Sunday, April 20, 2014

Marginated tortoises update!

Everyone loves baby tortoises... and I have taken a ton of pictures of my wee Marginated babies the last few months, but have been too busy to post them!  

Marginated tortoises end up growing to be quite large, about 14 inches 35cm) straight carapace length. My babies now range from about 3" - 4.5" length. That is a lot of growth in the few months since they hatched!

Blossom, looking at the camera
You may remember that when I got Blossom and Buttercup, they were just 16g, and ooooh so tiny. I can tell you though, these spunky little gals grow SO QUICKLY. Because of this, they are very prone to pyramiding. Marginated tortoises need a lot of calcium and good hydration and exercise and healthy food and good UVB to grow healthily (smoothly!).

I promise she isn't grumpy... that's just her face
I've used a slightly more relaxed version of the so-called 'hot/humid' method for raising these babies. I will write more about this later - I learned about this method from my tortoise-mentors Melissa and Tom, and their threads about how they raise their leopard tortoise babies, sulcata babies and Russian tortoise babies are on the Tortoise Forum. These little Margies are thriving like heck!

Smooth as marble! 
 I keep a log of the weights of my tortoises, and the most recent weigh-in of the Margie babies was as follows:
Buttercup: 266g (at 17 months)
Bubbles: 148g (at 7 months)
Blossom: 92g (at 8 months)
Looking at growth curves for Marginated tortoises, they are definitely on the large side of the curve. Bubbles is HUGE for her age, but she started out huge. She was the same size at 10 days as her peers were at a month... her Momma was not small, either.

From left to right, Bubbles, Buttercup, Blossom
I am not worried that Blossom is smaller - she started out petite. She eats like a little piggy though, and her growth curve is steady.

Bubbles is the darkest of the three.
Bubbles is the darkest of the three babies, and judging by her current size, I suspect she will be the largest of them all. At just 7 months age she is already larger than Buttercup was at 1 year!

Bubbles found the violet patch
As soon as the weather started getting warmer, I made sure the tortoises get time outside. Even if the air temperature is still only 55 degrees F (13 degrees C), the ground temperature is much warmer in the sun, and using a temp gun, the shell temperature of the basking tortoises was actually about 80 degrees.

Yummy violets!
I would recommend to anyone who keeps a tortoise (or several) to provide as much natural sunlight as possible. The sun provides the valuable UVB rays that are necessary for a tortoise's vitamin D3 generation, which in turn is necessary for calcium absorbtion, for healthy bones and a healthy shell. We live in the Pacific Northwest, so it is mild but chilly here in January and February. It was still too cold in the tortoise garden, since the house still shaded it at that time of year. However, I brought the tortoises outside in a variety of bins, to get some natural sunlight.

Still sparse, but once the weeds grow in, it will be lush!
Now that the weather is warmer, and the angle of the sun has changed for Springtime, the baby Marginated tortoises spend several hours outside in their covered enclosure every day. In the picture above you can see that the weeds are still very sparse... I obviously supplement their food by adding in more piles of weeds. In a few weeks, once the weather warms up more, this area will be lush with weeds! :)

I hope you all enjoyed the pictures... I have actually taken in a 4th little Marginated baby, but this one is very pyramided, and has been chewed by the previous owner's dog. I have named it Waffle and will post some pictures of this one, soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More eggs from our Russian tortoise female Timmy!

Timmy, my favorite female Russian tortoise, has laid MORE eggs this week. 

Timmy, pushing out one of the 3 eggs on March 22nd
She laid 1 egg on Feb 17th, and then on March 22nd, she started pacing and digging in her tort table. I gave her a cat litter box full of slightly moist soil, and she laid 3 beautiful eggs into a nest hole she dug there.

I think this was the second egg. She pushed each egg further into
the nest hole before laying the next. 
The eggs are in an incubator now, which is set to 89 degrees, hoping to temperature sex the hatchlings to be female. It usually takes 60-100 days for a Russian tortoise baby to hatch. Unlike e.g. chicken eggs, tortoise eggs need to lie completely still, on their side, for the embryo to develop.

