Monday, December 31, 2012

How to gently file a tortoise's beak - video!

Boo's beak is still not quite where it should be, even after trimming it... so to help him, I have been slowly filing it down every time I bathe him. I know that a lot of other folks out there are encountering the same problem, so here is a little video showing how to file a tortoise's beak.

For a less shy, more squirmy tortoise, you will need to hold them a little more securely. Boo is super shy, so my main concern is to tease him out of his shell.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Boo goes LIVE on YouTube!

I just posted a short video clip of Boo bathing on YouTube.

In fact, I started my own little Tortaddiction YouTube channel. I plan to post little fun or educational video clips of my tortoises on there for you.

Mila and Jill update

Mila and Jill have been with me for 2 weeks now, and have adjusted well. They are so healthy, active, and fun to watch! Getting to 'just enjoy' a pair of new tortoises rather than fretting over their health, performing first aid, etc. is a nice change from bringing home the 'rescue variety' tortoises. 

Jill basking on top of Mila
Why bask on a rock when you have a tortoise-friend to bask on?! Their previous owner commented that she does not want to separate them because they are 'shell-mates.' I wouldn't go that far, BUT I can't deny that these two seem to like each other. They do everything together. 

Freshly misted. I love how bright Jill's shell is!
I mist my tortoises once a day, to help keep their shells nice and healthy. Although Russian tortoises are 'desert' or 'steppe' dwellers, they do actually need moisture to stay healthy. I soak my healthy adult tortoises at least once a week, usually more frequently. Sick Russian tortoises usually need to be soaked more often. When I have hatchlings (*hopefully!*) they will need to be soaked twice daily!

Both torts basking... again. 
Can you tell that these two tortoises love to bask? The basking spot is 100 degrees F. They move into the hot spot to warm up, then wander around their enclosure for a while, until they decide to warm up again.

Christmas week's tortoise food from the local produce store. 
I normally either collect or grow my own tortoise food, but I knew that Christmas week would be very busy, so I bought cactus pad, endive lettuce, collard greens, and kohlrabi (the torts only got the leaves of that, we ate the rest).  In addition to offering a wide variety of foods, I sprinkle TNT over my tortoises' food to make sure they get all the necessary nutrients and trace elements. 

Red leaf lettuce is only an occasional treat in our tortoise household...
Mila and Jill look like hungry hungry hippos when they eat. They are so greedy, and so cute! In the above picture you can see them eating some red leaf lettuce - because it is 'soft' and has a lot of water, it is not recommended to feed it to them too often, but as an occasional treat, mixed in with collards and kale and dandelions, it is fine. 

It is especially funny to me when my tortoises end up eating the same leaf, and then look at each other all surprised when they meet in the middle, Lady-and-the-Tramp-style.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Timmy and Roz update

Timmy, our 'big' female Russian tortoise has been pretty heavily courted this past week. Roz just would not leave her alone. Although they have a large tort fort with lots of sight barriers and hiding opportunities, I decided to move Roz into a rubbermaid for a 'time out' for a few hours at a time to give Timmy some breathing room. 

Timmy is pretending to be camera shy.
In nature, Testudo horsfieldii tortoises only happen upon one another rarely, and mating can be quite violent. Timmy and Roz usually get along very well, basking together, eating together, snoozing together... but Roz has pursued her much more aggressively since we moved them into the larger tort table. 

Roz biting Timmy's front legs, to make her submit and let him mate her
I can't wait for the quarantine of Mila and Jill to be over, so they can move in with the others, hopefully distracting Roz a little, or rather, dividing his attention among the 3 females! 

Timmy basking, with Roz nearby
In the meantime, Timmy is holding her own pretty well - she is quite a bit larger than Roz, and either walks away, ignores him, or bulldozes him. I'm making sure she gets enough food and doesn't get stressed.

