Getting the table set up and all the equipment just right can be a bewildering and daunting affair. I have compiled this shopping list which should, hopefully, make gathering and positioning of everything that you need a much less confusing experience.
It has often been my experience that new owners seek out the advise of as many people as they can as they embark on this journey. This is a highly flawed and exhaustive exercise and invariably results in utter confusion , incorrect purchases and a lot of wasted money. Pet shops, sadly, are often the worst offenders.
The button under each item will direct you to where you can purchase .
a substrate is the material used to fill your table and create the microclimate your tortoise will live in. For this I only recommend TOPSOIL .. It is by far the best and the safest option for your tortoise. Being sterilised it contains no fertilisers, pesticides or organic matter that can grow and be harmful. It can be used straight from the bag and purchased quite cheaply from any hardware store or garden centre. Sterilised topsoil is an excellent medium to assist in maintaining the humidity and burrowing needs of juveniles without causing any eye irritations. Most importantly, sterilised topsoil will not pose any risk of impaction should it be eaten. Impaction is invariably Fatal.
WARNING There are products on sale in pet and reptile stores which are specifically marketed for use with Tortoises. These are soil like products that contain high levels of sand and also small white calcium chips.. DO NOT under any circumstances use any of these products. They are highly dangerous to a small tortoise and there are numerous documented cases of them being ingested by the tortoise and causing the death of the animal from internal impaction. Below are the cautionary photos of the X-rays of a tortoise that was severely impacted by one of the market leaders of these tortoise substrates. This Tortoise only survived after long and costly veterinary treatment.
Tortoises are cold blooded reptiles and therefore will rely on us to provide them with a heat source to replicate the Sun. This function is served by a basking lamp and to do its job it is controlled by a thermostat.
After trying all of the fancy reptile stuff at high prices my actual preference is simply a 120/150wt Halogen flood light without the PIR sensor. Again very reasonably priced and available from most major home improvement stores. They are dimmable and give them a basking area of penetrating heat that the tortoises love. When I changed over to this type, I not only saw my Torts basking in a wider area but I also observed increased levels of activity. NB always have a spare bulb !
This is a vital piece of equipment. It enables you to accurately control the basking temperature and maintain the optimum level of heat in the basking area. The power supply of the basking lamp plugs into the socket of the thermostat and its sensor probe is placed in the centre of the basking area at ground level. The temperature dial is then set to the desired temperature (35c in the daylight hours). It does its job by dimming the element in the bulb to prevent the basking area becoming hotter than wanted . This way the temperature is stabilised in a smooth and sympathetic way.
ULTRA VIOLET LIGHT
UVB light is essential to the long and healthy life of your tortoise. Without UVB light your tortoise cannot process calcium and maintain a healthy shell and skeletal structure. There are many different ways to provide UVB for your tort and some are much better than others.
My preference by far is the T5 slim line tube and controller which has a 12% rating with Vet D3. For UVB output they cannot be beaten especially in comparison to its predecessor the old school T8 tube . The UV tube must be used with a reflector and positioned under the ledge of your table along the length of your table but as close to the basking lamp as is possible. Optimum UV absorption can only be achieved when the torts body temperature is also at its optimum. The tortoise has very special skin cells in the surface of its epidermis. When exposed to UVB light these cells produce vitamin D3. This is the vitamin needed for calcium synthesis.
There is a new product available from Arcadia, the Pro T5. This a superb all in one compact unit . It takes the same tubes as the T5 controller but the reflector is so highly polished that the UV return is more intense. This unit must be installed at a 20 to 22 inch height about the table on an over head beam, but still adjacent to the basking lamp.
Either of these is a perfect choice for your Tortoises UV requirements.. I use both over my set ups.
If a tortoise does not experience a high enough ambient light level, they can become inactive. If you compare the British sunshine to that of the Mediterranean ,they are worlds apart in brightness levels. The bright light stimulates the tortoises senses and therefore an additional light source is quite often necessary to light up shady parts of the table. It is equally important to ensure that there is escape for the tortoise from the bright light by providing some shade also. LED lights in cool white offer an excellent additional level of ambient lighting
CERAMIC HEAT EMITTER AND PULSE THERMOSTAT
Just as ambient light is very important, so is ambient heat. The ceramic heat emitter is an excellent way to maintain both ambient and night time temperatures when the basking light is off. The ceramic heat emitter is a non light producing heater and MUST be operated by plugging it in to a pulse thermostat. These two items are essential if you live in a house that gets very cold in the winter and for ensuring your tortoises core temperature does not drop too low at night. It doesn't matter how powerful your basking lamp is, if it is fighting against a cold room the basking temperatures will never be achieved.
