Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Boo (the incredibly shy Greek tortoise) is still being incredibly shy... but he is warming up just a little! A few days ago he stayed outside of his shell for long enough that I could trim his beak a little. It still needs more trimming, but this is already SO much better than it was before!

Boo! (Aaaah!)
I am almost finished with his nice new tort table (remember, he's still living in the little aquarium his old owner kept him in). I've been working on it for 2 weeks, have dried the 6th layer of polyurethane, and just caulked the cracks today. It looks so nice! It has wood on 3 sides, and then 1 side has glass, but the bottom 5 inches are opaque. I went a little artsy, and I painted a fun design on the back wall that matches the design of our curtains, and I also built a little hide house. I still have to install the linoleum floor, and then wait for a few days for the poly smell to fade, then he can move in! I'll post pics on here, of course. I'm hoping I can move him into his new table this weekend. Boy will he love having all that room to roam!

New pics of Timmy and Roz

With all the business of taking pics of the rescued torts, I've been neglecting taking pics of Timmy and Roz. 

Yum yum, dandilions!
 I love that the climate here is mild enough that I can pick fresh dandelions and other edible weeds for most of the year.

Roz still has such a cute little baby face. 
Do you see the light fast-growth ring on his shell? That's actually not very good. He came to me that way, and now his growth has slowed down a bit with good healthy food. His old owner used to feed a lot of veggies and fruit, which are too high in sugar, protein, and starch. I only feed dark leafy greens - more on that in another post.
Timmy has such kind, gentle eyes. She is due for a beak trim. 
I'm actually planning to write a picture tutorial soon on how to properly trim a tortoise's beak. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boo, aka the mystery tort

Boo is my most recent tortoise rescue. He is an Antakyan Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca antakyensis). I have only had him for 3 weeks, and he is VERY shy.

This is what you see when you try to visit with Boo while he is soaking...
I have been searching our local Craigslist for a female Russian tortoise for a long time (still haven't found one... so many males!) On one of my weekly "tortoise" searches, a listing in 'farm and garden' for a 'Tahitian tortoise' caught my eye. At first I was just intrigued. I did a google image search for 'Tahitian tortoise' and only came up with some fancy glasses and pens, a galapagos tortoise at the Tahitian zoo, and a sea turtle. I asked some folks on the tortoise forums, and nobody had ever heard of a Tahitian tortoise. I finally contacted the owner to find out more.

The owner was adamant that it was a 'Tahitian' tortoise, and that she purchased it from the breeder in Seattle at a reptile show 6 years ago as a yearling, hatched 2005. She just wanted to find a good home for it, because her son lost interest. I asked her for some pictures, which she sent. The owner bragged that the tort had a metal ring drilled into the back of his shell (yikes!). He was being kept in a tiny 20 gal aquarium without UV light. He didn't seem to have much pyramiding though, which is probably due to the fact that they kept him tethered by his ring outside in the yard during the Summer, so at least he was getting UVB then. The rest of the year they fed him romaine lettuce and carrots.
This is the first pic the previous owner sent me. Can you see how overgrown the beak is?!
Aside from wanting to have the tort due to the 'cute' factor, it sounded like this tort wasn't being cared for properly. I talked to my husband and to some folks on my favorite tort forum, and decided to go for it. I met the previous owner at a Shell station out in the boonies near where she lived. The tort came with his 20 gal aquarium filled with dry bark chips that REEKED of cigarette smoke, a hide log, and a lamp fixture that had a garage-type spotlight in it (which by the way was burnt out).

Once I was home, the first thing I did was to run a warm soaking bath for the little mystery tort. The owner told me that this kind of tortoise doesn't need water, and that she soaked it once every week or so... so I just assumed it was probably dehydrated.
Boo soaking. He still had his ring. Isn't he pretty though?!
Then I proceeded to throw away the icky smoke-stinking bark chips. I washed out the little tank, and filled it with a flat rock on one end and some 50:50 moistened coconut coir sand mix. The tiny tank would have to do until I built a nice big tort table, since my 'rescue' table was currently occupied by Mo.

Back view - this was still during the first bath, so the ring is still in.
I decided to name the little mystery tort "Boo" because we got him the day after Halloween, and because he was so shy. I couldn't even (and still haven't been able to) trim Boo's terribly overgrown beak, since he covers his face with his legs and pulls into his shell so far that nobody can reach him.