The 3 eggs from March 22nd, right before going into the incubator.
I had to use coconut coir instead of vermiculite, since I wasn't expecting these eggs.
Then on April 7, I noticed she was digging nest holes in the outdoor enclosure. I kept a hawk's eye on her, and in the late afternoon, she laid 3 more eggs into a nest hole she dug. Once she was done, I very carefully dug them up and placed them into the incubator as well.

Timmy eating a well-deserved meal after laying her clutch
of 3 eggs outside at the beginning of this week
This makes a total of 7 eggs! I am fairly certain that the first one (from Feb) isn't fertile... but so far the other 6 look great. They have chalked over, which is a good sign. I probably won't candle the other eggs, but will instead force myself to just wait and see if they hatch. Leaving them alone completely is much more healthy than if I bother them in an effort to check on them.

In addition to being very hungry, Timmy has also eaten 1.5 cuttlefish bones!
Her body needs the extra calcium to keep her own bones strong,
and to make healthy eggs.
This means that in a few months, I will hopefully be up to my eyeballs in Russian tortoise hatchlings... a rather wonderful problem to have, don't you think?

Friday, March 7, 2014

I guess I should update who the tortoise stars of this blog are.

It has been a long time since the last 'tortoise inventory' blog post. My tortoise bale (that's what you call a group of tortoises) has grown just a little. This means more food, more enclosures... and more fun!

A few of the previously featured tortoises now live with friends here in town - Boo lives with a wonderful local woman who adores him and has re-named him Rok. He gets to roam a nice outdoor space, and gets spoiled rotten. Mo continues to be happy and healthy with my friends, and he now has a lady-friend-tortoise, Molly. I really love seeing the tortoises that I rehabilitated find happy lives with my friends! (I should say "Muahuahuahua, my evil plan to infest interest my friends with tortoises is working!)

Although I keep my tortoises separated by species, you get to meet the tortoise stars of this blog all in one place, for once:

The Russian tortoises:
The Testudo horsfieldii are a lively bunch. 
Timmy was the first one I got, and she remains the boss of them all, even though she is not the biggest. She patrols her territory with gusto. She is also the only female who has laid eggs for me so far. She is about 7 inches SCL.
Roz was my second tortoise, and although he is male, he does not seem very excited about his little tortoise harem. He only wants Timmy. He is about 5 inches SCL.
Jill is the smallest of the females, but is 5.5" SCL now, which is larger than Roz. Remember how small she was when I got her? She is still the most timid, and when they are indoors, I house her separately from the others because she becomes withdrawn if they pick on her. Outdoors she does fine. 
Mila is my pretty green girl. She is easy going, and gets along fine with the others. I suspect she will grow to be very large, as she eats like a little piggy. Her shell is very green, and some day I think she will have some stunning babies. She is very domed, and about 6" SCL. 
Lady is my heaviest girl, though no longer the longest. She is built like a tank, almost as wide as she is long, and very domed. She loves to eat, and it shows in her sturdy build. She is friendly with kids, and is a wonderful tortoise to bring to my kids' school because she doesn't pee or poop when being handled, and she seeks out human attention. She is 7.5" SCL.
Vivian is my longest girl, though not my heaviest. She came into my care last Fall, and has been gaining weight steadily. She is a little shy, but she holds her own. Her shell has an interesting greenish hue. She recently finished her quarantine period, so she is housed with Lady. The two get along just fine, and they dwarf all the other tortoises. Vivian was named by our Russian tortoise Facebook group. She is 8" SCL. 

Oh wait. And there is one more Russian tortoise! Meet our newest addition, a little captive-bred male with a very pretty shell! After his quarantine period, he will get his own little tortoise harem, since Roz doesn't show interest in the other females. I haven't named him yet.

