Sunday, July 5, 2015

The importance of DEEP shade

Ok, folks, we need to talk about SHADE.

You have probably (hopefully) heard tortoise keepers talking about the fact that tortoises need "DEEP SHADE" to retreat into on a hot Summer day (really any day that has air temps above 80 degrees).

What do we mean by "deep shade?" - this is NOT slapping a board across the tortoise enclosure, nor does a little house do the trick. To create DEEP shade, you have to use the *AND* principal. So, for example, deep shade would be under a tree, AND inside a burrow. Or under an umbrella (or shade cloth) AND under a dense bush. Under a dense bush AND inside a deep burrow. Only there can a significantly cooler environment be achieved that our tortoises need to be comfortable on a hot day.

Not convinced? If you have a temp gun, I would love it if you would go outside, and measure the ground temperature in a nice shady spot, and then in the sun. There can be a temperature difference of 60 degrees! (e.g. the deep shade under our tree is a nice balmy 80 degrees... the dappled shade under a bush is 90, and the flat rocks in the tortoise enclosure measured 140 degrees F before I hosed them down! In comparison, in the burrow that is behind the dense bush, covered in 10 inches of soil, and has been dug out pretty deep by the tortoises, it is 65-70 degrees. Guess where the tortoises are? Except for the 2 crazy ones who are out first thing in the morning, and don't seem to mind the sun (they are also the lightest colored ones), they are all in the burrows right now.

While we are talking about shade and sun - PLEASE do NOT soak your tortoise in the sunshine when it is warm outside - at least not without supervision! Just this year, I have heard of 2 tortoises that died during their soaks, simply because the owner placed the soaking dish in the sun, and then walked away for 30 minutes. A tortoise in a soaking bin has no place to go. If it is overheating, it can't hide, and sitting in 1 inch of cool water certainly won't protect the top of its shell.

Please be sure to provide DEEP shade for your tortoise when it is outside - that's TWO kinds of shade nested inside each other, as explained above. If your tortoise constantly hides during outdoor time, chances are that you might not be providing enough shade in the enclosure. 


  1. Hello- So much helpful information here! Thank you for keeping this blog!
    I have a greek tortoise that I would like to create an outdoor enclosure for. Currently she does spend some supervised time outside wandering the yard, but not for very long periods. We live in Texas and it gets very hot in the summer. What is appropriate weather-wise for tortoises to be outside? What is too hot? too cold? I understand the double shade you are talking about and am able to create that. We have plenty of trees for a start/first layer.

    1. Excellent questions. I would recommend you start a temp log - get an infrared temp gun like this one: and check the ground temperature at different daytimes in the location you would plan to build the tortoise enclosure. As a rule of thumb, you don't want the ground temperature to go above 100 degrees, and there needs to be a retreat somewhere that is in the 70s. If the day is hot enough that the temperatures go above these, it may be necessary to bring the tortoises inside.
      I have had good success with creating extra shade by hanging 80% shade cloth, of the sort that is used in greenhouses. This has allowed the tortoises to stay active, even on the hottest Summer days. You might look into this. :)
      Good luck! (and if you browse further back in my blog, you'll see more info on building an outdoor tortoise enclosure!)

  2. We just got a little hermann's tortoise and hopefully one day she will get a nice outdoor enclosure, so thank you for teaching me about deep shade!


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