Just the Basics. We didn't write a book...
There are many, many species of tortoise, but not all of them make great pets.
There are also laws regarding which species may be kept as pets. Animals native to Virginia, for example, may not be kept or sold as pets in Virginia.
Most of the species we offer are selected for their ease of care, and maximum size in captivity. Some species can get very large, so make sure you know what you are getting.
Most tortoises will require a medium to large aquarium or enclosure to start. We do not recommend anything smaller than a 20 gallon long aquarium to start with. Once you get the basic necessities to care for them, the tank size makes sense. Plus if you care for them properly, they will be growing fairly quickly.
Not common, but it is a concern! All reptiles can carry salmonella, though turtles are more likely than others. If their enclosure is not kept clean, it is much more likely to occur.
For your safety, we strongly urge anyone handling turtles or cleaning tortoise tanks to thoroughly wash your hands when you are done. Especially small children, as they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths.
There are not many cases reported in the US from turtles every year, but don't be that person...
Care in Captivity
Please keep in mind there are many, many ways to keep your pet We encourage you to research and learn more all the time. Please feel free to look at how we keep our turtles in the shop and ask questions.
Tortoises are not difficult to care for, but do have some basic requirements to stay healthy and safe.
Unlike their turtle cousins, tortoises cannot swim. So they live in dry habitats, and move around a fair amount.
Tortoises require TWO types of light to stay healthy. A heat lamp, to stay warm (duh). And a UVB lamp for .. well several reasons. The UVB lamp allows them to metabolize calcium. This allows their shell to stay hard, and grow properly. And their nerves to form and function properly. AND more things too.. Please feel free to research UVB lights for reptiles on any one of dozens of websites that talk about it. We recommend Zoo Med Bulbs or Arcadia. It's a big deal. It's not a sale pitch. Anyone anywhere keeping and raising turtles and tortoises will say the same. The only ones who won't are generally just trying to make a quick sale.
Zoo Med's Rethinking Reptile Lighting
Reptile Magazine : Article on UVB
Baby tortoises specifically are very dependent on UVB lights. We deal with a few select tortoise breeders who keep their babies outdoors in the early weeks and months of their lives, to get all the benefit the sun provides. Be very wary of tiny babies sold cheap online, they are often fresh out of the egg and have not had the sun's benefits. Many of those have issues in that come out in the following months.
Carefully hang the lights over the enclosure, and secure them so they don't fall in. A 50 watt heat bulb is almost always all you need. You can adjust the temperature by raising our lowering the heat bulb. Watch the animals and where they rest. If they are directly under the bulb, they probably aren't quite warm enough. Always staying away from it, probably too hot. We look for a sweet spot where they are just on the edge of the light ring made by the bulb.
Tortoise enclosures should be wide and low. They cannot climb, and need good access to their lights. Long low tanks are best, no more than 12 inches tall for babies. Taller than that and the UVB bulbs won't project their benefits to them.
Feeding. Tortoises like to eat. A lot. Once they are settled in, they will eat meals once or twice a day, then sleep while they digest that meal. Most of our species eat a combination of fresh greens, berries and a little fruit. There are also many brands, types and sizes of prepared pellets, and dried foods. The more variety the better. Fruit gets messy and attracts flies so we do them in moderation. We sell cups of prepared greens in the shop for convenience, with a variety of fresh, tortoise safe greens in them. Because their diet is mostly vegetation, they also require a quality calcium supplement. We use and recommend the Repashy brand, the bottle with a tortoise on front is perfect for tortoises.
Tortoises need fresh water, in a bowl that is easy to clean and that they won't tip over in. Babies are especially sensitive to dehydration, so we give them a soak a couple times a week to be safe. Just a shallow tub of room temperature water, that they can easily stand up in. Zoo Med makes an excellent electrolyte supplement to add to the water that ensures they get all the benefit of this.
Habitat decor. There are many many options. You should balance decor to provide an enriched environment for them, but try not to clutter the tank too much, as that is more to clean. Plastic or resin decor is easier to clean or sanitize if required. We use mostly cypress for the bedding, but there are a few options there as well, depending on the species you get.
Friends. Tortoises seem to enjoy each other's company, or at the least ignore each other.. While young, they can all be mixed together usually without incident. As they mature, breeding hormones sometimes kick in and will cause some aggression in males especially. They may need to be kept separate during these times.