Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST - SOME RESULTS

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Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST - SOME RESULTS

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:47 am

We all know how this argument has run and run, with various conflicting claims being made for both kinds of unit. So, we decided it was time to conduct a series of carefully managed objective scientific tests, where the properties of both could be directly compared under near-identical conditions. To do this, we purchased one of the best known vivaria marketed specifically for tortoise keepers, the Komodo branded "Jon Coote's Complete Tortoise Starter Kit" and using nothing more than the supplied components and accessories tested its performance alongside a typical 'Tortoise Table' of the kind we have now recommended for many years. All of the measurements were taken using precision devices, including multiple SL54TH temperature and humidity data-loggers, a professional Fluke 971 temperature and humidity meter, a Fluke model 62 IR non-contact thermometer, a CEM DT1308 luminance meter and a Solar Meter 6.2 UV-B meter. The data logger recordings were graphed over many days under a variety of ambient conditions. The objective was to test the claims made for both kinds of unit. For example, of the Jon Coote Tortoise Starter kit is is claimed that:

"They contain everything required to provide the correct environment for the different species"

"The primary aim with these kits is the inhabitant’s welfare"

These kits have earned praise from some of the trade’s hardest critics.

The performance of the unit was established using a series of precision measurements as described above (and detailed fully in our forthcoming report). Also, the instructions provided were examined for accuracy and clarity. The quality of the supplied accessories was also studied.

Tortoise Tables are recommended by the Tortoise Trust and many other specialist tortoise organisations, and are widely used by experienced keepers. It is claimed that they offer superior ventilation, a superior environment from the humidity perspective, and a better thermal environment for terrestrial tortoises than glass-tank type units. A unit of this type was therefore subjected to exactly the same trials as the Jon Coote's Tortoise Starter Kit.

The results of these trials will be published shortly.

Links: ... arter-kit/

In a future trial, we will also compare the wooden-type vivarium units also sold as suitable for tortoises with the data obtained from these first tests.

Andy Highfield
Tortoise Trust
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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby LindaTrompetto » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:33 am

Oooh I can't wait! Last night my neighbour brought round her 2 year old? Horsefield for me to look after whilst she is on holiday for a fortnight. It arrived in a kind of viv, the one with glass sliding doors to the front, the rest in wood. The substrate she has is hemp (I think) and it had a heat map propped up on a slant which apparently it normally sleeps under, although I didn't switch it on last night so he's sleeping in the opposite corner.

This morning I have made him a garden on a table top where he will be for the next two weeks (and longer if I can prove he is happier in this environment). Can't wait to see if he enjoys a bath and then his new home.

So, Andy, with evidence which I look forward to seeing, this may be just the answer to clinch the deal, so to speak, with my neighbour.

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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby Tortoise Trust » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:41 am

Yes, Linda,

We felt it was about time there was some objective, hard data on this subject. I am glad to say we now have that and will be making it available shortly. We have also been filming the tests, so that will be released as a video review on Youtube and elsewhere.

Finally, people will have some extremely detailed, very reliable evidence on this which they can use when making decisions on how best to house tortoises indoors.

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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby blazingtortoise » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:46 pm

I'm not surprised you've picked the Jon Coote set up for the first run. Firstly its terrible and hardly suited to any reptile never mind tortoises (heat mat and no thermostat?). Secondly, its so widely available and its claims so compelling that what it actually is needs to be out there so fewer are (hopefully) sold. Tortoises then get better housing and the buyer doesn't get ripped off/stuck with a load of unsuitable stuff. Its a perfect example of a company maximising profit by bundling together a load of products and sticking an endorsement on the top for extra sales.

Starter kits in general should be avoided as the choices made to keep the overall costs low are usually not the best.

I hope the vivarium (wooden) test will be a bespoke set up viv rather than a put together for you starter kit. The contents of online wooden viv kits I have seen vary a lot due to the cost issues. Its not quite the same as the Jon Coote one where the identical product is available from many different outlets.

