Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bold little Boo!

Today Boo, our little Antakyan Greek tortoise, surprised me - I was picking up some old wilted leaves from his feeding rock, and instead of pulling into his shell and waiting for me to finish, he walked over to my hand, climbed up onto it, and gave my thumb a hearty bite and tug. I was so delighted, I was even able to suppress the yelp of pain!

No really. I promise there is a tortoise in there. 
Boo is starting to eat like a little piggy - finally! He doesn't seem to like a big pile of food, so instead, I lean a few weeds or leaves up against a rock in his tort table several times throughout the day. He is finally putting on some REAL weight now, too - out of curiosity I weighed him yesterday, and he came in at 476g, which is 25g more than he was last time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

New Greek Foster Tortoise, Shelton!

Today I picked up a new foster tortoise: a handsome slate-grey male Greek tortoise. His old owner named him Shelton, so we will stick with this name. Just look at his bright eyes!

Meet Shelton, the male Greek tortoise
(we will trim his beak in a  few days)
Shelton will live with us for the next few months to get some one-on-one TLC, hopefully gaining some weight, and then will move in with some other tortoises at International Reptile Rescue in the Summer. A sweet woman relinquished him to IRR after purchasing him from a garage sale last year. In my mind, this was such a kind thing of her to do for this critter - she even paid to have a vet check him out, and for medication to treat him for worms and pneumonia.

Shelton posing for the camera
Overall, Shelton looks pretty good. His eyes are bright and his nares (nostrils) are dry. He is exactly 6 inches (15.25cm) long, and weighs 638g - this calculates to a Jackson ratio of 0.18, which is a little on the light side, but within normal range. For a tortoise that has battled intestinal worms and pneumonia in the last year, it is actually really good.

Top view of his shell - hoping to figure out his exact species
Shelton's carapace (top shell) has seen some wear and tear, and shows some pyramiding and asymmetrical growth, as well as several scutes peeling up, but the recent growth since he was bought at the garage sale looks good. There is no fungal damage or shell rot, which is encouraging. Look how dark the new growth is!

Shelton's plastron
Shelton's plastron (the bottom of his shell) is in great shape - especially considering that he was most likely wild-caught. For now I set up his enclosure with newspaper, just so I can keep an eye on his fecal matter for a few days. Once I have determined whether he is healthy in this regard, I will switch to a more suitable substrate, either coconut coir, or organic soil.

Shelton right after a good warm soak
The most important next step will be to get Shelton to eat more. I switched out his basking light for a larger one, so his basking spot will be warmer - 95-100 degrees in the hot spot right under the bulb. These higher temps should help him digest his food more easily, which in turn will encourage him to eat more.

I look forward to updating you on his progress!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Such greedy little tortoises!

Russian tortoises are such little vultures when it comes to food! A few days ago, I treated the torts to some endive lettuce, and they just went WILD over it. In the course of being eaten, the lettuce wandered from the feeding rock through the water dish over to the basking area. My little male Roz was being such a little piggy that I ended up making a separate pile of food for him... hence he is not in these pics. 

In captivity, tortoises often get overgrown beaks because the food they are fed is too tender to wear the beak down. For this reason, I try to mostly feed weeds and leaves from my garden, and to include plenty of tougher plants that require more biting and chewing. A lot of the really 'soft' leafy greens are not as high in nutrients as others, so I only feed these as part of the varied dark leafy greens I offer.

The two young females are so funny.  Even when I give them their own pile(s) of food, they always want to eat off of the food the others are eating... preferably while climbing up and over each other.

Mila finally wandered off and hit the jackpot with her own pile of lettuce. She quietly munched away at it until NOTHING was left.

Good little vultures! Eat all your food, grow big and strong... and lay eggs for me this year, please!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Doing everything together

It never ceases to amaze me how my tortoises always seem to do everything together, in spite of all the space I provide for them. My little Russians bask together, eat together, sleep together. I know that tortoises aren't 'social' creatures, and that I shouldn't project human emotions onto them... but it is very hard not to think that on some level, they enjoy each other's company.

A pile of tortoises
Did you know that a group of multiple tortoises is called a 'bale' of tortoises? Random fact of the day...

Basking time!
It is interesting to me how much less territorial Roz has been since I moved the two other females into the big tort fort. He now hardly bothers the girls at all - which to be honest, is not entirely good, since I am hoping to get some tortoise eggs this year...

Soaking up some warmth and UVB together - look how big Timmy is!
I am curious to see over the next few years how big Jill and Mila grow to be in comparison to Timmy. She really dwarfs the others with her size.

