Astrochelys Radiata Care Sheet
Common name: Radiated Tortoise
Scientific name: Astrochelys Radiata
Radiated tortoises are known the world over as being one of, if not the most beautiful tortoise of all the many species. The Radiated tortoise are many collectors dream tortoise to work with. One of the most striking and diverse looking tortoises on the planet, one would be hard pressed to find any two alike. Know for their high domed shell, beautiful patterns, and friendly nature makes this one very enjoyable tortoise species. Appendages range in color from yellow to orange with black blotching from time to time. Heads can range from all black to all yellow and everything in between.Adult males can reach up to 16" while females are slightly smaller. Adults weigh well over 20 lbs, yet maintain a manageable size.
The species has the highest level of protection in the USA and around the world. Listed as CITES I and critically endangered, the species has faced many problems in its native home range. Madagascar has been riddled with governmental chaos and lack of wildlife protection. This has opened the flood gates to illegal poaching for the Asian pet trade. Natives have also begun eating the meat, from lack of other sources for protein from normal bush meat. With rapid decline in forest land and slash and burn clear cutting, the human survival in many cases has no other choice. Current measures are in place to protect the species and its natural habitat from these declines, only time will tell how successful the current measures in place are.
In the United States, the species is also protected in the Endangered Species Act also know as ESA. This limits the sale and trade of the species from state to state. One must apply for a Captive Bred Wildlife permit (CBW) to buy, sell, and trade intrestate. Please see CBW Permit for more info on how to apply. If buying intrastate (with in the same state as the seller or buyer) no CBW is required.
The species has been successfully reproducing for many years in captivity, and CBB offspring is commonly available in in the US. This has taken demand for illegal animals off the already taxing pressure the species is under in its native range. The radiated tortoise is a hardy species, with little medical issues under proper care and conditions in captivity. One can expect a baby to take 10-12 years to reach sexual maturity and reproduce the next generation on average.
With many different opinions and ways to keep these guys healthy and happy while indoors. For this reason we will cover a few options and why one is better then the next briefly followed by the best way we have found to date of writing this care sheet. Meaning the current technique we use to date when housing radiated tortoises from hatchling to adult size. The purpose of this will be to grow smooth, healthy looking animals like that found in the wild.
The first and probably most know method is in a large open top enclosure either a trough, tank, table, or other similar containment piece. This is then lined with cypress mulch and and given a humid hide box with sphagnum moss on one end and a heat lamp and UVB on the other end. The tortoise(s) can then regulate back and forth as they need to. While this can be an effective method many factors are not ideal and this causing the animals to grow irregular and bumpy. Often times the cypress much also presents and issue when feeding is in progress and burrowing in can also cause its own issues. When it comes to misting and offering humidity, the mulch offers nothing.
The main issue with these types of setups is the open top though. When you have a 100-160W heat lamp over the top of these setups it will act as a dryer and suck all the moisture up and out while sending heat down. This making the ability to maintain any kind of humidity nearly impossible. Add to it, the human desire to be comfortable while inside. The use of AC and heat depending on the season both add to drying out the enclosure even more.
So what is one to do? The best setups will be fully enclosed with the ability to vent excess heat/humidity as needed. This can be best accomplished with an enclosure that has a door or lid, we use and find best larger commercially available plastic enclosures with front viewing clear door. There are many options and brands, again this will be more of a climate based choice as to the type you choose. For our needs and climate we use large 24" high enclosures with glass doors and ceramic sockets built in. You can choose to make you own, have one built. Just keep in mind your UVB and heating needs. Some of the popular choices below, remember with an enclosed system you will not need as much heat the enclosure will insulate well.
100W UVB Mercury Vapor
HO 5.0 UVB lamps
60-100W Ceramic Heat Emitter
Choice of bedding is mostly a personal preference as to the type and brand one uses. We have tried them all and find the best ones to be Zoo Med Eco Earth and our favorite being CocoSoft Fiber. You will want a 1-2" thick bedding layer, they do like to burrow into the bedding at night when sleeping. With this a hide box is not needed but can still be provided if you wish. The hide should have sphagnum moss, and an opening just large enough for the tortoise to get in and out. After about 6" hides will become of no use.
