When the babies first emerge from the egg they have fully formed shells and fully developed claws but they are still soft. They may still carry part of the egg sac and may need a few days before this sac is fully absorbed and the tiny split in the plastron has completely sealed up. If the egg sac is particularly large try to confine the baby in the incubator in either the cleaned out half shell of a hen's egg or a segment of an egg carton containing damp kitchen roll until the sac is absorbed. Veterinary treatment may need to be sought as the yolk sac can be come infected.
The hatchling will appreciate a light misting with lukewarm water during this time to avoid dehydration. On first emerging give the babies a bath in lukewarm water so that they may have a drink.
Hatchlings need to be kept in a thermostatically controlled environment. Open topped tortoise tables are recommended, although the ambient temperature should be watched when using these. If a wooden glass fronted vivarium is used, additional ventilation is needed to provide a good airflow, and the glass panels should have a wooden or plastic barrier at the bottom preventing the hatchlings from struggling to get out, thereby ending up on their backs. Hatchlings should be kept diurnally (night temperature 18° - 21°C, day temperature 24° - 27°C)
A small shelter should be provided, which should be regularly sprayed inside to provide some humidity. Alternatively, a piece of foam could be placed inside the shelter and regularly sprayed to maintain the humidity, although care must be taken to change the foam at frequent intervals.
Creating an indoor garden with sand and earth is not recommended for very young hatchlings for reasons of hygiene and sand impaction. However, hatchlings like to bury themselves to regulate their temperature, so use newspaper or kitchen roll on the floor of the environment and place a soil based substrate in a cat litter tray for easy cleaning. A small ramp to enable the hatchlings to enter the tray should also be provided. An ideal substrate is 50/50 sterilised topsoil and play sand, both available from local DIY stores. Pieces of slate or cork can also be provided to help keep the babies' claws down.
Details on the importance of ultraviolet lighting can be found in our care sheet for Mediterranean Tortoises. An ultraviolet-b light source (such as a fluorescent tube or a compact lamp) must be provided, along with a basking site which can be under a domestic incandescent bulb. This should be at one end of the environment. A basking temperature of 35°C is recommended; at the cooler end it should be 20°C. These must be available for 12 hours daily and the temperatures must be checked to prevent overheating. Positioning the bulbs correctly is important: the manufacturer's instructions should be followed accurately and UV-b light sources will need to be replaced frequently.
An alternative heat source will be required to prevent the temperature from getting too low overnight, but avoid heat mats underneath. Access to natural ultraviolet light is also important
Whenever the weather is suitable hatchlings should be placed outside in a secure pen with a covering of wire netting or similar to prevent predation by birds, foxes etc. Cold frames can be used with an opening out onto the pen and lights can be installed in the frames for when the weather is inclement. This gives the option of leaving the older animals out day and night during the summer. If using portable pens, secure these firmly so that there are no gaps through which the animals could escape.
FEEDING AND WATERING
Hatchlings should be fed once a day with just enough food to be cleared within twenty minutes. The diet should be entirely of weeds when available and our care sheet on Mediterranean tortoises should be consulted for a suitable list during the winter months. Vitamin supplements should be added to the food as per manufacturer's instructions and calcium in the form of limestone flour can be liberally sprinkled on the food. Cuttlefish bone can be left in the pen for the hatchlings to gnaw if they wish. Overfeeding leads to shell distortion, as the babies grow too quickly. No animal protein should ever be offered to Mediterranean tortoises.
Water should be available at all times once the animals become juveniles, but as newly born hatchlings can drown even in very shallow water they should be supervised when receiving their daily bath until they are old enough to be no longer in danger of drowning. If you notice a juvenile straining and in discomfort this can be due to bladder stones, which can be the result of lack of moisture, and unless passed veterinary treatment will be needed as they can be fatal.
Baby tortoises would hibernate in the wild and therefore can be hibernated from their first winter, but they must be carefully monitored. A lot will depend on the time when they hatch, but the preferable hibernating time would be during the shorter winter months and for no longer than eight weeks. The hatchlings need to be at least three months of age and to have eaten well during this period.
The "Jackson Ratio" is not valid for hatchlings. Weekly weight records are recommended in the husbandry of hatchlings.
You can obtain further information on tortoise and terrapin care by consulting this website or by writing to:
British Chelonia Group, PO Box 16216, Tamworth, Staffordshire B77 9LA. Please enclose a SAE.