Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The tortoise nursery

Keeping a hatchling tortoise involves a little more work than caring for a juvenile or adult tortoise. It helps that our little Marginated tortoise Buttercup had a really good start in life - she is healthy, spunky, active, eats well, and even self-hydrates (aka she drinks on her own!).

Buttercup, our wee Marginated baby
I thought some of you might like to see the 'nursery' I set up for her. She has one that is indoors, where she sleeps and spends her mornings, and one that is outdoors, which I move about a bit to provide both sun and shade.

The tortoise nursery
I purchased this large rubbermaid bin, and used a dremel cutting wheel to cut out most of the plastic lid. Then I zip-tied hardware cloth into that area (hardware cloth is similar to chicken wire, but has much smaller holes). This will help protect Buttercup from hawks, crows, cats, or whatever else might come through our yard during the daytime.

I filled the bin halfway with ACE topsoil. It has no fertilizer and no perlite. I included a little hill, a cave, some rocks, a water dish (which used to be a lid for some container), and a bunch of hens-and-chicks and weeds (dandelion, plantain, violet, thistle) from the yard. Of course Buttercup decided to burrow into the dirt outside of the cave, making her own... and she dug up some of the plants and/or ate them. Tortoises are such little tanks!

Buttercup, exploring
I mist the whole enclosure several times a day - letting the soil surface dry out in between. I also soak Buttercup in shallow, warm water for about 20 minutes daily. As mentioned above, I end up moving the bin a few feet at a time to provide sunshine and shade. Around 4pm it gets hot enough in the side yard where the tortoises live that Buttercup digs down into the soil. Then she comes back out around 6 to snack and explore some more.

Buttercup chomping pieces off of the cuttlefish bone
Baby tortoises have a lot of growing to do, and to grow healthy bones and a healthy shell, tortoises need a lot of calcium. I provide cuttlefish bones in both of Buttercups nursery bins, and am delighted to see that she helps herself to it.

Cuttlefish bones are a good source of calcium!
Look at how big she is opening her mouth to take a bite! She nibbles on the cuttlefish bone almost daily.

The bottom line for a good tortoise nursery: protection from predators, good substrate, humidity, warmth, food, shelter, calcium, water. Keeping baby tortoises hot and humid results in beautiful, smooth shells (along with good food, good natural UVB light, and calcium). I will change the landscape in there periodically to keep it interesting and stimulating. She will likely out-grow this container by next Spring, but for now it is just right!

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