Question About Feeding Opuntia

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Hector's Family
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Joined: 03 Jun 2017, 13:11

Question About Feeding Opuntia

Post by Hector's Family » 08 Mar 2021, 17:08

https://www.thetortoisetable.org.uk/pla ... EZZMWhKiM8

We've recently found some prickly pear cactus. We read that our Russian Tortoise, now four years old, can eat them without removing the spines.

Since this is the only place I trust for information, I decided to ask here. Must we remove the spines in order for Hector to be safe? Can they be natural in his outdoor enclosure?

As always, please and thank you for your help!

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Nina
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Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Question About Feeding Opuntia

Post by Nina » 08 Mar 2021, 17:56

Hi MIchelle -- great to hear from you, and I hope that Hector is thriving!

It's a thorny (ha, ha no pun intended) question about whether or not to remove spines. In the wild tortoises (for example desert tortoises) do eat cacti and don't seem to have any problems, so theoretically it should be fine. I suppose that there is a possible danger of getting an eye injury if they go to bite a cactus pad and one of the spines grazes the eye. With humans, the glochids (those small hair-like structures that are at the base of the spines on many cacti) are horrible and stick in your skin and are fiddly to remove because they are so small and fine, but tortoises seemd to eat them with no trouble.

There are several species of Prickly Pear (Opuntia), and some have more spines than others, so I don't know which yours is. The Opuntia ficus-indica is the one usually identified as prickly pear, but there are others as well. Some opuntia are spineless, or nearly spineless (like Opuntia cacanapa 'Ellisiana'), and some types of ficus-indica have very few spines.

Many species of cactus will not survive sub-zero temperatures in the winter, but one species of Opuntia i would definitely recommend because it is frost hardy is Opuntia compressa. It has no spines and only a few glochids and is said to survive outdoors even in Canada (if I remember correctly you're in New Jersey?). I have one and in the winter it shrinks all up and looks like it is dying, but that is because it is getting rid of the water inside it to protect it from freezing, and in the Spring it comes back and is great again. You can buy cactus pads online, and I'll bet you could get one of the spineless ones and then you wouldn't have the problem.

Sorry, I digressed -- you have a cactus that you have found and it has spines. Most people here in the UK burn the spines and glochids off with a cigarette lighter, or scrape them off first, but if you want to try growing it in your garden you could give it a go and see what happens. If it is absolutely covered in spines and glochids I might be a bit wary, but if there are only the normal number then try it. Here's a Desert Tortoise website with instructions for planting cacti for tortoises, and they say that you don't have to remove the glochids: https://tortoisegroup.org/planting-pric ... tortoises/

Such a long post and I don't think i've even answered your question properly -- sorry! Do let us know how you got on though, and hopefully someone else will have more ideas on this.

Nina

Hector's Family
Posts: 22
Joined: 03 Jun 2017, 13:11

Re: Question About Feeding Opuntia

Post by Hector's Family » 08 Mar 2021, 18:51

I always appreciate your detailed responses... whether they derail or not, lol!

I've attached photos of the cactus in it's dormant state from today, it kind of deflates in the winter and comes back in Spring. They are native here. I think this is what you're describing, if so that's what we have.

My daughter wound up with the cactus pricklers in her hand. They were tiny and took her forever to get them all out.

I've also included a flower from this plant that Hector enjoyed last year. I figured that would be the biggest help in identification. Plus, I know how you love Hector photos!

We always shy on the side of caution. No need for eye injuries. I'd rather just keep them separate and remove any hazards. As Hector is growing and maturing, he sure does love looking for trouble. Toddlers!
Attachments
IMG_3001-scfopt.jpg
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lin
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Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:27

Re: Question About Feeding Opuntia

Post by lin » 08 Mar 2021, 21:43

Hi Michelle
What a beautiful photo that is of Hector eating the flower.

It seems you have a spineless Opuntia, and I doubt you need the spines removing, they will be fine for Hector. But if you feel they should be removed (the small glochids) then just pass them through a flame to singe them.

Lin

Hector's Family
Posts: 22
Joined: 03 Jun 2017, 13:11

Re: Question About Feeding Opuntia

Post by Hector's Family » 10 Mar 2021, 11:37

Thank you so much for the confirmation Lin!

I find it difficult to balance the line between cautious and paranoid, haha.

I appreciate the tip to handle the spines if I tip toward paranoid! :mrgreen:

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