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horsfield behaviour

Posted: 04 Nov 2019, 15:37
by Stephen Bolt
I have a Horsfield tortoise two and a half years old - eating and growing well. I have noticed he/she is over the last few weeks much more restless and active than normal - I am looking to give him/her new accommodation as now outgrowing current indoor vivarium but have two questions.

Is there any where I can purchase a large indoor (4x3 foot) vivarium/table? most are too small
Also do they have a breeding cycle that may explain restlessness etc - my adult corn snake gets much the same around early spring during breeding season - stops eating and gets a bit aggressive (usually very passive) and this passes in a few weeks! Just wondered if I was seeing similar with the tortoise!?

Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 04 Nov 2019, 17:07
by lin
Hi Steven

I am hoping Nina will come in and post some links to tables (vivs, in my opinion are not good for tortoises). However regarding the behaviour you are seeing with her I would say she Might need a little tweak in her enclosure.
Can I ask if you know the temps where she is, in both the hot and cool areas of her enclosure? It could also be that she is feeling a bit to warm.
Is she in a vet or tabletop. If you can send in a photo of her in her area we could be able to see where a slight adjustment night make a difference in her behaviour.
Because of her age I would not think it is anything to do with mating or breeding though.


Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 04 Nov 2019, 21:54
by Nina
Hi Stephen and thanks for contacting us. The fact that your little Horsfield is very active is a good thing (and a bit unusual at this time of year, as most of them are slowing down now, as their hibernation instinct kicks in).

I agree with Lin that it is really important to check the temperatures in his/her enclosure, and you should take two measurements: one directly undeneath the heat source at the height of the tortoise's shell, and another at the other end of the enclosure, again at the height of the tortoise's shell. You are aiming for a temperature of around 30C (not much higher) at the hot end, and around 20C at the cool end. And a thermometer mounted on a wall at the hotter end will give you a very inaccurate idea of what the temperature is directly below the lamp, so you will have to hold a thermometer there. If it is too hot, then that can cause either hyperactivity or lethargy -- depending on the particular tortoise, but yours might just be happily running around and enjoying himself. It definitely won't be anything to do with breeding behaviour as it will be quite a few years before your tortoise is ready to breed.

If your tortoise is in a viv, it would be a good idea to take the glass doors off and put up a board at the bottom of the opening, just high enough so that the tortoise can't climb out. Vivs are very bad environments for tortoises (I can explain why if you are interested). They are very good for snakes, and our corn snake lived happily in a viv for 26 years, but not good for tortoises. In the short term you could adapt the viv in this sort of way as the photo I've attached.
[attachment=0]Viv conversion.jpeg[/attachment]

You can easily build a tortoise table (a large dresser drawer or single wardrobe can be the base), or you can buy inexpensive rabbit/guinea pig cages that have a nice deep tray and a wire surround. I used to have one that was 4' x 2' and I built a second level into it, with a ramp, to give the tortoises extra exercise (I can provide details of that too. Here is the sort of thing i mean (see the first two on this page, but you can find these in lots of places): ... abbit_cage

I hope that helps, and please don't hesitate to come back with more questions.



Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 05 Nov 2019, 15:18
by Stephen Bolt
Thanks to all for responses.

Viv vs table: many sites seem to suggest vivariums are better than tables unless you have a very hot reptile room as you can get a stabler temperature - mine was really only designed with small (82g) Horsfield in mind - with UV in the day time and thermostat so I get 20 degrees and 30 degrees (probably slightly hotter directly below heat lamp as he/she gets bigger!) respectively - can drop the whole lot to circa 19 at night if I turn off the heat lamp (under floor heating in our house keeps room temperature fairly constant).

Currently in vivarium but with large ventilation in the top (not just the normal ones).

Now he/she has just crossed 400g we definitely need a bigger habitat - make more urgent by the noticeable change in behaviour.

I also have cats which are interested (when he goes out indoors for a walk) but nothing more - nevertheless I think a mesh lid would be sensible.

