiated and unviable theories involving “intracellular and intercellular” pressure of osseous (bone) tissues caused by dehydration. Had they instead looked at what effect external hydration and dehydration has on keratin, and also at the two key modes of cell proliferation in chelonian keratin, a great deal of confusion would have been avoided.
 

Tom

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FLINTUS said:
Tom said:
Further, no one is claiming that any wild species lives in super high humidity 24/7/365.
I have to disagree with that. Kinixys erosa, homeana and chelonoidis denticulata will rarely be found in areas of less than 80% RH. Chelonoidis carbonaria and the species of indotestudo and manouria-depending on which part of the range they occupy-will very rarely be found in less than 60% RH.

Duly noted FLINTUS. I should have been more specific. This discussion, for me, has been primarily about leopards and sulcatas, with a bit of Testudo thrown in. I apologize for my lack of specificity.
 

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Frances, before I respond, let me first say thank you. Your post here is the sort of post that makes this forum great. Thank you for NOT closing your mind to the obvious, and NOT disregarding various people's lifetimes of firsthand experience because of lack of "scientific" citation. THANK YOU for furthering meaningful, useful discussion.

lilacdragon said:
Tom, Paludarium and Andy, I'd really value your thoughts on this. And others too, of course...

Tom wrote:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread-83263-post-789689.html#pid789689
Using "un-natural" captive techniques to counter "un-natural" captive shortcomings makes perfect sense, AND it works very well if done correctly.

1. I'm sure most people, including all protagonists in this thread, would agree with me that tortoises are extremely highly evolved to thrive best in the precise microhabitat they evolved in. No-one is denying this fact. Therefore if we could provide that precise microhabitat, we would be offering the ideal environment for our tortoises. And conducting field research is the only way to discover what that microhabitat is.

From what I have seen, there is not any "precision" at all to the natural habitats of our tortoises. The climate, seasons and annual variations are all over the board. There are drought years, rainy years, hot years, cold years, predator die offs, predator flourishes, parasite outbreaks, fruit windfalls, irregular carrion discoveries, etc. It is my view that our tortoises are adapted to handle all of the above, and much more. Meaning (to me) that they are able to SURVIVE through a lot of variables. This does NOT mean to me, that all of these survivable conditions are "optimal" for them. I think we can all recognize that some environmental conditions in the wild are "better" for them than others. In my view this is why captive animals of many species (not speaking of tortoises since no one has any idea what their lifespan really is) live on average twice as long as their wild counterparts. It is my goal, to at least attempt to simulate the "good" days that they would experience in the wild, and forego the "bad" days, when possible. It should be noted that my older tortoises all live outside and are subject to whatever mother nature throws at us. I try to compensate for this by providing species appropriate housing, like heated boxes for the leopards and sulcatas, or proper shelters for the temperate species to escape temperature extremes and rain. My tortoises still get rained on in winter and experience scorching summer heat, but through enclosure design I do my best to keep them in their comfort range. For example when our annual daily highs start consistently hitting 32C+ (usually June through October), I open up the burrow and start letting the sulcatas go underground to escape the summer heat. The leopards get lots of "summer rain" through my sprinkler heads.

To more directly answer your above statement, yes, field research is the only way to understand the habitats our animals come from, but 30 years of trial and error, have demonstrated the shortcomings of this understanding of wild conditions and attempting to simulate them. I have learned through the school of hard knocks that sometimes we have to think outside the box. Simulating what our understanding of leopard and sulcata habitats are, and what Andy is promoting here, has led to decades of pyramided tortoises. And I mean THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of them. It is so bad that when trinket makers make little tortoise figurines, that the figurines are modeled after pyramided tortoises, because that is all the trinket makers have ever seen.


lilacdragon said:
2. However, we acknowledge that we cannot provide that precise microhabitat. Therefore we should either cease keeping them in captivity, or find ways of overcoming these shortcomings. We have already accepted many very artificial aids, without the furore associated with this "humidity" thing. How many people go nuts when someone recommends adding vitamin/mineral supplements to food? Hardly anyone. In fact it is almost universally recommended. Yet oral vitamin D3 is not part of the normal diet of any herbivorous animal.
Tom appears to have discovered something extremely interesting: that damp keratin somehow helps prevent pyramiding in his young tortoises.
And here's something else that's also interesting. It doesn't even have to be associated with high humidity.
In May 2010, Tom wrote: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread-15137-post-135421.html#pid135421
Interesting that you should say this. I had a conversation with Richard Fife a couple of weeks ago and one of the things he told me about, was spraying the carapace. He felt like that alone would prevent pyramiding, but was not ready to go public with it, until he had done some more research on it.