Next up, the Marginated tortoise babies:
 From left to right, these Marginated tortoises are Bubbles, Buttercup, and Blossom. They are fabulous, spunky little critters. Bubbles is huge for her age, she is actually the youngest. I suspect she will outgrow Buttercup within the next half year. Blossom is petite, but very spunky, and she is a climber! Buttercup is getting huge, and I've had to cut a larger hole into their hide to allow for her to fit through. She is very friendly.

The Redfoot tortoise:
You would not believe how much this handsome dude has grown. He looks dry in this picture, but he is actually kept in a tropically humid environment, and is thriving like crazy under those conditions. He has nearly doubled his weight since last August (when he admittedly was underweight). His new growth is also coming in very smoothly. He will always have some bumps from his earlier care, but who really cares, since he is so healthy. You might notice that I am referring to him as a HE. When I got him, he looked like a female, based on his tail. Then one day he exposed his manly bits to me during a soak, and his tail has grown and he is starting to get an indented waist, which is typical of a redfoot male. My husband named him 'Oup' (as in 'This is my tortoise Oup' - say it quickly...hahah... get it?). He will soon be joining a friend's group of redfoot tortoises. Lucky guy!

Last, but definitely not least, our Leopard tortoise:
Penelope joined us this February. She had a bit of a rough start in life, but with good healthy food, natural sunlight, lots of heat and humidity, and sequential beak trimming to correct her cross-bite/underbite, I am confident she will thrive. She has already gained a significant amount of weight over the 3 weeks I've had her, much of which I suspect is healthy water weight. She will eat anything I offer her, and she has been chowing down on cuttlefish bone (which is a good source of calcium) like crazy. She is enjoying being misted with warm water twice a day, and I am excited to see her new growth come in more smoothly.

On a side-note, feel free to swing by this fun little video clip of one of the recent TV reports featuring my cozies on KATU Portland and KOMO News.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hooray for more articles!

It appears that my pictures of Buttercup in her little stegosaurus cozy and the matching snail cozy have recently made their rounds on the Internet. How fun! 

Here are the links to the articles:

Buttercup and Snail

Snail being shy

Two cute cozy critters

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Finally some yummy weeds to feed the tortoises!

Good news! The tortoises that I hibernated are all awake, and are eating and active. I sure missed them while they were sleeping...
Mila, enjoying some good basking heat the day she woke up from hibernation
Now that the weather is warming up a little, I also have access to a whole plethora of weeds. As long as they are collected in an area where you know they have not been sprayed or fertilized, tortoise-safe weeds are exponentially more healthy (and much cheaper!) for a tortoise than any store bought food.

Jill, suspiciously eyeing her miner's lettuce. She did eat about half of the pile
I've found that especially 'picky eater' tortoises will almost always eat mixed weeds. They might not like all of them, but if you feed a wide variety, surely they will find something they like.

Here is what was on today's menu. Keep in mind that the weather is pretty mild here in SW Washington State... these might not grow in your area for a few more months. I harvested these in my own garden, as well as in my friend's very weed-overgrown un-sprayed yard. I didn't tell her that I tried to leave the roots in so I can harvest more in the future.... Shhhhhhh... 

Today's tortoise menu weeds (click on the pic to see a larger version)
If you are unsure of the identity of a plant, I recommend double checking with a local nursery or the botany department of a local college. There is a good plant database on The Tortoise Table that I like to use. You can either search for a plant by name (to find out if it is safe), or if you don't know the name, you can search by flower color, and often visually identify the plant. Make sure that the leaves, flower, and root match the description. And if unsure, always err on the safe side and don't feed it.

The same page also has a printable plant booklet that I have found helpful. It has a shorter list of good edible plants that you are likely to find in your garden or nearby field.

Timmy says "RAWR!" and the weeds were toast. 
In order for a tortoise to get the nutrients it needs, feeding a wide variety of plants is very important. Feeding all weeds is best (and cheapest), but I realize this isn't always practical or possible for every tortoise keeper. I end up having to buy food from November-January each year. I get collard greens, mustard greens, kale, endive, radicchio, spring mix, aloe, and opuntia cactus (called 'nopales' in Hispanic food stores), to name a few.