Roz is actually a real sweetie, most of the time!
Roz must think that he is quite the little stud. I do hope that we'll get some tortoise eggs this year from Timmy, and possibly even from Mila (Jill is still too young)...  I also look forward to letting the torts spend more time outside once the weather gets warmer!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mo gets a 'forever' home!

Today was a bittersweet day: Mo got picked up by his new family!

He's going to be loved by two wonderful kids, and a fantastic Mom and Dad. The best part: they are my friends, so I'll still get to see him!

If you aren't familiar with Mo's story, you can read it HERE.

Ha. Look who has pumpkin all over his face. Oops. 
We're waiting until January to have the vet run a fecal, to confirm the worms are gone.

Mo's new family was eager to bring him home for Christmas - I'll miss him, but am so happy that his rescue story has a happy ending!

I told my husband that I wouldn't take in any new rescues for a while... to which he smirkingly replied: "We'll see!" ...I guess he's right, since tortoises have a way of finding me... and I'm not about to turn down one that is in need...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2 new female Russian torts!

Today I finally picked up our two new female Russian tortoises! Our little testudo horsfieldi herd is now much better balanced.
Meet Jill and Mila!
Their previous owner contacted me about six weeks ago, because her family is moving to Alaska and couldn't bring them along. Yesterday she sent me a new message that if I could get them today, they would be mine.

While setting up their quarantine tub, I let them wander around on the floor a little
These two sweet girls aren't rescues like most of the other torts we've brought home. Their owner was actually doing a good job caring for them. She fed them the right food, soaked them in water often enough, and had good lights. Their shells look good (though I suspect she used conditioner on them, they are so shiny!), they have nice bright eyes, good short beaks, and short claws. They are in quarantine for now, just to be on the safe side, but I don't anticipate any difficulties.

Jill was pretty easy to weigh.
The first thing I do when I bring home new torties is to measure and weigh them to get a base line.

Mila wouldn't hold still long enough to get a good pic of her measurements.
Mila is VERY active, and so it was a little hard to measure and weigh her because she kept trying to get away at top tortoise speed!

Mila - look at how much green is in her new growth. I've never seen this before.
The bigger of the two is just under 6 inches long, and weighs 500g, even. I named her Mila.

Jill - she has very pretty yellow coloring. She is more shy than Mila.
The smaller is just under 5 inches long, and weighs 385g. Her name will be Jill.

The new torts won't get to interact with my others for a few months, but for size comparison, I put Timmy  by them briefly after her bath.
Mila and Jill TOGETHER are about the size of our 'big' female, Timmy. I look forward to letting my little herd interact, once quarantine is over!

Jill exploring a little after warming up under the basking lamp. 
The quarantine bin is about the same size as the aquarium they lived in with their previous owner - 40"x18". They'll get to move into a much bigger home once the quarantine is over! :)

The challenge PLAN is not to take in any new torties now for a while. The reason I kept bringing home tortoises to rescue was that I came across them on my search for a female.

Playing 'Favorites'

I know that with children you are never supposed to have favorites... but I decided with tortoises, it is OK!

Timmy, my pretty yellow female Russian tortoise
Timmy is by far my favorite of my torts. She is so sweet, and rather smart, too. She likes to explore, and she watches the world go by with those gentle eyes. She is BIG for a Russian tortoise (7.5 inches, and not fully grown yet), and she is nice and heavy, too. I think some day she will be formidable.

It makes me kind of mad when Roz bullies her. I know that this is normal... but I put Roz in time out in the 'box of shame' (which is actually just a box) for about 20 minutes when he bullies her too much. They used to get along better in the smaller enclosure... go figure.

If all goes as planned, I will pick up two (TWO!) female Russian tortoises tomorrow. This has been in the works for several months (the owner actually found me and contacted me!), and I am excited to introduce them to you!

