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Turtles/What breed is this?


I recently got this turtle. I have no idea what breed or species he is.His previous owner didn't know either. His feet aren't webbed at all but they are so deformed I could not tell you how many toes he has on each one. He does not have the smooth scales of an aquatic turtle... they are very raised and bumpy. His front legs do not tuck all the way into his shell, neither does his head. He has a pointy "beak" and a triangle shaped head. He has a longer tail. His shell is smooth. Could you please help me identify Stumpy so I can provide the best possible care!  Ty so much! I attached a picture.

ANSWER: Hi Joan,

Since turtles and tortoises are wild creatures, they don't have breeds, just species.  I am going to have to do some more research for you to tell you exactly what species Stumpy is, because from your picture he doesn't look like a species of tortoise I'm familiar with.  However, he is definitely a tortoise, and he definitely needs a vet visit.  His beak is severely overgrown, probably from being fed an improper diet.  A vet will need to file that down for you, and he should probably have a fecal check as well.

If you can, please post a couple more pictures for me--one from the side, and then one that shows the bottom of his shell.  Then I'll see what I can do to ID him for you.  Could you also let me know how big Stumpy is, and if you know how old he is (or how long his previous owner had him).

In the meantime, some general care information:

1)  He should be in something open and airy, and not in a tank.  Tortoises need a lot of room.  If he's 6" or smaller, for now you can put him in a large concrete mixing bin (about $15 at Lowe's).  They're about 3' x 2', which isn't huge, but probably more space than he's used to.

2)  He needs to be off the shredded stuff he's on now.  If it's cedar or pine, it's toxic, but otherwise, it's much too dry.  Use a 50/50 mix of coir and playsand instead, and keep it slightly damp to boost moisture.

3)  He needs a basking area of about 90 degrees (measure on substrate under basking bulb) and then cooler areas of about 70 degrees.  He also needs a source of UVB (vitally important).  I would get a ZooMed Powersun heat/UVB bulb, which will have all you need in one bulb.

4)  Make sure there is a shallow water dish in his enclosure at all times.  It should be big enough for him to get into completely.  At this point, you should also soak him in lukewarm water daily, for about 15 minutes at a time.  He is probably dehydrated.  Do this for four or five days, and then cut back to about 3 times a week.

5)  He's probably an herbivorous species, so give him leafy greens and weeds.  Limit lettuce, because it's not very nutritious.  Turnip and mustard greens, kale, collards, dandelion, raddichio, some spring mix, etc.  You can also feed him weeds such as dandelions, chicory, sow thistle, mallow, plantain, and hibsicus flowers, nasturtium, rose petals, abutilon, viola, and so forth, but make sure they're unsprayed.  No veggies, no fruit, and no commercial tortoise diets.

If you can get those pictures to me, I'll get back to you as soon as I can.  If you make your reply post *private*, I'll give you my email so we can communicate easier.  It looks like Stumpy has had a bit of a rough time, so the sooner we can ID him and get you the correct care information, the better.  The good news is that his shell looks pretty good, with no deformities, so hopefully once you get his beak taken care of and a proper enclosure set up, he'll do just fine.

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

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your help. I already have the lights set up. I did that first thing after I got Stumpy. I did not know cedar shavings were toxic! I have him in a 36x18 open tank. His shell is pretty cracked back by his legs. What can I do for that? The poor guy is in rough shape. He is however very active so he must be somewhat healthy! Everytime I feed him he eats really well so that's good! Here are more attached pictures. Ty so much for your help!

Aha!  You just gave me a good clue, and based on the research I did last night, I'm pretty sure that Stumpy is a Bell's hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana)--which explains why the rear part of his carapace looks cracked.  You can google for pictures to confirm.  Hingebacks actually do have a hinge in their shell, although it's not as flexible as the one a box turtle has.  It took me a while to ID Stumpy because most hingeback species are flattish; the Bell's has a more rounded shell, but I've never seen one in person.  Hingebacks used to be very common in the pet trade, but I don't think they're imported anymore as I haven't seen any in a number of years.  Stumpy is almost certainly wild caught, and adult.  

You're actually pretty lucky.  Many hingebacks don't survive for long, and if Stumpy has a good appetite that's a very good sign.  Although most tortoise species are herbivorous (which is why I suggested greens), hingebacks are actually omnivores, and can be fed a diet that includes greens, veggies, some fruit, and animal protein as well.  This can include snails, slugs, earthworms, crickets, pinky mice, superworms, etc., but should not include anything like dog or cat food--you will see dog/cat food recommended on some care sheets, but it is too high in grains/carbs and just not appropriate for tortoises.  It's always better to feed whole foods when you can.  Feeding animal protein once a week is enough.  The base diet should be the greens/weeds I mentioned, and then 2-3 times a week add in veggies (mushrooms, peppers, squash, carrots) and fruit (anything other than citrus or pineapple, but limit banana--melons, mango, and papaya are all great).  Also put a cuttlebone in his enclosure so he can get extra calcium if he wants it.  

The enclosure you have him in is adequate for now, but when you can manage it, he should be in something bigger--for his size, I'd say at least 3 x 5, and bigger would be better.  You can also build him an outdoor pen for the warmer months, and where you live this would probably be ideal.  If you plant it, and provide leaf piles, logs, etc., he'll be able to forage for insects on his own.  He does need a fairly moist enclosure, too.  It's fine for part of it to be dry, but the area under the basking bulb should be kept quite wet--water the substrate a few times a week, and mist daily.  

If you can tell me exactly what bulbs you got, I can let you know if they're the right ones.  Basking bulbs can be anything that give off heat, but UVB is a specialty item (not UV or UVA), and unfortunately many bulbs that claim to provide adequate UVB don't.  If you did get a Powersun, then you're good.  A part of the enclosure should be shaded from the light.  You can use artificial plants in the enclosure to help create shade; he may take a nibble or two, but tortoises know what real food is, so he won't try to eat them once he knows they're fake.  

If you need help locating a qualified herp vet, let me know.  When you take him in, you'll need to have his beak filed, and also bring along a fresh poop sample so the vet can run a fecal check.  Newly imported hingebacks tend to have heavy parasite loads (one reason why they don't survive), but since Stumpy is eating well, it's unlikely he's carrying a heavy load.  Still, he should be checked and treated if necessary.  

There's not a lot of updated care information online, but I'm linking what I could find that sounds fairly reputable (but again, don't feed dog or cat food).  If for some reason you feel you are unable to care for Stumpy, either now or in the future, please let me know.  Experienced keepers would be very happy to have Stumpy as part of their breeding program, and I'm sure I could help you find him a good home.  If I can help you with anything else, please ask any time!  


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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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