BASICS OF THE WILD KLEINMANNI DIET

Of the many things that kleinmanni eat in the wild, only two are commonly found in North America: sea lavender (limonium latifolium) and saltwort (pictured below). Of those two, I have succeeded in enticing the kleinmanni to eat only sea lavender (photo right).

ELEMENTS OF A WILD DIET: LIMONIUM LATIFOLIUM
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photo by L Uribe

SALTWORT
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photo by L Uribe

ADDITIONAL ITEMS IN THE WILD KLEINMANNI DIET NOT AVAILABLE IN THE WEST:

- Astragalus species
- Cardus arabicus
- Eremobium aegyptiacum
- Hippocrepis bicontora
- Launaea tenuiloba
- Neurada procumbens
- Plantago albicans
- Scabiosa eremophila
- Erodium ciconium
- Senecio esfontanei (flowers)

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BASICS OF THE CAPTIVE DIET

The basic daily rotation includes these items over the course of the week:

- curly endive
- frisee
- escarole
- romaine
- orchard grass hay
- mizuna
- turnip leaves
- tat-soi
- radicchio

Once a week or so, one or more of the following items is subbed in for variety's sake, or as a snack for the sub-adults on days that they do not get a salad mix:

- hibiscus flowers or leaves
- coreopsis flowers
- rose blossoms, stems, leaves
- sea lavender leaves
- sedum

In particular, the tortoises find flowers to be an excellent sources of simple sugars (in the petals), high protein (in the pollen stems), and roughage and fiber (in foliage). Individual tortoises seem to move in on those parts of flower, stem, or leaf of which they have the greatest need. Still, the pollen stems never go begging. The tortoises teach me that these are a delicacy eagerly consumed.

HIBISCUS POLLEN STEM ATTRACTS YOUNG HATCHLING
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A HIBISCUS FLOWER THE SIZE OF AN ADULT KLEINMANNI
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WHAT WOULD THE TORTOISE DO?

THE OCCASIONAL FEAST: ROSES
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THE IMPORTANCE OF FIBER

While kleinmanni are hardly the exact model of grassland tortoises, a high fiber diet including a fair amount of fresh grass and hay is key to keeping them well. Orchard grass hay snipped or ground in a small coffee grinder to about three-quarters of an inch and mixed with the basic salad is an important addition to their diet along with their regular outdoor grazing schedule in keeping their fiber up, and their digestion working well.

The Egyptian Tortoise: its natural history, its captive care, its beauty, its lore. . .
Diet in captivity
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

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FOUR AND FIVE YEAR-OLD KLEINMANNI SNACKING ON SEA LAVENDER

The dietary part of captive kleinmanni husbandry has to begin where everything else does: with our best understanding of the animal's dietary pattern in the wild.

UNADORNED BASE SALAD
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HELPING THE ANIMALS FIND DIETARY BALANCE

Kleinmanni have been known to occupy habitats that range from salt marsh margins to sandy gravel plains to the rocky escarpments of the wadis. Within these areas the kleinmanni have encountered as foodstuff everything from clumping grasses to broadleaf plant matter to flowers in the spring bloom. Taking into account the relatively sparse pickings in the desert environment, it is probably safe to assume that captive kleinmanni are fed both more and more richly than their wild counterparts (and more than is truly good for them).

As a consequence, the kleinmanni at Chez Fred follow a very particular feeding regimen. The adults and sub-adults receive a ration of mixed greens and weeds with orchard grass hay four times weekly. The portions on this are restricted so that there is rarely any leftover. Any remains are removed quickly. On alternate days, they are provided with a high fiber vegetation snack in the form of mallow or hibiscus leaves or flowers, leaves from the rapidly growing sea lavender plants in the yard, or several hours grazing on the chemical-free Bermuda grass lawn.

The hatchling diet is much the same, though I try to find younger, more tender salad leaves to use. The supplementation of orchard grass hay daily for fibre, weekly vitamins, and thrice weekly calcium is the same as for adults. Unlike the older tortoises, the hatchlings are fed small amounts daily.

A TREAT: CHRISTMAS CACTUS BLOSSOM
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High in oxalates, this is a once-a-year treat only

HATCHLINGS COMPETING AT FEEDING TIME
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FINISHING OFF THE LIMONIUM LEAF
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PROVIDING WATER

Water is provided 24/7 within the kleinmanni enclosure in a shallow dish and refreshed several times daily. The single provided water dish is 6 in. across, and one half inch deep, providing almost 30 square inches of evaporative surface. It is kept filled to at least one-quarter inch deep at all times. Each of the tortoises is observed to drink deeply several times weekly. In addition, a once weekly soak is provided each adult in water approximately three-quarters of an inch deep. Invariably during their soak (and sometimes while they are drinking from the dish provided in their pen) the tortoises take the opportunity to defecate and expel urates.

The hatchlings are also provided with a very shallow dish of water which they are all observed to use regularly; they are provided a daily soak up to six months of age, and then four times weekly.

In addition, provision is made for microhabitat moisture to offset the drying conditions of the rest of their habitat.

PYRAMIDING ON A THREE-YEAR-OLD
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ABOUT PYRAMIDING IN CAPTIVE BRED AND RAISED TORTOISES

The formation of pyramids under the scutes of the tortoises' shells has been traced to dietary anomalies related, among other things, to too much protein. For kleinmanni and other vegetarian tortoises in captivity this is still a risk. The culprit can be either foods too rich in plant proteins, or simply overfeeding, which generally allows the absorption of too much food, protein included. Some tortoise food supplements may also be a culprit in this regard, based as they are on high protein vegetation including some grains.

Other culprits implicated in pyramiding include foods with poor Calcium/Phosphorus ratios. A cross-section cut through the shell of a badly pyramided tortoise will reveal that much of the calcium within the shell has been leached away, leaving only a network of tilted pillars and struts to support the interior shell structure. Also, recent studies on specimens of Geochelone sulcata hatchlings suggest that microclimate humidity also plays a role in the incidence and degree of pyramiding.

It is next to impossible to raise a captive bred kleinmanni specimen with no pyramiding at all. Perfectly smooth specimens are nearly all wild caught. Nevertheless, one tries, for the health of the tortoise. Aiming for slow growth allows the tortoise to develop at the rate that is right for it.

In spite of one's best efforts, it is possible that pyramiding cannot be avoided. The four and five year-old kleinmanni in my collection have been raised together for four years. Their diet, habitat, lighting, access to outdoor UVB, calcium supplementation and other husbandry regimen has been identical for each animal. Yet they vary greatly in the degree of pyramiding they have developed.

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Link to Darrell Senneke's excellent article on Pyramiding at the WCT site by clicking on the WCT spinning logo above.

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ROLLING IN THE CLOVER, SO TO SPEAK
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OUTDOOR GRAZE AS PART OF KLEINMANNI DIETARY REGIMEN

It is necessary throughout much of the U.S. for keepers to raise their kleinmanni inside because of climate and humidity considerations (see the habitat and housing page). However, where keepers live in natural coastal desert situations, not enough can be said on behalf of natural graze.

The fiber and nutrition of fresh, growing grass is unparalleled. And the opportunity for the tortoise to move about and select its own food, not to mention the benefit of natural UVB and UVA light from nature's source, are unmatched for added health benefit. Finally, the very process of grazing itself, selecting and tugging off one's own morsel to eat seems to me to be a positive shift in to the native habit of foraging that is still very much a part of kleinmanni instinct.

TELLTALE SIGNS THAT
A TORTOISE DIET IS WORKING

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When tortoise digestion is working well, the animals have what I would describe as the slight smell of a horse corral. Like horses, these little animals are hindgut fermenters, and what comes out in their boluses has something of the same redolence as road apples. Another way to tell that their digestion is working well is that their tiny little fecal boluses will be firm, dark, fibrous (I can tell when mine are getting enough fiber because I can see it) and will be shaped like a little torpedo. Those who study such things (scatologists) teach me that the pointed end shows the direction the tortoise was going when it paused for a hygiene break.

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

-- Terry Pratchett, "Small Gods"

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