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Marginated Tortoise (Testudo Marginata)

Marginated tortoise care can be a fantastic experience for a reptile keeper. Even though the Marginated tortoise is the largest species found in Europe, these beautiful tortoises have active, curious, and friendly personalities.

Known for their very distinctive shells, Marginated tortoises need a lot of outdoor space and are used to living in mountainous terrain. In the guide, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of Marginated tortoise care.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a clear idea of whether a Marginated tortoise is the right pet reptile for you.

Marginated Tortoise Facts

  • Experience level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific name: Testudo marginata
  • Other names: Greek Marginated tortoise
  • Adult Male Size: 10 to 12 inches
  • Adult Female Size: 12 to 14 inches
  • Average Lifespan: 100 t0 140 years
  • Average Price Range: $190 to $450
  • Where to buy?: CBReptile.com or tortoisetown.com

Interesting facts about Marginated tortoises

Marginated-Tortoise
Marginated tortoise on a rock with a black background

In the mountainous regions of their native habitats, Marginated tortoises can be found up to 5200 ft above sea level! That’s about as high as Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire.

Marginated tortoises tend to spend their morning hours absorbing sunlight while they look for food, then go back to the shade to rest and digest.

Marginated tortoises are very closely related to Greek tortoises, although Marginated tortoises are much larger. The two species share similar habitat regions with the Hermann’s tortoise.

There are two living subspecies of the Marginated tortoise; the Sardinian Marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata sarda) and the Dwarf Marginated tortoise (Testudo weissingeri) which lives in a very specific region in the arid areas of the Greek Peloponnese.

The Marginated tortoise also has an extinct subspecies, the Crete Marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata cretensis) which lived before the coming of the last Ice Age!

What does a Marginated tortoise look like?

Marginated tortoises are large tortoises with distinctive oblong carapaces that are almost entirely black, with minimal yellow highlights near the center of each plate. The shells are extremely thick around the middle of the body.

These distinctive tortoises are unique because the back part of their shells doesn’t divide over the tail. Instead, the rear scutes are fluted and jut upwards, similar to the bottom lip of a bell.

How big do Marginated tortoises get?

Marginated tortoises are the largest species of tortoise found in Europe and a fully grown Marginated tortoise can reach lengths of up to 14 inches. Females are slightly bigger than males. Once they reach about 20 years old, Marginated tortoises will largely stop growing.

Where do Marginated tortoises live?

Marginated tortoises are found in southern Greece, ranging from Mount Olympus to the Peloponnese peninsula. They can also be found in smaller populations located in the Balkans, Italy, and even the northern part of Sardinia.

What kind of habitat do Marginated tortoises need?

Marginated-Tortoise-looking-out
Marginated Tortoise looking out

A natural Marginated tortoise habitat will be in a mountainous area with rocky terrain. In this cold environment, their black carapace makes it easier for them to absorb heat during the daytime. Marginated tortoises also like to use vegetation as cover and are frequent burrowers.

How long do Marginated tortoises live in captivity?

Marginated tortoises have some of the longest lifespans of any pet tortoise. They can often reach between 100 and 140 years old, making them a long-term commitment.

What do Marginated tortoises eat?

Marginated tortoises are herbivores and like to live on a diet of vegetation. A Marginated tortoise’s diet should mostly consist of leafy greens and weeds. Vegetables can also be offered for variety, and commercial pellets can also be used.

How do Marginated tortoises breed?

Marginated tortoises will usually begin mating after awakening from hibernation. Males bite and ram females before mounting them. While copulation is in progress, males will often squeak and stick out their tongues.

After mating, female Marginated tortoises dig a hole where they can lay their eggs. If the female is particularly large and healthy, she may lay fifteen eggs at a time. Up to three clutches can be laid in one summer.

The female then covers the eggs with a layer of dirt to keep them safe. Eggs will take about 100 days to hatch. They will then remain in the ground for two weeks before emerging into the wider world.

What predators do Marginated tortoises face?

Baby Marginated tortoises are especially vulnerable to predators. Birds, mammals, and other reptiles will also eat tortoise eggs if they can find them. Adult Marginated tortoises aren’t usually targeted by as many predators, but may still fall prey to large birds of prey or other predators.

Marginated Tortoise Care sheet

baby marginated tortoises
baby marginated tortoises with adult

Enclosure

Because of a Marginated tortoise’s size, it’s a good idea to house them outside if possible. They should be given a lot of room to roam around, but because they naturally live in colder regions, their requirements are quite low maintenance compared to other large tortoises.

