MATERIALS AND RATIONALE

The first layer in the main section of the habitat is top soil. Mixed with sand and peat moss, 2 in. of soil in the bottom of the habitat helps retain a little moisture during the winter season. Even so, the relative humidity in the habitat is never over 40 percent. During the dry season, this underlayment will dry out and provide an even stronger buffer against excess summer humidity.

newhabsoil.jpg
UNDERLAYMENT OF SOIL SAND AND PEAT MOSS

The upper layer and primary substrate of the main section of the habitat is a 2 in. layer of ground oyster shell. The xeriscopic nature of this substrate helps to balance the humidity retention of the soil beneath.

newhaboyster.jpg
TOP LAYER OF GROUND OYSTER SHELL

A ramp set at a 40 percent grade composed of flat stones grouted to the backside of a 12 in. square tile provides (detail below) easy access and excellent traction for the tortoises as they move from the lower level (desert floor) to the upper level (planting area) of the habitat.

rampdetail.jpg
DETAIL OF RAMP TEXTURE

The tortoises immediately moved in on plants such as the bulbous oat grass (below) and the miniature carex species (sedge, bottom) as hiding spots and primary places for digging small scrapes. Indeed, immediately upon changing the habitat, all five of the sub-adults that occupy it began retiring to the upper planting level to dig scrapes for the evening in the softer soil. Water drops from the plants as they are irrigated also attract the tortoises and supplement their drinking from the water dish and their regular soaks.

newhaboatgrass.jpg
OAT GRASS CLUMP PROVIDES COVER

newhabsedge.jpg
DWARF SEDGE MAKES A GOOD SCRAPE PLACE

CHOOSING A HABITAT CONTAINER

habitat.jpg
HABITAT CONTAINER

When choosing a habitat container for housing kleinmanni indoors, always consider the animal and not simply your own space restrictions. Glass aquaria are never suitable for tortoises, and especially not for kleinmanni. The production of a "Tortoise table" with as much open space as possible is the best place to begin.

The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Captive Habitat 2: Development of a new habitat model for captive kleinmanni
kleinmanni home | golden beauties | desert life | climate's role | captive needs | unique diet | Captive Habitat 1: basics | Captive Habitat 2: habitat development | Breeding | hatchling care | when something goes wrong | natural and un-natural history | All in the family | captive behaviors | tortoise links | references


PRINCIPLES FOR HABITAT DEVELOPMENT

1. Provide the largest habitat your space allows, using materials matched as well as possible to your tortoise's wild, native-range habitat.

2. Avoid clear or opaque walls, as tortoises will attempt to move through or over any barrier that gives hints of a world beyond.

3. Provide topographic furnishings to stimulate activity.

4. Set some furnishings at the wall to break up expanses of walkable wall and some at various points away from the wall, creating sight breaks.

5. Observe your tortoises' responses to their habitat and furnishings to see what they teach you about their preferences and needs.

6. Prepare suitable hide spots based on how and where your tortoises teach you they prefer to hide. Much wall walking may well be a search for adequate hiding places in response to the stress of being enclosed at all. Most tortoise spieces are accustomed to a native range measured by square acres or even square miles.

7. Use a friable, malleable substrate that allows a tortoise "wiggle room," and gives it a chance to right itself.

Hieroglyphic Divider

habitatoverview.jpg

Habitat development is a part of every husbandry regimen. Matching a tortoise's habitat need with a sound understanding of its basic ecology as well as with those special needs that arise because of its life in captivity is key to keeping healthy tortoises. This page outlines the development of an indoor habitat for five sub-adult Testudo kleinmanni.

A prefabricated habitat container was chosen for this project for ease of separating a more desiccating "desert" space at one end from a more lush planted area at the other end. As noted on the "Life In the Desert" page, the range of kleinmanni living conditions in the wild is actually quite wide. This habitat experiment allows the animals to teach me about their choices and needs. Here they have a choice of a stony, dryer, area contrasted with deep, friable soil and plantings of sedge, oat grass, and sea lavender starts. This provides the contrast of salt marsh margins which are also known to be sometime kleinmanni habitat.

DESIGNING THE CURRENT HABITAT

The new habitat takes into account the desert realities of this species' development. The object is to provide for a balance between coastal type humidity and desert aridity.

Needs related to microclimate and to the circannual rhythm of wet and dry seasons are addressed in two ways. First, the habitat is designed in a container that allows me to "make rain" by sprinkling, without leaving the animals in an over-damp situation at any point. If this proves to be the wet season stimulus to dry season aestivation that others have found it to be (Fritsche and Fritsche, 2002), we will have learned a lot. Second, in preparation for that aestivation, easily moisturizable hide spaces have been provided in the form of clay tiles commonly used for wine storage.

