Monday, September 29, 2014

More Russian tortoise eggies!

This last month has been very rewarding in the tortoise egg department. Three of my Russian tortoise females laid eggs for the first time. Mila laid one single but large egg outside. Lady laid 3 beautiful eggs outside a couple weeks later, and today my HUGE (9"SCL) female Amber laid eggs for the first time, too.

Lady, digging a nest hole outside, and in the pic below, her 3 eggs.
Amber has been pacing and digging test nests outdoors for a few weeks, but nothing quite seemed to please her. She was covered by a male for the first time in August, so she may have not been nesting seriously yet. However, last week the weather got cold and I had to bring the tortoises inside. Within a day, Amber started digging nest holes again. The substrate in her tortoise table is generous, but not deep enough to dig a nest hole (6"+ deep), so I added 1.5 more bags of ACE topsoil to provide her with deep enough substrate (have I mentioned she is a BIG girl?!).

Well, she got really serious about digging nest holes yesterday, and again this morning, and finally this afternoon she laid 2 big, beautiful eggs. One weighs 34g, one weighs 30g (the big one came first). She was absolutely exhausted after that. After a good soak she is now dug in for the night.

Amber digging her nest hole by the basking spot, and her eggs.
This means I currently have 6 eggs in the incubator, due to hatch ever 2 weeks starting October 15th-ish. Things will be busy in the hatchling care department this Fall!

I should mention that breeding Russian tortoises is more involved than just throwing together a male and a female. This was the first year I got eggs, and I believe there is a direct correlation with the following factors:
  1. The tortoises hibernated this winter
  2. The tortoises spent the Spring and Summer outside. This means they had LOTS of space to roam, good fresh and varied food, and plenty of natural sunshine. 
  3. I added a second male to my 6 girls. Roz is a cutie, but he strangely is only interested in my Timmy girl. He ignores other females. The new captive-bred male Duke is a rapist is not as choosy. Clearly he has "done his job" fertilizing these eggs. 
  4. The tortoises had constant access to cuttlefish bone, which they helped themselves to generously.
  5. The females (and males) are in excellent health, and at a good, healthy weight.
As mentioned in previous posts, males can be very aggressive towards females, and so care must be taken to protect the females from constant male attention. A ratio of 3 females per 1 male is recommended for the sake of the female's sanity. Even then, it may become necessary to separate the male temporarily or permanently.

One of this Spring's hatchlings
Stay tuned for hatch announcements, which are sure to come throughout the next weeks and months!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A reminder about tortoises bullying each other...

It is time to bring up the issue again of keeping two (or more) tortoises together.
When new keepers ask about getting another tortoise, long term keepers usually chime in to recommend against this.
The main reason for this is that either subtle or obvious bullying will result, and outright bloody fighting can occur that can lead to death.

This is an older pic... but it demonstrates well what I am talking about. Those three are not cuddling, even though their heads are resting on each other's shells. Those three are COMPETING FOR THE BEST BASKING SPOT.
Death can result from multiple tortoises being kept together, even when no active fighting is visible. Tortoises can be VERY sneaky. They will hog the best basking spot from their 'buddy' which results in the other tortoise not being able to reach proper body temperatures to digest their food. They will sit on the biggest part of the food pile, preventing the other tortoise from eating. They will intimidate through head bobbing, biting, and ramming. A bullied tortoise is often perceived as 'more shy' or 'not as active' - and can become so withdrawn that it stops eating and dies.
When keepers chime in to point out that their tortoises are the exception because they "like to cuddle" and that they "always eat together" - what they are observing is actually subtle, non-violent bullying.
Again, an older pic. These two are not having a relaxed lunch together. They are ravenously eating every weed they can grab, while hoggishly sitting on top of the weeds TO PREVENT THE OTHER FROM GETTING TO THEM.
Now, we humans love to put our anthropomorphic interpretation into the things our little reptilian friends do. We seek out companionship, and so our assumption is often that our tortoise wants to have a friend, too. Please don't let this happen at the expense of your tortoise.
As a keeper of 8 adult Russian tortoises (plus the babies that result), I know that I am not abiding by the '1-tortoise-rule' - HOWEVER, the tortoises spend the warm season in a LARGE outdoor area, with many different hides, holes and houses, many sight barriers, and plenty of room for a tortoise to escape from the others. When the tortoises are indoors, they are separated into different tables. 
This outdoor area looks large, but there is still sometimes conflict. We are working on an expansion!
If you look at the set-ups of other keepers who SUCCESSFULLY keep multiple tortoises, you will see that they have extensive outdoor space. An indoor set-up generally is NOT sufficient to keep multiple tortoises together in the long run.
Please don't feel attacked by this post if you already keep several together. There are quite a few options with you that don't require re-homing a tortoise: creating a large outdoor space, building a bunked set-up to separate the tortoises, etc. - there are a lot of options, even on a tight budget and without a ton of space!
For more information on this subject, please read the following blog post:

In the meantime... spoil your tortoise rotten, and work on improving (or creating) their outdoor space!