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Meditterranean Tortoise Hatchling care sheet

By Peter Watson
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As much as adult tortoise care must be spot on, hatchling care must be even more so. These perfect, miniature replicas of adult tortoises will only grow into happy, healthy tortoises with the correct care from the very beginning. It is every tortoise keepers goal to produce well grown, smooth tortoises when raising animals from hatchlings. In order to do this adequate housing, diet and care must be provided.

Indoor Housing

As with adult tortoises hatchlings can be maintained in open topped enclosures, but on a much smaller scale. In general Mediterranean species do not do well when housed in vivarium type setups, where poor ventilation and humidity combined with constant high temperatures can contribute to a number of illnesses, the main one being RNS (Runny Nose Syndrome).

UV lighting is very important for the healthy development of hatchling tortoises and careful consideration should be taken into the way in which you provide it. I personally opt for UV/heat combined mercury vapour lamps. These are far superior to any other form of UV light currently on the market, providing a high UV output, essential for tortoises. The other option when it comes to heat and light for a tortoise table is to use a normal spot bulb and a UV tube. If this option is chosen then it is advisable to purchase the highest output tube available. It should also be noted that tubes must be replaced every 6 months, as by this time the UV output has decayed beyond a useful level.

Another essential component of an indoor tortoise enclosure is substrate. I have tested a number of different substrates for my hatchlings and I have now found something that is working well for me. It can be worth playing about with different substrates as different people have different successes than others. In my hatchling tables I personally use a layer of play sand/topsoil mixed to a ration of 40% sand to 60% soil (I find that if more sand is used it becomes much to dry and can cause irritation to the occupants of the enclosure). On top of the sand/soil I use a thin layer of Aubiose (hemp).

Although Mediterranean species do not generally require humid setups I like to give them an option and so provide at least two hide areas in each hatchling table enclosure. One of these hides has a damp sponge attached to the roof creating a humid hide, whilst the other is left dry. I find that nine times out of ten, hatchlings will chose a humid hide to sleep in overnight than a dry one.

Of course the usual additional items should be included such as, a water bowl, rocks, logs etc. All to ensure the tortoises environment is as interesting as possible.

Outdoor Housing

Just like adults, hatchlings should be allowed time outdoors during warmer weather. It is very important to be sure that outdoor housing for any hatchling is secure, to prevent escape and attack from predators. As such some form of netting or mesh to cover over the enclosure is essential.

For very small hatchlings a simple outdoor enclosure can be made by purchasing a large plant pot and filling it with soil to about ¾ of the way up and then planting it out with edible tortoise plants/weeds. Then simply place a piece of mesh over the pot ensuring that it can not fall off easily and you have a simple yet effective enclosure. The beauty of this is that it can be moved around during the day to more sunnier areas.

Another option, which can be very successful is to purchase a large indoor guinea-pig/rabbit cage. All that is needed is for some soil to be added and weed seeds planted. Once the seeds begin to grow all that is needed is the addition of a small hide and there you have it, a perfect hatchling enclosure.

Diet

Hatchlings, as with any other tortoises, should be given as varied a diet as possible to try to replicate as near a natural diet as possible. It is fairly easy to replicate such a diet in a captive situation with a little research into edible weeds and plants (The Shelled Warriors edible weed section is a good place to start).

Some weeds and flowers which can be included in a young tortoises diet are: Dandelion, Bitter cress, Sow Thistle, Vetch, Clover, Dead nettle, Plantain Evening primrose, Hibiscus, Lavatera and Pansies. This is only a brief summary, there are many other weeds and flowers that can be included, as previously mentioned a little research to familiarise yourself with the various edible plants is all that is needed to create a healthy balanced diet.

When feeding hatchlings it is often recommended to restrict the amount of food given to help ensure steady growth and development. Personally I like to see a weight gain of around 2-4 grams per month. However, if one month one of my hatchlings gains a bit more I do not worry too much as this often balances out over the year. I do allow a higher weight increase per month as the tortoises become older.

In the natural range of Mediterranean species UVB levels are a lot higher than they are in the UK, for this reason it is advisable to add a D3 supplement such as Nutrabol daily to a hatchling tortoises food. I also advise giving your tortoise constant access to calcium in the form of limestone flour, either in a bowl in its powdered form or mixed with water to form a block. I also provide cuttlefish in my enclosures, although this is not as readily taken as limestone flour.

Other husbandry points

It is essential that small tortoises are bathed at least every other day to prevent dehydration. I personally prefer to bath my hatchlings almost daily, with the odd exception. Small tortoises dehydrate very quickly, so getting into a routine with baths is important to ensure the prolonged health of your hatchlings.

It is also important to keep an eye on hatchlings as although they are pretty much as easy to care for as adults it should be remembered that if an illness sets in then such a small tortoise will almost certainly go down hill very quickly. A daily check to make sure eyes are bright and nose is clear, as well as checking over the tortoises shell, vent and legs for signs of injury or anything that you do not feel is normal for your tortoise. If you are concerned about a hatchlings health you should contact a specialist vet as soon as possible for medical advice, putting off seeing a vet could be the difference between life and death in a young tortoise especially.