Top view of Boo's carapace, still with the ring.
I took this to help folks on the forum identify what kind of tortoise we had. 
Of course after his first bath I removed the metal ring from Boo's shell - no tortoise should be tethered! This was harder than I thought it would be, it must have been stainless steel or something... but in the end, I cut it in half and got it out.

After his bath, I placed Boo into his little tank, and placed a ceramic heat lamp on one end. Since the floodlight the owner sent along with him was burnt out, I wasn't sure if he'd been kept warm enough, so I wanted to make sure he had the option to bask if he wanted to. The next day I 'borrowed' the UVB light from Mo, and ordered a new UVB fixture and tube light for Boo, as well as a new basking light. Until those arrived, I just moved the UVB back and forth between Mo's table and Boo's tank.

I took this pic of the bottom of Boo's shell to help identify him.
Knowing exactly what kind of tort I had just rescued would help me properly care for him, so I set out on a quest for proper classification. My initial guess was that it could be a Hermann's tortoise, however, this guess was quickly refuted when I posted a pic of him on the Hermann's tortoise forum. Someone said that they thought he was a Greek, though for his age he is pretty small. Researching Greek tortoises led me to thinking he could be a Tunisian Greek tortoise (which kind of sounds like "Tahitian" so maybe the previous owner misunderstood?). However, an expert on the forum said that Boo's markings weren't quite right for a Tunisian - that he is an Antakyan greek tortoise (Testudo graeca antakyensis). Lucky for me, the care for this kind of Greek is very similar to the captive care of Russian torts. Of course I will not keep them together - mixing species is a bad idea, as they can transmit parasites and pathogens, and might also fight each other.

Boo bathing. No more ring!
I am finding that Boo is a VERY picky eater. His old owner used to feed him nothing but romaine and carrots (although at least she dusted with calcium). Boo will just ignore the food he doesn't like, even if he hasn't eaten that day. It was time for some tough love - I knew he wouldn't starve himself, so after a few days of me offering him good healthy greens and him ignoring them, he finally gave in and ate his fill. Now he's doing ok, although he does turn his nose up at a few of the things my other torts love.

Boo eating. I had to use the zoom on my camera to get this shot.  Yes, Boo still has an overgrown beak.
I am hoping that the new, bigger tort table with plenty of hide spots and room to roam will help little Boo get more comfortable. He was probably dragged around by his ring, so I don't fault him for being so shy. He's also still very young, so with kind treatment and the wisdom that comes with age he will hopefully become more friendly.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

De-worming the torts

When I brought home Mo and Joe, Mo was terribly infested with worms. It was so bad that I could see large numbers of them wiggling in his droppings.

After talking to the vet and my wonderful reptile rescue friend Mary Esther (I will introduce her to you in a later post!) we decided to treat all of my torts for worms. Joe was living with Mo, so he probably had some. Although I quarantine my rescues from Timmy and Roz, most tortoises do carry a small number of parasites in their gut, so it certainly couldn't hurt to just treat them all, since I had to purchase the medicine in a bigger dosage anyway.

We chose to treat with fenbendazole (the active ingredient in Panacur and Safeguard), which is safe for tortoises (and some other reptiles) in the proper dosage. The dosage is calculated by weight. I am not going to post the dosage here, because it is important that you work with your vet and/or someone experienced in treating tortoises for parasites... an overdose can kill a tort. Plus, make sure that after the treatment (which is usually 2 doses 2 weeks apart), you have a fecal sample examined by a vet to make sure you killed the worms.
The "horse" paste version is best for herbivores such as tortoises. Ask your vet about proper dosage.
I used a small syringe to measure the proper dose of the 10% fenbendazole paste, and rolled it up in a lettuce leaf cigar style. I prepared each of the 4 doses first and put each on a piece of paper labelled with the tort's name (since each tort is a different size, they each need a different dose). Then one by one I had them eat the medicine-cigar out of my hand, to make sure they got the full dose.