Many other objectives were involved in preparing this habitat as well. It seemed important to accommodate opportunities for exercise, in view of all the kleinmanni have taught me about climbing. The height differential between the planting area and the lower area provides opportunity for regular hikes between scrapes and the feeding areas. Additionally, rocks have been provided on to which the kleinmanni clamber regularly. The crevices between rocks are regularly used as hide spots in the wild, and the kleinmanni have already discovered ways to squeeze into rocky corners that help them feel protected in this habitat.

Provision of the planting area allows the kleinmanni to indulge their native habitat of building scrapes at the base of clumps of grass and other plants. A more easily excavated substrate than the oyster shell, the soil/sand/peat moss mixture gives the tortoises an area in which they can prepare scrapes. The slight moisture retaining quality of the substrate in turn allows the animals to conserve body moisture as they scrape into this "micro-climatizing" substrate.

Three different feeding areas have been provided in this habitat on which small amounts of food can be offered. The object is to encourage foraging behavior, so the animals spend a little time each day looking for where their food has been left. Some days food will be left at all three stations. Other times it will be provided at only one. Fresh water is available all times, in addition to the water they metabolize from their food, the water they collect from freshly-watered plants, and that which they obtain while soaking.

VIEWS FROM THE INSIDE

hidepots.jpg
CLAY TILES FUNCTION AS SUBSTITUTE BURROWS

tortoisetunnel.jpg
KOFI INVESTIGATES THE NEW TORTOISE TUNNEL

tuyainthegrass.jpg
MIMICKING WILD BEHAVIOR, THIS TORTOISE HIDES IN THE GRASS

newhabitatbask.jpg
ESTABLISHING A NEW BASKING PATTERN IN THE NEW HABITAT

newhabhiding.jpg
ROCKS AND PLANTS OFFER REFUGE AND HIDING SPOTS

Red Arrow 8
CLICK ARROW TO LINK TO NEXT PAGE

PREVENTING WALL-WALKING AND CORNER-CLIMBING

This page has views of their newest and enlarged habitat. Built in a Waterlands Tub, it has long stretches of unoccupied wall. But since the tortoises cannot see through that they make no attempt to climb the wall. The split-level arrangement (with feeding spots at three separate locations) keeps the tortoises moving up and down looking for where their food. The addition of large rocks (for kleinmanni they are veritable boulders) as both topography and sight-line break creates a diversion that distracts from the wall climbing habit. As well, the plantings, food dishes, water dish, and a particular arrangement of the rocks provide multiple places for the animals to find hide space. This, too, seems to distract from the wall climbing habit; I believe that much of the wall walking that we find in tortoises is a symptom of looking for hide space and being unable to find it (what we provide as hides and what they would prefer as hides are two different things, I expect). In any event, long stretches of unbroken wall seem not to be a problem if there is adequate of other topography.

In an unfurnished habitat, the tortoises' capacity to chimney up the corners is a particular danger for them. In their present habitat, the kleinmanni sub-adults have actually learned to climb the rocks without harming themselves or overturning; I have yet to see one trying to push through the wall. Gallery 3 on the Web site is entirely devoted to the antics of one of the tortoises is engaged in rock climbing. Finally, substrate makes a huge difference. Anything that is perfectly flat is a problem. Newspaper in the bottom of a flat container provides no purchase for the animal trying to right itself. I use layers of soil and sand, topped with a layer of crushed oyster shell. These provide adequate "dig-ability" for the animal to wiggle around and get a purchase to pull itself over. Every tortoise keeper will inevitably experience that a tortoise's first response upon been tipped to its back is to wiggle the bloody heck out of its head and all four feet. On a nicely friable substrate, this allows a tortoise to essentially vibrate its carapace into the substrate, often at enough of an angle for it to catch a purchase with one or more feet and right itself.


"You can't trample infidelswhen you're a tortoise.I mean, all you could do isgive them a meaningful look."

-- Terry Pratchett, "Small Gods"

Hieroglyphic Divider

All information and photos used in these pages is protected by copyright. Photos not taken by myself are credited; texts are fully noted and references included on the final page.  Use other than personal of the information or photos presented here requires my express written consent and / or that of the original author or photographer of the materials, and can be initiated by contacting me through this link. Any such use without such express written consents will be subject to legal action.

The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Fred L. Erwin, Jr., 2004 - 2005 C.E.