The two little newcomers will have to be in quarantine for a while, just to be on the safe side, but I am hoping that having some extra females around will distract Roz a little...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Boo's new tort enclosure

I am so excited to show you all our Greek tortoise Boo's new enclosure! I built this from my own design - and I had fun painting it. I had to use my neighbor's tools, and he took over a little lot more of the work than I would have chosen... however, truth be told, the end result is probably much more sturdy than it would have been if I had built it completely by myself. Boo's new tort fort is both functional, and attractive.

As you may have already read, I rescued Boo from a family who kept him in a tiny 20-gallon aquarium in the winter, and in the Summer kept him in the garden, tethered by a ring drilled into his shell.

This is what Boo used to live in:
20 gallon aquarium

...and this is what Boo lives in now:
48"L x 18"W x 15"H wood and glass enclosure
In the grand scheme of tortoise tables, even this new one is actually not very large. In a few years I am going to build Boo a much larger enclosure, and this tort fort will turn into the Russian tortoise nursery... (you know, when Timmy lays some eggs? *wishful thinking*)

The challenge, when building a tortoise table, is that tortoises are happier when they have solid walls around them. They can't grasp the concept of glass, and continually attempt to walk through it. However, the large dresser that I wanted to set the enclosure on was high enough up that nobody would have been able to see in if all four walls were made of wood. I created a simple design that allowed for three solid wood walls, and glass in the front for easier viewing. (I got the 1/4" thick tempered glass on Craigslist for $3!)

...done painting and staining, still need the glass front and the vinyl flooring
I built this tortoise enclosure out of stain grade wooden boards treated with several coats of 'mission oak'-tinted polyurethane, with vinyl flooring, caulked cracks, and a glass front that I decoupaged and painted a sight barrier on the bottom 4.5 inches. I painted a little mural on the back that matches the design of our curtains. The hide box doubles as a plant stand (and the flower pot helps prevent Boo from climbing up and out - he's half monkey!)

...the glass is installed, and the UV light is in place.
 For substrate I used a mix of moistened coconut coir and sand. The coco coir is 4 inches deep, except in the hide box, where it is closer to 6.5 inches. Boo will be able to burrow to his heart's content.

Live spider plant, and some bird seed, barley, and kale planted in some organic soil
 I planted some seeds in a plastic container of organic soil. They have sprouted in the meantime, and Boo enjoys nibbling on the sprouts, as well as digging in the soil. The spider plant has taken somewhat of a beating, too, since Boo keeps trying to climb it.

All moved in! 
 Once I was content with the set-up, I moved the basking lamps over from the little aquarium, and moved Boo in. The flat basking rock is nice and big, and helps hold the basking temperature at a steady 95-100 degrees F. The UVB light is installed in a way that Boo will benefit from as he moves around his tort fort.

This plant got replaced with a pumpkin in the meantime, until I find a good climbing rock.
The jade plant didn't survive Boo's climbing for long.
 Have I mentioned that Boo is half monkey? Tortoises seem to find the most complicated route to get from a) to b) and then they make it more interesting by doing acrobatics along the way. They are especially happy if in the process they can drag as much substrate and food into their water dish as possible.

All tuckered out from exploring and climbing!
At the end of the day, Boo luxuriously dug into his 6+ inches of substrate in his hide house and went to sleep!

I hope that some day Boo will learn to trust me enough to eat out of my hand. He is a VERY picky eater, and he still pulls into his shell any time someone reaches into the tort table (I don't blame him, after being disrespected by his old owners). He does seem so much more happy in his new enclosure, though. He is very active, explores, basks, climbs, digs... he is able to look out through the glass if he climbs to a high point, and he definitely watches the kids as they play.

Boo is still very shy...
...but with much patience...
...he is getting used to me!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to trim a tortoise's beak - with pictures!

Tortoises kept in captivity frequently get overgrown beaks, which then need to be trimmed. Many tortoise keepers pay a vet to do this. However, did you know that trimming a tortoise's beak is actually safe and easy enough that you can do this at home?

