The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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There are very few pets that live as long as a tortoise can. In fact, on average, a pet tortoise will easily live beyond 50 years, assuming that you are caring for it properly.
Naturally, this pet becomes far more of a commitment than other pets are, given how long you will be caring for it, meaning that when you choose to adopt a tortoise, you should be ready to provide care for it for the majority of your life.
This also means that you are going to want to do a lot of research to make sure that you will be able to provide your new companion with the best life that it could ask for.
There are quite a few ways that you can house a tortoise, depending on the species and area where you live. You can either choose to keep your tortoise outside, or you can choose to keep it inside, but no matter where you will be keeping your tortoise, you should have a good sense of what its standard temperature preferences are.
As with all other reptiles, tortoises are cold-blooded creatures. This means that they rely on the temperature outside of their bodies to help them regulate certain bodily functions, including sleep and digestion.
As such, this means that during times when it can get a bit cold, you will need to take extra care to provide your tortoise with the environment that it needs to thrive in.
A large example would be providing a safe habitat for tortoises to go into hibernation during the winter months, but an everyday situation that you will encounter is keeping your tortoise warm at night.
A single night’s worth of below-necessary temperatures is not going to be the end for your tortoise, although you will want to check up on its health in the case of any prolonged exposure to temperatures outside of your tortoise’s normal range.
The problem comes in when it is night after night of exposure to temperatures that are too low, which is why it becomes important for you to focus on keeping your tortoise warm at night.
Knowing What Your Tortoise Needs
First things first, you are going to want to make sure that you are giving your tortoise the environment that it would have if it was living out in the wild.
Some species of tortoise do not need as much help with staying warm at night, while other species cannot tolerate low temperatures at all and require regular help keeping them warm.
The best way of determining whether your tortoise is going to need nighttime heat is going to be to look at where it is naturally found. As a rule of thumb, most tortoises that live in a tropical environment have not evolved to handle low temperatures, so they will need more assistance keeping warm than other species.
Another aspect to note is that if your tortoise lives outside, you need to be able to set up a proper hibernation area that is a sufficient temperature. You could also choose to commit to preventing your tortoise from hibernating (a practice known as “overwintering”), but this should only be done if you can fully commit to it, have the resources to do it, and have the knowledge necessary.
On that note, some species of tortoise do not hibernate at all, and as such, absolutely must be brought inside if they are primarily outdoor animals. Regardless of if you have the equipment to keep an outdoor tropical tortoise warm, it is best for its own health to live inside during the winter months.
In short, the first thing you should focus on is knowing what your tortoise species would need.
Tropical tortoises need more help than others in maintaining a sufficient temperature and they must be brought inside during the winter, while subtropical tortoises can be allowed to go into hibernation, assuming that it does not drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside (unless you can provide enough heat to negate this).
Keeping Indoor Tortoises Warm
It is considerably easier to keep indoor tortoises warm, as you don’t need to worry about the elements or unexpected changes in the weather. It is also easier to purchase the products necessary to keep a tortoise warm within its own enclosure inside compared to outdoor tortoises.
For your standard nighttime heat source, you are going to want to stay away from lightbulbs or other sources of light, as tortoises need darkness to be able to sleep properly. Instead, you will want to direct your attention to heat mats and ceramic heat emitters.
Heat mats are the preferred method of providing nighttime warmth for tortoises, as they are more adjustable and are often built with a thermostat that allows for direct temperature control. Ceramic heat emitters can work, but they are harder to fine-tune and can be more expensive when you factor in an additional thermostat to help manage temperature.
Both of these devices work in similar ways. They provide sources of heat that your tortoise can be around to keep itself closer to its preferred temperature range when its surroundings naturally become colder at night.
It is important to be diligent and to be careful about exactly how much heat both of these items can emit. You will want to do some research on exactly what nighttime temperature your tortoise species’ enclosure should be so that you can keep it as comfortable for the tortoise as possible.
Another option that you can consider is making use of a central heating system. This will keep your tortoise’s environment as warm as it needs to be without necessarily purchasing anything new or changing the arrangement of the setup.
The problem with this is that, depending on where you live, this can become extremely expensive. Depending on the type of tortoise you own, you will be needing to keep the temperature of the house between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which will add up fast and will be uncomfortable for you during the summer season.
An alternative to using the whole central heating system of your house could be to simply keep the room where the tortoise is warm through the use of space heaters.
It can be hard to ensure that the enclosure reaches the necessary temperature through this, which is why it is not one of the better methods, but in a worst-case scenario where you do not have a heat mat or a ceramic heat emitter, it can get the job done.
Keeping Outdoor Tortoises Warm
There are plenty of reasons to try and keep your tortoise outside, especially if you live in a part of the world that has weather similar to the tropical and subtropical weather that tortoises appreciate.
However, especially during the colder months of the year, you will still want to try and provide warmth for your tortoise however you can.
One of the best ways to keep an outdoor tortoise warm at night is to purchase one of the special-made products designed for outdoor tortoises. These items mimic what greenhouses do, absorbing the warmth from the sun during the day so that the tortoise has a warm place to relax during the night.
Keep in mind that these types of enclosures will not work well when it is overall cold outside during the day, especially during the winter. Unless you are planning for your tortoise to go into hibernation, it is generally recommended that you bring outdoor tortoises in during the winter.
Even if you are planning to allow your tortoise to go into hibernation, you should still try and provide some warmth for it. For hibernating tortoises, you should have a special area set up (preferably inside, such as in a shed) that will not dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and they need to be inside as they cannot burrow into cold ground.
It is also recommended that you use space heaters and similar things to keep a hibernation enclosure at the recommended temperature to ensure that the tortoises can have a healthy hibernation period. Again, it depends on the species of tortoise that you are working with, but a good rule of thumb is to keep the hibernation area between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another thing that you need to remember about keeping tortoises outside is that there are some species of tortoise (commonly tropical tortoises) that simply cannot hibernate. This means that during autumn and especially in winter, you need to bring the tortoise inside so that you can keep it safe and comfortable.
Finally, one more thing that you can consider for keeping an outdoor tortoise warm during the night when the outdoor enclosure is close enough to the house is making use of some extension cords and plugging in a ceramic heat emitter above or beside the sleeping area (with a thermostat attached) to provide that heat your tortoise will need.
For outdoor tortoises, the ceramic heat emitter is preferable, as it will be better suited to combating the colder night air compared to providing a small amount of heat for indoor tortoises.
No matter if your tortoise is one who lives inside or outside, you should make sure that you have space indoors for a hibernating tortoise.
There are countless ways that you can keep your tortoise warm during the night, ensuring that it will be able to thrive and live a long and happy life alongside you.