The prospect of raising a baby tortoise can be daunting and exhilarating at the same time. These cute little creatures can grow up to be great companions and an interesting challenge compared to a cat or a dog. But, that challenge is also vastly different from other forms of pet ownership, and you need to be ready for the responsibilities of caring for a reptile. So, what do you need to know?
How to care for your baby Hermann’s tortoise.
There is a lot to keep in mind when it comes to providing the very best care for a baby tortoise. It won’t be easy, especially if this is your first time, but it can also be very rewarding. Once you have set up the perfect housing, ready for their arrival, you can work on the perfect regime of feeding, hydration, and health care. It is also vital to consider how you interact and bond with this pet, especially when providing care or enrichment.
Caring for a baby tortoise is completely different from caring for a mammalian pet.
Caring for a baby reptile isn’t the same as caring for a puppy or kitten. Their physiology and care need mean that you have to be prepared to start from scratch and learn a lot along the way. For example, these tortoises are cold-blooded creatures. This may seem obvious as they are reptiles, but new owners can underestimate what it actually means to set up the perfect habitat.
There is a lot to consider when preparing your baby tortoises first home.
Proper housing requirements for your baby Hermann’s tortoise
It is important to have as much as you can ready for housing your new baby tortoise before they arrive. This means that they can settle into their new home with ease. There may be times when you need to make modifications because you find something isn’t working out. This is fine because it is important to be that open and to learn as you go. However, you need to make sure that you have these fundamentals in place first. They are:
- An indoor enclosure that’s the right size
- The right UV lighting in your enclosure
- The right climate control for the temperature
- Enough substrate at the bottom of the enclosure to dig around in
Indoor enclosures and tortoise tables
Hatchling tortoises are safer in an indoor enclosure where they can be monitored and kept safe from the harsh outdoor elements and predation. Tortoise tables are popular and easy to maintain.
For your baby tortoise, we suggest using a piece of plywood to divide the table in half so that is it a smaller area for them to navigate. Baby tortoises can easily become lost in bigger enclosures and you’ll have to constantly dig about to find them!
An alternative to the tortoise table is a plastic storage box. You can start with a small one and then increase the size of the box as your tortoise grows.
Never put your tortoise in a glass aquarium. The ‘greenhouse effect’ can cause rapid dehydration and tortoises don’t understand what glass is so will be containing knocking into the sides trying to get through which is very stressful for them.
Tortoises need the right lighting and heating to regulate their body temperature. Too cold, and they can become sluggish, unable to move or feed, and at risk of death. Too hot and they can overheat. Get the right UV lighting and make sure that your pet can the right place to bask beneath it.
A 10.0 UVB emitting fluorescent bulb above the enclosure will help your pet to metabolise calcium more effectively to help them grow big and strong with a healthy beak and shell. You can use a timer to turn your lights on and off and your tortoise will need 12-14 hours a day of light.
Heat lamps for basking
At the same time, you need to be sure that there is temperature regulation so the enclosure doesn’t become too hot. There should be different areas in the enclosure at different temperatures. This gives them somewhere to bask and somewhere to go and cool down.
A 50-75 watt basking light should be placed at one end of the enclosure to provide a basking temperature of around 32 to 35 centigrade ( 90-95 Fahrenheit).
The cooler areas of the enclosure should be no lower than 20 degrees centigrade. Set up thermometers at each end and invest in a good thermostat.
Additional heat sources are not needed during the night so do not put heat pads or heat rocks in the enclosure overnight.
As a baby tortoise, make sure they are in a draft-free room and that you can keep at an ambient temperature of 26 to 29 degrees centigrade (80-85F) during the day. This can drop to 21 degrees centigrade (low 70sF) at night.
What substrate is suitable for a baby Hermann’s tortoise?
You also need to make sure that there is enough substrate in the enclosure that they can bury themselves as needed. Burying behaviour is common and you can read more about this in our other guide: why do Hermann’s tortoises bury themselves?
At least 4 inches of soil – sterilised to reduce the risk of pests and disease – mixed with coconut coir or peat moss will provide plenty of room to hide.
On that note, it doesn’t hurt to provide other hiding places, such as rocks and man-made burrows for them to feel safe in.
But, you can’t rely on these alone. The soil is where they instinctively want to be, and a baby will instinctively bury itself even if it hasn’t seen anything close to a potential predator in its little life.
We also recommend adding cypress mulch as a 2” top layer as this will aid in keeping the humidity at the right level.
Fill an old spray bottle with filtered water and use this to mist the enclosure on a daily basis.
If your tortoise enclosure is too dry and your tortoise is dehydrated then it is likely that your tortoise will start to show signs of pyramiding. This is the lumpy, unnatural looking growth of its shell (the carapace scutes).
