Juvenile Mediterranean Tortoise Care
If you have bought or been given a juvenile Mediterranean tortoise then you need to ensure that they have the correct husbandry as so many things can go wrong. But unlike the adults the incorrect husbandry will kill them much quicker.
Plan everything so that you are ready for your sddition to the family well ahead of time. Tortoises are ectothermic which means that they rely on the weather and us to provide them with the correct conditions so that they can get their bodies to the required temperatures for them to be alert, to eat and to digest foods properly.
We would advise that hatchlings are kept indoors under the correct conditions. They can go out on a very sunny day but they do need to be protected and carefully watched over. The best time to do this would be when you can be around to keep a check on temperatures, safety and welfare of the tortoise.
We DO NOT recommend that you use any type of vivarium as they are not suitable for tortoises. If you want something in a viv then get a goldfish. The best housing that you can provide is a table top structure which with the correct temperature control, correct basking lamps, UVB provision made available, correct diet, supplements and calcium carbonate along with a good controlled hibernation, you should have a happy slow growing tortoise.
They need to be kept in a tortoise table that can provide a thermostatically controlled environment. This can be difficult to obtain so you need to put it into a room that has a constant background temperature of around 21C that does not fluctuate. During the day if the room goes to 27C this is not a problem, but it must not fall below 21C at night. Although the temperatures need to be kept as above NEVER use a heat mat under a Mediterranean tortoise.
Tortoises need to absorb infrared rays through their carapace and skin. This then warms the tortoise up which in turn makes them want to eat and behave naturally. The best way to provide this is to have a reflector spot bulb that is positioned directly facing down onto the table so that the substrate below the lamp is 30C. This lamp will need to be on for 12hrs a day, we usually suggest that it comes on at 7am and off at 7pm.
UVB is needed for skin synthesis of Vitamin D and is essential for their well-being and for the body to function correctly. Please be aware that most plastic and glass prevents these rays from getting through.
You need to be aware of this if putting your tortoises in a greenhouse situation so make sure that they are able to go outside as well. You can obtain special acrylic sheets that allow the UVB to come through but they are very expensive. You can also buy a combined UVB and heat lamps which are very useful but they do tend to be expensive.
We recommend that you use a UVB source for hatchlings but it should be at one end of the tortoise table so that they can get away from it when they want to. You do have to position these correctly so read the manufacturer's instructions carefully. The days that your tortoise goes outside it does not need this UVB as well as the sun.
There are different ways of doing this but we advise that you use several different substrates so that the tortoise has a choice. For this you can use different seed trays that all fit together. You can have one that has stones or pebbles in it, another with top soil in it, one with sand/topsoil in it and another tray with grass in it. Obviously this enables you to clean each one easily without removing all substrates. If your hatchlings are very tiny then the above may not be right for them, in this instance please contact us.
It is good to get your hatchlings out whenever you can especially on a warm bright day. Your area must be very secure making sure that they cannot dig under and then wire netting on the top to ensure that dogs, foxes, birds etc. cannot run off with them. If you can attach this to a shed you can then have a basking lamp in the shed in case the weather changes and it also gives your tortoise a choice. You will require this set up as your tortoise grows so why not get it ready now.
Fresh, clean water needs to be available at all times. Depending on the age you can use several containers. For the very small hatchlings the plastic lids that you can buy from supermarkets for tinned pet foods are good. They allow a depth that the hatchlings can drink from but it isn't too deep so that they cannot drown.
As they get bigger I use plant pot saucers but you must ensure that they can get in and out easily to prevent drowning and also to prevent them turning over.
You should also let your hatchling bathe each day. To do this put a shallow amount of warm water in a container and whilst watching let it soak and drink if it wants to. If it urinates or passes faeces in the water, remove the tortoise, clean out the container, put some clean water into it again and let the hatchling soak and drink again if it want to. We would advise that you do this on a daily basis.
Hatchlings should be fed on a weed and wild flower diet and nothing else. Please see our list on suitable foods for Mediterranean tortoises. There is also the pre Alpin foods available from Linda Jones (tortoiselady.co.uk) which is highly recommended.
You must also make sure that you do not feed them too much. Feed them twice a day and enough to eat in 10 minutes at each feeding.
Calcium is very important for all tortoises but because juveniles grow so quickly they require a constant supply made available to them. You can provide this by putting cuttlefish into their area for them to nibble on and also ensure that calcium carbonate is sprinkled onto all of their foods. DO NOT use any form of calcium suitable for human beings.
Supplements should be given as per manufacturer's instructions but we do recommend Nutrobal. We also suggest using a very small pinch every day for hatchlings along with the calcium carbonate.
This is essential for the body to utilize the calcium that you are giving your tortoise. Nutrobal has D3 in it and we suggest using this supplement. See above. The Sun, even on dull days helps the skin synthesis D3 in the body so it is good to ensure that they get out on good days.
Hatchlings must have had a good year to be able to hibernate. They are treated the same as Adults except for the time scale, we would suggest 8 weeks for the first year but you do need to keep a watchful eye on them. We would suggest that you attend a hibernation talk and demonstration so that you are aware of all the stages regarding hibernation.
There is no difference in principle between hatchling and adult husbandry - only scale.
Hatchlings will succumb more quickly, if something is wrong but they are neither more delicate, nor hardy than adults.
Hatchlings will normally eat 24hrs after hatching. Recommended diet is actually as for adults.
Food can be cut up smaller if found to be necessary.
Carapace and bone formation is very rapid at this age, hence it is vital to add a large proportion of calcium to the diet,
Calcium deficiency at this stage will mark the animal for life.
Use a 40w reflector spot bulb for basking. Check temperatures carefully.
There must be a temperature gradient in the tortoise table from 20C to 30C under the basking area.
At night switch off the basking lamp and have a background temp of 20C.
After the first 12 months you will need to hibernate your tortoise if it is a hibernating species.
If you have any concerns then you must take your tortoise to a specialist tortoise vet.