Building/Growing new outside enclosure for Tonga the Hermann

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AnyaAKD
Posts: 2
Joined: 25 Jun 2020, 04:32

Building/Growing new outside enclosure for Tonga the Hermann

Post by AnyaAKD » 26 Jun 2020, 00:17

Hello there! My name is Andrea, I'm new here. I live in Los Angeles, California, USA - growing zone 10a.
A couple of months ago we lucked into an unplanned adoption of a male Hermann which we have named Tonga, not sure of the age (we're pretty sure of the breed) from a local animal control center. Their previous guardian had passed away and we have no information apart from that. The vet said she thinks he's at least older than 5.

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We have him in a temporary enclosure where he is happy and I've been working on what will hopefully be his shangri-la!

The new enclosure is 1.3x3.3 meters, 41cm deep with with a very shallow filtered pond with pebbles for fresh water. I'm waiting for the grass, white and red clover to sprout and I am planning on planting Italian dandelion, cat grass and leafy greens like romaine and kale, will also try planting the geraniums that I've been growing from seed and clematis, also from a baby plant. I'm being very careful about organics in the whole process.

I filled the area with plain organic topsoil, no little white fertilizer pebbles, so I can have a good base for planting, then I'll create pathways with coconut coir and cypress mulch, little pebbles in other areas. Of course we have a little hiding house for him and going to create some little caves from rock here and there as well.The low temperature here at night in the summer is 15°c, highs can be up to 37°, usually closer to 32°. He will have shady and sunny spots most of the day before going all shady. We'll be putting netting over the enclosure to keep out any curious birds (and Tonga in) and have installed a high fence above the netting with low voltage electricity for the late night hours to keep out any other more curious dextrous wild life (we've done with with the fish pond and the garden and it has worked 100%.)

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I've got some questions and would love any thoughts on what you see from the pictures of the currently blank enclosure.

1. The topsoil I got is attracting black flies, like a lot. The flies aren't biting, they're just the kind that are attracted to natural fertilizer. I've applied neem oil once, have added beneficial nematodes, and tried to spray the buggers with organic insecticidal soap (which I will not do when Tonga is moved in.) I don't know if the flies will go away once the clover has started to grow and I've put down the substrate and pebbles, I've been thinking they will, based on some reading. The measures I've been taking with the neem oil and nematodes will prevent them from laying eggs in the soil. I don't know what to think about this, has anyone had experience with this kind of thing? Do I have anything to worry about here?

2. Do I need to provide any source of outdoor heat for night during this warmer season? In the fall and winter we'll bring him inside or create an outdoor home.

3. Are there any other easily attainable organic foods/ plants I can plant in there to grow? I think most nursery plants are out of the question.

Anything else I should be considering? Thanks so much for your thoughts!!
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AnyaAKD
Posts: 2
Joined: 25 Jun 2020, 04:32

Re: Building/Growing new outside enclosure for Tonga the Hermann

Post by AnyaAKD » 26 Jun 2020, 00:19

Also, here is a closer up of his pond, it is no deeper than 3.5cm

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And here is the little house that he loves to hang out in, we're going to weather proof it better before it goes in the enclosure as well.

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Nina
Posts: 1140
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Building/Growing new outside enclosure for Tonga the Hermann

Post by Nina » 26 Jun 2020, 11:00

Hi Andrea and welcome to The Tortoise Table! And congratulations on welcoming this very handsome Hermann's tortoise into your home.

I think you've created a superb outdoor enclosusre for him -- and he's lucky to have found a home with you. It's a good size and there is lots of interest there for him. The one thing I couldn't tell from the photos is whether it is escape proof. Tortoises are astounding climbers (and I've posted some photos at the end to show you what they can do). They can climb seemingly vertical walls if there is something to get hold of with their claws, and they are especially fond of right angles where two walls meet, as well as plants, wires, and anything else that they can use as a ladder. I think maybe the photos were at an angle that was misleading, but it looked a bit as if he could have climbed up a little wall of stones and then out through the gaps in the cross bars of your railing on one side (but that's probably me not looking at it right).

