Many owners keep their tortoises outside in their garden or yard. After all, it:
- Creates an easy way to save indoor space
- Allows a tortoise to enjoy a more natural habitat
- Provides natural sunlight and fresh air
- More burrowing room
- Provides extra enrichment
- Additional space for multiple tortoises
However, most pet tortoises kept outside are adults. So, you may be concerned if you have a juvenile or hatchling tortoise and want to put it outside.
Adult tortoises have thicker shells, more robust immune systems, and a natural tolerance for heat and cold. Also, they can better defend themselves against predators if their enclosure is breached.
That can leave you to believe that baby tortoises can never go outdoors.
A baby tortoise shouldn’t live outside permanently, even if it lives with other tortoises. It’s only safe for baby tortoises to be outside with your supervision because you can safeguard them from:
- Extreme weather
- Poisonous plants
- Other pets
Being outside by itself significantly raises the chance of death for a baby tortoise.
This may seem counterintuitive since baby tortoises live outside in the wild and must fend for themselves. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for a baby tortoise is far higher than for adults.
The Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine stated that only 5 in 100 baby tortoises reach adulthood.
So, a baby tortoise is in danger if it lives outside for the following reasons:
As tortoises age from hatchling to adult, their shells harden.
Their shells protect them against falls, predators, and sun exposure. A baby tortoise will have a softer shell, making it far more vulnerable to danger. Other risks include:
- Attacks from land-based and airborne predators.
- Dehydration due to sun exposure.
- Organ damage due to eating toxic plants.
- Severe storms and heavy rain lead to drowning.
- Small tortoises may burrow under fences and escape.
Anything that can harm an adult tortoise is extremely likely to kill a baby tortoise outright.
Even if a baby tortoise is well protected in its outdoor enclosure, you must consider its immune system. Baby tortoises are more vulnerable to poison, toxins, and pathogens.
A baby tortoise can get sick and die easier than an adult. For example, eating a poisonous flower could make an adult tortoise ill, but it could be life-ending for a baby tortoise.
The outdoors is also home to far more contagions than your home, especially if the baby tortoise is normally safe in its tank. A strain of bacteria or virus could infect your baby tortoise outdoors.
An indoor tank can precisely regulate heat, lighting, and humidity. An imbalance of living conditions will harm a tortoise of any age, but it can prove fatal quickly for a baby tortoise.
You may assume that placing the baby tortoise outside with the adults is a good idea. Surely, a grown tortoise will protect the baby from harm.
This isn’t the case because tortoises don’t have parental instincts. Even the mothers abandon their eggs shortly after laying. At best, tortoises will ignore each other, even if one is being harmed.
In the worst case, the adult tortoise will fight and kill a baby tortoise.
Allowing a baby tortoise to live outside is unwise, but that doesn’t mean it can’t visit the outdoors.
With you nearby, the baby tortoise can wander, climb small obstacles, soak up vital UVB rays from direct sunlight, enjoy the fresh air, and relish the other benefits of the outdoors.
However, not all baby tortoises should be allowed outside for these reasons:
Don’t take it outside if a tortoise is already under the weather. Its immune system is compromised, and it’s likely to grow fatally ill if it contracts something from the outdoors.
While direct sunlight can help an ailing tortoise recover, there are many risks outside. Instead, consider allowing your baby tortoise to sunbathe near an open window with your constant supervision so that it doesn’t get too hot or develop heatstroke.
If your yard is home to predators, don’t take your baby tortoise outside, even if you’re with it. Birds of prey, foxes, snakes, and other animals can easily snatch away a small tortoise before you can intervene.
According to Scientific Reports, ravens are a major predator of juvenile tortoises living near human homes. So, even predators you wouldn’t consider a natural threat to tortoises can be dangerous.
Even if you use a harness of some kind, and your baby tortoise isn’t taken away, it may be harmed during a conflict and unable to recover due to its small size.
According to the Journal of Thermal Biology, adult tortoises can employ different thermoregulating techniques when environmental temperatures fall or rise beyond what is optimal.
A baby tortoise is far more vulnerable. If it’s an unusually cold or hot day, it’s raining, or wind speeds are impacting how the ambient temperature feels, wait for another day to take your baby tortoise outside.
Baby tortoises are negatively affected by extreme heat or cold more than adults. Also, rain or wind can make the outdoor temperatures feel cooler. This leaves your baby tortoise’s delicate shell to endure more sun exposure than it would on a dry, windless day.
Even though the outdoors is dangerous, you can take steps to safeguard your baby tortoise:
Harness or Enclosure
Avoid letting a baby tortoise free-roam, even if you’re nearby. Birds of prey could easily swoop down and snatch up your pet, or the baby may escape while you’re distracted.
Instead, put it in a tortoise harness, or build an enclosure that protects it from the dangers of the outdoors. Any enclosure should have a lid so predators can’t access it from above.
Likewise, the enclosure should have a firm foundation so that a baby tortoise can’t burrow down and escape or burrow so far that you can’t easily retrieve it.
Clear The Area
Ensure the play area is free of harmful plants, sharp objects, or feces from pets or wild animals.
Dirt or grass provide tortoises with new textures to explore, enriching their playtime. However, if you suspect fleas, mites, or ticks are present, don’t let a baby tortoise play there.
Shade And Water
Tortoises love to sunbathe, but they need a shaded area they can retreat to when they grow too warm.
Likewise, the leading cause of heatstroke in tortoises is dehydration. No matter how cool the day feels, provide a baby tortoise with water, so it can soak and drink when necessary.
Taking these steps will ensure your baby tortoise can still enjoy the outdoors, all while staying safe.