Care and Feeding of the
Hatchling Leopard Tortoise
How to set up an indoor pen
Aquarium tanks do not
make good tortoise pens. The walls are too high, so the pen
stays too hot all over. The best enclosure is one that has low
walls and a lot of floor space. A large plastic Rubbermaid
under the bed storage bin or a large cement mixing tub from Lowe’s
or Home Depot work great and are inexpensive. These tubs are
large enough to work for a couple of years at which time the baby
tort will need a larger enclosure. When a larger indoor pen is
needed, a tortoise table (turtle table) will need to be constructed.
Sphagnum moss, cypress
mulch (do not use any other type of wood mulch), and a 50/50
mix of coconut coir and play sand are good choices for substrate.
My baby Leopard pens have wet sphagnum on the end where the basking
lamp is hanging. This area is kept very moist so the lamp will
evaporate the moisture and raise the humidity in the pen. The
center section of the pen is the 50/50 mix of sand and coir which is
kept damp. The cool end of the pen is sphagnum moss that is
kept bone dry. Hide houses are on each end.
This is done so the baby
torts have 3 different micro climates to choose from. The
tortoise will move from one to another as they need. It is
important that the baby tortoise be given choices and not kept in a
totally dry environment. Remember, in the wild, these tiny
tortoises live on the ground and spend most of their time under the
cover of foliage, giving them not only protection from predators,
but a humid environment even in the driest regions.
I’ve noticed that all the baby Leopards here spend the day in the moist sphagnum on the basking end and then retreat to the dry cool end at night. There is a lot of outdated and incorrect information out there that say Leopard tortoises are sensitive to humidity. This is not true. Baby Leopard tortoises need a humid environment, so do not keep your Leopard in a bone dry environment.
In addition to a hide house, baby Leopard tortoises like to have foliage to hide under and walk through.
UVB Basking Light and Heat:
Your baby Leopard will need
a high quality UVB lamp. I recommend the mercury vapor type
UVB lamp. The T-Rex Active UVB/Heat, the Powersun, and the Capture the Sun 100 watt flood bulbs are very good
choices and last up to a year. The florescent type tube bulbs will
need to be replaced every 6 months and you will need to add a heat
emitter. Do not use any coil style bulb.
The mercury vapor lamps
will produce high quality UVB for your tortoise and also basking
level temperatures, so you will not need to have a second fixture in
place for heat. Make sure you use a 10” metal dome fixture
with a ceramic socket. Hang the lamp straight down over one
end of the pen; DO NOT clamp it to the side of the pen.
The basking area should be
95 degrees and the cool end of the pen should be in the mid 70s.
Tortoises regulate their body temp by moving from warm areas to cool
areas. This is called thermoregulation and is necessary for
the health of the tortoise. Put the lamp on a heavy duty timer
so the lamp turns itself on and off. The lamp should be left
on 12 hours a day.
UVB is necessary for the
tortoise to metabolize the calcium in its food. Without it,
the tortoise will not develop strong bones or a hard shell.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) will develop and the tortoise will
become deformed if it does not die first.
It is a good idea to soak your baby Leopard tortoise. The water should be “baby bath” warm (barely warm) and very shallow. The depth should be only up to where the bottom shell meets the top shell (this is called the bridge of the shell). Soaking will allow your baby to drink and flush out its nares and eyes. The baby tort will nearly always poop while soaking, so it helps to keep the pen cleaner as well. After the soak, place the baby on a dish of fresh greens and it will usually start eating immediately. I recommend soaking every other day for 10 minutes, until it is a year old and then soak once or twice a week to insure proper hydration.
Feeding Your Baby Leopard Tortoise:
Feed your baby tortoise
every day. Place a handful of food on a flat ceramic tile or
dish and place the dish on an area of sphagnum moss so that the baby
does not ingest any sand/soil mix that may get in the food.
You will have to see how much the baby eats in one day to start to
get a good feel on the amount of food that should be put out every
day. I suggest putting the food out in the morning and taking
out any leftovers that evening. I have noticed that my baby
Leopards will go back to the dish to eat several times a day,
grazing much as they do as adults. Fresh water in a very
shallow dish should be provided at all times in the tortoise pen.
What to feed:
Tortoises need a variety of food items in their diet that are high fiber/low protein.
Turnip greens, dandelion greens, collard greens, and kale are the best dark leafy greens. They are high in nutrition and very high in calcium. Prepackaged bags of Spring Mix, Southern Blend, and Field Greens are also good, but I suggest mixing turnip greens with it to increase the nutritional/calcium content.
Do not feed iceberg lettuce, fruits, meats, or vegetables. Leopard tortoises are grassland grazers and cannot tolerate the sugar and protein levels in fruits and veggies.
You can add fresh grass and weeds to the diet as long as no fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides have ever been used on it.
Links that will help you to care for your Leopard Tortoise:
Yahoo Groups you can join to ask questions and talk to other tortoise keepers: