The first tortoise room was the bedroom at the rear of the house. The eight(3.5) original adult tortoises, acquired between June and September of 1994, were originally kept in a plywood box, 2 feet by 4 feet, lined with white linoleum. This pen housed 8(3.5) adults from October 1994 to March 1995. After the death of one female in March 1995, it housed 7 (3.4) adult Egyptians.
On March 16, 1997, these adults 7 (3.4) were moved to a 4 x 4 foot plywood box lined with plastic in the front bedroom, which then became the tortoise room.
I believe the oyster shell is useful for the following reasons: it contains calcium in the form of calcium carbonate; it is light in color, similar to sand in that respect; and it desiccates the feces, so keeps odor to a minimum and probably desiccates parasites such as worms, thus possibly minimizing their spread.
One concern I have had with using the oyster shell is that the tortoises would eat it and die of impaction. X-rays taken of the adult females show that they do ingest it, whether deliberately or accidentally. However, I have only lost one adult tortoise, a female, who died egg-bound. While she did have oyster shell in her intestinal tract, I do not believe that was what killed her. I have now used the oyster shell for over 5 years and have had no problem, that I know of, with it.
A box of sand and sometimes a box of dirt is also included in the pen for nesting purposes.
The babies are initially kept on waxed paper for a few days, until they finish absorbing their yolk-sac. After this they are kept on white paper towels in plastic boxes. After a month or so, when there is no sign of soft tissue present at the yolk-sak site, they are moved to oyster shells.
Since the pen has 16 inch high walls with about 2-3 inches of substrate inside and since the fluorescent fixtures rested on the top edge of the pen, the distance from the fluorescent bulbs to the substrate is about 13-14 inches. It is about 6-7 inches from the incandescent bulb to the surface of the substrate. Lights are on for about 12 hours a day, but this has varied from 12 to 16 hours per day.
I have also used incandescents from 25-150 watt on different sized pens.
Tortoises will oftentimes nest in the 4x4 pen, either in the sand or the oyster shell. I even found one hatchling in the pen, which hatched from an egg that had been laid in the oyster shell
The tortoises have eggs laid in every month. All five of the original females have nested and produced young. I have a second group of adult Egyptians(2.8), acquired in November of 1995. Four of these females have produced eggs (one by oxytocin induction, soon after acquiring her) to date.
Beginning in November of 1997 eggs have also been incubated in three Little Giant Still Air Incubators Model # 9200, and after March of 1998 these were the only incubators used. One incubator is set at 86 degrees Fahrenheit and another is set at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The third incubator was set at 80 degrees, and was used for a couple of clutches. It is being reset to 82 degrees, while it is empty. These temperatures are measured using the small glass thermometers which came with the incubators.
To date 68 baby Egyptian tortoises have hatched out of the 121 eggs laid over the last 5 years. Sixty-seven hatched in incubators. One hatchling was found in the 4x4 pen. An empty egg shell was found in the oyster shell in the 4x4 pen. I had had no idea that any eggs had been laid in the oyster shell at that time.
Five of these 68 baby tortoises did not survive. Others may also have died after they left my care. Two of the 121 eggs were induced by a shot of Calcium Gluconate followed by a shot of oxytocin given by a local veterinarian, Dr. Peter Steelman.
The oldest baby was 4 years old in March of 1999. She laid her first clutch of 2 eggs on May 31, 1999 when she was 4 years and 73 days old. My first F-2 baby hatched from this clutch on August 30, 1999 after an incubation period of 91 days.
The growth rate of the babies is phenomenal. The oldest baby at 11 months was 75mm long and weighed 82.0 grams. It was greater than 80 percent the length of the smallest adults I have, which is a 90mm male