NOTE: If you are not sure whether you can do this, please don't risk your tortoise's health. Have an expert show you how. Paying to treat an infected cut is a lot more expensive than paying to have your tort's beak trimmed, and it would be so sad to injure your pet. 

Mo was one of my rescues. His beak was EVEN longer when we  first got him!
You will need a few supplies:
Toenail clippers (XL), stainless cuticle trimmers, a white pencil, a skewer, a nail file.
I bought the stainless steel cuticle trimmers on eBay for $2 - they are by a well-known German brand, and very well made. It took 2 weeks to ship from China. Make sure it has the clipping feature, so you can get good leverage.
I don't often use the skewer - this is only necessary if you need to trim the bottom beak, which is rarely necessary. I used the skewer to gently pry open the tort's beak (holding the skewer perpendicular to the beak, so Mo ended up having the skewer in his mouth in the way a horse has a bit), which was only necessary once when we first got Mo. Normally the bottom beak will keep itself short by rubbing against the inside of the top beak. 

Today I will trim Mo's beak:
Mo's beak is too long. 
I know this is hard to believe, but Mo's beak has gradually been trimmed 2x since we got him. It was so terribly overgrown that we couldn't see his 'chin'. We didn't want to trim it all at once, because it can make a tort pretty sore, and we didn't want it to interfere with his eating. 

1.) You will want to tightly wrap your tortoise into an old rag or piece of cloth you don't mind throwing away when you are done (paper towels will be shredded by their claws). Getting his beak trimmed is stressful for a tort, and he WILL expel every bit of feces he has in his gut. My female also pees... have a back-up cloth ready, and wear some clothes that need to go in the laundry anyway. 

2.) With the white pencil, draw a line marking up to where you want to trim your tort's beak. You'll have to trim it bit by bit, and you don't want to stop before you are done, or go too far. This will also help keeping it even on both sides. 
I drew a white line starting at the corner of his mouth, parallel to the top of Mo's head.
3.) Some people choose to hold onto their tortoise's head while they trim. I find that this only freaks the tortoise out even more (making them really struggle and squirm), and most Russian tortoises can't (or don't) pull their heads all the way into their shell. I personally choose to 'free-hand' it (just holding the legs out of my way). You'll be able to reach the beak carefully, even when the head is almost pulled completely in. Just be careful not to poke the eyes or nares (nose).
If you DO choose to hold the head, however, THIS is how:
Wait for the head to be far out. Then firmly but gently hold on with thumb and pointer
just behind the jaw bone on each side.

If you do choose to hold onto your tortoise's head, make sure his eyes don't start bulging, or his eye lids don't turn purple. This means you are closing off his wind pipe, and he can't breathe. You can use the middle and ring fingers to hold the right front leg out of the way.
Make sure you are holding your tortoise's head on either side, behind the jaw, rather than top and bottom. This way your tort can easily breathe, AND you have a good grip. Again, I choose to free-hand it and don't hold the tort's head...

4.) Gently but firmly hold your tortoise's shell against your chest, with your left hand, hold the tort's front leg(s) out of the way, and as soon as you can reach it, begin clipping on the right side, always with the tips of the cuticle trimmers facing towards the front of the beak.
Start on one side, using the cuticle trimmers.
Clipping a tortoise's beak will feel a lot like clipping a thick-ish human toenail, but a little more brittle. The sides are thinner (and easier to clip), and the front is the toughest. 

5.) Bit by bit, clip away the beak, approaching the line you drew. Mo needed so much of his beak trimmed, that I had to cut parallel to the line several times before I was done.
Almost done - but as you can see, I still need to trim a little more away, up to the line.
6.) the very front of the beak may be thick enough that you have to use the XL conventional toe-nail clippers. Be careful not to get any of the tortoise's skin flaps caught in the corners of the clippers - that's one reason why I prefer using the cuticle trimmers. 

Much better! I just need to file the edge smooth.
7.) Finally, carefully file the edges smooth with a nail file (not the metal kind). 

