What do I need to get started with a tortoise?

Reptiles in general need basic equipment to provide a habitat where they can grow and develop without getting sick. Tortoises can roam free in the house to exercise, but they still need a terrarium, either indoors or outdoors, with all the amenities they require. Adult tortoises live best outdoors, eating natural grasses, as long as they are healthy, the temperature allows it and you can build a safe habitat. Before buying your tortoise you should know that they can live between 50 and 100 years if you take good care of them, so you will be making a very long term commitment.

To start with, you need a terrarium from which it cannot escape. The bigger the better, but you can start with a smaller one while you buy everything you need. The ideal is a space of 50 x 75 cm and 20 cm high. This space is sufficient for a shelter, a water bowl and food. Keep in mind that as it grows you will have to enlarge its home.

Tortoises should spend time outdoors and bask in the sun whenever possible. If they do not receive at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day, you should install a special reptile bulb that emits UVB/UVA radiation. UVB radiation is essential for the animal to synthesize the vitamin D3 it needs to absorb calcium from food. The bulb you choose depends on the size of the terrarium and the characteristics of your tortoise.

Being cold-blooded animals, tortoises need a heat source and a thermal gradient to regulate their body temperature (roughly speaking, temperatures should be between 20 and 30°C). This means that you will need to acquire some form of heating for your pet. Again, the choice here depends on the ambient temperature, the time of year and the size of the terrarium you have created. On the other hand, tortoises originating from tropical regions will need a humidifier for the environment, which can be homemade, drip or electronic.

As far as feeding is concerned, you have to provide a varied herbivorous diet. It is ideal to be able to provide safe wild herbs, i.e. that do not contain pesticides. Keep in mind that tortoises in the wild do not have access to vegetables and fruits, but rather herbs, clovers, grasses, roots, flowers, fruits and other sources of fiber and natural nutrients. As it is very difficult to exactly copy the natural diet, we need to add mineral and vitamin supplements in the diet throughout the turtle’s life. You can also use turtle feed as part of the diet, but it is always necessary to provide fresh food.

Although they are terrestrial animals, they all need to have a “bathtub” where they can soak and hydrate themselves whenever they want. This stimulates water intake and also defecation (water should be changed frequently). This requires a low rimmed bowl that is easy to get in and out of and heavy so that it cannot tip over.

Apart from the basic equipment, one must think of all the accessories that make the habitat a pleasant place to live. This means hiding places, natural or synthetic plants, rocks, a substrate suitable for the needs of the species, etc.

As you can see, the tortoise is not exactly the most expensive part, but quite the opposite. If you want your pet to live for many years and grow healthy and strong, you should be prepared to give it everything it needs.

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