Temperature rage of 80-85F is ideal in the day time and night drops higher then 60F are ideal.
There is no one way to house a tortoise outdoors, there will be different needs from region to region and season to season. We will cover housing in warmer climates such as FL and southern CA. You can adjust things as need in hotter dryer climates and colder more humid areas. We do not recommend keeping animals under a year old outside overnight without full protection. If this cannot be provided its best animals are kept overnight in their indoor setup. This species is hardy and can take night drops in the 40F's so long as there is a daytime warm up in the mid 70F's at minimum.
For younger animals one should prepare an area in the yard that will get sun all throughout the day yet also provide a shaded spot at the same time. Ways to provide this would be with natural grass plants, that can survive in your region. We find the Aztec and lorloipe grasses work great for this. It's a good idea the ground be dirt, this will help maintain humidity and keep bugs away. Access to a water bowl and food daily. It is ok if weeds and or grass is grown planted too but make sure this does not cover the whole floor. Shell fungus can appear if the plastron is in constant contact with warm wet environments like that of grass without a place to dry in like sandy dirt.
For older tortoises, a larger open pen style will be more appropriate. You will want to contain them in the same manner offering a sun and shade spot with in the pen at all time during the day. You will find them most active in mid morning and late evening just before sun down. Often larger animals will become accustom to their human care taker, it's not uncommon for males in particular to follow you around, scratch their head on your shoes, and take to a nice head rub. If you are housing other species its good practice not to walk in one pen then into the next. Take precaution to clean your shoes one to the next.
There are many options when it comes to building material, wood, bricks/blocks, cement, rocks, and so on. Some things to keep in mind is the shell ware on more rough surfaces. If using things like blocks and cement one might choose to add PT wood around the base to prevent animals from scratching their shell up to much. We find they will avoid this in large pens, while smaller ones this tends to happen more as they pace the perimeter. Keep in mind also the long term goal and the adult size of your animals to be. If reproduction is on the program, allow open soft sandy areas for females to nest in. See Breeding for more on this. The larger area you can provide the better, try and keep things natural avoid using pea gravel, rubber mulch, pine bark, and any wood based mulch with color and without.
The area you choose should be free of pesticide treatment and not used by other animals IE dog/cat. You do not want your tortoises eating feces from these animals as it's the best way to transmit parasites. YES, they will eat their poop if given a chance to. Other things to keep in mind is bird dropping, particularly from wild birds. Avoid areas with heavy bird use and in or around fruit trees.
Food items need to be size appropriate for each tortoise you are feeding. Common food items include leafy greens (spring mix), grass, Cactus Pads, Mazuri Tortoise Food, and Marion Zoological. Items like cactus should be cut finely for babies and more coarse for larger animals. Adults can be fed whole pads without the need to prep them if you so desire. Prepared foods like Mazuri and Marion should be soaked in water to soften before feeding. When seasonal weather permits, grazing on grass and weeds from the yard make up a high portion of their diet and supplemental feeding of the above should still be offered. Items can be offered in any combo, try to avoid feeding only prepared foods. Calcium and vitamin dusts should be used in small amounts for growing younger animals and producing females. To much of a good thing is a bad thing!
Make sure you keep the food fresh, do not let it sour and or mold. Its best to prepare fresh meals daily in amounts your tortoise(s) can eat in a day. One can feed on slate rock if need in larger animals to keep beak trimmed. Green foods can be fed this way while prepared soaked food she be fed on plates that are either disposable or can be reused after being cleaned in the dishwasher. Dark greens are best, cactus being the make up of their diet in the wild so one can not go wrong there. Fruits should be avoided, as well as high water content veggies. Peppers and romaine can be used when cactus is not available. Keep the variety up, seasonal items come and go.
Water should be available at all times, this species like to drink allot of water and process it without urates. Water dish should be size appropriate to the tortoise(s) you are caring for. With small animals you can put medium size stones in the bottom to prevent drowning if a flip over happens. On large animals this is not needed and popular bowls with weight to them would be large flower pot saucers. Keep the water fresh, its normal for them to soak themselves and defecate in the water. Daily water changes at time of feeding is best.