Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)

Radiated Tortoise

Radiated Tortoise Care Sheet

The critically endangered radiated tortoise is one of the most endangered and most desirable tortoises in the world. Because they are critically engendered, there are several rules against keeping wild-caught radiated tortoise as pets.

However, you can keep a captive-bred radiated tortoise. To transport, as well as to sell a captive-bred radiated tortoise, you will need a permit which is valid for five years. Care for this critically endangered tortoise is best left to an experienced turtle/tortoise caretaker.

Quick Reference Section

  • Experience Level: Advanced
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Astrochelys radiata
  • Average Adult Size: 16 in. (410 mm) & 35 lb. (160 g)
  • Estimated Lifespan: up to 100 years, can live to 188 years
  • Clutch Size: 3 to 12 eggs
  • Egg Incubation Period: 120 days
  • Food: Foliage
  • Enclosure Size:  15 (length) x 10 (width) x 10 (height) feet
  • Average Temperature: 95°H/70°L
  • Humidity: 60 to 70%
  • UVB Lighting: Needed if housed indoors
  • Average Price Range: $1650 to $7500 depending on size
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered on IUCN Redlist

Facts and Information

The radiated tortoise is a high-domed tortoise. It has a blunt head and heavy feet. The limbs and head of the tortoise are yellow except for a dark patch on the head. The shell is black with yellow lines radiating from the center of each plate.

They can be found in woodlands, Diderae forests, and other areas with irregular rainfall in their native Madagascar (southwestern to south, namely Amboasary, and the Karimbola & Mahafaly plateaus). Their core geographical range comprises of 10,000 sq. km.

The biological name of the species is Astrochelys radiata. The other species in the genus Astrochelys is the critically endangered Angonoka tortoise (A. yniphora) also native to Madagascar.

Radiated Tortoise Habitat

Radiated Tortoise

Enclosure

Although a hardy species, the radiated tortoise needs a lot of space and warm temperatures to thrive. For a single adult, an enclosure with dimensions of no less than 10 x 10 feet is a must. It is best to house an adult specimen in a 15 x 10 feet enclosure.

This size can also be used for a pair of adults. Adult males can be territorial and aggressive when more than one is housed in an enclosure. To cater for the issue of aggressive, have a smaller extra pen where you can quarantine aggressors.

An adult trio can be housed in an enclosure with dimensions of 20 x 30 feet. The height of the enclosure regardless of the number of specimens being housed should be at least 10 feet in height. It can be taller. Spot clean often.

The pen can be build using stone, pressure-treated wood or concrete. Wood is best, as it won’t harm the shell if the tortoise manages to scrape the shell against the walls as it walks close to the wall.

You have to be wary of animal attacks since the main enclosures need to be situated outdoors so the tortoises can receive a lot of sunlight. To protect the tortoises from animal have locking lids and heavy-duty metal mesh covering the top of the enclosure.

This door needs to be closed during the night. Likewise, you can bring the tortoises indoors at the end of each day. During the night, indoor temperatures are also usually warmer and more comfortable.

During winter and fall when the temperature is really low, they need to be housed in a warm enclosure. You can construct heated greenhouses and/or cold frames for the tortoises. You can also house them indoors.

Substrate

For outdoor pens, lay topsoil over the ground. This topsoil needs to be a soil that drains well. I recommend a mix of organic play sand and coco fiber mulch such as Mother Earth Coco Bale.  

You can also mix soil with peat moss, or cypress mulch. For indoor enclosures, use hardwood mulch or cypress mulch. The bedding needs to be about 10 inches deep. Provide a large dark hiding spot for the tortoise. This hide needs to be filled with straw.

Temperature & Lighting

When outdoors, the tortoise receives both warmth and light from the sun. Sunlight provides the UV light needed for vitamin D3 production. When the tortoises are housed indoors (especially during fall and winter), they require artificial UV lights as well as heat lamps.

