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FAQ: Keeping a Tortoise as a Pet
Tortoises are a very popular pet amongst young and old. Here are some frequently asked questions about the general care of tortoises
How many varieties of tortoise are there?
Two species of Mediterranean tortoises are the most popular: Testudo graeca (the Greek tortoise) is sometimes called the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise; and Testudo hermanni is sometimes called the spur-tailed tortoise. As these names suggest, one is identified by a claw-like spur on each hind-limb and the other by a similar projection on the tail.
What is special about the anatomy of the tortoise?
The shell is made of bone, covered with horny plates or shields. Five plates extend over the spinal region, with 8 costal plates arranged around. These are surrounded by 23 smaller, marginal plates around the edge of the shell. The tortoise has the same number of plates throughout its life, with each one growing larger with the size of the shell. Growth rings which are present in the plates give some indication of the age of a tortoise, with each ring approximately representing a year.
Do I need to supply drinking water?
Water should always be provided in a shallow dish. They would have difficulty drinking from a puddle or bowl. Tortoises need to reach forward to their drinking supply as apposed to down. The best solution is a very shallow saucer with a few stones around the rim to stabilize it.
What do tortoises eat?
Tortoises are the least well-equipped of all reptiles to take live animal food. As such, they are predominantly herbivorous, although have been known to eat the odd slug. Tortoises have no teeth, but use their horn-covered jaws to tear food into small enough pieces to swallow. Favorite foods are pulses such as peas and beans; greens such as lettuce, cabbage and grass; and roots such as carrot or turnip. They also enjoy fruits such as banana, plum and strawberry; and flowers like rose and poppy. Each individual has preferences, but most tortoises will enjoy eating from the procession of different plants and flowers in the garden. Most will need a dietary supplement in the form of cereal, which can be provided by brown bread soaked in milk, or bran breakfast cereal. A cuttlefish may also be provided as a calcium supply.
What exercise does a tortoise require?
Ideally, tortoises should be allowed to roam freely in a well-enclosed garden. By this means, they can select their own food, which will be much better suited to their dietary needs. They should be fenced off from areas which could possibly harbor chemicals such as pesticide, or from precious plants or vegetables. Several times per day. it will be necessary to check that they have not fallen helplessly upside down with their ambitious climbing. Tethering a tortoise is never recommended. Sometimes it is safer to keep your tortoise in an enclosure. Make sure that at all times he has a shelter to which he can retreat in extreme heat, cold or rain.
When does a tortoise hibernate?
The spade-like limbs of the tortoise are well-suited to digging, and the claws of some older individuals will show wear-and-tear. In nature, tortoises burrow into the ground to hibernate, but this is not recommended in captivity. Although it varies in every country, tortoises will normally stop feeding in early winter, perhaps October or November, in the UK, Us and Canada. When this happens, it is recommended that you prohibit your tortoise's movement so as to allow him to maintain body weight.
What do I do when he is ready to hibernate?
Your tortoise needs to be placed in the middle of a large, strong box, packed with insulating material such as straw, shredded paper or dry autumn leaves. The box needs to be fitted with a strong but well-ventilated lid.
(Continued on next page)
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