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Florida Box Turtle Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle
Photo by Jonathan Zander (2008) with modifications by Carol Spears.
(CC-BY-SA 3.0). (Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 29, 2020 to June 24, 2020
The Turtle & Tortoise Care Series The Turtle & Tortoise Care Series The Turtle & Tortoise Care Series


This page now has its own URL to make sharing easier: TurtleTortoiseCare.org. It is my hope that with an easy address such as this, more people who suddenly find themselves the proud owners of a turtle or tortoise will be able to find the care information that they need. To date, the Turtle and Tortoise Care Series is the longest running Sofa Cushion Challenge series. It represents months of research and compilation in an attempt to create a link repository of the best available turtle and tortoise care sheets and informational pages on the web. Although it's been given a close-out date, I may (or may not) add new links from time to time. The only species listed here are those popular as pets. If you can't find your species on this page, here are some additional resources to help with what you need. If you think a particular species should be represented here and isn't, you can leave the species name in the comments section over on Facebook or Twitter. If time permits and if it is a "pet" species, I may eventually research it and add what I've found. Don't wait for me, though, if time is of the essence. Please track down those resources I mentioned. Thank you. — CH

CARE SHEET LINKS FOR:

Veterinary Reptile Specialists Worldwide & Turtle/Tortoise Health Care |
Tortoise Hibernation Resources |
African Spurred Tortoise | Asian Box Turtles | Burmese Star Tortoises | Cherry Head | Chinese Box Turtle | Chinese Pond Turtle | Chinese Three-Keeled Pond Turtle | Common Box Turtle | Cooters | Desert (Ornate) Box Turtle | Desert Tortoise | Eastern Box Turtle | Egyptian Tortoise | Florida Box Turtle | Flowerback Box Turtle | Greek Tortoise | Gulf Coast Box Turtle | Hermann's Tortoise | Iberian Tortoise | Indian Star Tortoises | Leopard Tortoise | Marginated Tortoise | McCord's Box Turtle | Mediterranean Spur-Thighed | Mojave Desert Tortoise | North American Water Turtles | Ornate Box Turtle | Painted Turtle | Red-eared Slider | Red-eared Turtle | Red-Footed Tortoise | Reeves' Turtle | Russian Tortoise | Sinaloan Desert Tortoise | Sliders | Sonoran Desert Tortoise | Star Tortoises | Sulcatas | Testudo Tortoises | Three-Toed Box Turtle | Western Box Turtle | Yellow-Footed Tortoise | Yunnan Box Turtle | Zhou's Box Turtle |
Other: Not Listed Here |
Unknown: I don't know what kind of turtle this is

DESERT TORTOISE

Mojave Desert Tortoise
Tigerhawkvok (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Feb. 4, 2020 — All three desert tortoise species are now protected: the MOJAVE DESERT TORTOISE, the SONORAN DESERT TORTOISE and the SINALOAN DESERT TORTOISE. As of 2018, the Mojave species in particular was upgraded to "critically endangered" status by the Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group in their book Turtles in Trouble. But all desert tortoise species are showing alarming declines in population. READ MORE →

TESTUDO TORTOISES

Hermann's Tortoise
Orchi (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Feb. 12, 2020 — “Testudo” is a genus name, encompassing a number of different tortoise species. The Testudo species covered in this section are the MEDITERRANEAN SPUR-THIGHED: (GREEK & IBERIAN), HERMANN’S, MARGINATED, RUSSIAN and to a lesser extent, EGYPTIAN TORTOISES. READ MORE →

NORTH AMERICAN WATER TURTLES

Red-eared Slider (Cropped)
Diego Delso (CC-BY-SA 4.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Feb. 19, 2020 — The California Turtle and Tortoise Club (CTTC) has a general care sheet for the following types of water turtles: SLIDERS, COOTERS and PAINTED TURTLES available here. This care sheet is specifically for people who keep such turtles in Southern California and other Mediterranean-like climates. The reason for this emphasis is that such turtles tend to live longer and in a much healthier state when kept in outdoor ponds and this is possible for most (or sometimes all) of the year in Mediterranean climates. Note: It's important to make sure that outdoor ponds are predator-proof. See the Tortoise Trust's Guide to Pond Construction as well as their article on the importance of "Natural" Environments for Aquatic Turtles.