This handsome guy was one of my last year's foster tortoises for IRR.
He refused to eat until I was able to offer him weeds. He thrived like crazy from this point on.
To help ensure the tortoises receive the necessary nutrients, I sprinkle the washed leaves with TNT powder from Carolina Pet Supply. I also provide each enclosure with several cuttlefish bones for calcium. The tortoises help themselves to this, as needed. In addition, I sprinkle some calcium on the leaves for the baby tortoises a few times per week, as they need more than the adults.

This is a pic I took of little Buttercup last year, chowing down on some
cuttlefish bone just a month after I got her.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A helpful guide to determining the sex of your Russian tortoise

When you bring home your new Russian tortoise, you may wonder if you have a boy or a girl. If you bought it at a pet store, there is a good chance the sales clerk told you some nonsense about the tortoise being a baby and whatever sex they happen to think it is based on who knows what. You most likely have a male - the pet trade prefers to sell males because they stay smaller, they are easier to hatch (since they require a lower incubation temperature), and they won't produce eggs. However, some females do show up at pet stores, and many show up second-hand on Craigslist or other online marketplaces. Determining the sex (male or female) of Russian tortoises is fairly straightforward, based on the shape of their tail.

Are you a 'Bo' or are you a 'Bonita'?!
Unlike other tortoise species, Russian tortoise males do not have a concave plastron. The body shape of males and females is roughly the same, with small non-gender-specific differences from one animal to the next that are due to the different subspecies and environmental factors. Both can have a little 'claw' at the end of their tail (all males do, not all females do, but some females do).

Size at maturity can be one clue: mature males are significantly smaller than mature females: males are usually about 5" and rarely grow larger than 6 inches (exceptions do occur), while females as large as 12 inches have been reported. Most mature females end up about 8-10 inches large.

The easiest way to tell if you have a male or a female is to look at your tortoise's tail. I have drawn you a diagram, and will show actual photographs below. You can click on the diagram to enlarge it.

A quick diagram of male and female tails in Russian tortoises
The very simplified description is that males have a long, skinny, pointy tail in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like a slit, and is close to the tip of the tail. This makes sense, since the male needs to be able to bring his reproductive organs close to the female, and the length of the tail needs to be able to accomodate his penis. Males often carry their tail tucked to the side.
Females have a short, fat, wedge-shaped tail, in which the cloaca (vent) is shaped like an asterisk (*) or pucker, and is closer to the body. This is important for easier passing of eggs, which are surprisingly large!
A Russian tortoise egg - woah, that's big!
The vent gets stretched out during egg laying, so a mature female's tail will look different after she has laid eggs.

Please keep in mind that a small tortoise (4.5 inches or smaller) will usually look female. My male had a small stubby tail until he was almost 5" long (SCL) and then his tail suddenly sprouted and got more pointy. Here is a picture of a baby Marginated tortoise's tail, which are sexed the same way Russian tortoises are:

This little Marginated tortoise looks female,
but we won't know for sure until she is MUCH bigger.
Below is a picture of my male when he was still very young. His tail was not very long, but I was pretty sure he was a male, because his cloaca (vent) was slit-shaped, and the tip was pointy.

A young male Russian tortoise's tail
As mentioned before, a male Russian's plastron (flat belly shell) is NOT concave as it is in e.g. Greek tortoises.
His tail wasn't very long yet,
but he carried it tucked to the side,
and the point was much skinnier than it would be in a female.
This is his tail now. It still isn't super long, but it is definitely longer, he carries it to the side, and his cloaca is slit-shaped:
A young male's tail.