At them moment I am thinking of 4x2 or 3 foot - like the idea of two tiers as he/she has started to climb ontop of his house. Probably going to have to make a covered table - the 4x2 available commercially not very attractive.

Vet advises against outside accommodation when he/she is still fairly small - thinks would add to stress and humidity - ditto against hibernation until bigger. Otherwise vet (with exotic experience) inspection suggested a healthy tortoise.

Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 05 Nov 2019, 16:51
by Nina
Hi Stephen,

I would be interrested to know which sites those were that came down on the side of vivs for Mediterranean tortoises (and Horsfields are usually included with Med tortoises as far as care is concerned). Here are links to a couple of articles on the Tortoise Trust website (reckoned to be the most authoritative body in the UK). The first is their overall assessment of indoor housing and why vivariums are not good environments for tortoises:
And here is a link to a page about specific vivariums and tortoise tables (there are three links at the top of the page to the various parts).
It is very good that you are getting a temperature gradation of between 20C - 30C during the day in your viv. Just to check, are you measuring these temps in the air below the lamp and also at the other end of the viv? Also, having extra circulation is good - that's a really crucial factor. We once had someone with a lethargic tortoise in a viv who swore the temperature was 30C. She even sent us a photo showing the thermometer in the viv, mounted on a wall a few inches away from the lamp, and it read 30C. I asked her to take it off the wall and hold it under the lamp and the reading was 45C.

One other thing you could think of doing is to block off the lower two or three inches of glass with strip of paper or cardboard, so that the tortoise can't see out (they don't understand the concept of glass and can get frustrated trying to 'get through it').

Also, regarding your temps, 19 is OK at night, but really a slightly greater drop in temperature is better, as the temperature does drop in the wild at night, so it could drop to 15C or 16C very safely, and could even go down to about 12C or 13C without harm, as long as the daytime temperatures are right.

I think I disagree with your vet about outside accommodation. Does this vet have exotics qualifications or just exotics experience? He or she is probably fine, but tortoises do love being outdoors and thrive on it, and the UVB from the sun is of a far higher quality than any that we can provide indoors. The important thing is to have a secure outdoor accommodation (Horsfields are amazing escape artists and are a burrowing species which can dig down and under and out of a fenced-in enclosure in record time, so extra precautions have to be made. They also need security from predators (birds like magpies, rats, foxes, etc.), so I bring my tortoises in at night because we do have rats and foxes in the neighbourhood. Humidity is not bad for tortoises, as long as it was warm. Horsfields can take damp and warm, but they do not like and shouldn't be exposed to damp and cold for any length of time, and are best outdoors when the temperature is right (if you can wear a short-sleeved t-shirt your tortoise is probably fine). On cooler days I warm mine up indoors and put them out, and when their shells begin to feel a bit cool I bring them in again for another warm up and then out again, but they are like little storage heaters and will soak up and retain heat for a surprisingly long time.

I can't remember if I've posted a photo of my table with the ramp up to a second level, but here's are a couple of photos (the table is 7' x 2' because unfortunately that was the space that it had to fit in. If you are strapped for space I've seen nice 'L'-shaped tables that go around a corner.

I'll end this here now, as I've rambled on long enough -- and hope that I haven't turned you off!


Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 10 Nov 2019, 10:52
by Stephen Bolt
Thank your your detailed thoughts

I have now ordered a 4x2 table with a ramp to two levels from the "happy tortoise habitat" site - they seem to be the best ready built ones I can find - will turn everything off at night as house more than warm enough.

I think the vet was referring only to not outside when very small - I intend to construct a large desert type enclosure outside in time for summer - but I will have to bring in at night as we have a lot of foxes around here. Wont put him/her out when very wet.

A couple of extra questions

What is the best substrate for the table? - currently using tortoise soil product.
Are there any suitable plants that he/she won't eat - both for indoors (presumably in posts) and outoors which will need to be hardy? - preferably desert type.

I also intend to transfer my UV lamp and heat lamp separately rather than a combined heat/UV lamp - your pics do have the strip lamp.

