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Info. on Tortoise care

Which Type of Tortoise should I choose?

There are 2 species of Mediterranean tortoises which are the most popular: The Testudo graeca (the Greek tortoise) sometimes called the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise due to it's claw-like spur on each hind limb and the Testudo hermanni, sometimes called the spur-tailed tortoise as this tortoise has a similar projection on its tail.

Special facts about Tortoises

A tortoise's shell is made of bone covered with horny plates. Five plates extend over its back bone region and 8 costal plates are arranged around this. These plates are surrounded by 23 smaller, plates around the edge of the tortoise's shell. The tortoise will have the same number of plates throughout it's life and each one will grow larger as it's shell grows. Growth rings are present in the plates and these will give you some indication of the age of the tortoise.  Each ring represents one year.

The legs of the tortoise are like spades, and are ideal for digging but the claws of some older tortoises will show wear-and-tear.

Do I need to supply drinking water?

You should always make sure that your tortoise has an adequate water supply and this should always be provided in a shallow dish as they have difficulty drinking from a bowl.  Because of their shape, tortoises have to reach forward to drink, so a very shallow saucer with a few stones around it's rim to stabilize it would be fine. 

What do tortoises eat?

Tortoises very rarely eat live animal food so they are predominantly herbivorous (although have been known to eat the odd slug)

Tortoises don't have any teeth but do use their horn-covered jaws to tear food into small enough pieces to swallow.

A tortoise will thrive if you make sure he has a varied diet and careful use of appropriate supplements which your vet could advise you about.

75% of a Mediterranean tortoise's diet should comprise of weeds, flowers and grasses including the following:

  • Grass to graze on when outside
  • Dried grasses like hay and alfalfa as a substitute if housed indoors for a period of time
  • Prickly pear cactus pads (natural food in the wild)
  • Plantains
  • Clover- Dutch, white and red
  • Vetches
  • Dandelion (leaves and flowers)
  • Stonecrops
  • Sow thistle
  • Sainfoin
  • Chicory
  • Shepard's purse
  • Bindweeds
  • Bittercress
  • Charlock
  • Chickweed
  • creeping bell flower
  • Hawk bits & cats ears
    Hedge mustard
  • Mallows
  • Nipplewort
  • Roses (flowers)
  • Honeysuckle (flowers)
  • Courgette (flowers)
  • Nasturtiums (leaves and flowers)

Up to 15% of his diet can comprise of commercial green vegetables, which include coarse cabbage and cauliflower, kale, watercress, Bok-choy collard greens, mustard greens and swiss chard.

Fresh herbs such as flat-leaved parsley, basil, coriander and oregano.

No more than 10% fruit that includes apples, pears, strawberries, blackberries, figs, melon, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, papaya, mango, paw-paw, and mandarin oranges.

***  Please note that species from dry, arid climates shouldn't be given fruits in great quantities as this will create loose motions.  Instead, the levels of his dietary fibre should be increased.

A good quality calcium, vitamin and mineral supplement such as Nutrobal should be used, because where the tortoises live in their natural habitat the soils have a much higher calcium level and contain more trace elements than our English soils.

In the wild, tortoises have been seen to eat empty snail shells to get the extra calcium and minerals they need.  In captivity, cuttlefish bone can be grated over their food or left whole and this will also aid your tortoise in the natural wearing of their beak.

Cabbage and cauliflower shouldn't be used in excess amounts as they contain chemicals that may cause goitre.
Salad vegetable such as lettuce, cucumber and celery shouldn't be fed to tortoises as they mainly contain water and don't have much nutritional value.
Spinach, top of beetroot and turnips, leaves of rhubarb and tomato skin all contain compounds known as oxalates which bind to the calcium in their diet and prevent the tortoise from obtaining it.  This can lead to metabolic bone disease.
Other foods to avoid include kiwi fruits and banana, which are very sugary and avocados, as they are very high in fats.


Tortoises love to have different textures to explore.  Provide your tortoise with seed trays full of different type of grasses and plants to keep him happy. Your tortoise will also like to explore different shapes and sizes of stones and logs and he will enjoy climbing  over these.  However, don't give him logs or stones that are too high for your tortoise to climb over because he may tip over on to his back and suffer an untimely death.

What exercise does a tortoise require?

Ideally, tortoises should be allowed to roam freely in a well-enclosed garden.  This way, they can select their own food which will be much better suited to their dietary needs.  They should of course be fenced off from areas which could possibly harbour chemicals like pesticide and from any precious plants or vegetables you may have in your garden.

You should check several times a day that your tortoise has not fallen helplessly upside down with his ambitious climbing.  Tethering a tortoise is never recommended but sometimes it is safer to keep your tortoise in an enclosed run.

Make sure that at all times your tortoise has a shelter where he can retreat if the weather is very hot, cold or wet.

When does a tortoise hibernate?

Tortoises naturally burrow into the ground to hibernate, but this isn't recommended in captivity.  Although it can vary, most tortoises will normally stop feeding in October or November. When this happens, it is recommended that you stop your tortoise's movement to allow him to maintain his body weight.

What do I do when he is ready to hibernate?

Your tortoise needs to be put gently into the middle of a large, strong box that has been packed with insulating material like straw, shredded paper or even dry autumn leaves. The box needs to be fitted with a strong but well-ventilated lid.

Where should I store my tortoise during hibernation?

It's best to keep the box in a cool but well-ventilated place such as a garden shed. The box containing your tortoise must be protected from frost which can usually be achieved raising it slightly from the ground.

Please take precautions so that your tortoise does not inhale any fumes, for instance,  a garage is not suitable.  Always guard against attack by pests such as rats, mice and cats which could pose a very serious threat to your tortoise.

When will my tortoise 'wake up'?

When your tortoise rouses from his hibernation in the spring, he will need to be cared for indoors for several weeks to warm up and reach an active state again.  Attempt to bathe open the eyes and mouth and give him a warm bath in some shallow warm water. When your tortoise's body temperature rises above 15 degrees Celsius he will begin to feed again.

Are there any dangers involved when a tortoise 'wakes up'?

It is very dangerous to let your tortoise lapse back into its hibernation state once he has awoken.

Although your tortoise may appear perfectly healthy, he will quickly die of malnutrition if he doesn't eat after waking up and then slips back into hibernation.  Make sure you supply plenty of your tortoise's favorite food soon after he awakes in springtime.

Are tortoises prone to any specific ailments?

Tortoises can suffer from colds (RNS) and will show symptoms of laboured breathing, watery eyes and a discharging nose. RNS is not a disease, but it is a term used to describe a bacterial/fungal/viral infection with one or more of a wide variety of organisms. It can occur in any species of tortoise, but seems to be prevalent in the Leopard tortoise.

RNS can occur at any time of the year and can be fairly hard to spot in the early stages.  It also has a nasty habit of recurring.  Any tortoise that has been infected can, and often does, become a carrier.  He may not display any symptoms but can infect any other tortoise that comes into contact with him.

Leopard tortoises are the worst affected, maybe due to their size, nutritional state and a general inability to cope with the humidity and dampness in the UK. Those that recover can often relapse, especially if treatment is stopped because "he seems much better now".  Keep him in a warm environment and bathe his eyes and nose periodically. If there is no improvement within a week, make sure to take him to see your vet.

If a tick is found on one of your tortoise's limbs, dab it with a few drops of methylated spirit.  This treatment will mean it gradually loses its grip until it can be safely pulled out with a pair of tweezers.