2 paragraphs above: Paragraph 1: I agree with your assessment of the situation of using captive methods to overcome the shortcomings of captive conditions. Personally, I would like to listen in when someone calls to tell Bill Zovickian that soaking his tortoises every day for the first four years is somehow wrong. Oh, to be a fly on THAT wall...
Still on the first paragraph, there is much debate about D3, and maybe Andy or the "we" he keeps referring to, can finally answer this for us. I saw a study done in the early 90's on green iguanas that proved that they cannot use dietary D3. I have to date seen NO study that proves tortoises CAN use dietary D3. Because of the low dosage offered in commercially available calcium with D3 supplements, it has been my experience that it does no harm, but I still don't know if it offers any benefit. In any case it is no concern of mine because my tortoises get sunshine year round, so I have no need for D3 supplementation, even though I typically did use it, at least sporadically, in the past. Perhaps someone could pose this question to Andy for me since I am on the "ignore" list for asking him to explain the origin of the photos he posted.

On to paragraph 2: Yes, I did discuss that with Mr. Fife. However, I learned of it from our friend and forum member Terry K. He was using the technique with great success with his redfoots in Tennessee. When I joined the forum and was having this same battle about how un-natural the "wet" routine is, Terry contacted me out of the blue and befriended me. He wanted to learn more about what I had seen in my world travels, what I was doing at home, and generally talk tortoises. It was he that convinced me to give the shell spraying a try for sulcatas, and it worked. At least it was part of the puzzle. When I credited Terry with this "discovery" on the forum, another forum friend, Carl May, contacted me to let me know that Terry K. did not "invent" this technique and that shell spraying and many of the other aspects of my new sulcata hatchling care regime had been in practice with RF keepers since the 60's. These techniques just hadn't been applied to "desert" species before.


lilacdragon said:
So what about wetting the carapace/ increased humidity?
(a) Does it work? Tom, please get your evidence into some serious herp publications. Charts, tables, photos, measurements. Everyone wants to see this data!

In short, yes, it works. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples right here on this forum, not counting the hundreds of hatchlings that I have personally raised myself. It should be understood that in addition to my "wet" routine, my hatchling tortoises are fed a somewhat "natural" diet consisting of mostly grasses, weeds, leaves, and smaller amounts of flowers and succulents, supplemented by occasional Mazuri or calcium or mineral powder. They have drinking water and get regular soaks, and they all get lots of exercise and real sunshine year round in large outdoor enclosures. They demonstrate none of the maladies that have been baselessly suggested in this thread. They DO demonstrate smooth, natural looking carapaces and every indication of good health.

As far as publishing my info, TFO is as close as I will likely get to that. I've toyed with the idea of a book, but I have no time. I have a full time career and an even fuller time family, not to mention a few dozen tortoises to take care of. I would love to retire and spend more time pursuing and spreading tortoise knowledge, but for now, this is it for me. I have several threads listing weights, growth, various experiments, and all the details all over the forum. Many of the people who have gotten tortoises from me are doing the same thing with theirs. All the "evidence" a person could want is out there.


lilacdragon said:
(b) Is it safe? Paludarium wrote: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/thread-83263-post-793439.html#pid793439
The best way to prove if Tom is wrong is to conduct the autopsy on his leopard tortoises and find out the real shell structure of the tortoises.
Well, "autopsy" sounds a bit drastic.. but I'd sure like to see some investigations as to all aspects of health - X-Rays, bone density, blood panels, etc. and evidence of no harm from increased damp on respiratory function, skin health etc - This would reassure a lot of people and give credence to claims that this method is safe. And if any die from accidental injury for example, yes autopsy... and histology of kidney, liver etc as well as carapace and bone.
Only then will we be able to ascertain whether the benefits of this admittedly abnormal way of tortoise-rearing outweigh the risks.
And one big risk - as Andy has pointed out -is most definitely that it could mask an underlying serious bone pathology, namely Metabolic Bone Disorder.
I am deeply concerned about this possibility because vitamin D deficiency is still a number one problem, and we still haven't perfected UVB lighting, and we still don't have any universally accepted ideal of what constitutes a healthy heating/lighting/UVB environment....
PLEASE NOTE, I am NOT saying that anyone's torts reared using the humid method actually have "disguised MBD". What I'm saying is that the humid method might prevent it from being diagnosed.... so some torts might have it, but it might go un-recognised until very late...

My take on this: If a tortoise is living in conditions that will allow/promote MBD, what difference does it make if we grow it smooth or lumpy? While these to issues can sometime be related, they are still two separate issues. None of my lumpy tortoises of the past had any sign of MBD. How could they? They got a natural weedy, grassy diet, had regular calcium supplementation ON TOP OF a calcium rich diet, and they were outside in the CA sunshine all day every day for most of the year. On average I would say they might have had 30 days spread out over the course of an entire years where they didn't go outside in the sunshine.