Another important aspect of keeping water turtles is egg-laying. Females will sometimes do it whether or not a male is present. And although, in extremis, they sometimes lay their eggs in water, they also, sometimes, won't. This leads to egg-binding (holding the eggs inside the body indefinitely), a potentially fatal condition. This is why it is crucial to have a sandy, dry-land area that even the most aquatic of turtle species can access for egg-laying purposes. The tortoise trust discusses this and more in their article on Nesting Sites for Water Turtles.

Finally, these last two Tortoise Trust links are essential reading for keepers of water turtles: Feeding Aquatic Species and Avoiding Eye Problems in Aquatic Turtles. See also the following care sheets & informational articles broken down by species.

REEVES' TURTLE

Reeves Turtle (Cropped)
Greg Peterson (CC BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Jan. 15, 2021 — The REEVES' TURTLE is also sometimes known as the CHINESE POND TURTLE or the CHINESE THREE-KEELED POND TURTLE. Although considered a single species, different variants can be found in "central and eastern China, as well [as] North and South Korea, Taiwan and Japan."3 As this article has grown much too long for this page, the full version can now be found here.

SULCATAS

Sulcata Tortoise
Appaloosa (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
March. 4, 2020 — Also known as the African spurred tortoise, sulcatas are native to sub-Saharan Africa and are the third largest tortoise species in the world. They start out small enough to fit in the palm of the hand – which is why people sometimes make a mistake in purchasing this species that grows so big so fast (up to 200 lbs). There are a number of respected care sheets for this species currently on-line including the American Tortoise Rescue's and the Tortoise Trust's. The Sulcata station used to be a very complete on-line resource but exists only in archived (non-responsive) form nowadays. Since it was a very respected source in its day, here are some selected links: Sulcata Station Website (archived in 2006) | Sulcatas 101 (the basics) | Printable Caresheet (PDF Format).

COMMON BOX TURTLES

Florida Box Turtle
Photo by Jonathan Zander (2008) with modifications by Carol Spears.
(CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Last Updated Sept. 22, 2020 — All box turtles are characterized by a hinge on their plastron (under-shell) that makes it possible for them to close up tightly. This week, we'll be looking at the species known as the COMMON BOX TURTLE from North America. This species is divided into four subspecies: the EASTERN BOX TURTLE, the FLORIDA BOX TURTLE, the GULF COAST BOX TURTLE and the THREE-TOED BOX TURTLE. Here's a CTTC article with photos that takes a look at all four of the Common Box Turtle Sub-Species. These turtles are often poached from the wild for the pet trade. Wild-caughts rarely do well in captivity and often carry parasites. Additionally, turtle poaching is putting a strain on the wild populations such that they are now on the IUCN redlist. For this reason, if you want to own a box turtle please get it from a legal captive breeder or from a bona fide turtle/tortoise rescue (USA Rescues) (International Rescues). The California Turtle and Tortoise Club has a general care sheet for the Common Box Turtle. Additionally, here's an article by veterinarian, Lianne McLeod, DVM, on Building an Outdoor Box Turtle Habitat and a short piece with images by Garden State Tortoise on some of the reasons why a naturalistic habitat is so important. Also by Garden State Tortoise is a very thorough video about How to Raise Baby Box Turtles that includes a look at the proper sort of enclosures necessary to keep both juveniles and adults healthy. In the spirit of "an ounce of prevention," the Tortoise Trust has a good article on Avoiding Problems with Box Turtles. And finally, a heads up. Properly caring for a box turtle so that it can be happy, healthy and reach its full life span is neither cheap nor easy. Consider a different pet if you don't have the time, the money or a large enough outdoor space that can be used as a habitat for at least the warm season.