An outdoor enclosure of about 8 foot by 8 foot is a generous space. The walls of the enclosure should stand at about 12 inches at least above the ground, and the supports should extend at least 6 inches below the earth to prevent your tortoise from burrowing under them.

Provide a variety of rocks and tortoise-safe plants in your Marginated tortoise’s habitat. These will give ample cover and plenty of hiding places, while the plants can also be an extra food source. We have a list of tortoise-safe plants here.

A humid hide is also another good thing to provide for your tortoise, giving them somewhere safe and moist to hide in if they so desire. This will help keep their humidity levels correct as well.

If you’re housing your Marginated tortoise indoors, then you have a couple of options. For the first couple of years, all Marginated tortoises should live indoors. This keeps them safe and provides ideal conditions for healthy growth.

For hatchlings, a wooden vivarium is an ideal enclosure as it helps retain heat and humidity. As your tortoise grows, you can house them in a tortoise table until they are large enough to live outdoors.

If you want to keep your Marginated tortoise indoors permanently, or for bringing them indoors when it’s too hot or cold outside, then they will likely need a small room to themselves. An enclosure of about 8 foot by 8 foot by 2 foot high will be plenty of room for a single specimen.

You can also use a large wooden vivarium, tortoise house, or tortoise table depending on the size of your tortoise.

Recommended basic products

When keeping a Marginated tortoise, there are some essential items that you will need. Most of the items on the list below apply mainly if you are keeping a juvenile Marginated tortoise indoors.

As far as enclosures go, we’ve suggested a good enclosure for juveniles, but adult Marginated should ideally be housed outdoors whenever possible.

Cleaning

Despite being large tortoises, it’s quite easy to keep the enclosure for your Marginated tortoise clean. Spot clean any waste you find throughout the day and change the water dish every day.

You may not need to provide water all the time as this species is incredibly efficient when it comes to using water. In terms of substrate, you’ll only need to change it once or twice a month if you’re keeping your Marginated tortoise indoors.

Substrate

Because of their low-maintenance needs, Marginated tortoises don’t need a fancy substrate. If housing them outdoors, the normal soil in your yard is sufficient, as long as you don’t use chemical pesticides. The soil should be loose enough in your tortoise’s enclosure for it to be able to burrow.

If you’re keeping your Marginated tortoise inside, an ideal substrate is cypress mulch. For hatchlings and juveniles, use something like coconut coir or even peat moss. This can be covered with a layer of hay or mulch.

Temperature

Marginated tortoises naturally live in colder temperatures than many other tortoises, so you shouldn’t have much problem giving them adequate conditions.

80 degrees Fahrenheit is a good daytime ambient temperature for Marginated tortoises. At night, they won’t need a heater as long as temperatures don’t fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

If your temperatures consistently get lower than this at nighttime, provide a heated area for your tortoise or bring them inside. During the winter months, if your ambient temperature falls below 80 degrees Fahrenheit regularly, provide an indoor enclosure for your tortoise.

If your tortoise lives inside, ambient temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit will be ideal. Provide some areas with direct sunlight and others with plenty of shade.

Any indoor enclosure should have a temperature gradient. The basking spot should be between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit with a heat lamp or mercury vapor bulb. Put lights on a 12-hour day/night cycle. The cooler areas of the enclosure should range between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity

Marginated tortoises are extremely good at retaining water and being efficient with water use. That said, it’s still a good idea to keep their humidity levels correct to prevent health problems.

A 60% humidity level in most of the enclosure should be the maximum, and any humid hides should have a humidity level of about 75%.

If your tortoise lives outdoors, they should get adequate humidity. If you live in a warmer climate, provide shaded areas and a sprinkler system to keep the humidity correct.

To keep your tortoise hydrated, provide a water dish just in case they need to drink. It’s also a good idea to soak your Marginated tortoise every so often. Hatchlings will need soaking about three to five times a week. Adults will need considerably less.

For baby Marginated tortoises, soak them in a small amount of warm water for about 10 to 20 minutes. Do this every day at first before scaling back to between three and five times a week. The water should be shallow enough that the hatchlings can’t drown.

Lighting

All tortoises need exposure to ultraviolet light to maintain good health and allow them to properly absorb nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D.

If your Marginated tortoise lives outside, it won’t need any additional lighting as long as one area of the enclosure receives direct sunlight during the day.

For any tortoises housed indoors, whether hatchlings or adults, UVB lights will be required to give them enough exposure to ultraviolet light. A desert-strength UVB bulb of at least 10% UVB is ideal. Strip lights allow your tortoise to absorb the light across the whole length of its body.