Timmy and Jill
Timmy and Jill both have exceptionally pretty coloring - their shells are bright yellow! Jill's shell has more light yellow, which is probably just due to her young age, while Timmy has a rich golden hue. (The basking light makes their shells look a bit more bright in this picture than they actually are, btw)

My three females, basking together while Roz roams his territory.
My three females especially seem to like spending time together. They have a lot of space to roam, and yet they always seem to end up in the same spot!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boo is eating!

We have had Boo the Greek tortoise for 3.5 months now. He is still very shy, and often pulls his head inside his shell when someone walks near his tort table... but he is feeling comfortable enough that I was able to get a few good pics of him eating! 

Nom! Good little Greek tortoise!
 Getting Boo to eat has been tricky. His old owner only fed him Romaine, and he has been extremely picky about what he will eat. He won't eat anything even slightly wilted, and he won't eat the stems. He won't eat it if it's lying on the ground, but leaning up against a rock is fine. What this boils down to is giving him small portions several times a day, leaned up against the rock.

Boo the Greek tortoise chowing down on some endive

In December and January I end up having to buy greens for the tortoises... the rest of the year I collect and grow my own. Endive, mustard greens, kale, collard greens, and Spring mix lettuce have been on the menu. Dandelion is starting to sprout now, so in about a week I should be able to get a good harvest every few days. I'm looking forward to having free and healthier tort food again!  

Boo hasn't gained any weight in the last 4 weeks, but I do see him eating more, and he continues to be very active. I hope he will have a growth spurt once the weather warms up a little! For an 8-year-old Greek tortoise, he is VERY shrimpy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Our Tort Fort gets a dresser

I finally finished our tort fort, and it is no longer sitting on the ground! Our friend built this for us, and now the top and bottom have finally been put together. I love having all the storage, and it looks so nice, too! (Thanks, Andy!)

Front view
The tortoise table is the first thing people see when they come into our house - I am so glad that it is finally functional AND 'pretty' - don't you love the leg design of the dresser underneath? They look just like the little half-rounded opening into the hide house.

3/4 view
Our friend Andy built this from his own design, after sitting down with me to plan it. The left side has a window that has a shutter, so I can look into the hide box, which is large, and filled with a nice deep layer of substrate for the tortoises to burrow in. I treated the oak with several layers of 2 different colors of stained polyurethane, so it matches our antique oak wardrobes, dressers and such.

The torts exploring their new substrate mound (Mount Coco) and rock pile
UPDATE: I took some more pictures of the tort fort in daylight. I added a pile of large-ish rocks for the torts to scramble over, as well as mounding the substrate up and over a very large flowerpot. The little Russians are having so much fun exploring!

The females basking together. Roz is hiding.
Our friend Andy made all the trim himself, by the way. You really have to see it up close to see how nicely he built it.

Daytime view of the tort fort.
I double-checked my temps with a temperature gun, too, after putting everything back together. The 'cool' end is room temperature, at 69-71 degrees F at substrate level. The warm side is 82 degrees, and immediately under the basking bulb, I measured 97-102 degrees.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sunny day = Time to bask outside!

Today we had one of those wonderful, beautifully BRIGHT sunny winter days we sometimes have here in the Pacific Northwest (that's right, it is NOT gray all the time here!). It was only about 50 degrees F in the shade, but in the sunny spots of our yard, the ground temp measured at 70-75 degrees, so I brought the tortoises out into the yard to roam and soak up some 'real' sun for about half an hour. 

My oldest son helped me keep track of everyone - Russian tortoises are little Houdinis, and can really pick up some speed when they are determined. Roz, especially, is a little runner. Timmy is a digger, and kept trying to burrow.

Amidst herding tortoises, I got some really nice pics of them. 

Jill (front) and Roz (back) exploring

Mila sunning herself

Little Jill catching some good rays of sun

Roz and Jill soaking up some sun

All four torts eventually found the 'hot spot' by the downspout near the fence.
Do you see Timmy's bottom as she's trying to dig in?!

The three girls basking in the front, and Roz going off to explore.

Mila enjoying the sun

Timmy (my large female) climbing the pipe from the downspout

Little Jill looking just plain gorgeous and cute

Everyone basking in the hot spot by the fence

I like how these guys like to line up like a little train

Roz showing off his cute face, and his funny shell growth ring.
What a lovely afternoon, and we even came back inside with the same number of tortoises we started out with.