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Pyramiding


Roachman26
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So here's my theory on tortoise pyramiding: Growth in the absence of humidity. Let me explain...

Most people believe its caused by to much protein in the diet. I've also heard lack of calcium, lack of sunshine (uv), not enough heat, not enough fiber (like grass), and power-feeding. I've raised a bunch of sulcattas and they've all pyramided to some degree. I started with them in the early 90's. I followed all the current advice of the day. "Leafy greens only, occasional vitamin/calcium supplementation, no animal based protein, big cage, big outdoor pen and lots of sunshine, UV bulbs inside for cold days, dry bedding (rabbit pellets, sani-chips, etc.), and proper temperature gradient". I also under fed and skipped a day once in a while. Those tortoises are 30-40% undersize for their age. Yet, they still pyramided.

My most recent tortoise is three years old. The new advice is "no wet food (grocery store greens), feed grass hay, fresh green grass, certain weeds and cactus pads." This is what I've given her since day one. In 2007, Richard and Jerry Fife published a Leopard Tortoise book with a little small part in it about humid hide boxes. This was something I'd been using for all my lizards for years and my first big clue. Even with a humid hide box and the new "correct" diet, my young tortoises are still pyramiding at the same rate. Very frustrating.

There are many mysteries like this out there in the animal world. Some of them will never be solved. Others just take a lot of time and trial and error. I believe this one will fall into the latter category.

My next major clue came to me in May of this year. My job takes me all over the world. One of the ways I like to get to know the local culture is to visit pet shops in the area. I also frequent local mom and pop and "hole in the wall" style restaurants as well as the gun shops. In May and June I was working in New Orleans. It took me about six pet shops to find a pyramided tortoise. At the first five stores, most of the people I talked to didn't even know what pyramiding was. You should have seen the quizzical looks. Plus, I tawk funny to they'em. All of the tortoises that I saw were baby-butt smooth. It was difficult to find a pyramided tortoise of any size or species there. The one that I finally did find had was about nine months old and big for his age. He had been raised, from hatching, in that air-conditioned store on dry rabbit pellets, wet food, high heat from incandescents and no humid hide box. Yet, he was still less pyramided than mine. The managers uncle, coincidentally, raised and bred tortoises of many species at his nearby farm and the manager had a bunch of pics on hand. No pyramiding of any species of any age. They were all raised outdoors. If you've ever been to Louisiana, you know its hot and humid all the time. It might cool off a little in the winter, but its still humid. Same for most of Florida where, coincidentally, they also have no pyramiding.

There are many more pieces to the puzzle, but here's the gist. We consider most tortoises to be desert species. And they are, in a way. The part of Africa where they come from is very hot and dry for nine months out of the year. But for the other three, during the rainy season, its very humid. Guess when the food for tortoises to eat and grow is present. During the nine dry months they survive on dead dry grasses and vegetation and hang out in underground, humid burrows to avoid the heat. So, while that part of the world might be considered desert for most of the year, its not much of a desert during the relatively short rainy season. In captivity, we don't simulate a nine month dry spell with little to no food or growth. Instead, we have super-nutritious food, in daily abundance, and heavy growth year round regardless of humidity or rain.

I've always kept my tortoises very dry because they are a desert species. I soak babies 2 or 3 times a week and adults less so, but their enclosures have always been very dry. For that matter, my part of the world is also very dry, with very low humidity, so even their daily outside time is very dry. I've since switched my youngest to a high humidity environment and I'll be able to tell you in a couple of years if it helps. She's been in there a few months and, so far, there appears to be no change. This brings me to my last point in this confusing mess.

It seems that which ever way they start has hatchlings, its hard to change it later. If they hatch in the California desert and are kept on dry substrate or in dry outdoor pens and they start to pyramid at a very young age, its hard to stop it no matter what you do. If they hatch in Southern Florida, Mississippi or Louisiana and you keep them exposed to the outside air you can't make them pyramid. If you ship a two or three year old from a Southern State to a dry state, they usually won't pyramid. I've never seen or heard of an exception to this. Also, you can't make a smooth shelled wild caught tortoise start pyramiding either.

