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Turtles/my tort's food habbit

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QUESTION: Hi,

i recently got a baby star tort from a pet shop.  The shop keeper asked me to give him cucumber as his food. i gave it for several days. But when i did a little research in web i came to know that it's like junk food for them. Then i started providing him lettuce leaf, hibuscus leaf and flower but my kid stop eating. He is not taking food since last 3 days. i am very worried. How i will make a healthy food habit for my kid? Please help.

Regards,
Promise

ANSWER: Hi Promise,

You're correct that the shopkeeper gave you very bad advice.  Cucumber is one of the worst things you can feed, because it's not only very low in nutrition, but it tends to be addictive to tortoises.  However, you still need to improve your tortoise's diet.

Star tortoises should be fed primarily grasses and hay, cactus, and leafy greens.  Hibiscus is fine, but avoid too much lettuce.  Dandelion, turnip, mustard, collards, kale, etc are all good leafy greens, but the grasses and hay are important.  However, it's also very important to make sure that your tortoise's enclosure is set up correctly.  They require a warm basking area and a cooler area, as well as UVB lighting unless they go outside for a few hours a day.  If you can post back with more information on *exactly* how you have your tortoise set up, I can help more.  I need to know:  type and size of enclosure, substrate (bedding), exact temperatures in basking and cool areas, and what brand of UVB you're using (or not).  It's very likely that the problem is with temperatures, moisture, lack of UVB, etc., rather than with the food.  If your tortoise isn't housed correctly, he won't eat.

I will be able to provide better advice as soon as I hear back from you.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi,

Thanks for your reply. I am placed in India. Here normal temperature is quite high. Here the room temperatures varies from 28-30 degree. I did not arrange artificial UVB light as i keep him sometime in natural sunlight. i keep him freely at home. should i arrange a place for him?

regards,
Promise

ANSWER: Yes, you should build an indoor enclosure.  It's not safe for tortoises to free-roam in a house, especially not a very small one.  They can get trapped in small spaces, and they will also eat things that they find on the floor, which could be dangerous for them.  The enclosure should be roomy (if your tortoise is 4" long, then about 4' x 5' is sufficient) and open--no glass tanks.  For substrate, use a mix of coir (ground coconut husks) and playsand.  Because it's so warm there, you need to set up a cooler area in the enclosure for him, where the substrate is deep enough for him to bury himself and there's a little moisture.  He does need a basking lamp that provides an area of 90-95 degrees--that should be in the farthest corner from the cooler area.  And you do need a special UVB bulb unless he goes outside for at least three hours a day.  It would be a good idea to build an outdoor pen for him now, as long as it's secure from predators, and as an adult he should be outdoors except in cool, rainy weather.  Adult star tortoises are quite large and would need a large indoor pen.

Here's more information for you.  Please read it over carefully and then if you have further questions, please ask!

http://www.chelonia.org/articles/Geleganscare.htm
http://www.tortoisetrust.org/care/celegans.html
http://www.chelonia.org/articles/Geleganscare.htm
http://www.austinsturtlepage.com/Care/cs-startortoise.htm
Note:  I recommend that you NOT feed fruit or commercial diet (pellets).


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi,
Thanks for your reply. I will try my best to basking him. I have one more question regarding my kid's food. Should i give him petunia leafs and petunia flowers and ladies finger? is it safe for him.

looking forward to hear from you.

regards,
Promise.

Answer
Did you read over all the links I sent?  You can get a good list of foods from there.  Petunia is fine to feed as long as it hasn't been treated with chemicals (so not purchased from a garden shop), but the primary diet should be grasses, hay, and cactus.

He needs to either be  outside for several hours a day (make sure there's always shade available) or have a good UVB bulb indoors for 12-14 hours a day.  Without adequate amounts of UVB, he won't be able to metabolize calcium properly.  This can cause shell deformities, shell softening, and may eventually lead to death.  It's of vital importance, and one reason that tortoises should be outside whenever possible.

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Jeannie

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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.

Experience

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.

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

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