Mo and Joe were easy to dose. They are both so friendly and laid back, and like to eat out of my hand. Roz is GREEDY, and while he'll come right to me to eat out of my hand, he's also accidentally bitten me a few times. I held his 'cigar' at the veeeery end, and as usual, he went to town and gobbled it up. Timmy wanted nothing of hers (she doesn't like to eat out of anybody's hand), and Roz kept trying to nab some, so I finally took Roz out of the enclosure and let him run around the floor for a little while. After 2 tries, Timmy finally took her dose. Boo is so new, I haven't dosed him - he still hides whenever anyone comes near, and is also a bit of a picky eater. I'll probably just collect a fecal sample to see if it's even necessary to treat him when I have fecals run for the other torts.

Mo digging
While treating with fenbendazole, it is SUPER important to keep your tortoises well hydrated, both by soaking them every 1-2 days, and by providing a water dish (which you should have in their enclosure anyway). The protein from the dead worms will stress the tortoises' filter organs, so the extra water will help them process the waste. I gave my torts a little more of the "wet" lettuces (like romaine) than usual, to ensure they got some extra water.

Don't be surprised if your tortoises act kind of nauseated for a few days. As long as the dosage was correct, and they are getting enough water, they will be ok. After about 2 days, Mo began pooping out big clumps of dead worms (sorry, TMI). This was good, because it meant the meds were working!

I gave the torts a second dose of fenbendazole 2 weeks later, to be sure that any newly hatched worms were killed, too. This time around, Mo's droppings looked much better, with only the occasional worm.

Now that treatment is complete, I will wait a couple of weeks, and have the vet run a fecal sample for each tort. You may also want to feed some probiotics. I purchase TNT supplement from Carolina Pet supplies, and these include probiotics if you choose that option, which I did. This will help your newly wormless tort to grow healthy digestive flora in his gut.

While (very) small numbers of worms are 'normal' in wild-caught specimen, large numbers of worms can draw nutrients away from the tort, causing vitamin deficiencies. After treating Mo, I noticed a steep increase in activity and alertness. He acts so much more like a tortoise now, and seems healthier overall.

Mo chowing down on some arugula. 
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with or being compensated by Panacur or Safeguard. I only mention them because this is the brand of medicine we successfully used. Please talk to your vet before using any medication on your pet, to insure proper dosage. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mo and Joe's story

The two Russian tortoise males Mo and Joe's rescue story wasn't nearly as dramatic as little Norbert's - they weren't unloved and neglected, they just weren't being cared for properly.

Mo and Joe basking - this was the first time in years that they had heat and light
They belonged to a 12-year-old boy who had bought them from a friend the year before. The boy got bored of them, so the Mom had to do all the work. When I drove out to pick them up, they were housed next to a large window in a modified train table (quite nice actually, about 3'x4'), filled with cedar shavings (BAD for all reptiles), but without lighting. Their owner also fed exclusively romaine lettuce. This is fine to feed as PART of a Russian tortoise's diet, but should not be the only thing they eat. It has too much water, and is lacking in many of the nutrients a testudo horsfieldii needs.

I had kind of hoped that at least one of them was a female, since I hope to expand little Roz' harem... but either way I was glad to have brought Mo and Joe out of a situation in which they would have likely died of a respiratory infection. Since both are male, I knew that these, too, would be rehabilitated and then adopted out to someone who is familiar with proper tortoise care.

Upon arriving home, I threw away all the cedar shavings, and scrubbed the whole table surface. Then I got a cement paver from a friend for the basking area, and attached a 'gallows' type contraption on one side of the table to hang the heat lamps from. I pilfered a heat lamp from my other torts, and ordered a good basking lamp and a UVB strip light. For now I lined the table with newspaper, and filled a giant turkey-baking-pan with moistened coconut coir. I wanted to keep an eye on both tortoises' feces and urates, to get an idea for their health. They started burrowing in the coir right away.

Mo and Jo burrowing in their coconut coir.
They had been kept in cedar shavings for 2 years.
Next I weighed and measured and examined each of the torts, and gave each of them a nice long soak.

Joe had a beautiful, smooth shell. He was obviously not young - my guess was around 50 or so, judging by his face and shell, and the wear and tear on his plastron (the underside of his shell). He had puffy eyes, an overgrown beak, and very, very long toenails. I hoped that the puffy eyes were just an irritation from the dry cedar shavings, and that with proper humidity they would get better on their own. His shell was 6 inches long, and he weighed 500g.

