Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Food for Home's Hingeback Tortoises

Appropriate Foods for Home's Hingeback Tortoises.

If you have a Home's Hingeback that isn't eating, make sure you are heavily misting or spraying down the cage immediately before you offer food.  Hingebacks are stimulated by rain to begin searching for food on the forest floor, including any mushrooms, slugs, snails, millipedes and worms that might come and search for food during the rain.

If you have a new Home's hingeback, the most important thing is to get the tortoise hydrated, not food.  Worry about hydration first!  Once you have the tortoise properly hydrated, you can move on to food.


All species of Kinixys readily devour fungi, and it is a major component of their diet in the wild.  I have used all types of mushrooms available from grocery stores.  Asian and/or international food markets offer the most species.  Diversity is key- try everything that you can find!

Vertebrate Protein

Essentially, all tortoises are scavengers, including Home's Hingebacks. Home's hingebacks scavenge the forest floor, and they most definitely come across the carcasses of animals in the forests of Africa. Whole animal protein offers the best options for tortoises, since whole animals contain an entire suite of nutrients. Food items to try include whole feeder mice, pinky mice, beefheart, and fish like Chilean Silversides, which don't contain Thiaminase, an enzyme that prevents the uptake of Thiamine (also known as Vitamin B1).

Arthropod Protein

Home's hingebacks are surely eating arthropod protein in the forests of West Africa.  Commonly available food items to try include crickets, beetle larvae including super worms and meal worms, dubia roaches, and black soldier fly larvae. Millepedes are favorites in the wild with many Kinixys, but these are difficult to obtain as feeder animals.  Finally, I have found that my Home's Hingebacks will readily devour whole, raw, shell, tail, and head-on shrimp.  In the wild, I imagine that the forest hingeback species readily forage in the water looking for crayfish and freshwater shrimp. The chitin-rich exoskeltons of shrimp are an excellent source of calcium. Experiment with both live and freez-dried versions of all of these items. 


Earthworms are readily consumed by Home's Hingebacks.  Match the earthworm to the size of your animal.  Red wigglers are quite small and are a good choice for young animals.  European nightcrawlers are larger and don't require refrigeration, while Canadian nightcrawlers are the largest readily available worm on the market.


In my experience, slugs and snails are perhaps the best protein items to offer a picky hingeback. They devour them.  Zoo Med's Can-O-Snails is an excellent product, and I also purchase frozen shell-on apple snails at our local international grocery store. I thaw them completely, then remove the meat from the shell. 


You'll notice that I've waited until now to mention the most common "tortoise" food- plants. I surmise that most of the plant material that Home's Hingebacks consume in the wild is from various fruits that have fallen to the ground from above. I don't readily offer anything green to my hingebacks. Instead, I feedplant items that are actually fruits that most people consider vegetables.  These include yellow squash, zucchini, pumpkin, and any of the other various squashes available in grocery stores. I will occasionally offer a sugary "fruit" to my hingebacks, but this is rare and occurs less than once per month. I will occasionally offer figs, papaya, and watermelon rinds (with much of the rind gone already). 

Prepared Diets

Commercially prepared diets for reptiles are better than ever. I wouldn't expect a recent import to eat these diets, but they're worth a try.  After they are established, however, they will accept these commercially prepared options. I use pelleted foods that are designed for both terrestrial turtles and tortoises. This includes Mazuri Tortoise Original, and ZooMed aquatic Turtle. What's great about Zoomed's aquatic diet is that it comes in three formulations with increasing protein- hatchling, growth, and maintenance.   Other keepers have used Mazuri Aquatic Turtle Diet, and Marion Zoological's Mosaic Tortoise Diet.  

Repashy, a company famous for its Crested Gecko diets, makes gelatin-based products that come in power form and require you to mix these diets.  Gub Pie and Savory Stew are things to try.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Western Hingeback Tortoises: Will They Mate?