Mercury vapor bulbs are great because they provide both heat and UVB light in one package. Any lights should be kept on a 12-hour day/night cycle.

Accessories

To create an enriching and interesting Marginated tortoise habitat it’s a good idea to provide some accessories. This will mainly take the form of decorations such as plants and stacked rocks. These will provide some hiding places for your tortoise.

Make sure that any accessories are stable enough not to be dislodged and fall onto your tortoise. It’s also a good idea to provide a humid hide to help your tortoise when it needs more moisture.

Cuttlefish bones are another good accessory to provide. Your tortoise will gnaw at these to get extra calcium as well as to keep its beak healthy.

What can you feed your Marginated tortoise?

Cat sniffing a marginated tortoise with lettuce in between
Cat sniffing a marginated tortoise with lettuce in between

A healthy Marginated tortoise diet will be herbivorous and mainly consist of plant matter as this reflects what they would eat in the wild. . Staple foods should be things like dark leafy greens and weeds.

Plants such as clovers, coriander, dandelions, kale, parsley, spring greens, and watercress are good staple foods. These can be supplemented with some vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and parsnips.

Be careful to feed vegetables in moderation as some can be high in oxalates. These can irritate your tortoise’s digestive system and can affect healthy levels of calcium. Commercial tortoise/turtle pellets can also be given to your Marginated tortoise.

Marginated tortoises will get a lot of the water they need from their diet, so don’t be concerned if your tortoise doesn’t drink from its water dish regularly. One should still be provided just in case though.

Use calcium and multivitamin supplements at least once a week by dusting them over one of your tortoise’s meals.

Are Marginated tortoises good pets?

Marginated tortoises are popular pets because of their curious and docile temperaments. They are active in the daytime and rarely hide away. These tortoises are more than happy to spend a sunny afternoon exploring their enclosure or the back garden. They will also love to bask.

A Marginated tortoise will be quite inquisitive and friendly and may even come right up to you once it recognizes you as its keeper. This helps to create a wonderful bond with your pet. Handling should be kept to a minimum, but these tortoises shouldn’t get as stressed as other species would.

Marginated tortoises are also fairly tolerant of being kept in groups. They can be kept together quite happily, as long as they are of a similar size. They may occasionally clash with each other, but this will just be to establish a pecking order and is rarely deadly.

Avoid keeping males together during the breeding season and especially if females are present as they may fight for the right to mate. A male can be kept with one or two females if you want to breed them.

Signs of good health

Marginated tortoise with pyramiding
Marginated tortoise with pyramiding

If you’re choosing a Marginated tortoise for the first time, or if you’re performing regular health checks on a specimen you already own, there are a few signs to look for that indicate good health.

The best way to gauge the health of a tortoise is to look at its shell. A healthy Marginated tortoise’s shell should be smooth without any signs of flaking. Any pyramiding on the shell can be a sign of Metabolic Bone Disease.

A tortoise’s eyes should be bright and clear, and the snout shouldn’t be constantly dripping with mucus. Wheezing can be a sign of respiratory problems.

Before choosing your specimen, ask the breeder or seller if you can see it take food. Marginated tortoises should have healthy appetites when it comes to food, so if the tortoise is avoiding food, this can be a sign of severe health problems.

Health concerns

Metabolic Bone Disease is a debilitating illness that commonly affects tortoises. It is usually caused because the tortoise isn’t getting sufficient calcium through their diet or isn’t getting enough exposure to ultraviolet light. Pyramiding is one of the most obvious symptoms of MBD.

MBD disease can result in deformed carapace growth and fragile bones. Shell rot is also something to look out for and can develop if your tortoise gets a fungal infection. This can result in deformed shell growth.

Marginated tortoises can also develop breathing problems if subjected to incorrect temperature or humidity levels, so make sure these parameters are kept correctly at all times. If your tortoise seems lethargic or if it is wheezing, this can be a sign of respiratory diseases and infections.

Marginated tortoise care video

Breeding Marginated tortoises

Once your breeding pair has mated, the female will lay her eggs. The eggs usually take around 100 days to hatch in natural conditions. But if the eggs are stored in an incubator, they may begin to hatch after about sixty days.

Marginated Tortoise Hatchling Care

To give them the best chance of healthy growth, there are some key points to bear in mind when taking care of baby Marginated tortoises. Firstly, you’ll need to house them indoors for the first couple of years of their lives.

