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Marginated tortoise
Posted: 07/07/2014 by johnsorg


We have a marginated tortoise which we've had for about 4 years now. We got him from someone who'd had him for about a year or two. I think the tortoise was about 4yrs old when we got him so he's about 8yrs now. The person we got the tortoise from lived in a flat and so the tort had never been outisde, or had the pleasure of roaming round the garden or being outside........

We were completly new to looking after a tortoise when we got him, so we read lots of articles on the net, brought a couple of books and made it up as we went along. So far so good, the tortoise has been checked over on a couple of occasions by the vet at Lawton and Stoakes and all is well. He's growing well and seems pretty happy.

As with all things, the longer you have a tortoise the more you start to find out about them. Our setup has been the following:

He has had a indoor vivarium setup with heatlamp, UV's, various types of substrate, house, water bowl and a few bits and bobs in there where he sleeps at night. I thought this was ok but now i'm hearing about tortoise tables, which i hadnt heard of before, so we're re-thinking his indoor house again!

Outside he has an enclosure which has a converted rabbit hutch for him to sleep in, selection of plants to feed on (all tort friendly plants/weeds), grassy area, stones, drinking bowl, some shade etc. When its nice out we put him outside. If its raining then we let him roam the dinning room on the old wooden floor in there!....

He's always eaten well, has regular baths, hibernates well over winter and seems pretty ever there is one thing though!!

Ever since we have had him, he has a tendancy to hide away in the shade whenever he's outside. He used to seem pretty happy to stay under the heat lamp in the vivarium, but now he's bigger  he's not so keen on this! We now let him out alot of the time but he wants to hide away in the corner all the time. If the suns out we bring him out into the sinshine but, when outside, he just hides away in his box, or under some shade. Its strange that if we leave him in the dining room, and the suns shining through the window, he'll spend all day following the sun trap around the room! Put him outside though and he hides away.........

So.................Does anyone have any experience of this? Does anyone know why he does this? Is he nervous of being outside? Does he have something about being on the grass and prefer being on hard flooring? He doesnt seem too keen on his new 50/50 topsoil/sand mix substrate in his Vivarium that we put in there!.......

Just wondering if anyone has any tips for getting him to stay out in the sun abit more and enjoy roaming around the garden. I know they need some shade from the sun when its really hot, but given the chance out tortoise will stay in the cold shade for 8hrs a day!

Sorry to go on and on, but thought i'd ask the experts on him for some help/ guidance just to make sure we're doing the right things for him........ 



Re: Marginated tortoise
Posted: 07/07/2014 by Tom

Hello Rob,

For all the reasons you have read on the TPG site, vivariums the last place to house a tortoise. They are quite unkind, a mistake which vast numbers of people make, in good faith, thanks to advice from pet traders. The floor in the house isn't ideal, as they need their own space in which to feel secure. You could you make a temporary set up with 4 bits of wood. It would be ok for bad weather & in the Spring. 
The reason why I say "in the Spring," is because T. marginata is a hardy species & should be hibernated, it's a natural process & all the info. you need can be found on this site. ( I suspect that it's not done so before.)
Re. moving round with the sun in the house, the reason is that it gives some warmth, however it can in no way be compared to basking in direct sunlight. The carapace of a tortoise acts like a solar panel, but is far more sophisticated. In the summer sun, torts warm up very quickly. They have no method of cooling down (sweating etc.,) other than to seek shade. If stranded in the midday sun, they overheat & can quickly die ! 
The phrase "I put the tortoise out when it's sunny" is all too common.
They're more active in hazy weather & love showery weather.

You could leave it out overnight in it's house. Ideally face the opening of the house East to get the early sun, it won't mind that !

Weigh it accurately fortnightly & monthly next year, keeping careful records. You will find this info. useful when you come to hibernate it.


Re: Marginated tortoise
Posted: 08/07/2014 by johnsorg

Tom....think I better clarify some details which may help...........

The tortoise is still happy in the Vivarium, as he's used to it, but we will think about a tortoise table in the near future...this seems to be the way alot of people are keeping tortoises now....

You mention about the wooden floor indoors not being ideal, but to be honest he's happier in there than outside on some days! He strolls round the room like he owns it, enjoys the direct sunlight which shines through the glass and runs around bits and pieces in there......Lord of the Manor! I understand the importnance of a tortoises shell, and the need for UV light.....I think this is why he follows the suntrap across the room on nice days!

When i mention Sunny days, this was a generuic term really. We put the tortoise outside as much as we can. When he was abit younger he went out, as a rule of thumb, whenever it was warm enough to wear a T-shirt. However, now that he is older we put him out alot more, sunny days, overcast, that he can enjoy his enclosure....We have left him outside, overnight, alot during this summer period. He did have a nice house which we put straw in, but we found him eating the straw which he struggled to pass through his system so we have removed this now. Do tortoises need anything in their house at night?...Straw, paper, etc?...or should we leave it empty?

Our tortoise does have a strange appetite for eating stones and straw! We have to make sure we remove small stones from his enclosure because he kept eating them.....and now we caught him eating straw, so we have removed this as well. Have you heard of this before??

We have successfully hibenated the tortise for the last 3 years. He has a pre hibenation check-up at the vet and another check-up after he has woken up. So far this has all been fine and he has hibenated fine over the winter period.

He has regular baths, probably every week or 10days and we check his weight about every 2mnths. When hes hibenating we check his weight every week but at the moment we only weight him every couple of months.

..........Do you have any suggestions for why he seeks the shade/house/plant cover when outside instead of roaming around in his enclosure and enjoying the sunlight? Do tortoises like the feel of grass when walking on it? Should they have solid ground to walk on? (Remembering he spent the first 3/4yrs of his life inside a flat and not going outside at all) Do you think I should remove the grass and put a soil/sand substrate down outside?





Re: Marginated tortoise
Posted: 08/07/2014 by johnsorg

This is the tortoise enclosure....Its overgrown this week as I'm workig away from home and havent had a chance to mow the lawn......

This is his Viv that he's in at night......

Re: Marginated tortoise
Posted: 20/07/2014 by Tom

When your tort. is "in the viv. at night" - is the heat / light on ? & what is the temp. ?

In your pic of the viv., where is your tort. ?


Re: Marginated tortoise
Posted: 15/08/2014 by Tom

Hello John,

I'm afraid I forgot to follow up on this…….

You state "he follows the sun trap across the room on nice days" & that he gets "direct sunlight through the glass." In fact it is indirect sunlight which penetrates glass, most of the ultraviolet light is removed as is much of the heat. So he follows the 'sun' on the floor to gain a bit of heat. When outside they can warm up in perfectly well in cloudy weather, thanks to a refined solar heating system.

Outside, once torts reach optimum temperature, they tend to move to cover, either to seek shade or to be 'off view' for security from predators. The behaviour you describe is quite normal. They only tend to move around to forage for food, or during the mating, or egg laying season.

Re. straw, yes some torts eat quite a bit of it & it is a useful source of roughage.

Re. grass in your outside enclosure, a mixture of close mown & longer areas is much enjoyed. If it is more wild plants than  grass - then tort. heaven.

Re. your viv. - in your 1st post you state "now he's bigger he's not so keen on this", whilst in your 2nd post, you state "the tortoise is still happy in the vivarium." So ask yourself - which is it.

I'd say you are doing a great job with him.

Best wishes,


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