Joe basking
Mo felt very heavy, and looked truly ancient - his shell was almost completely black, and shiny like glazed pottery. He had a few spots of shell rot, which I treated with diluted betadine tincture later. His nails were very long, and his beak was overgrown, too. His eyes were puffy, just like Joe's. His shell was 6 inches long, and he weighed a whopping 580g. Mo could very well be 80 years old or more. Truly a senior tort.

Mo - very heavy and dense
About a week after getting Mo and Joe, we had their beaks and toenails trimmed. They walked a bit strangely for a couple of days, because they were so used to walking on their enormously long nails... but then they became comfortable again. Eating was also a lot easier without the overgrown beaks...

As soon as their basking area was set up (with a nice hot 95-100 degrees F), they started to spend most of their time basking. Remember, the previous owners just set their table by a window, and didn't add any heat or lighting. I bathed them daily for about a week, just to make sure they were hydrated (they have a water dish in their tort table, too). I also encouraged them to dig in the moist coco coir, and misted them, to help their puffy eyes. Mo's eyes went back to normal within a couple of days, and Joe's eyes stopped looking swollen about 2 weeks later.
The 'quarantine' tort table - newspaper covers most of it, so I can monitor feces... they LOVE burrowing in the coco coir, but for now only get a small portion of it. 
A few days after bringing Mo and Joe home, I noticed that Mo had many tiny worms in his feces. Completely grossed out, I talked to our vet, as well as with my reptile rescue friend Mary Esther. We decided to treat Mo and Joe with fenbendazole - I will write more about this at a later time. The bottom line is that the treatment worked, and Mo soon began pooping out large quantities of dead worms. Joe had a few, but not nearly as many as Mo. A second treatment is recommended, which we did 14 days later.

Both Mo and Joe were very friendly - they like to come over for a visit if someone is near their table, and they LOVE to eat right out of my hands. I put a cuttlebone into their tort table, and they crunched it down to about half its original size... they obviously needed the calcium.

Top view of Mo's carapace. I've treated the shell rot (white spots). 
After several weeks, I decided that Joe was ready to go to a new home. He sometimes picked on Mo, and I had known from the beginning that I wouldn't keep them both long-term. I started putting my feelers out for a potential new tort-Momma, and found someone who already had a nice big tortoise table set-up and all the necessary lights. Her little Russian tortoise had escaped from their yard last year, and she was looking for a new one (lesson learned - she would never again leave her tort in the yard unattended!). I asked lots of nosy questions, and finally was satisfied that she would feed Joe properly, provide proper heat and light, and would love him for the rest of his life. I am still in contact with Joe's new owner, and he has adjusted well and is friendly and curious and is eating like a little piggy.

As of right now, I still have Mo. This sweet old-man-tort has grown on me, and I haven't had the heart to search for a new home for him yet. I also still want to keep an eye on him, to see if he has fully recovered from his worm infestation - the vet will examine a fecal sample in a few weeks to see if new worms hatched in spite of the repeat treatment.

Sweet old man, Mo
Mo will need another beak trim soon, too... we didn't want to trim too much off at once!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rescuing and Rehabilitating Norbert (aka Stumpy)

Telling Norbert's rescue and rehabilitation story makes me sad and happy at the same time. Little Norbert the Russian tortoise (Testudo horsfieldii) came to us early this Summer. He was a terribly malnourished, weak, skinny, mangled little tort, and over the course of several months, I nursed him back to health. Sometimes it was touch-and-go (we didn't name him for the first month, because we were afraid he'd die!), but he survived, and is thriving now!

I took this pic after I gave him his first bath. He was too weak to open his eyes.
Before telling Norbert's story, I would like to thank a few people. It was SO nice to know that there were folks far and near cheering little Norbert on as he got better! I couldn't have done this by myself!

- First, I'd like to thank Mary Esther from the International Reptile Rescue in Canby, OR. Her advice, hands-on expertise, and encouragement helped me immeasurably throughout Norbert's rehabilitation. Mary Esther has a huge heart for reptiles, and has some pretty amazing (and some tragic) rescue stories to tell from her 30+ years of experience. I am honored to know her, and to count her among my friends.

- Second, I'd like to thank Joe H. and Robbie (and all others who chimed in) from the Turtle and Tortoise Forum for their advice, empathy, and encouragement. You guys have no idea how much you helped!

- Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my wonderful husband for encouraging, supporting, and comforting me throughout all the ups and downs of this journey!

Now, Norbert (aka Stumpy)'s story:

A friend of an acquaintance was looking for someone to take in the tortoise that their 16-year-old son had gotten bored of. It sounded fun, so I said "yes" - having NO idea what I was getting myself into.
The little tort was brought to me in a cardboard box filled with straw. He was small, VERY skinny, and so crusted over in dirt that I couldn't tell what color his shell was. He also had a horrible, decaying smell about him. I was too shocked to say anything (anyone who knows me can attest that this does not often happen) to the boy's Dad. I was also too shocked to take a picture of the little tort while he was still covered in dirt.

Left: Timmy's healthy leg. Right: Norbert's skinny leg

As it turned out (once I found my voice again, and was able to ask), the tortoise had spent 2 years living in a barn stall, without heat or lighting. The boy whose tortoise this was had lost interest, and didn't feed or water it for 6 months! I could tell by the look in the Dad's eyes that he was ashamed, and he said that he had no idea that it had gotten this bad until he picked the tortoise up to bring him to me.

As soon as we were home, I ran a warm soaking bath for the little tort. He was so weak that he couldn't lift his head, so I placed a small flat rock into the bath so he wouldn't drown. After a few minutes of relaxing in the warm water, he began to drink. And drink. And drink. As he warmed up, his smell became worse. I kid you not, he smelled like dead animal. I gently scrubbed away the dirt on his shell with a toothbrush. His shell was a sickly pale green color, and had what looked like bite marks from a dog in 4 or 5 places. Surprisingly, the shell felt good and hard, and his plastron was in perfect condition. His skin was pasty and almost transparent. He was so thin I could see his bones, and his face was sunken. His beak was overgrown, and his eyes were swollen shut. Amazingly, his nose was dry, and he wasn't wheezing.

Freshly bathed, and warmed up a little
I changed the dirty water, and placed the little tort into clean warm water to soak a little longer. I let him soak for another 20 or so minutes, staying close by to make sure his head didn't slip into the water. All of a sudden, ONE OF HIS TOES came off and floated away! I lifted him out and gently placed him on a towel to examine him. Sure enough, one toe on one of his front feet had withered and fallen off, thankfully without leaving an open wound. After further examination, I discovered the source of the horrible smell: 3 of the toes on his other foot were half-severed and the flesh was festering and smelled horrible. I wrapped the little tort into the towel and carefully soaked the hurt leg in some salt water to disinfect it. Then I smeared some neosporin on it (I had to work with what I had on hand for now, since I had not been expecting such a sick tort!).

Here you can see the 3 dead, rotting toes (the top one is still healthy)
Next I weighed and measured the little tort. He was 5.5 inches (14cm) long (shell length) and weighed only 275g! My little Roz is that size, and he weighs more than 500g! (The sick tort had a Jackson's ratio of 0.10 - a tort with a ratio under 0.16 is undernourished!)

I pilfered a heat lamp from my two healthy tortoises, and gently placed the little tort on some newspaper inside a 10 gallon aquarium - not an ideal enclosure for a tortoise, but ok as a "hospital" tank. I put in a large handful of dandelion leaves in front of the poor tort, not sure if he'd have the strength to eat. I made a little hide house out of a shoe box. Slowly, VERY slowly the tortoise opened his mouth and chomped on a leaf. His beak was so overgrown that he had a bit of trouble taking a good bite, but he managed to wolf down one leaf. Then he rested, and a few minutes later, ate another. I let him eat for about an hour (since he was eating so slowly), then removed the rest of the leaves, since I didn't want him to make himself sick by over-eating.

Still too weak to lift his head or open his eyes... but OH did those dandelions taste GOOD!
The next morning I met with Mary Esther from the International Reptile Rescue (IRR). She examined the little tort, and decided to hold off on trimming its beak. The most important thing right now was to make sure he was eating, and she didn't want him to be sore from a trim. She advised me to continue daily soaks to help re-hydrate the tort, and to aid his filter organs in expelling the toxins that built up over the months of not eating or drinking. She looked at his mangled toes, and decided it would be best to continue disinfecting them, and to let nature take its course, rather than amputating. She said they would most likely fall off on their own, and the stump would heal, as long as the infection was kept at bay. She also lent me some extra supplies to ensure the tort stayed warm. She also recommended that I paint some diluted betadine all over his shell, because the tort had some shell rot, and also had some weird cracks where the scutes were coming apart a bit (most likely from dehydration and malnutrition, possibly from being bitten by a dog).