Some history: My first sulcata was obtained in late 1991. At the time I was very into green iguanas, Ctenosaurs, Uromastix, and I even had a prehensile tailed skink. All herbivorous reptiles. I grew up in the big city and had no means to obtain or even a concept of a "natural" diet. My sulcata was fed the same leafy greens from the grocery store as my other reptiles. In accordance with all the books and "experts" he was housed dry to simulate the wild conditions that sulcatas came from. (Sound familiar?) Of course he pyramided, much to my dismay, because I had offered him the best I could. With the burdens of college, I decided to give him away to a most amazing man and facility out here called "Casa de Tortuga", run by a bunch of fantastic volunteers and headed by the late and VERY great Walter Allen. Seeing my dismay at giving up my tortoise, Water personally wrote me an IOU and told me to come back and get a hatchling whenever I was ready. My failure caused me to really examine what I had done wrong with my sulcata, and try to learn from the experience. I went to shows, lectures, called breeders and vets... I did everything I could, short of physically going to Mali. Remember this is pre-internet, so all I had were books and "experts" to talk to. The advice of the day was: He pyramided because of the grocery store greens and not enough UV. They told me the grocery store greens were too rich, too nutritious, and I fed him simply too much. The fast growth was "un-natural" since they spent much of their time in the wild with little to nothing to eat and experienced very slow growth as a result. (Still sounding familiar?) So off I went to Walter's place to redeem my coupon for a free hatchling armed with my new knowledge of what had gone wrong. I picked out "Scooter" in July of '98. When Walter saw me picking he came over and handed me "Bert", since he thought I'd like to have 2 and he had an abundance with more on the way. I raised Scooter and Bert form hatchlings with all this new advice. I made them a naturalistic outdoor enclosure that was about 35' long and 10-12' wide with a L shape. Remember we are talking about 2" hatchlings here. Due to our extraordinary weather here, they spent nearly every day, all day outside in their pen. They would be brought indoors only at night and on cold rainy winter days. They were fed small amounts of grass, weeds, leaves, and cactus, and I regularly skipped feeding one to three days a week. (Sounding even more familiar yet?) They were famished and would pounce on any dry leaf that happened to blow into their enclosure. The result: Small, slow growing, arguably stunted, PYRAMIDED tortoises. A friend gave me a third one, Delores, who was added to the group a little over a year later, with the same results. I did everything "right" according to all the experts, and they still pyramided. To say I was discouraged was an understatement. This is the same advice that Andy is promoting here on TFO over the last couple of weeks, so you can imagine my frustration at hearing the same BAD advice so many years later. I knew way back then that something was missing. I kept those tortoises, but I took a sort of "mental vacation" from the hobby for a few years until I, or somebody else, could figure out the problem. I had lots of other tortoises and helped lots of friends, family, and clients with their tortoise over the intervening years and saw consistent results across the board. I couldn't grow a smooth leopard to save my life and temporarily gave that species up entirely. Meanwhile I couldn't make a russian pyramid, or even find a pyramided russian if I tried. Desert tortoises were a mixed bag. Indoor raised babies seemed to pyramid more than outdoor ones, but outdoor raised ones were often pyramided too, so they were a mixed bag. Fast forward to 2005. I lived in South Africa for about 4 moths while working on a movie. We were all over the place with more than a dozen filming locations, plus my South African girlfriend and other friends took me all over the place. I saw 100's of tortoises housed in all sorts of different ways in captivity, plus a few wild ones running around in the cold clammy weather at the Cape as if it were a warm summer day. In 2007, The Fife brothers released their "Leopard Tortoises" book , introducing for the first time I had seen the concept of humid hides for tortoises as a means to prevent dehydration and pyramiding. I had been using humid hides for lizards and snakes for years, so this made perfect sense to me. Then, while on a job in New Orleans, I met a man from South Florida who should me pics on his phone of his two five year old 60 pound sulcatas that lived loose in his back yard and ate the cat kibble off the back porch every day, in addition to whatever weeds and grass grew in the yard. His tortoises were giant for their age, eating the wrong food, and they were smooth as a cue ball. I don't know how healthy the inside was, but the outside was perfect. This showed me that humidity was NOT bad for them, totally inappropriate diets would not kill them and did NOT cause pyramiding, and that I (we as a community) had much to learn. Later that year on yet another Louisiana job I came across a pet store with two young sulcatas. Seems the uncle of one of the employees was a breeder just outside New Orleans. One tortoise was about 8" and smooth as anything I had ever seen. The other tortoise was about 3.5" and demonstrated he typical captive sulcata pyramiding. They were clutch mates about a year and a half old. One was raised inside in a dry enclosure, while the sibling was raised outside in the hot, humid, rainy, wet, Louisiana climate. Seeing a pattern here yet? Soon after my big experiment with Daisy began, then I found TFO, made all these same argument to no avail, and so began my "End of Pyramiding" thread in 2010. I decided to "put up, or shut up", and asked the same of my critics who were spouting a similar, although less articulate line, to what Andy is promoting here recently. The results of that "experiment" and the hundreds of other people who duplicated it with the same successful results speak for themselves. So please pardon my skepticism when I'm told that well hydrated, properly fed, well exercised tortoises that live in natural enclosures and get daily sunshine their whole lives, are going to somehow demonstrate some sort of mystery ailment in 50 years because they had daily soaks and humid hides when they hatched.


