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
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
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.
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-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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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