Here are the cracks he had between his scutes
For the first few days, the little tort was so weak he didn't move from the spot, and didn't pull his legs into his shell. He just sprawled in his warm tank, napped, ate, slept, and of course soaked in the warm baths I gave him. Every time he was in the water, he drank like a camel. About 5 days after getting him, he started expelling enormous amounts of urates. This was good - it meant that his kidneys were functioning. He still barely moved, but he ate, and his eyes began to open. He began to become responsive to his surroundings - he seemed to enjoy having his head stroked, and he would turn his head to watch me walk by his tank. He eagerly ate leaves out of my hands, too. About 10 days later, he started sleeping with his legs pulled into his shell - he was strong enough to start protecting himself!

Eating again - several days later. His shell is still painted with betadine
His foot wound stopped stinking after a few days of soaking and antibiotic ointment. After a few weeks, the little tort started cautiously moving around his tank, still too weak to lift his shell off the ground. His little legs and neck were still scrawny, but I could no longer see every bone. Very slowly I had begun introducing some UVB by taking him outside into the garden for 10 minutes at a time. He hadn't been in contact with UV light for nearly 2 years, so we didn't want to stress his system, or cause too fast growth, which would cause a whole new host of problems. Bit by bit I increased the time I let him outside, and I discovered that he was absolutely WILD about eating clover flowers. He could strip a whole patch of clover flowers in the course of about 15 minutes. I began to shine a UVB bulb on his tank for a few hours every day, and his coloring started to improve. His shell started turning to a very pretty golden hue, and his pale little legs began to turn brown.

...starting to explore just a little while sun bathing
One night he started pacing in his little tank - I could hear him digging and clonking, and was SO happy that he was beginning to act like a tortoise: he was rearranging his furniture. All this commotion also caused him to lose his 3 withered toes, leaving behind a handsome little pink stump with 1 toe left. There was no more infection, and he walked on it without any sign of discomfort. That morning we named him Stumpy. We finally were fairly sure that he would pull through. He was still very skinny, but he was slowly and steadily packing on weight, and he was acting more and more like a normal tortoise.

The brand new stump - no more rotting toes! New pink skin!
Now that little Stumpy was less scrawny, we were fairly sure that he was a male. Because of this, I knew I wouldn't be able to keep him, since I already have a male and a female Russian tortoise. I did not feel comfortable just letting "somebody" (e.g. from Craigslist) have him, so I was delighted when my friend "dibbsed" Stumpy for her sister Rachel. He still needed to stay with us for a little while, but it was such a relief to know he would have a family that was knowledgeable and would spoil him rotten once he was ready.

(yum! Clover flowers!) You're looking so good, little guy!
At this point Stumpy still had his overgrown beak, and rather than have it trimmed, I decided to try a little trick I had heard about: I picked an unripe apple, and offered it to him hole, with just a small chunk cut out so he could smell it. About 2 hours later, the apple had a few tiny bits pried out of it, and Stumpy had gotten the overhanging beak piece stuck in the apple and had shed it.

Shedding the overgrown beak piece left those 3 funny little tips. 
The final couple of months were pretty smooth sailing: Stumpy kept on gaining weight, he became more and more curious, and stronger, and more active. He was a spunky little fella!

Stumpy exploring the little path that goes through our rock garden. I had just hosed him down. Doesn't his shell color look amazing?!
Finally the day came for my friend's sister to pick him up. She had built him a nice big tortoise table that had everything he needed. With a heavy but happy heart, I sent him on his way, and so, 'Stumpy' became 'Norbert.'

That's right. I tied a big bow around Norbert when Rachel came to get him!
Now he happily lives with Rachel, where he dines like a little prince, gets cuddled and stroked, bathed and kissed. He went from almost dying of hunger to being one of the happiest, luckiest, most loved little torts in the country! That's what I call a happy ending...

Life is good when you have a full belly and a warm home!