For light, I recommend the Zoo Med ReptiSun 10.0 UVB T5 HO Lamp. A 160-watt mercury vapor lamp such as the Mega-Ray Mercury Vapor Bulb can also be used to provide heat and UV light.

The heat lamps need to be high above the tortoises so they don’t accidentally get burned. When lamps are too close, severe burns can occur. The bulbs need to be about 2 feet above the tortoise’s carapace.

Accessories

To give the enclosure a natural feel, create gentle slopes. Don’t plant grass lawns in the enclosure. Rather plant shrubs, bushes, and African grass/weed.

Plants to decorate the enclosure with include African grass, maiden grass, fountain grass, hibiscus, and spiraea. These plants give the enclosure a natural look and provide the tortoises with places to hide. They may even eat the leaves and flowers of edible plants.

Provide small shallow pools for the tortoises to soak in and drink from. The pool should be large enough for the tortoise to fit its entire body without the risk of drowning.

Use large water pans, sauces or dishes sank into the ground so the tortoise can easily submerge in the water works well. Since the tortoises are likely to defecate into the water, clean and change the water regularly.

Feeding the Radiated Tortoise

In order to provide this reptile with the nutrients needed, feed it a varied diet. As an herbivore, radiated tortoise strictly eat plant matter. You can supplement the plants fed them with commercially produced food such as Mazuri Tortoise Diet.

This food contains the required nutrition. Occasionally (and sparingly) sprinkle calcium powder on the greens offered to the tortoise. To ensure they get the right amount of calcium always have cuttlebones present in the enclosure. Also, offer limited amount of fruits occasionally. Too much fruits can cause diarrhea which can lead to dehydration.

Foods to feed them include

  • Dry foods – alfalfa hay, Bermuda grass hay,Mazuri Tortoise Diet, and orchid hay
  • Flowers – dandelion, daisies, Hibiscus, honeysuckle, ice plant, marigolds, pansies, petunias, roses, ruellias, and yellow bell
  • Fruits – mango, apple, papaya, cantaloupe, strawberry, pumpkin, grape, squash, strawberry, banana, blackberry, guava, mulberry, pineapple, pomegranate, and watermelon
  • Succulents – aloe, Christmas cactus, jade plant, Opuntia cactus, prickly pear, Sedum, and Yucca
  • Vegetables & greens- sweet potato, carrot, cucumber, collard, mustard and turnip greens, endive, escarole, frisée, mushrooms, parsley, radicchio, green leaf, red leaf, and romaine lettuce
  • Vines – grapevine, snail vine, rose vine
  • Weeds & Leaves – clover, chickweed, chicory, Plantago major, crimson and white clovers, Dichondra, hollyhock, mallow, purslane, butterfly bush, cape honeysuckle, fig, ferns, rosemary, sea lavender, and watercress

Radiated Tortoise’s Temperament & Handling

The radiated tortoise is best left alone. As they come to associate you, the keeper, with food, they would rush towards you as you approach their pen.

Radiated Tortoise’s Lifespan

The A. radiata is a long-lived tortoise that is capable of reaching ages of over 150 years. In fact, the oldest specimen ever recorded was Tu’i Malila who lived to be an estimated 188.

Common Health Concerns

Tortoises are hardy creatures that hardly suffer health complications. This is especially true when they are taken care of properly. With that being said, here are the three most common health issues to expect when caring for a radiated tortoise.

Respiratory Infections

Poor housing conditions (such as not providing enough warmth) is the main cause of respiratory infections, usually shortened as RI. Symptoms of RI include lethargy, difficulty breathing and discharge from the nostrils, mouth, and eyes.

If a newly acquired radiated tortoise was not kept in a heated and clean environment before being transported to you, it is likely that the tortoise will suffer from this health condition. Provide adequate warmth and schedule an appoint with a herp (or exotic pet) vet.

