Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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. 

1 comment:

Your comment will be visible after moderation.