The CHE must be used with extreme caution as the surface of these lamps gets incredibly hot and will result in deep burns from just the slightest touch. It is essential to use a guard around the lamp. A dome or shade will effect the spread of heat so a wire guard is the best.
CALCIUM & VITAMIN D3
Both these elements are essential to the good health and long life of your tortoise. It It is a well known fact that Tortoises need a good calcium intake . However without Vitamin D3 any Calcium ingested is of no use to the Tortoise as it will not be absorbed. Long term this will lead to a condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) as well as a whole host of other complications. MBD is a horribly disfiguring and life threatening condition which without treatment will ultimately be fatal. What is more is that it is completely avoidable in the first place.
Good sources of Calcium to always provide your tortoise with are lime stone flour, Lump chalk and cuttle bone which will also assist in keeping your torts beak trim.
The most commonly used and available vitamin D3 powders are Nekton MSA and Nutrabol. My preference is Nekton MSA for hatchlings, as it is a sweet smelling powder that can be used Daily. I use Nutrabol for my adults.. . I mix the Nekton and limestone flour together in a 50/50 mix and sprinkle daily.. particularly with younger growing torts. There should always be calcium available for the tortoise at all times.
HOT HUMID HIDE
A lot of research has gone into how 'pyramiding of the shell occurs.There are many theories including fast growth, over eating and a poor diet including pure protein such as meat/ From my own Studies and practice experience, pyramiding of the shell is caused purely by a lack of adequate humidity particularly in the formative stages of a tortoises life. In the wild the first 2 or 3 years of a baby tortoises life is spent hidden quite often by buying into the roots systems of any vegetation where there is the most moisture. The ambient humidity of the Mediterranean is also much higher than that of the UK and the electrically heated homes we provide . 70% humidity is not out of the ordinary fro the Mediterranean and even 100% at certain times of the year.
The 'Hot Humid Hide" is essential in the prevention of a bumpy carapace.
The best method I have used and one that I actually prefer is one that I refer to as 'The sweaty Cave'. This consists of a plastic reptile cave , positioned near to the basking lamp underneath which , the soil is kept nice and moist.. again not wet. The baby torts really love this method and in my opinion it works far better for smooth shell growth than the plastic moss box which Used previously to the cave.
Tortoises need a particular type of water dish. A shallow dish big enough for them to sit inis best and also some thing they can walk in and out of easily . Tortoises don't lap like cats and dogs and quite often drink by submerging their whole head under the water surfaced drawing it in through their noses and their mouths at the same time. They also absorb water through their Cloaca which is another reason why regular bathing is important.
A slate or tile is the advised feeding surface for a tortoise. It is said that feeding off this type of surface is helpful in keeping the beak trim. Also it helps to ensure that your tort is eating its food and not too much substrate at the same time.
It is highly recommended to spray down your table at least twice a day, paying particular attention to the basking area . This will of course aid the humidity you need to grow that lovely smooth shell. I prefer the pumping types of sprayers as you could not ever hope to spray the right amount of water with the hand spritz type could provide.
There are many different types of thermometer available and it is an essential piece of kit to have so that you know your thermostats are delivering the results that you want. My favourite type is the infra red hand held temperature gun. They give a quick and precise reading many surfaces. it is a good idea to have two probe type thermometers so that you can keep an eye on the temperatures at both ends of the table in particular right under the basking spot.
Young tortoises ,in particular, like to have plants, rocks, drift wood and caves to shelter under and explore. When adding these items to the table it is your time to shine in creating an interesting habitat for your tortoise. Its also aesthetically pleasing to us. Real plants could be planted into the table also but only if they are safe plants to eat. be prepared for them not toast too long from the attentions of a hungry tortoise . When choosing any artificial plants for the table ,the fabric ones are better as they help to keep the humidity up when sprayed down at the same time as your table .