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Reptile Behavior

Quirky Things We Learned from Our Tortoise #ReptileCare

Quirky tortoise care

When we first adopted Augustine, our Russian Tortoise, we knew absolutely nothing about how tortoise care. But, part of the fun of being a pet parent is learning HOW to properly care for your pet – and that goes for any species.

Of course, there are certain things you must know before bringing any species into your home. This includes:

  • Their preferred diet
  • Housing requirements
  • Basic health requirements
  • Keep your hands clean – always!

Today we’re talking about things that probably aren’t in the care kit that the store sent you home with when you purchased your tortoise.

We learned a lot of things about tortoise care when we took Augustine into our home. The first thing is that despite being a desert animal, our Augustine LOVED the water and would spend hours in his speciality soaking pond. Most Russian tortoises won’t do this, so you need to pay attention to your individual species. Each of them are quirky and have their own preferences.

Tortoises live a very long time, require multivitamin and calcium supplements, and don’t understand glass.

Beware cats and dogs – don’t let your pets flip your tortoise over!

We learned that having a turtle can be challenging when you also have dogs and cats. First off, anything big likes to mess with smaller animals. That’s just a fact. So we had to learn how to keep the dogs and cats out of Augustine’s cage.

This was mostly due to their attempts to roll him onto his back. I suspect they found doggie humor in his struggle to get upright (which he could never do on his own). This is why you must never leave your tortoise unattended in an area that isn’t fully enclosed.

Tortoises cannot stay on their backs for long periods of time. Not only will they panic, they will become dehydrated and die.

Tortoises don’t understand windows or glass…

When we first got Augustine, he was given to us in a 10-gallon glass aquarium that was way too small. It was also made of glass. So, he kept trying to climb out of it.

We eventually moved him into a giant custom enclosure that had plexiglass so we could watch him, but he still kept trying to escape. Finally we understood that he didn’t get the concept of glass and it was cruel to give him false hope. We had to take the glass away and put up regular wooden sides on it.

That simple change made for a much happier tortoise.

tortoise care

Tortoises have a sense of humor

We learned pretty quick that Augustine has a sense of humor. We also learned his bite was much worse than his bark. He loved to go into the backyard and chase our large animals around. Even the coyote thought he was terrifying!

Augustine also learned that to keep the dogs and cats out of his cage, he could snap at them. The dogs and cats were quick to move after that (and far less likely to trespass)!

Tortoises are excellent diggers!

Tortoises love to dig and burrow into the sand. They will dig all the way under a fence unless you have a concrete footing, which is why it’s important to never leave your reptiles unattended when they are outside or in an enclosure that doesn’t have a floor. You wouldn’t believe what kind of escape artists they are!

Make sure you have very secure fencing. You may also want to add some extra footers!

Some Tortoises Like Being Petted!

Augustine loved to be petted and to stretch his legs. The most fun time for him (and for us) was letting him run around (supervised) in the yard. Contrary to what you may think, tortoises need to have shade available (but sun is excellent for his shell). Focus on your climate and do your best to adjust the environment to your tortoises needs.

Every tortoise setup needs a basking area AND a colder side on their enclosure where they can hang out.

Tortoises are accustomed to fairly extreme temperature variances (about 20-30 degrees farenheit). This is why it’s important to have a large terrarium or table-like tortoise habitat, so they can move from warm to cool.

The area where they sleep should have high humidity (about 60%) which you can achieve by using moist substrate.

Calcium Supplements and Multivitamins are Necessary for Tortoise Care

We eventually learned that calcium was necessary for Augustine’s diet. We couldn’t just feed left-over vegetables and fruits. Tortoises need a balanced diet and plenty of supplements. We fed canned tortoise food and dry tortoise food to supplement his herbivore diet.

We dusted his favorite fruits (he loved watermelon and romaine lettuce) with a calcium supplement twice a week. We also added a tortoise-specific multivitamin to his food once a week.

Each species requires a very special diet, so be sure you research. Before you bring any reptile into your home, we suggest visiting your local reptile rescue. They are by far the most qualified to discuss the needs of each species! If you’re in Arizona, try these oganizations:

Tortoises live a long time!

Russian tortoises can live to be over forty years old. This is not a pet that you can bring into your home lightly – it’s a long commitment.

Never Use Pest Control…

If you have any type of reptile, bird or fish, you have to explore alternative ways to handle pest control. It’s very important that you look at natural pesticides when you have any type of fish, reptiles or birds in your home.

If you’re thinking of adding a new tortoise to your home, we hope you select a Russian Tortoise. They are wonderful pets, but they do require work and it’s important that you do your homework.

Understand Water Quality

Your pets always need access to clean, fresh water. Consider putting a pet fountain or making your own little pond for your tortoise. Make sure the water is cleaned out every day.

Keep in mind, this may not be the best pet for a child. Russian tortoises are fairly shy and prefer to be left to their own devices most of the time. You will need to commit to a lifetime (that may extend beyond yours) of care. Also, tortoises (like most reptiles) tend towards carrying salmonella on their bellies. Make sure your kids know to wash their hands after playing with a tortoise!

Learn more about Reptiles:


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