Dealing with Flies (Fungus Gnats) In a Tortoise Enclosure

Fungus gnats are a type of fly sometimes found in homes, with the source of an infestation often being a pet tortoise’s bedding. They do not harm tortoises and they aren’t harmful to humans either, but they can become irritating, especially when there are many of them. If you have plant seedlings growing to provide food for your tortoise, then the flies will likely damage them. 

When you are taking care of a pet tortoise, you can expect to take on a great deal responsibility. You need everything from an enclosure that imitates the natural habitat of the tortoise, a suitable substrate, to enough warmth, and enough food for each day. But whilst taking care of the tortoise is to be expected, extending that courtesy to parasites and pests is, understandably, not something most people sign up to.

Although tortoises are relatively clean pets, flies might be attracted to their enclosure – and the most common fly you’ll likely have trouble with is what we’re talking about here: fungus gnats. 

These particular critters can become quite the nuisance if left to propagate, so it’s worth learning how to prevent a breakout/how to remove them if they do emerge. Luckily, there are some sure fire ways to keep your tortoise table free of them. 

What Are Fungus Gnats?

Fungus gnats are fruit fly-sized pests, reaching a maximum of 5mm (0.2″) in length. There are different species of fungus gnats, but this is really by the by, because when you get an infestation, it can become pretty annoying, regardless of the species that’s giving you trouble. 

Usually fungus gnats are dark in color, and they enjoy living in damp soil. In other circumstances, they can be quite useful thanks to their aiding in the decay of plant roots, as well as different organic water materials.

Although they don’t have a long life, they can help pollinate different plant species, as well as multiple varieties of fungi.

They lay their eggs on an organic matter near the surface of the soil. A single fly will lay up to about 200 eggs, which then take around three days to hatch into larvae. They then burrow into the soil and feed on the decaying plant material and fungi. After two weeks, the larval stages transforms to their fully developed form and emerge from the soil. Thus, the cycle continues. 

Now with all that in mind, here’s the issue – fungus gnats may see the enclosure of your pet tortoise very appealing, and the substrate very appetizing. Typically, these flies find shelter in the tortoise’s enclosure, and you might not notice the issue until they reproduce and more of them start emerging from the soil.

Since they love damp soil, fungus gnats will not hesitate to take up residence near your tortoise. They appear because of how damp the environment often is, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see them, even if it isn’t a welcome sight. 

They feed on the substrate, grow into adults, then lay their own eggs, and so on. It can quickly become a major infestation that is troublesome to solve. 

What Can You Do About Them?

You should aim to stop the infestation as soon as possible, especially if you have plants in your house. These flies might destroy them completely, and you don’t want that after you have likely spent so much time trying to grow them and care for them. 

Insecticide may seem like the ideal solution, and this can work, but only temporarily. If you don’t take other measures, fungus gnats will soon return. Not to mention that insecticides may be harmful to your tortoise as well, and you surely don’t want that. Here are some things you can do to safely get rid of fungus gnats:

  • Keep the Enclosure Clean

The tortoise’s enclosure should be clean at all times. Clean everything regularly. Remove the substrate from the enclosure and replace it with fresh substrate every two to three weeks, and regularly scrub all the accessories inside and allow them some time to dry before returning them.

For deeper cleaning, you should look for some ‘turtle-safe’ cleaning products that you find at pet stores. Refrain from using bleach or other such cleaning products as they may be harmful.

  • Maintain the Enclosure

Apart from the big cleaning process, you should also upkeep the enclosure on a daily basis. For instance, if there are any leftover vegetables or plants in the enclosure because the tortoise didn’t eat all of them, remove them after a few hours.

If there are any real plants in the turtle’s tank, replace them before they start decomposing. Also, remove and clean items such as pebbles, rocks, and plastic plants as needed.

Drinking water should be replaced on a daily basis.

  • Add Some Protection

Another thing you can do is add some protection against fungus gnats finding their way in to the enclosure in the first place. For example, adding mesh screen covers can be a great way to keep fungus gnats away from the tortoise’s enclosure.

Of course, there are considerations with these covers too, as you have to make sure you choose covers made from breathable material. For instance, you should not use solid covers made of plastic or glass. The cover you choose should have tiny holes, like a screen, which helps promote air circulation so as to keep the tortoise safe and healthy. Otherwise, the temperature and humidity of the enclosure will potentially rise too much. 

  • Trap The Fungus Gnats

Besides deterring the fungus gnats from appearing in the first place, you might also be able to get rid of them with a bit of force.

One proven method is to leave a cup/glass of vinegar with some plastic food wrap or cling film streched over it, with a small hole in it. Place this near to the enclosure (somewhere where it won’t get knocked over, ideally). The fungus gnats will be attracted to the vinegar and make their way into the container, but won’t be able to get out again.

Another option is to use commercially available sticky ‘fly paper’, or perhaps even an electric fly killer.

Final Thoughts

Fungus gnats do not harm tortoises, nor do they bite humans or harm them in any way. They are none the less still pests, and don’t have a place in your home or your tortoise’s enclosure. Apart from it being annoying to see little flies buzzing around the place, your plants might be damaged as a result of this pest infestation. 

Since the tortoise’s enclosure is an ideal spot for these flies, you should take the proper measures to keep them away and remove them. If you add some screen covers and keep the vivarium clean by replacing the substrate regularly, you will have a fighting chance of keeping them at bay. If this doesn’t quite do the job, then you can try some entrapment methods.

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