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Turtles/bedding/substrate for Sulcatta


I just got a really big indoor winter habitat for my Sulcatta and will need LOTS of bedding/substrate.  What is the best and what is an average cost?

Hi Perijo,

This is kind of a complicated question, simply because enclosure size is a big factor in cost.  You didn't say how big the enclosure is, or how big your sulcata is, or what materials you used to make the enclosure, so my answer is taking that into account.  If you provide me with more information, I can give you a better answer.  

Ideally, the best substrate is going to be something that's fairly natural--a topsoil or sand/coir mix.  This provides the best footing, holds some moisture, etc.  However, it's pretty cost-prohibitive if the enclosure is truly large (by which I mean over 10' x 10').  You'd also need to consider whether you have moisture-proof construction materials, because a more natural substrate needs to be kept a little damp to hold humidity in order to prevent dehydration, which is a major risk for tortoises kept indoors under heat lamps with no access to natural burrowing.  

If this isn't feasible for whatever reason, my next choice would be a light layer of straw scattered over the floor of the enclosure, not too deep, but with a pile away from the basking area to allow for some burrowing behavior.  This will offer a firm footing, but obviously isn't very natural and won't hold humidity.  To compensate, you'll need to provide a humid hide(s) and soak 2-3 times weekly, watch the urates for signs of dehydration, etc.  Feeding wetter foods in addition to hay/grass will also help.  Keep the basking temperature warm enough, but not over 95 tops.

The reason I don't suggest substrates such as reptile bark is primarily because they don't offer a firm enough footing, and physical problems can be a result.  I'd rather see a firm soil-like substrate or nothing at all (the straw) so the tortoise is able to walk normally.

If you have any questions, or want to give more details so I can give you a more accurate answer, please post back.  A picture or two of the enclosure and the size of the sulcata would help as well.  This is a good dry run for the eventual enclosure/shed/barn you'll need when your sulcata is full size, because at that point you are not going to want your tort indoors unless you have a large basement area you can dedicate to the enclosure.  Poop and pee galore!  ; )


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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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