8.) Throw away the cloth wrap, then rinse off your tortoise in warm water, to get rid of any feces, and to clean away any little shards of beak material that might be stuck in the skin flaps. 


Your tortoise will probably pout for a day or two - having a beak trim is stressful, but NOT trimming an overgrown beak is more harmful in the long run than any stress caused by the trim. 

Some tortoises only get an overgrown beak in the front (especially in young tortoises who aren't fed properly, too soft food, not enough calcium). This was the case with the little Greek tortoise Boo. Here's a before/after pic of his trim:
Boo's beak was VERY overgrown in the front. It still needs to be trimmed a little more.
To maintain your tortoise's short beak, make sure to feed your tortoise on a flat rock, and offer a cuttlefish bone (available in the bird section of most pet stores). Also, as long as your tortoise is healthy, there is no reason to cut up a tortoise's food. Let your tortoise work a little while he eats! 

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section if you have any!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Our new Tort table for our Russian tortoises, Timmy and Roz

We recently commissioned our friend to build us a sturdy and attractive red oak and oak ply tortoise table for Timmy and Roz. We figured that our torts would live with us for the rest of our lives, so their enclosure might as well not be an eye sore!

Yesterday I moved the torts in - our friend still has to build us a  stand that will go under the tort table, but I was eager to get Timmy and Roz settled into their new digs.

This is what the tort table looked like when we brought it home from our friend
I wanted the tort table to match our other furniture, which is 100+ year old oak. Our friend did a fantastic job imitating the style (and spent lots of time making beautiful trim!), and then I treated it with 1 coat of "Mission Oak"-tinted polyurethane, and 4 coats of "Warm Pecan"-tinted polyurethane. The tort table now looks as if it was made of the same oak as our antiques.

This is what it looked like when I was done treating the wood, and installing the glass:
As you can see, I already put in the substrate, basking rock, water, plants etc
The tort table is 6ft x a little less than 3ft. The walls are 22 inches high, so in time I can build a little second level over part of it. The whole area behind the left-hand panel is a nice roomy hide box.

Timmy and Roz having dinner - I put them in before planting the plants
I was so eager to put Timmy and Roz into their new enclosure that I moved them before I had time to put the plants in. They walked around, ate dinner, then dug themselves into the 5 inches of coco coir under their favorite flower pot hide.

Once the kids and the torts were in bed, I spent several hours finishing everything, planting some tort-safe plants, and adding more substrate. For substrate I used 4-5 inches of moist coconut coir mixed 1:1 by dry weight with play sand. The hide box has 7-8 inches of it. This was a total of 7 bricks of coir... thank goodness I had a 'buy-one-get-one-free' coupon!

View from the basking spot window
Here is a tour of the table:
1.) spider plant
2.) plastic box with organic soil and seeds (will sprout)
3.) water dish, re-purposed from a giant pie pan
4.) Christmas cactus
5.) flagstone basking spot - I scored it at the quarry (UVB tube light + basking lamp + ceramic heat lamp)
6.) entrance to the hide box - it's floor space is almost 3 square feet inside!
7.) prayer plant
8.) rocks around the water dish, to anchor it
9.) flat stone to feed the torts on (far enough away from the lights that leaves don't just dry out right away!)
10.) jade plant
These are the plants I planted - they are all safe for torts to eat, just in case they take a few chomps:
Spider plant (with some little succulents from my garden)
Also, organic soil with a variety of bird-seed and other seeds to sprout
Prayer Plant
Christmas cactus
Jade plant and a few other little succulents from the garden
The torts seem to really love their new enclosure. They were out basking under their lights when I got up this morning, and they spent all morning trashing exploring their new little landscape. The hay got tracked all over, and of course there is substrate in the water dish... *sigh*
Roz is half monkey
I am not entirely sure that the live plants will survive for very long... I will tolerate some level of destruction, and then may decide to rescue move the plants elsewhere.

I moved Boo into his new tort table, too, yesterday! He will get his own post.