Thursday, November 8, 2012


It is generally not a bad idea to weigh and measure your tortoise(s) on a somewhat regular basis to make sure they are growing and gaining weight. Young tortoises should display steady slow growth. Older tortoises won't show much change, but at the very least they should not be losing weight.

I weigh Timmy and Roz about every 6 months as long as they are eating normally. I weigh rescue torts when I first get them, and then every few weeks after that, to make sure they are thriving. Keep in mind that weight may differ a little depending on whether they just ate or defecated... I usually weigh my torts after a bath, before their meal.

I use a metric kitchen scale. It doesn't have to be a metric scale - although both medical dosage calculations and growth charts are metric, so depending on what your purpose of weighing your torts may be, you might have to do a little conversion math. It's a good idea to take note of the weight every time somehow.

Roz gets weighed upside-down... he's half monkey, and wriggles out otherwise.
The most recent weigh-in was on November 3:
Timmy: 855g (7.3 inches shell length) ~remember, Timmy is female
Roz: 505g (5.5 inches shell length)
Joe: 500g (6 inches shell length)
Mo: 580g (6 inches shell length)
Boo: 475g (5.5 inches shell length) ~ I just got Boo, he's a little on the light side, but still ok.

Roz has definitely packed on some weight since I last weighed him - he was 475g at the beginning of the year. Mo is an old old man, so it isn't surprising that he is so heavy - he is one dense tortoise!

If you are unsure if your tortoise is a good weight, HERE is a good calculator using Jackson's Ratio. All my tortoises are within the healthy range.

In comparison, Norbert (aka Stumpy) weighed only 275g when I first rescued him, and he is the same size as Roz! I'm working on writing his rescue story down right now...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How we got Roz

After we had Timmy (our female) for a little over a year and a half, I was able to convince my husband to let me get a friend for her. Strictly speaking, Russian tortoises don't need to be kept in multiples. In the wild they rarely intersect with others of their kind, and they don't get lonely. I had however read that it is really fun to watch tortoises interact with each other. I can tell you first-hand that this is true!

Yet again I started watching Craigslist. I finally found a small Russian tortoise that had been gifted to a little girl for Christmas a few months before. The little girl had grown bored with the pet, and so her mother was looking for a new home. I drove about 45 mins to pick up the little one - he was living in a 10 gal tank with no hide spot, and a bowl full of veggies. He was a young male, a lot smaller than Timmy at about 5.5 inches, and he still had a baby face (more flat, shorter beak). His shell had a little bit of pyramiding (which looks quilted in RTs), and the growth ring on one side was a lot wider than on the other... most likely due to being fed the wrong kind of food. His eyes were clear and sparkly, and he peed on me the moment I picked him up. We left the tank behind, as pre-arranged with the old owner. My oldest son named him Roz.

First meeting of Timmy and Roz

Once we got home, I gave him a bath, and introduced him to Timmy on the floor (this was before I was aware of the necessity of 3-6 months quarantine, but thankfully, no harm came of this). It was so funny: Timmy started nodding her head at Roz as if she was saying: "How ya doin'?" to which Roz answered by bobbing his head.

Timmy and Roz walking around their enclosure
For the first few weeks, Roz very cautiously approached Timmy, bobbing his head at her... and Timmy bulldozed him every time. This was so funny to watch, but I also felt a little sorry for Roz... Timmy pulled her head in, and then approached Roz tank-style, bulldozing him into the corner, and then she walked away with a bit of a swagger. 
After a while, thankfully, this behavior stopped, and they seemed to get along splendidly, basking together, sleeping together, eating together. When I let them walk around a room or the yard, they follow each other everywhere.

Best friends, now

This Summer Roz suddenly figured out that he is a boy tortoise, and started courting and mating with Timmy. He is so much smaller than Timmy, and his voice is so squeaky... it makes us laugh every time. I was hoping for eggs this Fall, but Timmy didn't lay any. Maybe next year...

Next chapter: how I rescued and rehabilitated a malnourished, injured little Russian tortoise.

Timmy, my first Russian tortoise

Several years ago, I decided that I would like to get a tortoise. After much research, I decided that I wanted a Russian tortoise - but I did not want to buy one from a pet store. For weeks I read everything I could get my hands on about this species' needs and care. I combed Craigslist, until I finally found someone who no longer wanted their Testudo horsfieldii. There was just one catch: the tort came with a 55 gal glass tank, and a very large bearded dragon!