A wooden vivarium is ideal as this type of enclosure helps to retain heat and humidity. Both are essential for strong growth. Humidity levels should be kept between 75% and 80% in the enclosure. A humid hide also helps to provide correct humidity.

You should also regularly soak your Marginated tortoise hatchlings. To start with they should be soaked once per day in a small amount of warm water for between 15 and 20 minutes. This can then be reduced to between three and five times a week as they get older.

Food will largely be the same as adult Marginated tortoises. However, you should cut up the food into small manageable pieces for the hatchlings to digest easily. Calcium and multivitamin supplements should be dusted over at least three meals a week.

Provide both a heat lamp and UVB lamp in the hatchling’s enclosure to ensure good health. The ambient temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot of around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Marginated Tortoise Hibernation

Hibernation is a natural occurrence for Marginated tortoises when conditions get too cold. In captivity, hibernation should be less frequent and will only occur when your tortoise lives outside and the temperature begins to drop below freezing.

If tortoises are kept at high enough temperatures to avoid hibernation, then it isn’t something to worry about. If you do want your tortoise to hibernate, have them checked over by your vet shortly before the natural start of hibernation. Only healthy tortoises should hibernate.

Once your tortoise begins to become inactive in the colder months, they are preparing for hibernation. When this happens, place your tortoise in a wooden hide box or plastic container with ventilation. Cover them with something like cypress mulch or straw to help preserve warmth.

During hibernation, do not allow temperatures in your tortoise’s hibernation chamber to drop so low that your pet’s body temperature falls below 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Tortoises should be fasted for a couple of weeks or so before entering hibernation.

Size charts online can help you determine how long this fasting period needs to be before hibernation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Marginated tortoises

Marginated-Tortoises
Marginated Tortoises in enclosure

What happens if a Marginated tortoise gets too cold?

Marginated tortoises will hibernate naturally if temperatures become too cold. This usually occurs when nighttime temperatures in their outdoor enclosures consistently dip below freezing. We covered hibernation in the section above.

Care must be taken during hibernation to make sure that your tortoise’s body temperature does not fall below 33 degrees Fahrenheit, as this can cause death. If your tortoise doesn’t hibernate and the temperature in its enclosure drops below 38 degrees Fahrenheit, the tortoise will become ill and could perish.

Can Marginated tortoises eat cucumber?

Marginated tortoises can indeed eat cucumber. However, cucumber doesn’t contain many nutrients or minerals and so doesn’t bring that much dietary benefit. It is best used as a hydrating treat on hot days to help cool your tortoise down.

Do Marginated tortoises know their owners?

Marginated tortoises are naturally calm and docile and will not necessarily hide from you, especially if they have been captive-bred. Over time, your tortoise will recognize you as their owner and may even come over to greet you.

This makes Marginated tortoises very personable pets and helps develop a bond between you and your tortoise. These tortoises are a good choice for both beginner and advanced tortoise owners.

Conclusion

So that wraps up our comprehensive guide to Marginated tortoise care. You have all the knowledge you need to decide if you want to get a Marginated tortoise.

Because of their calm and inquisitive nature, Marginated tortoises make fascinating pets. Their low-maintenance needs make them ideal for beginner tortoise keepers if you have the space to accommodate them. However, Marginated tortoise prices may be prohibitive for some beginners.

Did you enjoy this care guide? If you did and if you’ve decided to find a Marginated tortoise to become your next pet, please feel free to comment down below! We’d love to know about your experiences with these terrific tortoises!

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Colbin Trew

Saturday 26th of September 2020

Hi, I don't even know if this will get a response because the post is older, but I just had one quick question on the diet. It mentions that they eat honeysuckle. Does this mean the flower or leaf, or both?

Brock Yates

Sunday 27th of September 2020

Thanks for asking! Flowers are fine in moderation, but the berries are toxic and leaves high in saponins

Lynette

Friday 17th of May 2019

Hello,

I'm thinking of getting a Marginated Tortoise. I have done quite a bit of research but would like your opinion on what tortoise you feel is best for a beginner. I worked with a Desert Tortoise Rescue years ago but nothing lately. I just want to make the right choice. I really like the Marginated Tortoise...

AllTurtles

Friday 17th of May 2019

A marginated tortoise is a good option, but just bear in mind that it will get to be fairly large (up to 14 inches and 11 pounds) and will therefore require a habitat with a good amount of space to live. Also these tortoises live around 100 - 140 years (a couple of lifetimes). My suggestion would be to try finding an aged one that is up for adoption to give it a good home.