WESTERN BOX TURTLES

Ornate and Desert Box Turtles
Left: Ornate Box Turtle | Right: Desert (Ornate) Box Turtle
Photo by LA Dawson.
Courtesy of Austin Reptil Service
(CC BY-SA 2.5) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
Last Updated Sept. 22, 2020 — WESTERN BOX TURTLES are another species of box turtle that's native to North America. There are two subspecies. The ORNATE BOX TURTLE is found in the central U.S. from western Indiana, through eastern Texas and into Louisiana. The DESERT (ORNATE) BOX TURTLE can be found in western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico. Though it has the word "desert" in its name, the desert box turtle tends to live in grassy areas and in captivity needs both dry land and constant access to enough water so that it can soak. Both western box turtle subspecies are considered challenging pets to keep and are not recommended for beginners. Here is the Tortoise Trust's Ornate Box Turtle Care Sheet. Additionally, both the California Turtle and Tortoise Club as well as the Arizona Game and Fish Department have general informational articles that are also helpful with captive care. For more specific feeding ideas, check out the Food and Feeding Section of the California Turtle & Tortoise Club's Box Turtle Care Sheet. In terms of habitat setup specifics, the article by veterinarian, Lianne McLeod, DVM, on Building an outdoor box turtle habitat includes special modifications for the Western Box Turtle. Also, Garden State Tortoise's video on How to Raise Baby Box Turtles shows the different way one must raise baby westerns (Ornate and Desert), as opposed to the more aquatic beginnings needed for common box turtle hatchlings. Keep in mind that — as is the case with the common box turtles — if you'd like to own a western box turtle, please get it from either a legal captive breeder or a rescue. It is both illegal and harmful to take turtles from the wild. (USA Rescues) (International Rescues).

ASIAN BOX TURTLES

Asian Box Turtle Portraits - Click to see each species' name Asian Box Turtle Portraits - Click to learn more
Collage by Cuora at English Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image to see each species' name.
Collage by Cuora at English Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons) Click on image to see each species' name.
The flowerback box turtle | Photo by Torsten Blanck (User: Cuora at English Wikipedia) | Cropped
(CC BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
The flowerback box turtle | Photo by Torsten Blanck (User: Cuora at English Wikipedia) | Cropped (CC BY-SA 3.0) | (Wikimedia Commons) Click on image for slide show.
The (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species

April 8, 2020 — There are many species, subspecies and varieties of Asian box turtles which are all in the cuora genus. At the time of this writing, all of them were red-listed. Additionally, with the exception of the Amboina/Southeast Asian box turtles' sub-species (which are considered "vulnerable to extinction") all the rest are now endangered or critically endangered. Turtles are a luxury food in Asia and with the recent economic upturns in China, the demand for these disappearing creatures has risen alarmingly. As a result, we are now in the midst of what's being called The Asian Turtle Crisis with other Asian turtles in addition to box turtles included.

As a result, though, one must take great care not to contribute to the problem by purchasing wild-caught Asian box turtles. There are legal North American captive breeders for some species. And Asian box turtles will also sometimes turn up at a turtle rescue. (USA Rescues) (International Rescues).

In terms of their care, Asian box turtles are more aquatic than most North American box turtles but they also need dry land. BoxTurtles.com has an Introductory Article on Asian box turtle care as well as a General Article on Diet that will need to be altered and tailored for the specific species in question. Finally, here are some videos and care sheets for a very few of the individual species:


RED-FOOTED TORTOISES

Red-footed Tortoise
Red-footed tortoise in el Loro Parque, Tenerife (Spain).
Photo by Bjoertvedt.
(CC BY-SA 4.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
April 15, 2020 — RED-FOOTED TORTOISES are a South American species ranging in sporadic geographic patches from southeastern Panama through to Paraguay, according to Wikipedia. Though considered "Vulnerable to Extinction" by the IUCN, they are popular pets, mainly due to captive breeding. Nevertheless, poaching still goes on and this puts the remaining wild population at risk. For this reason, it's important to be certain that a prospective pet is captive-bred.

Red-foots are one of very few tortoise species (as opposed to turtles) that are omnivorous in the wild. They also tolerate more fruit in their diet than most other species. The Tortoise Trust has a very well-researched Red-foot Diet Sheet which takes into account the feeding habits of red-foots in the wild.

As for habitat, red-foots also differ from many other tortoises in that they come from tropical areas and need constant access both to dry land and to enough water that they can physically soak as well as drink. Tyler Stewart has a detailed caresheet/article on the Reptiles Magazine website that discusses suitable captive habitat setups for red-foots.

Red-footed tortoises have five different genetic/geographic “variants.” The “Eastern Variant” from east to southeast Brazil often keeps the bright red head coloring from babyhood that (more often than not) fades to yellow in the other variants over time. Those eastern variants who keep the red coloring are called “Cherry Heads.” Here's a Kamp Kenan mini-documentary on Cherry Heads vs other red-foot variants. Video also includes some footage of an outdoor captive habitat suitable for red-foots in general.