Soft/Deformed Shells

In tortoises, the metabolic bone disease presents itself in the form of soft and/or deformed carapaces. This disease is usually down to vitamin D and/or calcium deficiency.

Adequate exposure to sunlight and a varied diet can help prevent this disease. In addition to deformed or soft carapaces, the bones of the tortoise fracture easily. If left untreated, it usually results in death. Over the winter months when the tortoise is housed indoor, provide the right light (that produces UVB and UVA rays).

Dark leafy greens (excluding romaine and iceberg lettuce) and beet tops are excellent sources of calcium and should be included in the tortoise’s diet. As MBD is a serious disease, its best to see a herp vet if you suspect your radiated tortoise suffers from it.

Tortoise Prolapses

This occurs when internal organs (for males usually a phallus) are push out though the cloaca, which is an opening under the tail. Prolapse is usually caused by a hard stone that forms in the bladder which in turn is usually caused by dehydration and/or poor diet.

Unless you are an experienced tortoise keeper, it is best to have a veterinarian push the organ back inside. This has to be done as soon as possible to prevent the prolapsed organ from incurring injuries. Additionally, the issue that caused the formation of the bladder stone needs to be addressed. The tortoise needs to be provided with water and a good & varied diet.

Pricing and Availability

While wild populations in Madagascar are critically endangered, they have been successfully bred in captivity in the United States. In fact, the captive-bred population in the States is doing quite well.

In order to obtain a captive-bred radiated tortoise in the United States, you may need a captive-bred wildlife permit (a clause permits the ownership and sale within a state without the need of a permit). This permit is compulsory if you have to transport the tortoise across state lines. Even with that, there are restrictions in place depending on your State.

While the idea of obtaining a permit seems daunting, the process is relatively simple.  You can find the Federal Fish and Wildlife Permit Application form at fws.gov/forms/3-200-41.pdf.

After completing the online (or printing, completing and mailing the form to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Type of Activity: Division of Management Authority), and paying to obtain the permit, you can then transport and keep the radiated tortoise with no issue. This registration needs to be updated yearly and is valid for 5 years.

The radiated tortoise can be obtained from reputable breeders. This critically endangered tortoise isn’t available in pet shops or even reptile conventions. Finding a reputable breeder is the best way of obtaining the tortoise. Reputable breeders can be found online at sites such as The Turtle Source, and Tortoise Town.

A captive-bred radiated tortoise costs between $1500 to $3500 on average depending on size. Their price can be as high as $5000.

Conservation/Threats

The main threats to the survival of this critically endangered tortoise include collection and habitat loss. The biggest threat is domestic collection. In the geographical range of the tortoise – the Mahafaly and the Antandroy, it is a taboo to eat or touch the radiated tortoise.

This helped protect the tortoises over several centuries. However, in recent times, they are gathered by people not native to the region as well as by Malagasy people passing through.

As such large amounts of the radiated tortoises are collected yearly. It is estimated in 2003 that as much as 45,000 radiated tortoises were collected yearly. This number at times have risen to as high as 241,000 yearly.

Habitat loss such as turning forests into agricultural land and overgrazing has led to reduction in natural habitats. This has contributed significantly to the decline of wild populations.

The A. radiata is protected by several laws, and conventions – both locally and internationally. Locally, the A. radiata is protected under Malagasy law since 1960. Similarly, they are present in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

This makes them a species that has to be protected at all costs. Regardless of this, the A. radiata receives little to no protection in their native Madagascar due to poor economic conditions.

Captive-bred populations in the United States shows great promise.

Radiated Tortoise Care Video

Conclusion

Keeping this tortoise requires dedication and long term commitment. Captive radiated tortoises are known to easily live to be over 100 years. On average, you should expect them to live to be at least 60 years. Because they are endangered, it is important to provide them with expert care.

They require warm temperatures and an outdoor enclosure. With consistent care and proper husbandry, keeping this gorgeous turtle is a magical experience. If you have any comments or questions, kindly leave them.

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