Keep humidity at 70% for a baby Hermann’s tortoise
Be careful with the humidity of the enclosure too. A tortoise needs a humid environment where the moisture content in the air will help with their hydration and stop any skin problems. This means the right combination of moisture and heat for a humidity level of around 70%.
The wrong combination of heat and moisture could cause the enclosure to get damp, which can could health issues.
Caring for your baby tortoise in the first year.
Baby tortoises need a lot of extra love and attention in the first year of their life. A lot of this comes down to their size, which not only means great fragility but also problems with temperature regulation and dehydration.
You need to be committed to providing an effective regime of love and care from the start, with plenty of observation on changes in their health and behaviour. This can be tricky when dealing with tortoises if you are new to this area of pet care. Pay attention to the following.
~ their hydration through water and bathing
~ their diet
~ their healthcare needs and “grooming”
Hydrating your baby Hermann’s tortoise
Another important consideration with your new tortoise’s physiology is that they can become dehydrated quickly. When they are very young, you can bathe your tortoise every morning to give them the best start.
This means sitting the tortoise in a shallow dish of water ( about 0.5”). It needs to be just warmer than your finger and just the right depth that they can soak their tails and get their head under to drink, but not so deep that there is a drowning risk. Supervise your baby tortoise during these sessions to be safe.
Also, don’t let them sit in the water when it goes cold. 15 minutes each morning should be enough for hydration. Once they are a year old, you don’t need to do this so often.
Dehydration can kill, so it is important to learn the signs. That is why we have another guide on how to tell if your tortoise is dehydrated.
Your young tortoise will also enjoy you misting them with your water spray bottle. Watch them take a stroll and stretch out their heads and neck into the ‘rain’ to soak up the droplets.
Best diet for your baby Hermann’s tortoise
Tortoises are best fed on a low protein, high fibre and calcium rich diet. In the wilds they will graze all day on vegetation. In captivity, you can mimic this with weeds and organic greens.
Be careful when feeding tortoises plants from the garden in case they have pesticides or other harmful agents on them. Don’t rely on fruits and vegetables, especially when some fruits have high sugar contents.
|Dandelion, clover, plantain, cats ear, thistle and vetch make for excellent food items. Mulberry leaves are also recommended.||Collard greens, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, radicchio, endive and turnip greens|
The Mazuri tortoise diet (original formula) can be fed several times a week. This is a complete diet and will help in keeping your baby tortoise and healthy weight and grow steadily.
Supplementation of Vitamin D3 and calcium can also be added in moderation. You can do this twice monthly in the first year and then once monthly after that. The calcium will help the growth of healthy shells. We provide a cuttle bone in the enclosure for the babies to gnaw on if they feel the need.
This supplementation is important for the health and development of your tortoise. Regular checks of their behaviour, skin condition, eating habits, and excrement can help you keep an eye on how they are doing. Watch out for physical signs of dehydration or changes that could indicate illness. A check of their skin can also help you look for signs of infections, parasites, or other problems.
“Grooming” a tortoise isn’t quite the same as grooming a cat or a dog, but they still need personal attention. With that in mind, you should keep an eye on the length of their claws in case they aren’t wearing down naturally.
Finally, you need to be careful about how you interact with your pet.
It is great to be able to build a bond with these animals from an early age and to have great fun playing with them. Enrichment can make a big difference to their well-being, as well as to the relationship between you. But, you need to be careful when handling the tortoise. So, keep the following in mind.
~ Tortoises need time to settle in
~ Your pet may also feel threatened by other people or animals
~ Enrichment inside and outside the enclosure help with playtime.
It is best to let them settle into their home with no physical interaction for a few days. Minimise their stress levels and simply make sure that the home is comfortable and suitable with enough food and water. As they settle in, you can start bathing them and handling them more, eventually leading to a closer bond.
While all this is going on, you should also be careful not to let other people or animals get too close. For example, your kids might be too eager to pet the tortoise at first, without appreciating that they need to be very gentle. Your dog, although well-meaning, could seem like a predator and cause the baby tortoise to dig down into the substrate more often.
Eventually, you will be able to play more with your tortoise as it gets older and stronger. You can let them roam around in a pen indoors or out in the garden with supervision. You can create games and give them toys to play with. Also, consider added enrichment like plants and other items to the enclosure for them to interact with.
Commit to caring for your baby Hermann’s tortoise.
There is a lot to consider here, but don’t let that put you off if you are determined to raise a tortoise responsibly. Do what you can to learn and prepare beforehand, then commit 100% to the process of looking after them. Tortoises can live over 150 years, so make sure you have left a provision for them in your will.