Your security measures are excellent and they should work well. It's great that he will have sunlight and shade. The pond looks really nice, and his little house is perfect -- so you done a brilliant job! I think there is no problem at all with leaving him outside 24/7 while your temperatures are as you described, and then bringing him indoors if it gets too cold. And there is no need at all for supplemental heating outdoors as long as the temperature doesn't drop below about 12C at night for more than a couple of nights, and that even if it is cold at night as long as he has a sunny spot to go to in order to warm up in the morning he should be fine. Torts actually like a little drop in temperature at night, and that would occur in their native habitats as well. (Just a little aside -- you've put your temperatures in Centigrade, which is what we use, but as you live in Los Angeles I expected to see Fahrenheit! :)

Regarding what you are feeding -- it's a good idea to always check to see if a plant is safe to feed first, and you can do that by typing the name of the plant into the search box that is at the top of every page on our website. For example, you mentioned Clematis, and here is our entry for it: https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/pla ... vW45Od7m9s . We always err on the side of caution, as we don't know how much of a plant someone will be feeding. So while Clematis isn't actually very toxic, and it won't hurt him if he nibbles a leaf or two, it's probably best not to deliberately feed it. And in the photo where there is some food in a bowl there is what looks like watermelon and broccoli. Again those won't hurt him, but Hermann's are not a fruit-eating species and the natural sugars in fruit can upset their gut flora, and broccoli is in the brassica family and we recommend feeding that in very limited amounts (here are links to our entries for those two: https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/pla ... vW57Od7m9s and https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/pla ... vW6Ged7m9s There is no real problem in feeding these, but it's just not the best diet. We always try to think of what their diet in the wild would be, and it's a high fibre, low protein diet consisting mainly of leaves, stems and flowers of edible plants. You can use the filter tool on our website to produce lists of edible plants (and I can tell you how to do this if you're interested).

The topsoil. Hmm, I'm not sure what kind of flies those are. Are they the ordinary house flies or bluebottles, or are they teen tiny flies about the size of gnats? I don't even know if we have this species of fly in the UK, but if you can take a photo that would help, and I'll make enquiries. If they are the teeny tiny ones and if the soil is damp, then they might be fungus gnats and they are no problem at all -- just irritating, and will disappear when the soil dries out a bit.

Regarding the indoor enclosure when you make it -- topsoil (mixed with some children's play sand) is best for indoor too. The bark is OK and people do use it, but it's not as natural and also is a bit of a fire hazard if your heat lamp should blow and hot pieces of glass land on it.

Regarding plants to grow in the enclosure, you can purchase plants from nurseries, but it's best to replant them into your topsoil immediately and to wait for new growth in case the plant had been sprayed with insecticide. I wonder if there are any nurseries that can guarantee their plants have been organically grown?

The problem with planting edible plants in an enclosure is that he will eat them to the ground in no time and they will be gone. So you want something that is either cheap and easy to replace or that he won't want to eat. Dwarf Hebes are good (don't know if they are easily available in the USA), and ornamental grasses are excellent because they mostly won't eat them and they like sheltering under them. Spider plants are good. Most tortoises ignore them, although some will eat them, but you can have you own plant in a big pot and take the baby plantlets off as they appear and plant them in the enclosure. But again, do be careful where you plant anything as tortoises will use plants that are growing against the wall as a ladder to climb up and out.

Finally there is an excellent USA website that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Hermann's tortoises, provide care sheets (and some other species as well), and if you want your species and subspecies verified, you can send photos to Chris, the owner of the site and he will ID it for you. It's called Hermanni Haven and here's the link: https://www.hermannihaven.com/

Sorry to have gone on at such length, but I hope some of helps, and please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any more questions, problems, or want to follow up on anything.

Nina
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