I want people to try shoot holes in my theory so that this matter can be solved once and for all. I intend to get a smooth hatchling or two from a southern state and raise it here, in the California desert, in a humid room, with a humid hide box, on humid maintaining substrate, with all other factors basically staying the same and see if that does it. I'll let you know. In the mean time please share any experiences that confirm or deny my suspicions. Right now I have a few pieces to the puzzle, but I'd like to have all the pieces.

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I will have to check with a friend of mine, but he has been breeding leopard tortoises, sulcatas, indian stars, spider tortoises, hermanns, and some for decades, and has a few others including galopagos tortoises. All of them reared very close if not identical to thier native habitat and most of them are pyramided (except the Galop. for some reason, though the scutes are a little more raised than you might see on a wild one).

Interesting perspective and theory though..... makes me want to look into it further!

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I will have to check with a friend of mine, but he has been breeding leopard tortoises, sulcatas, indian stars, spider tortoises, hermanns, and some for decades, and has a few others including galopagos tortoises. All of them reared very close if not identical to thier native habitat and most of them are pyramided (except the Galop. for some reason, though the scutes are a little more raised than you might see on a wild one).

Interesting perspective and theory though..... makes me want to look into it further!

I'd love to hear your friends perspective. I'll PM you my e-mail so that you or your friend can contact me directly if you wish. What part of the country is he in? In other words, if my theory is correct, and his are all pyramiding despite ideal care and conditions, he must live somewhere relatively dry. I know, and have met, several long-term breeders from around the country. The ones in CA, AZ, UT, NV all have pyramided adults, if they raised them. Their older, wild caught ones aren't pyramided at all even though they been in the same captive conditions for years or decades. It seems if they were smooth when they came out of the wild, at several years old, they stay smooth. The breeders from FL, LA, Mississippi, GA, and some parts of TX can't pyramid them even when they feed them dog food or monkey chow.

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I'd love to hear your friends perspective. I'll PM you my e-mail so that you or your friend can contact me directly if you wish. What part of the country is he in? In other words, if my theory is correct, and his are all pyramiding despite ideal care and conditions, he must live somewhere relatively dry. I know, and have met, several long-term breeders from around the country. The ones in CA, AZ, UT, NV all have pyramided adults, if they raised them. Their older, wild caught ones aren't pyramided at all even though they been in the same captive conditions for years or decades. It seems if they were smooth when they came out of the wild, at several years old, they stay smooth. The breeders from FL, LA, Mississippi, GA, and some parts of TX can't pyramid them even when they feed them dog food or monkey chow.

He is here in north Texas. (About an hour and some drive from my place).

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He is here in north Texas. (About an hour and some drive from my place).

So do you have relatively low humidity most of the year there? I know some parts of Texas are hot and dry while others get very humid. Its such a big state. OR does he raise his babies indoors on dry substrate under heat lamps and such? The only time I could find pyramided tortoises in humid areas was when babies were raised indoors in air-conditioned homes on dry substrate with incandescent heat lamps. I found that most of the people in the South kept all of their species and age groups outdoors as the weather was so favorable year round. Some of them had indoor retreats for very small babies, but these were seldom used.

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So do you have relatively low humidity most of the year there? I know some parts of Texas are hot and dry while others get very humid. Its such a big state. OR does he raise his babies indoors on dry substrate under heat lamps and such? The only time I could find pyramided tortoises in humid areas was when babies were raised indoors in air-conditioned homes on dry substrate with incandescent heat lamps. I found that most of the people in the South kept all of their species and age groups outdoors as the weather was so favorable year round. Some of them had indoor retreats for very small babies, but these were seldom used.

I really need to put you in touch with him and vice/versa. He has been workign with them for (30 years?)..... but it does get too cold around here so they have to come in for a couple months in the winter time....

One thing about Texas- not only is it a big state with all climate combinations, but in the central and northern areas climates become microclimates and can vary greatly every 20 miles or so. Maybe less than 20 in some areas. A real hassle for the weatherman as forecasting rain may or may not apply in the area you are listening to the weather forecast.

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