YELLOW-FOOTED TORTOISES

Yellow-Footed Tortoise
Photo by Casey Klebba
(CC-BY-SA 4.0) | (Wikimedia Commons)
Click on image for slide show.
April 21, 2020 — YELLOW-FOOTED TORTOISES are a species closely related to the red-footed tortoise. Their appearance is similar and at times there has been confusion between the two. Check out the Jabuti Paulistano Instagram page for an exhaustive collection of photos of both species. In addition to their similar appearance, their ranges also overlap although it’s been noted that in such areas, red-foots tend in the direction of grasslands while yellow-foots tend in the direction of forests. Wikipedia has a nice general article discussing this and more. The yellow-footed tortoise is considered "vulnerable to extinction" by the IUCN so it's important to find a captive-bred individual when looking for a pet.

As a close relative of the red-foot, yellow-foots are one of the other rare tortoise species that are omnivorous. The Tortoise Trust's Article on Feeding red-foots, encompasses yellow-foots as well.

Nevertheless, they are a different species. The Reptile Rapture website has a Care Sheet that focuses on yellow-foots only. Additionally, there's a special Kamp Kennan video devoted specifically to the care and housing of the yellow-footed tortoises at Fred Grunwald's reptile rescue. Fred has succeeded in breeding and raising yellow-footed tortoises.

Both yellow-foots and red-foots tend, as a general rule, to grow to about 14-16 inches (front to back) and to reach a weight of 25-35 lbs. However there are some cases in which certain individual yellow-foots — thought to have originated in the Peruvian Amazon Basin — have grown to a much larger size. The record-holder (at the time of this writing) is a female residing at the St. Louis Zoo. She weighs 200 lbs and measures 37 inches (just over 3 feet front to back). There's a photo of her here. There's another, smaller male (weighing 154 lbs) at the zoo as well. But as a result of these large individuals occurring often enough that the two in St. Louis are no fluke, the yellow-footed tortoise is considered the sixth-largest tortoise species in the world. There are two fascinating discussions on the phenomenon of giant yellow-footed tortoises here and here. Included are photos, videos and a lot of good information.

LEOPARD TORTOISES

Leopard Tortoise
Photo by Bernard DUPONT
(CC-BY-SA 2.0)
Click on image for slide show.
May 13, 2020 — The African LEOPARD TORTOISE is considered the 4th largest tortoise species in the world, though not every individual will become a giant. In recent years the scientific community seems to have decided that the Leopard tortoise is a single species. In the past, however, two subspecies were named and described.

The Leopard tortoise variant formerly known as Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis is from South Africa and Namibia. It's darker in color and hatchlings have two black dots within each hexagonal shell scute. It's normal for this variant to reach a length (front to back) of 10-18 inches and to weigh up to 30 lbs. Very large specimens of this variant have been known to reach a length of 24 inches (2 feet). But that is the limit.

The variant formerly known as Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki is found in Ethiopia and Somalia. In general, they have a lighter base color (ivory, cream, yellow) and hatchlings have either one black dot or none within each scute. S.p. babcocki has been known to approach 30 inches (2½ feet) in length, can weigh up to 88 lbs and is sometimes referred to as the "Giant Ethiopian Leopard Tortoise."

In all cases, the brilliant markings on younger leopards slowly fade as the tortoise ages. They live anywhere from 50 to 100 years in the wild.

Leopard tortoises are grassland species and live in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that they require 70% to 75% of their diet to be comprised entirely of mixed grasses. Nature's Finest Seed sells a Tortoise Forage [seed] Blend that includes 10 different types of tortoise-friendly grasses that tortoise keepers can plant in their yard. The Leopard tortoise is 100% herbivorous. No meat at all. Not much fruit either - their gut simply isn't evolved to handle it. The most complete diet list for the Leopard tortoise is a part of the care sheet on the World Chelonian Trust website. The African Tortoise website also has a decent section on Leopard & Sulcata Tortoise Diet and the Tortoise Trust's article on Feeding Tortoises has a section just for Leopard Tortoises. You can read the general advice for all tortoises at the top, of course, but then you'll need to scroll down to get to the section dedicated specifically to Leopard Tortoises.