I met the friendly senior gentleman who no longer could care for his pets in a Fred Meyer parking lot, I gave him the very reasonable adoption fee, we shook hands, and just like that I had 2 new pets.

As soon as I got home, I took out the bearded dragon, and surveyed both pets. I hadn't known quite what to expect, as I hadn't previously seen pictures of them. I was happy to see that the tortoise looked and acted pretty healthy (though somewhat grumpy over being moved around). She seemed to be overweight, I could see what I thought were bulges of fat coming out of her shell, and she couldn't pull herself all the way into her shell. The previous owners had fed her mostly thawed frozen mixed veggies. My guess was that the starch from the corn in the mix had caused the obesity. Proper food and plenty of exercise surely would correct this. Her shell looked good. Her toenails were long, but not terribly so. She was clearly a female, about 7 inches long, and had beautiful BRIGHT yellow coloring.
Judging by her face, she was no longer young, but I had no idea how old she was. It is very difficult to estimate a tortoise's age, unless the hatch year is known. Since many pet tortoises in the US have been wild-caught (WC), nobody knows their age. The torts came with light fixtures, but no bulbs, so I had to make a quick trip to the pet store.

Now I just needed to figure out what to do with the beardie... Bearded dragons and Russian tortoises (RTs) have completely different environmental needs (humidity, climbing opportunities, temperature), and their diets are absolutely incompatible (beardies are carnivores, RTs are herbivores). While I think beardies are cool, I felt no real affinity to it. I asked the woman who works in the reptile department of the pet store if she knew of someone who would be interested in a large-ish bearded dragon. She said that yes, for a matter of fact, her friend had recently lost her beloved beardie, has a huge tank with all the supplies, and would surely LOVE to have mine. We arranged a meeting place, and the moment the woman saw the beast, she took it into her arms, hugged it close, gave it a kiss, and said "Oh, honey! NOW you are home with Momma!" - I knew it was in good hands.

Back home, I cleaned out the tank, and got all the lights (basking, heat, UVB) set up, and placed my new tort into it. My son named her "Timmy."

Timmy basking, the day we got her in 2009
Over the next years, I became more confident and knowledgeable in my care for Timmy. I fed her exclusively dark leafy greens that I grew in my garden, or in the case of dandelions, picked in my friend's garden. I found a great list of edible plants that I referenced often, many of which already were in my garden, and I added others over the years that followed.

After about half a year, I decided to upgrade her tank from a 55-gal to a 75-gallon tank. This was before I had learned about tortoise tables.

Timmy is such a funny tortoise. We joke that she truly is a female, because she LOVES to rearrange her furniture! Just to keep her entertained, we sometimes switch around the log(s) and stones in her tank, and she bulldozes them into the spot she wants them, clonking and clunking until she is happy.

Tortoise push-ups!
We found that Timmy also loved to climb all over everything, both in her tank, and outside of it. When it was sunny we let her explore our garden, and she always made a beeline for the rock garden and scrambled all over it. Indoors the kids built obstacle courses for her out of blocks, and she climbed and bulldozed her way through them.

Next chapter: Timmy gets a boy friend! Ok, for the first year it was just a friend who happened to be a boy...

~By the way, while there is A LOT of information on the internet concerning care of Russian tortoises, I found that The Russian Tortoise had the most comprehensive set of information, including information on the proper habitat, feeding (including a list of edible plants), breeding, and so much more. 

Meet the tortoise stars!

Welcome to my brand new tortoise blog!
Here you will have the opportunity to read about the stories of each of my tortoises, as well as hopefully learn about proper care and feeding.

Meet the stars of the blog:
My Russian torts (testudo horsfieldii), Timmy (front, female) and Roz (back, male)

The amazing little rescue Russian tortoise, Norbert (aka "Stumpy" ).

Mo, the ancient Russian tortoise rescue

Joe, who was rescued along with Mo

Boo, aka the little mystery tortoise. He has been identified as an Antakyan greek tortoise (Testudo graeca antakyensis).
Ps: He came with that ring drilled into his carapace... it has since been removed!

Mila, a young female Russian tortoise we adopted. 

Jill, also a young female Russian tortoise. She and Mila came from the same home.