Tortoises and turtles, be them land-dwellers or not, need humidity – and a fair amount of it, for that matter. As a result, if you plan on keeping a tortoise as a pet, you need to make sure that their enclosure has an appropriate level of humidity at all times. A humidity meter is a very useful too to assist with this.
Like humans, tortoises also need to take on water in order to stay hydrated – but unlike us, they take on water through their skin as well as by drinking it.
With that in mind, you must make sure that an appropriate level of humidity is chosen, and therefore at the same time, that you don’t make the enclosure too humid.
How much humidity does a pet tortoise need, and do different species of tortoise need different levels of humidity? And if that’s the case, what can you do to meet their specific needs? Read this article further to find out.
Why Is Humidity Necessary for Tortoises?
By definition humidity is the concentration of water present in the air. Like most reptiles, tortoises don’t always absorb water by drinking it; they absorb it through their skin. It’s an instinct of theirs because, in their natural wild habitat, they often don’t have such an easy time finding water to drink as they do in captivity.
Crucially of course, they don’t have a human to fill or change their water bowl on a daily basis.
So, instead of drinking all of the water they need, they adapt – and absorb some of their water from the atmosphere. For a tortoise, a lack of humidity in the air is more or less equivilent to a human failing to drink their proverbial 8 glasses a day.
With that in mind, here are some issues that may arise if there isn’t enough humidity in a tortoise’s enclosure:
As mentioned, tortoises have evolved in such a way that they absorb a great deal of their water through their skin. This is quite convenient for them, particularly if they live in an environment where there is not much clean water to go around (especially if you consider the environment that they usually grow in).
Improper humidity can cause them to become dehydrated, which can lead to lethargy and a variety of other health issues.
- Respiratory Problems
Insufficient humidity can cause myriad respiratory problems in your tortoise such as pneumonia or other similar respiratory infections. This is also quite a common occurrence if the space is too cold. Make sure the temperature does not go any lower than 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), and that there is humidity in the air.
Cold dry air is a major no no!
- Enclosure Temperature Issues
Humidity also has a significant impact on the temperature of their enclosure. Temperatures that are too high can lead to dehydration for your pet tortoise, which is why you need to make sure the humidity is at a higher point; this will ensure the temperature stays appropriate.
Air humidity of 50-60% should be good for your tortoise, so long as you set both a humid and a dry area for them. Many tortoises enjoy high humidity going from 70-100%, but you can keep the enclosure at as low as 50%. Just make sure that there are some damp spots there where they are able to rehydrate.
- Smelly Habitat
If humidity levels are too great, this can make the enclosure a favourable environment to unseen and unwanted guests.
In which case, the habitat may end up quite smelly, as bacteria and other similar microbes begin growing in the substrate and elsewhere. Usually, the more tortoises you have in the enclosure, the worse the smell will be.
Providing Humidity to Dry Climate Species
When you have a dry climate tortoise, you do not need to overdo it on the humidity front, nor is it necessary to go over 70% humidity (although you may still want to set different spots with different levels). With that in mind, here are some ways in which you can provide humidity for dry climate species.
- Damp Sphagnum Moss
Sphagnum moss is highly absorbent, so if you do decide to add it into the enclosure hide, it will likely raise the humidity enough to be comfortable. At the same time, the moss will be smooth to walk on so that your tortoise does not feel like it is stepping on a puddle or a pool.
To make sure it stays damp, you may also want to attach a damp, dripping sponge on the ceiling of the hide, as it will keep providing moisture to the moss.
- Damp Substrate
Some tortoises don’t feel entirely comfortable sitting and crawling on damp moss, which is why you may want to go for a change in strategy: rather than using damp surface moss, you might want to make use of a damp substrate instead (or alongside the moss, if your tortoise likes the extra humidity).
You can just add it underneath the moss, and it will deliver the humidity where it is needed. These substrates might include coconut coir (possibly mixed with soil too), peat moss, organic soil, and many other similar types of moisture retaining soil.
- Spray Bottle
When in doubt, you may always go for your good ol’ friend, the spray bottle. The chances are that you already have moss and soil on your tortoise table, so by using a spray bottle to humidify things once more, you’ll be able to bring everything to a comfortable level.
Plus, the advantage of spray bottles is that you have full control over how much water you add, which means that there is a lower chance of you over (or under) humidifying the enclosure.
Add dechlorinated water to the spray bottle and mist the tank lightly. This should help you increase the humidity levels of the enclosure. You may spray over the moss, the plants. Or even slightly over the tortoise itself. However, make sure the spray bottle releases the water in the form of a mist, not a thin water jet.
- Add Plants
One more efficient way to add humidity in a tortoise enclosure is to add plants to their environment. Not only are plants great when it comes to adding humidity, but they can also be a source of food and also one of shade – both of which your tortoise can enjoy. As long as you add the right soil based bedding to the enclosure, it should be easy for you to ensure that some plants take root.
If that’s not a possibility, then you may want to go for artificial plants instead. Sure, they are not as efficient when it comes to adding humidity, and obviously they’re inedible – but as long as you keep them humid (by using a spray), they should be able to do a fairly good job.
- Water Bowl
A water bowl is perhaps one of the best ways to increase the humidity levels in a tortoise enclosure. Plus, it will be an indirect way for finding out whether you are adding enough moisture in the enclosure or not.
For example, if your tortoise seems to be spending an awful lot of time in the bowl, it may mean thre is not enough humidity, and consequently the tortoise is trying to absorb as much humidity from the environment as it possibly can.
Providing Humidity to Tropical Species
Tropical tortoise species such as Red Foot, Cherry Head and Burmese Brown tortoises require more humidity than their desert and scrubland dwelling cousins, which means you will need to amp up your humidity game a considerably. In this case, you might want to use the following measures to raise humidity:
- Use a Fogger
In certain circumstances, you might need to add more humidity in the enclosure of your tortoise than you would with the typical moss and humid substrate. Indeed, those will need to be added as well – but as a “helper,” you may want to use a fogger. This will deliver constant mist through the enclosure and will ensure your tortoise has a comfortable environment akin to their natural habitat.
- Close the Enclosure/Use a Glass Vivarium
If you keep your tropical species tortoise in an open enclosure – i.e a tortoise table – a lot of the humidity you provide may simply escape through the open top and sides. To make sure the humidity is not lost, you may want to cover the tortoise enclosure. A third of the way is good, but depending on the case, you may need to cover more of it.
Obviously you don’t want to make your enclosure air tight!
A glass sided vivarium, whilst not recommended for dry climate species, is suitable for tropical species. Vivariums do a much better job at maintaining a hot and humid environment akin to a rainforest or other tropical environment, particularly with the addition of a fogger.
Pro Tip: To make sure that the humidity is at a proper level, you should also use a humidity reader. Keep a regular eye on it so that you know when you need to take action and increase the humidity level.
The Bottom Line
In the end, yes, tortoises need humidity. However, depending on the tortoise, it will require a different level. While a dry land tortoise may feel comfortable at 60% humidity, a tropical one may need you to kick it up a notch by 30%. Follow these tips, and make sure that your tortoise has the humidity that it needs.