through the year
Late Summer and Autumn, preparing for hibernation
Although they are quite able to hibernate in their first year (after all that is what happens in the wild), I find it is advantageous to their achieving a smooth shell shape if they spend their first few months with a humid substrate, and this can be extended to their first winter. I use well-soaked coco coir which they dig themselves into, usually choosing the area under a lamp which is warm and humid as opposed to cold and damp. The moisture counteracts the drying effect of the lamps on the keratin, helping to keep growth smooth and avoid pyramiding. The density and conductive properties of a humid substrate also facilitates temperature auto-regulation for the tortoise, which a loose, dry substrate could not do.
I then hibernate them normally the next winter.
is not advisable to allow very small tortoises to hibernate for more than about
11 weeks, say from mid December until early March, so it is necessary to
'stretch' the summer at both ends using your indoor
unit. This normally comes into use in September when the
nights start cooling off and you will need to bring in the babies at
night. Whilst the days are still warm, they can go outside during the day.
(Be very careful when there is danger of frost - always bring them
in). Gradually they will be spending more time in the indoor unit in which you
need to simulate summer using the equipment described. Try to place the
unit in a bright place and where the night time temperature is not less
Between October and December, gradually shorten the day length (full spectrum light or combi lamp) a little at a time from 12 hours down to 8 (manually or using a time switch) and gradually decrease the temperature (basking light or combi lamp) by altering the setting on the thermostat or moving the light further away. During this period they will gradually wind down their eating and activity. They are emptying their guts ready for hibernation. This is both natural and vital, and sufficient ambient heat is needed for this to take place; if not, there is danger that the tortoises will go into hibernation with a full gut, the commonest cause of hibernation fatalities. They know instinctively what to do and we should not encourage them to eat any more than they choose to at this time, rather the opposite. They need a period of three to four weeks (dependant on the tortoise's size) without food but with temperatures sufficiently high to continue digestion. A few warm shallow baths during this time will help them to 'empty down' and ensure they are sufficiently hydrated. Sometimes the 'last poo' has a blob of mucus on the end. As the night-time temperature should not fall below 10° or 12°C during this period, some additional background heat may be needed if the unit is in a very cool room or a greenhouse. Do allow the temperature to drop at night, as this helps to signal to them that winter is coming.
of this gradual winding down of day length and temperature they will spend a
little longer each day hiding as they sense the approach of winter until finally
they cease to emerge at all and are ready to hibernate.
this stage I put them in a cardboard box containing shredded newspaper
and put this into a thick-walled polystyrene box (of the type used for
transporting tropical fish) with several small ventilation holes
penetrating both boxes, and more shredded paper filling the space between the
outer and inner boxes. This goes first into a cool room and finally into
a frost-free, unheated utility room - garages and attics can get too
cold. An oil-filled radiator on a frost setting is an excellent addition. Check regularly that the
tortoises are not trying to climb out -
normally they will dig down to the bottom to hibernate, so you are likely
to hear creakings and digging sounds for the first few days. It is vital to
monitor the temperature with a max/min
thermometer. (The digital type with a probe is the most accurate, available from
mail order companies such as Maplin Electronics or on eBay). If the temperature falls below
1°C there is serious danger of the tortoise's tissues being frozen and
equally if it gets to much over 10°C for more than a couple of days, the tortoise could become active and try
to climb out, so you may need to move the box occasionally. Around 5°C
Hibernation is an important part of your tortoise's natural cycle and should
only be avoided if it is underweight or sick.
There are two main methods of achieving a cool environment for hibernation, Fridge hibernation and Box hibernation. The fridge method is popular especially where people do not have an outbuilding, and it is reasonably easy to maintain a steady temperature of around 5C. The fridge needs to be a larder fridge, ie one without a freezer compartment, and it is important to get the correct temperature established before putting the tortoise in. For the tortoise to feel 'dug in' it is best if it can be placed in a container of shredded newspaper or topsoil rather than be 'naked' on the shelf. In both fridge and box hibernation, tortoises like to feel they have the option to dig down deeper when it is colder, as they do in the wild, so a deep rather than shallow box is preferable.
the spring this process is reversed: around the middle of March or when the
weather suggests it, get the indoor unit ready and bring the hibernation box
into a warm room. After a while (maybe a day) you will hear rustling and they
will come up to the top. Pop them in a really bright place (sunshine or full
spectrum light strip)
with a spotlight for basking heat. Give them a shallow lukewarm bath,
allowing them to drink, warm up and soak, offer some young dandelion leaves and
they should be up and running within a few hours. As before, use the thermostat
to control the temperature (18°C at the cold end up to 32°C under the light)
and the time switch to control day length.
the season warms up they can go outside on warm days (and in again at
night) until it is warm enough to leave them out all the time, perhaps by late
May, and another season is underway! If you have a
greenhouse (an incredibly useful item for tortoise keeping), with a little
ingenuity it is possible to create an indoor and an outdoor habitat on the same
level, which the babies can move between at will, so that the weather becomes
less of an issue because they can still warm up under the lamp before venturing
out to graze.
If you have a greenhouse (an incredibly useful item for tortoise keeping), with a little ingenuity it is possible to create an indoor and an outdoor habitat on the same level, which the babies can move between at will, so that the weather becomes less of an issue because they can still warm up under the lamp before venturing out to graze.
the summer months the youngsters will come into their own as they respond to
temperatures closer to their natural climate. They will develop their own
routine of basking, feeding, exploring and sleeping whilst you observe them,
provide good quality wild food and keep their areas tended and safe.
are tough little creatures and will do fine with the basic conditions described.
Do monitor them well but don't coddle them too much!
babies will need some daytime checking; although they can look
after themselves perfectly well, they do sometimes get themselves the wrong way
up and can't always right themselves. This could be potentially dangerous if
under a lamp or in hot sun. (Plenty of stones and plants help to deal with this
in outdoor environments; twigs and pieces of towelling scattered on the soil or
coir can be helpful in indoor units) You will
need to train a friendly neighbour to cover for you if you go away. If you go
away a lot or are usually out during the day you will not be around during their
activity period and so will be unable to observe their feeding, behaviour and
If this is the case you should think again about the
responsibility of taking on young tortoises,
with the potential to outlive ourselves, and even our children, given the
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