How to Set Up a Habitat for Your Baby Sulcata Tortoise
Setting Up a Sulcata Tortoise Table or Terrarium
So there I was, staring at an adorable baby sulcata tortoise for the first time, his tiny little eyes gooped up and staring at me as he chomped away on some gross-looking browned vegetables. His eyes pleaded with me as if to say, "Please take me home." I was hooked from that very moment. He was no bigger than a shot glass when I first brought him home. Now he is no bigger than a coffee table.
Of course, there has been some time that has been passed between shot glass and coffee table. The 11 years that I have had my sulcata tortoise have gone by quick. As they say, time flies when your having fun. Now I know from experience that not all pet stores or farms will tell you everything you need to know about owning a sulcata tortoise before you purchase one. Especially the part about how fast and large they grow. I have collected everything you need to know about setting up your new pet's habitat here on this page.
Things You Will Need
This is a basic list of the things that you will need to build your tortoise house. I have gone into great detail about each one of these in later paragraphs.
- Okay, so first, you're going to want to think about a cage that is going to fit everything you need to properly take care of a baby sulcata tortoise. I suggest a ZooMed Wood Tortoise House, which I have featured below. It will provide everything you need to begin.
- Second, you will need some bedding. I suggest using something that your tortoise can dig and aestivate in.
- Third, you will need to place the water bowl. I like to sink my water bowl into the dirt, making it easier for the tortoise to drink from as well as crawl in and out of.
- Additionally, you will need a light source. Place this wherever is the most convenient, but where it points light in one general area.
- Finally, you will need to place the heater under the cage (as opposed to inside of it). It is important that there needs to be cool spots in the cage for the tortoise to escape the heat in case it gets too hot. Evaluate where your lamp is, and place the heater in an alternative spot next to the light so that the rest of the cage is cool.
- Lastly, you need an area away from the heat where you can feed your tortoise. If you place the food under the heat, it will wither faster and go bad, growing bacteria.
I really like this option from Zoo Med. I have come to respect this company and its products. I like that they have taken everything I have always wanted in a tortoise house and turned it into a kit. All you have to do is screw this together and it's done. It cuts out a lot of time and hard work and is a great setup for a baby to grow into until its juvenile stage. The structure itself is very sturdy and can be moved and cleaned easily. This makes relocating your tortoise much easier.
Great Review of Zoo Med Tortoise House Kit
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How to Set Up Your Terrarium or Tank
There are several things to keep in mind when you are setting up a terrarium for a juvenile sulfate tortoise:
- Placement of each area is key to keeping your pet happy and healthy.
- Having a warm and cool spot in the tank are also necessary.
- Furthermore, there is a need for a basking light as well as warmth, which are obtained from two different sources.
Basically, what I do is separate the tank into two sides: a warm side and a cool side. On the warm side, I place the basking light in one corner and the heating pad in the other corner on the same side. I place the "home" or "cave" in between the two areas. As the sulcata tortoises grow, they will often move "furniture" around in the cage to where they want. Sometimes they are just playing, but other times I wonder if they are actually doing some rearranging.
On the other side of the tank, I try to keep the water dish and food bowl, along with any other accessories that I might have for the Sulcata Tortoise. A small branch with a bell on it is always fun. This encourages the Sulcata Tortoise to play, and keeps the feeding and play areas separate from the basking and sleeping areas. Keeping the water and food away from the warm side also help keeps them from getting gross. Frequent washing of these two items is important though, because they are likely to grow salmonella and tortoises can transfer this to humans.
Now let's get to building!
Tortoises need bedding suitable for burrowing. I believe the best bedding for a tortoise is just some good dirt from your backyard, mixed with some dirt-like substrate. This makes the transition to living outside easier when they are grown, encourages them to burrow, and is just generally natural to their original environment. Personally, I like to keep my tortoises in a habitat that is modeled on their natural habitat.
A light source is important for housing a tortoise inside, especially if you do not take it outside often. If your tortoise is outside for at least 50% of the day, there is no need for a light source. But if outdoor time under direct sunlight is not provided, a fluorescent full-spectrum UVB bulb is necessary for the proper development of your tortoise, from the hatchling stages through adulthood, and should always be provided, along with a basking bulb for heat. You cannot provide these UVB rays by placing your enclosure near a window for sunlight. Sunlight filtered through most regular window glass will filter out all beneficial rays, including UVB, leaving you with just another light source. UVB is necessary for the animal to produce vitamin D3, which aids in calcium utilization for healthy shell growth.
If your tortoise house is larger than a 20-gallon tank set up, you will also need to use a heat bulb/basking spot lamp.
There are a couple of different suitable options and styles of lights that are good for your tortoise. A lot of choosing the right light will have to do with how your house is set up. Sometimes hanging lights are better than clamp lights. Sometimes long bulbs work better than coiled one. It all depends on your setup.
Supervising Your Tortoise Outdoors
Never leave your baby tortoise unattended outside for long periods of time. Ants can attack and kill a baby tortoise.
You will also need a food dish. Tortoises often crawl on their food, so I prefer to use the top of a butter container as a dish—it keeps the food off the dirt. Remove the feeding dish after every use and clean thoroughly. A dirty dish can grow salmonella bacteria, which tortoises can easily transfer to human beings.
Sulcatas will soak in the water, a process that is necessary for their digestive system. Because of this, the water bowl must be big enough to fit the tortoise, but not too big for them to get out of or topple into. They could drown if the bowl is too big. However, don't be alarmed when your sulcata sticks his head under the water for several minutes at a time. He is not drowning; that it how they absorb water to stay hydrated. He will come up when he needs to.
It is also important to change the water as often as possible, whenever soiled, to prevent the spread of disease.
Your pet will need a heat source in the colder months. It is recommended to use an under-cage heating pad unit while your tortoise is small. It should take up about a quarter of the tank. Please do not use a regular heating pad, as this will cook the tortoise. If your tortoise house is larger than a 20-gallon tank set up, you will also need to use a heat bulb/basking spot lamp.
Caring for a Juvenile Sulcata Tortoise
Always make sure there is plenty of room for your pet to be active. Tortoises love to play and explore.
You should be careful when adding other elements to the cage, such as a shelter. A tortoise will climb whatever is in its cage, and it is not uncommon for them to flip onto their backs by accident. A tortoise cannot right themselves, and this will eventually lead to suffocation and death.
You should check on your tortoise often to make sure this does not happen.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.