As to Leopard tortoise housing, keep in mind where they come from and the fact that in the wild they do not hibernate. Here are the best care sheets I could find on-line at the time of this writing. Though viewable on the small screen, none of these are specifically configured for it. You'll need to do a lot of zooming. Sorry!

STAR TORTOISES

Indian Star Tortoise
Photo by M Kooragamage (cropped)
(CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Click on image for slide show.
May 27, 2020 — There are a number of different tortoise species with "star patterns" on their shells. These are listed in this pictorial guide by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Out of all of them, only two, the INDIAN STAR TORTOISE and the BURMESE STAR TORTOISE, have the word "star" in their name. Both are popular exotic pets in the Geochelone genus and are closely related. The Indian Stars are native to the dry areas and scrub forests in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The Burmese stars were endemic to the dry, deciduous forests of Myanmar (Burma) prior to their functional extinction in the wild. This section will deal with information on the care of each of these two.

Both Star Tortoise Species are red-listed. At the time of this writing, the Indian Star was considered "Vulnerable to Extinction." On the other hand, the Burmese Star was once considered "functionally extinct" in the wild by the Turtle Survival Alliance. Luckily three assurance colonies were established and repatriation efforts began in 2013. Here's a video documenting the attempts at restoration of this species to its native land. Regardless of the fact that they can once again be found in a few, small, protected areas of their historical range, Burmese stars remain a critically endangered species.

Perhaps it is not surprising that in the case of either star tortoise species, it is illegal to remove any individual from the wild. Nevertheless, massive poaching occurs each year. Nowadays, it's possible to buy one from a legal captive breeder but please do your homework. There is evidence that some individuals pose as breeders but are actually the middlemen for animal smugglers. Here's an article to help you tell the difference between legitimate breeders and illegal traffickers.

The StarTortoises.net website is practically a one-stop shop when it comes to keeping these two species as pets. Included are very well-researched pages on Diet and Care with a bonus page on how to tell the difference between Indian and Burmese Star Tortoises. See the links below for additional information.

OTHER

If the species you need care information for isn't represented here, I'm listing some other turtle/tortoise sources that might make it possible to find the information you seek.

March 4, 2020: The Tortoise Trust website has been on-line since 1998 and was not (at the time of this writing) configured for small-screen devices. This notwithstanding, it remains one of the most respected turtle/tortoise resources on the web. They have a number of free, on-line care sheets for various species (in addition to those appearing here) along with a wealth of Articles on many different aspects of turtle and tortoise care. Additionally, they have two publications that you can purchase.

Still can't find what you're looking for? Turtle/Tortoise rescues might be able to give you pointers or a care sheet. Even if they can't, it's possible they'll be able to point you in the direction of an expert who can. The American Tortoise Rescue has a list of such rescues worldwide. They have a page just for Turtle/Tortoise Rescues in the USA broken down by state and another for international rescues, broken down by country. If the first rescue you try can't help, don't give up! Please try another. Your turtle's life might depend on it.

Finally, in addition to rescues, there are numerous turtle/tortoise organizations around the world as well as websites hosted by experts and experienced hobbyists. Here's the CTTC's list of Turtle and Tortoise Internet Resources that may be helpful in and of themselves or as a means to contacting the people in charge of a particular website or organization. Many organizations also have discussion groups or forums. You can learn how to join from their website.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT KIND OF TURTLE THIS IS

If you suddenly find yourself responsible for a turtle, it's important to give it the right habitat and the right food as soon as possible. A reputable care sheet is a good starting place but only if you know what kind of turtle it is you're dealing with. Since different species sometimes need vastly different foods and habitats, it's crucial that proper identification comes sooner rather than later. To find out the species of your turtle, try asking an expert. Turtle/Tortoise rescues might be able to help either identify the animal themselves or else point you in the direction of an expert who can. The American Tortoise Rescue has a list of such rescues worldwide. They have a page just for Turtle/Tortoise Rescues in the USA broken down by state and another for International Rescues, broken down by country.

In addition to rescues, there are also numerous turtle/tortoise organizations around the world as well as websites hosted by experts and experienced hobbyists. Here's the CTTC's list of Turtle and Tortoise Internet Resources that may be helpful in and of themselves or as a means to contacting the people in charge of a particular website or organization. Many organizations also have discussion groups or forums. You can learn how to join from their website.

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