A young male's tail with the slit-shaped cloaca (vent)
Here is a picture of a mature Russian tortoise male:
Woah, now that is one heck of a male tortoise tail. Long and pointy.
Next up, some pictures of female Russian tortoise's tails. First, some young, immature females. Mila was about 5" when I took this pic, but since our male showed no interest in her, I assume she was not mature yet.
This is Mila, she was about 5" long when I took this pic
When I first got Jill, she was only 4.5" long, so although her tail looked female, I wasn't 100% sure she was indeed going to keep a small, stubby tail. Now at 5.5" long, her tail remains small and stubby, so I am certain that she is indeed a girl.
Jill was only 4.5" long when I took this pic.
Next, the fat and wedge-shaped tail of a mature female who had not yet laid eggs yet:
This is a 6.5" female's fat, stubby tail.
This one has some shell damage, so please disregard the shape of the pygal scute above the tail.
The next picture shows the asterisk (*) shaped vent of a female. Note how the vent is fairly close to the body, and even though the tortoise is close to 8" long, the tail is TINY. This female has never laid eggs.
A large, mature female's tail before she ever laid eggs. Note the * shaped vent.
And finally, here is a very wedge-shaped tale of a very large female:
Mature female tortoises actually have fat deposits in their tails.
This gives them their unique shape.
This female has laid eggs, so her vent is no longer a little asterisk-shape, but rather, a pucker. The skin of her cloaca had to stretch significantly to let the eggs out, and while the muscles contract later to close everything up again, the skin will never look the same as a 'virgin' tortoise's tail.
The cloaca of a tortoise female that has laid eggs.
The shape of the anal scutes of the plastron, right above the tail, can vary widely in young Russian tortoises, and is not a reliable method to sex a tortoise, unless it is fully grown.

I hope this helps you determine whether you have a male or a female Russian tortoise. If you just keep one, then in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter... one of our female's name is 'Timmy' - named by my oldest son when we first got her.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Comparison of healthy vs overgrown tortoise beaks

Today's theme: does your tortoise's beak look healthy? Below I've posted 2 pics of tortoise beaks, one of torts with healthy beaks, one of tortoises that badly need a trim.

A healthy tortoise beak should be short and the 'chin' should be visible. Younger tortoises often have little ridges in the front, which is completely fine. There shouldn't be a strong over or under-bite.
Some examples of healthy beaks
I am showing 3 different kinds of healthy beaks:
-on the left, one of a tortoise that still has the little ridges in the front (which is totally fine, as long as the beak is short)
-one of a tortoise that has a smooth, short beak (top right)
-one of a tortoise that previously had an overgrown beak, and has had his beak trimmed and filed (bottom right).

An overgrown beak may just be long in the front, which is really easy to trim... or it may be overgrown all around, making your tortoise look like an old dinosaur. A badly overgrown beak will need to be trimmed by a vet, or sometimes local rescue groups and reptile specialty stores offer free or cheap trims. Every year I help trim many beaks for my friends and at our local rescue group meets. If done properly, it doesn't cause much stress to the animal, and can significantly improve its quality of life. An overgrown beak can hinder eating, and in some cases, prevent the tortoise from pulling its head into its shell.

Some examples of overgrown beaks, in need of a trim
There are many factors that play into causing an overgrown beak:
-too soft foods
-no stones etc. for the tortoise to rub its beak on
-underlying internal issues, such as metabolic bone disease (MBD), caused by lack of calcium and UVB
-different growth rates - I have one tortoise that needs her beak trimmed twice a year, while the others never or only rarely do. 

If you can't find someone to do it for you, you can also use an emery board to gently file it bit by bit. If you would like to learn about how to gently file your tortoise's only slightly overgrown beak, you can watch a short video here:
If the beak is very overgrown, then this may take a while.

If you feel confident you can trim your tortoise's beak (let someone experienced show you how if necessary!), here is a description of how: For small tortoises I use the clipper method, because the vibration and noise of a Dremel just seems to be a little much for them. For larger tortoises, a Dremel may be a better option. If you have experience with this kind of thing, it is possible to do it yourself, BUT don't attempt this until someone has shown you how!

Jill has a very healthy beak. I've never had to do anything to it. 