Edit - just thought of one starter kit that might be available in many outlets - Pets at home standard tortoise set up next perhaps? :)

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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sat Jul 18, 2009 6:28 am

Wilton Pets does a wooden viv starter kit... very widely available....

In certain respects I would anticipate wooden closed units to be worse than glass ones in terms of the level of gradient they offer as they have inherently better thermal insulating properties. Hence, this tends to even out temperatures throughout the unit. Also, most of the ones I have seen feature far worse ventilation than the majority of glass 'tanks' in that you only tend to get some small grilled 'holes' as opposed to a full grille top.

It will be interesting to measure these.

I have been truly shocked by what we have discovered so far...........

Tortoise Trust
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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby MandyP » Sat Jul 18, 2009 5:29 pm

What a brilliant way to show people beyond a doubt that glass and wooden vivs are NOT the way to keep tortoises

I look forward to the results

Thankyou Andy :D
Mandy x

2.1.2 Testudo Graeca ibera, Tinker, Winston, Aphrodite, Dot and Button !!
3.6 Horsefields, Lumpy and Bumpy, Mork and No 2 (yet to think of a name !!)Bertha, Sky, Pancake, Hope and Carla
1.2 Berber skinks
2.1 Children !!!!!!!
A husband !!!!
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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby blin69 » Sat Jul 18, 2009 7:11 pm

I purchased a viv and Leopard tortoise from a pet shop, tort being kept on wood chip/bark substrate!! (I know,I know)
Anyway my tortoise is now at the vets blowing bubbles out of it's nose, dehydrated and not eating.
I wonder why that is (please note sarcasm) :twisted:
I would like you to know that I have now a lovely tortoise table with megaray bulb (chosen with the help of Darren at Kimboreptiles) waiting for her when she comes back from the vets this is the second visit in 1 week (the last time she stayed for 5 days). She will be on 50/50 soil/sand substrate with lots of things to climb on, and pool to wallow and drink from etc.
I have learnt the hard way and so has my poor tort so I just hope that people listen to this and other peoples upset rants about vivs and poor selling from Pet Shops!
Belinda Collins :x :(
1 Leopard Tortoise : TULLY
1 Geriatric Cat : GIZMO
2 Children (1 of each)
1 Partner
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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:23 pm

My own views on typical vivaria as sold for tortoises in pet stores are pretty well known. I've spelled out in detail why I thought they failed to provide an adequate environment.

That said, these tests were approached with an open mind. Everything was tested as fairly as we possibly could. We were looking for answers to certain questions specifically:

1) What basking temperatures are achieved?
2) What is the thermal gradient within the unit?
3) What levels of humidity are present within the unit?
4) What is the cost effectiveness of the unit?
5) What are the observed behavioural effects of the unit?
6) In the case of a packaged unit, or kit, what accessories are included and what is their quality and suitability?
7) Also in the case of a kit or ready made unit, how good are the supplied instructions?
8) What are the technical properties of the lighting system supplied/used?

We studied environmental conditions by day, and by night.

One general objective was to see if anything could be done to improve either kind of unit.

These first series of tests will give us some reliable data to compare not only other types of captive habitat to, but also to compare with data from wild tortoises in their natural habitats.

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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST

Postby Carrie » Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:02 pm

Excellent project Andy. Look forward to the results. There are some places that sell tortoises that now sell tortoise tables as an alternative to the viv which at least is some progress.
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Re: Vivarium tank vs. Tortoise Table - THE TEST - SOME RESULTS

Postby Tortoise Trust » Sun Jul 19, 2009 1:10 pm

I am going to show you the results of just one test series I conducted this morning. These are so disturbing that I think it is only right that this is made available as soon as possible. The full results will follow in the formal report we are preparing. I can tell you that all of the tests have produced very, very similar results - so what follows can be taken as completely representative of the properties of the two units.