The latest attempt at pairing Brownie, a female Western Hingeback we acquired in June, with Rocket, a male Western Hingeback. Watch what happens!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Hingeback Tortoise Photos

Way back in 2001, I created an e-mail group using Yahoo's "Groups" platform.  E-mail list serves were the range back in the 2000's, before the advent of social media.  While Yahoo Groups aren't going away altogether, the company is scrubbing all the useful data from each group's website.  I went back and downloaded several of the interesting photos members shared on that platform so that they would not be lost forever!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Feeding Home's Hingeback Tortoises Shrimp

Here's a little sneak peek at how I feed my Kinixys homeana, the Home's Hingeback Tortoise, shrimp. What do you feed your Home's Hingeback Tortoise? -Tom

Friday, October 18, 2019

Video Profile of the Western Hingeback Tortoise, formerly known as the Bell's Hingeback

The Western Hingeback Tortoise, Kinixys nogueyi, was the most common of the savanna hingeback species (all except Kinixys homeana and Kinixys erosa) imported into the United States before the year 2000. After 2000, their legal import was banned by the USDA. I'm working with this species to ensure we have an established population here in the U.S. of captive born animals for many years to come. This species was formerly know as the Bell's Hingeback Tortoise before 2012, as the animals were thought to be a subspecies of Kinixys belliana. After molecular work by Kindler et. al., Kinixys nogueyi was elevated to full species status.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Help! My Home's Hingeback Tortoise is Sick, Won't Eat, or Died. What did I do wrong?

Help My Home's Hingeback!

I successfully established after intensive rehydration efforts.  One year later, it's just starting to put on shell growth.

My Home's hingeback won't eat! It just hides all the time.  It won't eat greens or tortoise pellets?  What am I doing wrong?

You're not alone. Imported Home's Hingeback (Kinixys homeana) tortoises are one of the most difficult pet tortoises to care for. They often hide in a corner, don't move, and don't eat. But why is this?

Most animals available today are imported from Western Africa.  They are caught by local foragers, brought to markets, and are either sold as food, or they make their way to an exporter.  Once they are collected and exported, they may have been without food or water for weeks or longer.

From the exporter, they are shipped abroad, sent to the importing facility, then often to a distributor, and then to a pet store or reptile dealer.  By that time, they have been shipped thousands of miles and kept in deplorable conditions.  They are often septic, anorexic, and chronically dehydrated.  Quite simply, when they make it to a pet store or a reptile show, they are on death's door, and any imported animal should be treated as such.

Finally, hingeback tortoise care is nothing like most tortoises.  These animals are very different from most tortoises that live open habitats.  Home's hingebacks, also incorrectly called Forest Hingebacks by pet dealers, are more like box turtles.  They are able to swim, love the water, and eat lots of live and dead animal protein.

What You Need to do to Save Your Home's Hingeback

1.  Hydration, Hydration, Hydration.

 I cannot stress this enough.  If you have a hingeback that won't eat, barely moves, and hides all day long, it is most likely severely dehydrated.

Soak the tortoise at least once a day in warm water for at least an hour.  I have successfully used a electrolyte hydration solution of water, sugar, lite salt, and baking soda.  Find the recipe and learn more about hydration at The Tortoise Library.

Once you have the tortoise properly hydrated, always have fresh water dish available for the tortoise to soak its entire body in its enclosure.

2.  Temperature, Temperature, Temperature.

These animals are from Africa, so they need it hot, right?  WRONG! When you heat a hingeback tortoise enclosure so that any part of it is over 85 degrees, it makes it NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE to provide their needed humidity requirements, and in essence, you will just be baking and drying out your tortoise, totally ruining any progress you've made in step #1.  Hingebacks do well at room temperature.  I routinely keep mine at temperatures ranging from 70-80 degrees without any sort of heat bulb, light, emitter, etc.  Repeat after me: Home's Hingeback tortoises are reptiles, but they don't need a hotspot! Deep substrates and frequent "rain events" and misting also help keep humidity up.

3. Light, Light, Light

I offer a light gradient for my Home's Hingeback, giving them an option to hide in the shadows or bask.
You don't need bright lights for Home's hingebacks.  In fact, Home's hingebacks hate bright light.  They have giant eyes adapted to seeing in the dark.  In the wild, they are active at night and during dusk or dawn.  If you have bright light on them, they will just hide all day and never be very active.  Create a light gradient- one side of the cage have available light, the other quite dark, and a nice transition zone between where the tortoise can choose where it wants to be.  

4. Protein, Protein, Protein

Home's hingebacks eat protein.  I have found that whole animal protein is the best food to offer an anorexic tortoise and most will readily consume it. I have found whole frozed-thawed fish like silversides, fed to tropical fish and available at pet stores, are readily consumed.  Another favorite are live snails and slugs.  If you can't find live animals, Zoo Med's Can-o-Snails are another source.  Earthworms are also readily consumed. Try a whole variety of whole animal protein to see what your hingeback might take a stab at.  Once you find something it likes, keep offering it until it achieves a safe, healthy weight, and then you can experiment with other offerings.