A view of Jill's healthy beak, from the side. 
Once the beak is nice and trim, it really helps to feed on a slate, and to have different shaped rocks and a cuttlefish bone, too, in the enclosure. These will help maintain a healthy beak. I also like to make the tortoises work for their food a little - I don't chop anything up. Feeding tough-to-chew foods will help, as well.

If your tortoise doesn't touch its cuttlefish bone, you can make it more enticing by soaking it in cucumber juice or carrot juice (the orange color helps, too!). I also sometimes offer eggshells, boiled to sanitize them. Some of the tortoises that never touch their cuttlefish bone, do help themselves to the eggshell, which contains calcium, too.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Buttercup!

Our 'big' little Marginated tortoise Buttercup turned 1 year old today. She has grown so much since I got her in July! Today she weighed in at 138g.

One whole year old! 
I am just amazed at how quickly baby tortoises grow. Buttercup has more than doubled her weight in 4.5 months! Her new growth is very smooth, and her initial pyramiding (from the time before I had her) is less noticeable.
She is more than twice the size she was when I first got her. 
I suspect that by next year, I will need two hands to hold her safely... Happy Birthday, wee Buttercup!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prepping the Russian tortoises for brumation (hibernation)

This year the Russian tortoises are hibernating (brumating). I have wanted to do this for several years now, but was scared of it. I have done a ton of research over the past few years, and am confident that I can safely allow them to hibernate now.

Timmy, Mila, Roz and Jill get to hibernate this year
Hibernating your pet Russian tortoise is not absolutely necessary. I know several very knowledgeable keepers who have never hibernated their tortoises. However, my Russian torts have 'tried' to hibernate every year. They stopped eating, and I had to wake them up daily to try to keep them from shutting down for the winter. Because they were at room temperature (which is NOT a safe hibernation temperature!), they lost weight during this time. Everyone bounced back and started eating again in the Spring, but this year I want to let them hibernate properly.

These are the 4 Russian torts last Spring after NOT hibernating. 
Several considerations are important before attempting hibernation:
-The tortoise must be healthy. No worm infestation, no protozoan infection, etc. - it may be a good idea to have the vet check a fecal sample to be sure. If your tortoises live outside, it may be a good idea to treat them with panacur (fenbendazole) just to be on the safe side.
-The tortoise must have a healthy weight. There are calculators online for different tortoise species that will tell you whether your tortoise is within a healthy weight range. As a general rule, a tortoise should always feel heavier than expected when you pick it up.
-You should have had your tortoise for more than a year. If you have had it for a shorter duration, wait a year - it's too risky, especially if you don't know much about its' history.
-Location. Where will you hibernate your tortoise? Whether you attempt a fridge hibernation (read how first!) or hibernate in your garage (not a detached shed unless you can control the temperature!), it is important that the temperature is right around 40 degrees F (4.5 degrees C). If it is warmer, your tortoise will burn too many calories. If it is colder, your tortoise may freeze to death.
-Hibernation container: be sure that air can come in, but that rodents cannot. The tortoise will not be able to move away to protect itself during hibernation. Avoid tragedy - better safe than sorry!

Lady, our large female,  is at a healthy weight,
but we have only had her since last April, so I won't hibernate her yet this year.
Timmy, Mila, and Roz are going down for hibernation (brumation) today. Jill is about 2 weeks behind them, since the room she is currently in is very warm and she is still very active. I'll be moving her to the big table to start slowing her system down once the other 3 are packed up. Lady, whom I have had for less than a year, is going to stay up - I want to be very sure that she is healthy before she gets to hibernate (probably next year). I've raised the temperatures in the room her tortoise table is in, and she is still up every day, basking, soaking, and eating.

Allegra the rescued redfoot tortoise DOES NOT hibernate!
Not all tortoise species hibernate. Redfoot tortoises, yellowfoot tortoises, sulcata, some Greek tortoise subspecies, pancake tortoises, leopard tortoises and several others stay awake. Please be sure to research whether your tortoise species hibernates before attempting this!