Re: horsfield behaviour

Posted: 10 Nov 2019, 13:41
by Nina
Hi Stephen,

The table sounds really good. I had a look at the site and they are nice taables, but I can't see one that has a ramp up to two levels -- just ramps up to one other level, but the size you are getting is good and a ramp will always give them more exercise. What was your model called? Do try to get one where there isn't a fixed arm that you plug the lamp directly into. Those 'L'-shaped arms are fine for hanging a lamp from, but it is better to hang the lamp hanging from a chain attached to the arm, so that you can raise and lower the lamp to get different temperatures, rather than plugging the lamp directly into a socket fixed to the arm.

Your outdoor enclosure sounds like it will be a little paradise -- do send photos when you've made it. Yes, we have foxes and rats in the area and I don't leave mine out all night either (although if you have somewhere that is lockable, and they will be protected at night then that is a possibility).

Yes, I have a fluorescent strip for UVB and a separate lamp for heat and light, the reason being that if it is warm in the room and you have to raise the heat source away from the table, you are not also distancing the UVB source. I would get the longest strip light that is suitable for your table, and be sure to get a reflector guard to clip on it, as UVB can damage your eyes if you look directly into it, and also the guard reflects up to 30% more UVB down into the table for the tortoise to benefit from. That photo of mine is old, and I now have a 4' strip that runs up and down the length of the table. Get a 10% or 12% strength, and you will need to suspend it from something, and follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding height. The compact bulbs (that look a bit like a low energy bulb) and clip on are not nearly as good. Any UVB bulb will only last around two years at the most (although if they are outdoors all summer then it isn't being used as much. The reason is that the UVB gradually deposits a coating on the inside of the glass bulb and eventually although it is still outputting light, the UVB can't get through the glass. So changing every year or two is recommended, unless you have a proper UVB meter (or your local reptile shop has one) and can test it.

The best substrate is a mixture of soil and sand, as that is what most closely approximates their natural substrate in the wild. Is it Tortoise Life that you are using? That is perfectly fine, but expensive and not really necessary. You can easily use ordinary sterilised topsoil and children's play sand that can be bought from Homebase or any garden centre. Most recommend mixing it 50/50, but I think my torts prefer a slightly higher percentage of topsoil, so I mix mine 60/40 (roughly). And to keep it from getting dusty, it's a good idea to spray it lightly every day, or what I do is every two or three days I pour water onto it and mix it in thoroughly so that the result is only the teeny tiniest bit damp -- not at all wet -- ,just so the soil clumps together a bit if you squeeze a fistful. I do tend to keep one area drier though, and if it is cold in the night then I don't dampen down the sleeping area.

You will want to line the table with something like pool liner (or ask the makers to), so that the damp from water spills or wee doesn't soak into the boards. And make the substrate as deep as you possibly can, so that the tortoise can bury himself completely if he wants to.

Plants. It's really difficult because they will eat almost anything. Outdoors and indoors I tend to plant ornamental grasses (I might have a small spare one that I could send you, so just let me know if you want one). Because they do well in drought conditions, I plant the ones indoors directly into the substrate, surround it with pebbles and water it regularly, and outdoors into the ground, and they seed themselves everywhere so you'll always have spare plants. I also plant spider plants into the substrate, but sometimes they decide to eat those. A nice trick is to have a spider plant in a pot outside the table, and then it sends those long stems with baby plantlets on the ends down into the table, and I position it so that the plantlet is just above head level and the tortoises have to stretch up to nibble them. They have so many plantlets that you can afford to let them nibble to their heart's content. Dwarf Hebes outdoors are used by many people. One thing you can do outdoors is plant something edible and then cover it with a wire hanging basked framework. The plant then grows through the holes in the framework and the tortoise can nibble on the leaves but not destroy the whole plant.

So sorry for going on at such length again! Dear me, you must be nodding off by now. Anyway, I hope that information helps and I would love to see your table when it is set up.