Tortoise Basics

Rubber Maid and Tupperware containers work better than glass aquariums for housing tortoises. Start with one about 18 inches by 12 inches with sides at least six to seven inches high for a hatchling. As they grow, increase the size when needed. Giant species such as G. sulcata will eventually need a custom enclosure or perhaps part of a room. A basking area should be provided on one side of the cage, with temperatures reaching 92 to 95 F. You also need to offer a 5.0 UVB fluorescent light over the basking area. This bulb needs to be seven to 15 inches from the basing area in order for your tortoise to benefit from it, with no glass or plastic between this bulb and your tortoise. Lights should be on for 12 hours a day and UVB fluorescent bulbs need to be replaced every six months. An under the tank heating pad or a red light bulb may be used to provide extra heat at night, but the cage temperature does need to drop into the lower 80s to upper 70s. If you bring your turtle outside for natural sunlight (especially in warmer months) be sure to supervise them at all time to prevent injury or attack from predators.

Newspaper or paper towels are the safest substrate to use for tortoises, especially hatchlings. As the tortoise grows, you can switch to a particulate substrate such as a recycled newspaper product like Carefresh, or to cypress mulch for humid species. If using a particulate substrate, always feed your tortoise on a paper plate or piece of newspaper to lower the chance for ingesting bedding.

The diet should consist primarily of dark leafy greens (such as collards, kale, romaine, leaf lettuce, etc.). You can also offer a smaller proportion of complete tortoise or iguana pelleted diet softened with water. Fruits can be offered as treats or more frequently for certain species. If your tortoise eats pellets as well as greens then a vitamin supplement is not necessary, but if it is on all greens you will need to add in calcium and vitamins. Water should be provided in a shallow bowl at all times. You can also soak your tortoise in shallow, warm water to improve hydration.