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Turtles/Greek tortoise shell question


Tortoise shell 1
Tortoise shell 1  

Tortoise shell 2
Tortoise shell 2  
Hi Jeannie,

I recently purchased a greek tortoise from an reptile expo. I was told it was a male and about 2 1/2 years old. I am no reptile expert but noticed that his center top part of his shell (the vertebral) was curved at the back end towards his tail. I didn't think too much of it at the time as I really wanted a greek tortoise and they were the only vendor that had one (there was only 1 greek there). Besides that he seemed pretty active and alert so I bought him.

I have him at home now in a 4 x 2 tortoise table that I make with a 100 watt basking heat lamp on one side, a exo-terra 10.0 UVB light tube in the middle. So his temp range is about 90F one one side down to about 70F at the other end where his hide spot is. Half the table is a mix of sand(65%)/ top soil(35%) and half the tank  reptile bedding. We soak him 2 times a week and feed him mixed greens with a calcium supplement twice a week.

Where the lower vertebral turns I have also notice a slight dip at or just above his right hip. I am attaching a few pics of what I am talking about. Im feeling now that he may have or had some MBD. I don't know. I really didn't do too much research in tortoise ailments before I bought him. I don't know if his shell will ever be able to "straighten" out in time since he is still young. Any info would be helpful.

Thank you

Hi John,

From the pictures, I think your tortoise is fine; however, I'd say he's older than they said.  I think what you're worried about is the normal curve of a mature male's shell (see the male in last set of pics on this page, and that's what I think you're talking about:  Based on that, he's probably more like 5+ years old (a 2 1/2 year old would really be too small to sex, unless it grew very quickly).  I don't see any glaring shell abnormalities, and in fact he looks very nice.  

A couple of suggestions about his enclosure--if at all possible, I'd provide him with more room.  If you can build him an outdoor pen for the summer, 4 x 2 is OK for winter, but it's really too small for all year round.  I'm not sure what the reptile bedding is, but I would replace it with either the sand/soil mix or a sand/coir mix.  I'd do a 50/50 mix (I use coir/playsand), and keep it slightly damp.  Many sites will tell you to keep them very dry, but if you do that you are going to have problems with dehydration, and that can lead to bladder stones.  In the wild, they preserve moisture by burrowing, but in captivity burrowing is less accessible, so we need to provide increased humidity to compensate.  If you see his urates becoming gritty, increase his soaks or up the moisture in the substrate.  

I'd get rid of the ExoTerra bulb and either get a Reptisun 10.0 or, preferably, just get a ZooMed Powersun for heat/UVB.  At this time, these are the only bulbs that I know for sure are worthwhile.  You can get more information on UVB bulbs here:  Unfortunately, most UVB bulbs are pretty useless.  I have Powersuns in all my enclosures.

The mixed greens sounds fine.  If you can get weeds at least part of the year, it's the best diet--dandelions, chicory, sow thistle, mallow, clover, hawkbit, plantain, and so forth.  Sow thistles are a great favorite.  An outdoor pen planted with weeds is ideal in the warmer months, so that he has an opportunity to graze and bask naturally.  Rather than giving a calcium supplement, put a cuttlebone in the enclosure so he can self-regulate his calcium intake.  That way, you don't have to worry about giving him too much.

If I can help further, please post back.  


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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