When setting up enclosures for your tortoise it is important to understand exactly what it is you are trying to achieve to keep your tortoise in optimum health.  Understanding a little about the physiological make-up of the tortoise might help you create the perfect environment for your particular species.

Tortoises are Poikilothermic

Probably the first thing to understand in tortoise husbandry is that tortoises are poikilothermic, which means that their body temperature will alter with the temperatures that you provide within their enclosure; so when environmental temperatures change so will the tortoise's body temperature.  Getting the correct temperature during the day and night is essential in allowing natural behaviour patterns to emerge.

Tortoises are Ectothermic

This means that tortoises are cold-blooded animals and because they don't the ability to control their own body temperature they have to rely on external sources to do this for them.  Providing freedom of choice for the tortoise to choose the right temperature is down to the keeper.

Tortoises Thermoregulate

In order to keep their body temperature constant, tortoises need to move to different areas within their environment to either warm up or to cool down.  They may also use different behavioural postures, choose different coloured and textured surfaces to rest on in order to maximise basking and cooling off areas that are available within the enclosure.

When the tortoise is warm it becomes active and when it cools down its activity decreases. 

If the temperature is constantly too hot, e.g. over 36°C, and the tortoise cannot cool down, it may prove fatal to the tortoise.  The hot temperature should be measured directly under the heat source at the height of the tortoise's shell.  If the temperature is consistently below approximately 26°C then the tortoise will not be able to properly digest its food.

When thinking about setting up tortoise enclosures, as well as providing correct temperatures, our thoughts should also be around constructing and maintaining safe and attractive indoor and outdoor areas in which our tortoises can live and thrive.

Creating great tortoise enclosures requires an understanding of how plants and tortoises can happily co-exist, a knowledge of what plants are best suited to a particular climate as well as to a particular species of tortoise, what features will provide interest and shelter for the tortoise, and an eye for design, a knowledge of plants, and a willingness to 'dig in' and make changes!