lilacdragon said:
We are all looking for answers as to why indoor-reared tortoises are more susceptible to pyramiding than outdoor-reared ones. If those wavelengths of IR-A are adding to the harm, but wetting the carapace/ soaking the keratin layer prevents them from reaching the sensitive growth plates underneath, then this could be one more reason why Tom's method works.

In my lengthy explanation above, it should be clear that it is not an indoor/outdoor issue. It is a too dry/wet enough issue. They pyramid just the same outdoors IF it is too dry like it is here in a climate like mine. Scooter and Bert had CHEs indoors for night heat when they were little, but they didn't have traditional basing lamps, if I recall correctly, since they were outside almost every day.


There. I think I hit everything. Please let me know what you think.


Yvonne G said:
Testudoresearch said:
I also do not agree with those who claim that juveniles of semi-arid habitat tortoises spend a large proportion of their lives in "high humidity" situations. Certainly not in ultra-high humidity situations. I have personally been avidly collecting field data on this since 1990 and have an absolute mass of measurements from all over the place... and I consequently feel that quite a lot of the information out there on this is very misleading.


I'm old, so my memory fails me quite a bit, but it is MY contention, and I THINK other's who believe in the high humidity theory, that you use the high humidity for the first year of the hatchling's life. After that you start weaning them off the high humidity and they start living most of the day outside. So, in my case (and I THINK in Tom's case too) we're only talking about the first year of a hatchling's life.

Yvonne, I don't go by age, I go by size, but yes, you have the right idea.

Andy, on this subject, I cannot argue with your data on leopards outside of South Africa, but I can argue that at least some of the time it is very hot and humid in South Africa, and several South African members have said so. Constant? Maybe not. At least some of the time? Yes. As far as sulcatas go, it most certainly is hot and humid during the rainy season according to my friend who has lived their his whole life. You seem to want to ignore those few months and focus on the dry season. I have no answer for that. No one knows what the wild babies do in the drier times of the year. What that leaves us with, is what happens in our captive environments here at home. It is obvious and repeatable what happens when they are raised dry, or when they are raised wet, regardless of whether they are indoors or out, or what diet they are fed. This is simple and easy to understand for anyone.
 

Testudoresearch

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You can lead a horse to water... but you can't make it drink. Same with knowledge. Even more so with wisdom.
 

FLINTUS

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Tom said:
FLINTUS said:
Tom said:
Further, no one is claiming that any wild species lives in super high humidity 24/7/365.
I have to disagree with that. Kinixys erosa, homeana and chelonoidis denticulata will rarely be found in areas of less than 80% RH. Chelonoidis carbonaria and the species of indotestudo and manouria-depending on which part of the range they occupy-will very rarely be found in less than 60% RH.

Duly noted FLINTUS. I should have been more specific. This discussion, for me, has been primarily about leopards and sulcatas, with a bit of Testudo thrown in. I apologize for my lack of specificity.
Just wanted to clear it up as where as you have been talking about leopards and sulcatas, not all the conversation has gone that way-psammobates, kinixys, chelonoidis, elegans, etc. I am still interested to see what you think about my comment that perhaps something in sulcata and leopard care is still off, and the humidity is compensating for it.
 

Yvonne G

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Testudoresearch said:
You can lead a horse to water... but you can't make it drink. Same with knowledge. Even more so with wisdom.

How funny that the pot is having a hard time seeing the black kettle.
 

Testudoresearch

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My own view is that there are often a number of things "off"...I could tell you one right away... think thermodynamics... radiant heat sources....thermoregulation cues.

What I really very sad and thoroughly, deeply depressing is just how far some keepers these days are absolutely and totally "cut off" from reality. How they have managed to create a completely artificial internalised scenario where nature is second best and what they can offer in their back yards is superior in every respect. Where they can even "feel sorry" for animals living a natural, healthy life, in their own natural habitat. It is no step at all from that to convincing yourself (and anyone else arrogant and foolish enough to fall for it) that tortoises and all other wild creatures are "better off" in captivity. At that point, there is no hope. Why bother even protecting the last remaining wild places and wild creatures if that is what you believe? If views like that become the norm - we are finished. It is the supreme arrogance.
 

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