hey what’s up? alright I just have a quick question about tortoise husbandry, and was wondering if you might know the answer (if you don’t mind) ok so I have a baby sulcata and in his enclosure I use heat pads on both sides, to keep the cool side at 77, and the warm side at 95 degrees, both are reguated by a thermastate and I check temps regularly (with a temp gun) any way I was just wondering if providing belly heat for tortoises is acceptable or if they need over head heat specifically?
So generally overhead heat is preferred. In nature the sun would heat the tortoise’s carapace and then that warmth would spread to the rest of the body, so that’s just how a tortoise is “designed” to be heated. Not to mention that overhead heat assures that the tortoise is going to bask in the same area that UVB is being provided so they get the proper amount of UVB (assuming the UVB and heat lamp are near/next to each other).
On the other hand some tortoise-keepers definitely use heat mats or even pig blankets to provide additional heat to an enclosure. These are especially common with people keeping very large species or keeping tortoises outdoors. However these are large, adult tortoises (not babies) that people are using heat mats for.
The author of Medicine and Surgery of Turtles and Tortoises found that belly heat could be very dangerous for young tortoises, even leading to ruptured plastrons and death (source). Basically in nature the plastron would be in shade below the tortoise and so is not designed to withstand a large amount of heat so directing basking-level temperatures onto the plastron can be dangerous.
Overall I would say using a heat mat to raise the ambient temperature is fine, but the basking spot should be an overhead heat source (heat lamp, ceramic heat emitter, etc) whenever possible. Also if you have to use heat mats it is much safer to use them on the sides or ceilings of the enclosure so the plastron is not being directly heated.
Hope that was helpful! Good luck with your sulcata!
Ah! @the-awkward-turt is spot on. Perfect response. I love our tortoise community!
The only thing I would add (well not add but emphasize) is that the plastron is not designed to sense ‘overheating". They are much more likely to overheat when the heat comes from below. They will sense the warmth and bask, as the would with overhead heat, but they don’t have the ability to sense that it’s too much in the same way.
if they dig down at night, near a heat mat, the temp will be warmer and they won’t know if it’s too much too long. Not to mention they aren’t getting the impact of UVB. Make sure you’re checking the temps regularly and have a good night temp drop.
As @the-awkward-turt discussed, this is especially dangerous for smaller torts.
But when weather is extreme and climate is thwarting all our plans,a heat mat to keep a basic but LOW steady temp can be helpful in emergency situations. Just make sure he majority of the heat comes from above, the sides etc. And plenty of UVBhas to be provided.
Torts dig down to cool off and gain moisture.. Just like outside, a burrow is cooler than basking in the sun.. Putting a heat may down there essentially invalidates that most basic instinct. Again, this is speaking with knowledge of the smaller younger torts. When a 100 lb sulcata needs warmth? All bets are off haha well I’d probably still vote for quality insulation vs heat Matt. .