The first step in hibernation preparation is to provide a fasting period that still includes regular soaking. You don't want any food to be left in your tortoise's gut, because it could rot or ferment in there and cause your tortoise to die. Timmy and Mila naturally stopped eating, and spent most of the days and nights in their hide already. I stopped offering food 3 weeks before hibernation start. For the first 2 weeks, I soaked them every 3-4 days, and left the basking lights on. For the last week, I turned off all basking lights, and soaked them every 3-4 days. At this point, their guts were empty.

When 3 tortoises soak in warm water for 30 minutes, and the water stays clean...
you KNOW their guts are empty!
Over the course of last winter, I measured the temperature in different parts of our garage. I found that even on the coldest days, the temperature on a shelf near the furnace never dropped below 40 degrees F (4.5 degrees C). This is perfect for hibernation. However, I have also found that the garage has a tendency to warm up to 50 or even 55 degrees F on warmer winter days, so I have decided on using the refrigerator hibernation method after a few days of 'cool down' in the garage.

Some people let their tortoises brumate naturally outside - however, for me this is not an option, as it rains torrentially here for much of the Fall and Spring, and I would be worried that the sleeping tortoises would flood and drown inside their burrows. A more controlled environment is more suitable.

Jill, having her pre-hibernation weigh-in
My tortoises are worm-free, and have a healthy weight. Tortoises should not lose more than 1% of their weight during hibernation. I recorded each tortoise's weight in the little booklet I keep.

Next, I placed each of the tortoises into a box filled with coconut coir. I figured that they would like the familiar substrate, and that the coir would provide a little insulation.

Roz is not entirely thrilled about being stuck in a small box
Next, I placed the 3 boxes into a small 10-gallon terrarium that I had filled with packing peanuts and newspaper for extra insulation. With the wire mesh lid on, placed up high on a shelf, I felt that the tortoises would be safe from any rodents that might make their way into the garage.

My little helper, posing with the packed-up tortoises
I placed the terrarium in the garage, to let the tortoises cool down to 50 degrees for a few days. This plan backfired just a little - two days later I walked past the terrarium, and found Roz OUT of his box, wedged vertically between his box and the glass. I got the terrarium down, and found that all 3 tortoises had dug out of their boxes, and were slowly moving around in their little glass safe box.

Thankfully, I had been monitoring our refrigerator temperatures, and so I knew that the crisper drawer held a steady 39 - 41 degrees F (3.8 - 5 degrees C). I lined one of the crisper drawers with newspaper, then placed some old towels inside. Then I placed the tortoises into the drawer.

I'd like those sleeping tortoises with a side of carrots, please.
Next, I put several more layers of towels over the tortoises, tucking them in all around. I expected them to move around a little for a few days, and they did. I had to re-tuck them in a few times, because they moved out of their towel nest. Even with steady temperatures of a modern fridge, I didn't want them down on the plastic or too close to the back of the fridge. After day 4 they stayed put.

Night-night, little tortoises!
In the meantime, Jill is safely tucked into this drawer as well. I will be checking on them and weighing them once a week.
Counter to what is commonly believed, it IS safe to carefully handle your tortoise during brumation, as long as they are not warmed up. In fact, checking their weight and making sure they are healthy is very important. The plan is to let them hibernate for 10-12 weeks, so I will be waking them up in mid-late February.

1.) Even during brumation, tortoises continue to breathe, although very slowly. The refrigerator needs to be opened at least once daily to allow fresh oxygen to come in! 
2.) If you are doing a refrigerator hibernation, make sure that the temperatures don't ever drop below freezing. Measure the temperatures in the actual location you plan to place your tortoise - some refrigerators have cold spots (you know, like when the milk suddenly freezes). Use a good digital thermometer with a max/min record.

Not as important, but possibly a useful hint: If you frequently have guests, or someone will be house-sitting for you, you may want to put a little sign on the crisper drawer to avoid shocked reactions at accidentally coming across a sleeping tortoise while searching for an apple!

This blog post narrates my procedure, but PLEASE do lots of research on your own before attempting this yourself! Here are a few useful articles about safe hibernation that I read and found useful: