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What's a Desert Tortoise?

Learn about the desert tortoise from veterinarian Alix Wilson in this Howcast video about pet turtles.


So turtles and tortoises that live in dry climates like deserts and grasslands tend to have some different temperature and habitat guidelines. So again keeping to the basics of setting up an enclosure, first of all you want to pick the right size of enclosure, the bigger the better. People always ask this to me, there's no exact size recommendation, you just want the largest enclosure that you can provide. The other thing to begin setting up the enclosure is picking a substrate. Substrate is just a material that you put at the bottom of the enclosure, so the desert turtle or tortoise might be living on sandy, or dirty, or even rocky base, and you can try and make that in your enclosure, but keep in mind that we do see a lot of tortoises that will eat their substrate or their bedding, so that includes small rocks and dirt. So you want to be very careful about that and make sure that's not happening in your environment.

The other thing that all turtles and tortoises need would be a source of heat. Keeping in mind they are ectotherms, that means they rely on the temperature of their environment to regulate their own body temperature, so it's very important that you provide a heat source. In desert climates obviously it can get very warm during the day, so we're looking at providing a heated area of enclosure that's probably upwards of 90 to 100 degrees. Desert species also tend to cool off quite a lot at night, so the temperature can drop down at night to 70 degrees or even a little bit below. We call that creating a thermal gradient. Reptiles again they're going to move within their environment to warmer places and cooler places as they require to maintain their core body temperature.

The other thing that's very important in desert species would be the exposure to ultraviolet light, so we call this UVB, or ultraviolet B radiation. This is part of the sun's natural light, this is very important in these turtles and tortoises for the synthesis of vitamin D, and for a normal calcium metabolism. Without UVB light, they can develop many different types of metabolic issues.

The next most important thing would be diet. A lot of these species are eating grasses, leaves, flowers, and again, you want to look up whatever your species is that you have, and trying to figure out what its natural diet is like, and trying to replicate that as best you can.

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