Both units were in the same room, subject to identical ambient conditions.
The Jon Coote unit was set up exactly according to the instructions provided, using the light and heat mat provided.
Measurements were taken using precision data loggers.

Please ignore 'spike' at start/end. This is where the logger was physically removed or put into place.

Graph One


This measurement was taken directly under the basking lamp of the Jon Coote Tortoise Starter Kit. The heat pad was also in place against the outside far wall of the unit as per instructions.

Comment: The MAXIMUM basking temperature never exceeded 26.5 Celsius. This result was mirrored by multiple other tests. In no test did the provided basking temperature exceed 28 Celsius. In all tests, the average attained was 26 Celsius. It also took a very extended period of time to reach maximum temperature, e.g, from 9.00 am at 24.5 degrees to 12.00 pm (3 hours) to rise to 26.5.

Graph Two

This measurement was taken at floor level in the far end of the tank to establish the temperature gradient available within the unit.

Comment: This result is very worrying. What you see here is that at 9.00 am the 'coolest' area of the tank is at 22.75 Celsius while the 'hot' end is at 24.5 degrees. By 10.00 am the 'cool' end is at 24 Celsius while the 'hot' end is at 25.5 Celsius (a mere 1.5 degree differential). By 11.00 am the 'cool' end is measuring approximately 24.6 degrees, while the 'hot' end is now at a stable 26 degrees. By 12.00 pm the 'cool end' is at 25.5 while the 'hot end' is 26.5 (less than a 1 degree Celsius differential).

Adequate basking temperatures and a substantial thermal gradient are absolutely critical to a tortoises' health and development. In test after test, the Jon Coote Tortoise starter kit failed to provide either. The average differential between the 'hot' spot and coolest area of the tank was only 1.5 degrees. This is totally inadequate for thermoregulation.

For comparison, these are the graphs (recorded at the same time in the same ambient conditions) for a typical 'Tortoise Table' set up using the same power of lamp (100 watts) as the Jon Coote unit:

Graph Three


This measurement was taken directly under the basking lamp.

Comment: There is a rapid rise in available basking temperature (approximately 30 minutes to reach 32 decrees C) and by 10.00 am basking temperatures are relatively stable at circa 36 degrees Celsius, which is close to ideal. Anything in the range of 32-38 degrees Celsius would normally be regarded as acceptable for Mediterranean, Leopard and Russian tortoises.

Graph Four


This measurement was recorded at the far end of the unit, away from the basking lamp.

Comment: It will be noted that clearly the basking lamp has some slight effect of warming the ambient temperature in the far reaches of the unit. By 9.00 am this area is recording 22 Celsius. By 10.00 am it is at 23.5 and by 11.00 am it is at approximately 23.75. The maximum attained was 24.5. What is critically important is the differential. At 9.00 am this differential approximately 12 degrees C. By 10.00 am it is 12.5 degrees, by 11.00 am it is 12.75 degrees, and by 12.0 noon it is 12.00 degrees. This is a safe and effective gradient for the purposes of thermoregulation. The average 12 degree Celsius differential offered by the Tortoise Table should be compared to the average 1.5 degree C differential available in the Jon Coote tortoise starter kit.

I reiterate. This was just one test, but many others were conducted and all produced very similar results.

We have not included humidity data here, or data on other parameters.

My preliminary conclusion is that the Jon Coote tortoise starter kit has several major design defects, key among them being that it is far too small, and too poorly ventilated to allow a safe thermal gradient to develop, and that the basking lamp is positioned too high above the basking spot (and is impossible to adjust to a lower level). If the wattage is increased (we have tried this) the basking temperature does improve to a more acceptable level, but the problem with the thermal gradient (or lack of it) remains. With an increased wattage lamp, there is no 'cool' area to speak of. Such conditions result in severe stress and almost certainly are not conducive to good health (or survival).

Andy Highfield
Tortoise Trust
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