And I almost forgot. All hingebacks LOVE mushrooms and fungi makes up a fairly large part of their diet in the wild.

5. Vet, Vet, Vet

Once you have your tortoise hydrated and eating, it's time to have it examined and treated for parasites.  It will have them- nematodes are protozoans are particularly common.  Your tortoise should see a qualified tortoise veterinarian and be treated for parasites!

Have more questions?  Leave a comment, I'll be in touch.  YOU CAN DO THIS!

The motto here: No Kinixys left behind!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Blake's Animal Ranch Visits the Kinixys Cooperative

When I started my search for a male Kinixys nogueyi hingeback tortoise, I started with David Mifsud.  He wrote the Kinixys Conservation Blueprint, and he is one of the world's experts on the genus.  When I sent him an e-mail back in the spring of 2018, I was fairly amazed to learn he was actually in Africa right then studying Kinixys in their native habitats.

Along with him was Jeremy Thompson.  While i don't remember exactly when Jeremy and I started e-mailing, Jeremy has been extremely helpful as I have taken on more animals with the intent of producing captive bred Kinixys homeana and Kinixys nogueyi.

Jeremy has had success breeding Homeana, Erosa, Spekii, and most recently Kinixys zombensis, likely for the first time ever in captivity in the U.S.

Jeremy's work recently caught the eye of Blake from Blake's Animal Ranch, and he visited Jeremy's facility and filmed many of his animals, including some stunningly beautiful cherryhead tortoises.

And don't let the title of the video fool you. Jeremy isn't in this for the money- he does it because he just loves tortoises.

Jeremy and David will be giving at talk at this year's Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group Conference in Mesa, Arizona.  I'll be there- will you?


The Kinixys Conservation Blueprint

When I started researching hingeback tortoises again in 2017-2018, I found David Mifsud's Kinixys Conservation Blueprint. I can't say that any other genus of chelonians has such an amazing monograph dedicated to them.  If you want to know about Kinixys and hingebacks, this is a must download.

You'll find information about all eight species and 1 subspecies, where they live, how to identify them, what habitats they live in the wild, and how to care for them in captivity.

There is so much information that it can be intimidating to the novice, but take your time, digest it in pieces, and you will become a much more knowledgeable Kinixys keeper.

Download it here: Kinixys Conservation Blueprint

Me and Hingeback Tortoises

Hingeback tortoises are in the genus Kinixys, and I've been fascinated them for over 25 years.

In the  mid-90's, not much was really known about hingebacks.  They live in Africa, and most of the animals that came to the United States originated in the countries of west Africa.

There were two types commonly available then- the forest hingeback (mostly Kinixys homeana, but sometimes Kinixys erosa were lumped in as well) and Bell's hingebacks, which were at the time Kinixys belliana nogueyi.  Other species were also imported, but those were much less common and.  Back then, you either had a "Forest Hingeback" or a Bell's Hingeback"

I had two Homeana during this time period, both of which didn't last very long at all.  I had no idea what I was doing, and since they were the cheapest tortoises available, they were then and are still now purchased by novice, young keepers who have no idea how difficult it is to get them acclimated to captivity, and few lived longer than a year.

Finally, in 1999, I found a Bell's hingeback (what we know know as Kinixys nogueyi) at a local pet shop in Kent Ohio.  This animal had been in captivity some time, so I was told by the owner, and I purchased her.  She was with me for 20 years!

Kinixys nogueyi- the Western Hingeback Tortoise- Circa 2001

In 2000, I purchased a pair of Kinixys nogueyi, right before their importation was banned into the U.S. because they carried a tick which was known to carry heartwater disease, a pathogen that could devastate the U.S. cattle industry.

I still have one of those females, and will have had her for 20 years come February, 2020.

Today, I keep two pairs of Kinixys nogueyi, three Kinixys homeana males, and four Kinixys homeana females.

My goal?  Help maintain these two species in captivity (and possibly more), and learn as much as I can about them so I can provide you the absolutely best guidance on how to care for your hingebacks.


Food for Home's Hingeback Tortoises

Appropriate Foods for Home's Hingeback Tortoises. If you have a Home's Hingeback that isn't eating, make sure you are heavily ...