Desert region tropical tortoises have specific requirements when it comes to their care. They require regular exposure to a source of UV light so they can turn Vitamin D2 into D3. They also need access to shade, as they can easily dry out. You must also make sure you soak them daily and allow them to sleep in a humid enclosure every night.
Caring for a tortoise can be very challenging, regardless of the species. But what about baby Indian Star, Leopard, and Sulcata tortoises? Do they need any kind of specific care? The short answer is that yes, they do – and it’s your job to ensure they have everything they need to thrive.
General Notes on Young Indian Star, Leopard, and Sulcata Tortoises
In the wild, young Indian Star, Leopard, and Sulcata tortoises hatch at the start of the rainy season. At that time, it’s very humid, hot, constantly raining, and in some areas, very marshy – the perfect breeding ground for tortoises. This also means their is typically an abundance of verdant green vegetation to eat growing everywhere.
Some areas may have quite dry seasons, but it’s during the monsoon season that babies usually hatch. Hatchlings also seek out humid microclimates to hide in when the climate is too dry. When conditions are too hot, they will cease to eat and grow as they begin to aestivate.
As a result, if you keep a baby tortoise of one of these species in an enclosure where it’s hot, dry, and distinctly lacking humidity, it can prove to be a recipe for disaster. They may be described as “desert region”, but don’t forget that there’s a “tropical” in there as well, which is why you need to adjust your care accordingly. Failing to provide the correct care may lead to pyramiding in your tortoise.
Care Tips to Follow
Follow the tips below to ensure you create the perfect environment for desert region tropical hatchlings. This includes both setting up their enclosure and actively caring for them.
- Heat and Lighting
An enclosure for young tortoises of these species should have proper heating and lighting. A 45 to 65-watt incandescent flood bulb set on a 12-hour timer should work just fine for your tortoise. The ambient temperature should be in the high 80s or low 90s (mid 20s to mid 30s celcius).
- UV Rays
Tortoises need constant exposure to a source of UV light. Otherwise, they can’t turn vitamin D2 into vitamin D3 and this prevents them from utilizing dietary calcium, leading to a plethora of health issues. Ideally, they should get that from exposure to sunshine, but you must make sure that they also have shade available.
An artificial UV light source is fine in the absence of real sunshine.
- Enclosure Details
For these types of tortoises, closed chambers (vivariums) are often the best way to go. Tortoise tables, which are recommended for most other species, may not be able to reduce the heat or prevent humidity loss. With devices added to the enclosure to measure temperature and humidity, you can ensure their environment remains at the appropriate levels.
- Enclosure Size
To put it in as simple terms as possible, the bigger the enclosure, the better it will be for the tortoise. All of these tortoises require as much space as possible, but sulcatas in particular, grow big very fast, so for them a 4×8’ might only be good for a hatchling for a year at most.
For the other species even a 10×10’ enclosure wouldn’t be considered too big; they travel far greater distances than that in the wild after all.
- Humid Hide Boxes
Indian Star, Leopard, and Sulcata tortoises like warmth and sunshine now and again, but they also need humidity to keep themselves comfortable and hydrated. To care for them properly, you might want to add some humid hide boxes to their enclosure, as it imitates the micro-damp climates they make use of in the wild.
You don’t necessarily need piles of Sphagnum moss, although it is the ideal choice if you can get it. You can work just as well with an upturned $2 dishwashing tub from Walmart or Asda with an an access hole cut into it, and a shallow water dish inside.
For these types of tortoises, you have three options in terms of substrate: orchid bark (best option), coco coir, and cypress mulch. You can buy these products in bulk, and not only are they comfortable to walk on, but critically, they can also hold and release humidity.
- Water Dishes
The best choice for water dishes are terra cotta plant saucers. Given their rough surface finish they offer great traction for young tortoises of these species, and since they are quite shallow, they are the safest choice should the tortoise end up falling upside down in the bowl. You may also want to sink the saucer into the substrate to further reduce the risk of it being trip hazard.
No matter if you have an Indian Star, Leopard, or Sulcata tortoise (and indeed most other species for that matter), remember that all of them will need soaking for at least 20-30 minutes a day, in 85-95 degree water. If you have an enclosure that is humid enough, with a water bowl and a humid hide, it’s totally fine to skip a day or two now and again.
In the wild, babies of these species will eat mostly weeds, grass, flowers, leaves, and succulents – so obviously, their diet in captivity should be rich in a variety of these as well.
These species are also adaptable in terms of food, which means you’ll get away with groceries such as kale, cilantro, endive, and escarole, in addition to the more traditional fare.
If you are making heavy use of store bought greens, make sure to add additional calcium and fiber supplements into the mix as well. You could also leave some cuttlebone in the enclosure, as it gives them their dose of necessary calcium.
The Bottom Line
Caring for young Indian Star, Leopard, and Sulcata tortoises requires a lot of your attention – so above all, you should be sure that you are able to provide it. Keep their humidity levels correct at all times, and ensure they get their daily nutrients. By taking proper care of them, you can ensure these babies will eventually become healthy, happy, fully mature tortoises.