Keeping a Red-footed tortoise as a pet is a popular option for many reptile keepers, especially if they are starting out with tortoises.
These beautiful tortoises are a good choice for intermediate keepers or first-time tortoise keepers. They aren’t as long-lived as other tortoise species and stay at a relatively manageable size.
In this article, we’ll explain the ins and outs of Red-footed tortoise care. We’ll walk you through the housing arrangements, dietary needs, and ideal conditions of these stunning reptiles. Here is our complete Red-footed tortoise care guide.
Red-footed tortoise facts
- Experience level: Beginner to Intermediate
- Family: Testudinidae
- Scientific name: Chelonoidis carbonarius
- Other names: Red-leg tortoise, Red-legged tortoise, Red-foot tortoise, Red-foot turtle
- Adult Male Size: 12 to 14 inches
- Adult Female Size: 10 to 12 inches
- Average Lifespan: 30 to 50 years
- Average Price Range: $200 to $500
- Where to buy?: XYZreptiles.com
- Books: Red-footed Tortoises In Captivity (Amanda Ebenhack)
There are between five and seven recognized regional variants of the Red-footed tortoise. These are found populating the different countries that this tortoise inhabits. Different variations exist north and south of the Amazon basin and are distinguished by subtle color differences.
Red-footed tortoises also share parts of their range with the Cherry head red-footed tortoise, which is a smaller species closely related to their larger cousins. Care requirements for both species are pretty much the same. Cherry head red-footed tortoises are endemic to Brazil.
Red-footed tortoises will usually rest for as much as half of the day, especially if digesting a meal. This can make them relatively easy to keep track of.
Red-footed tortoises are rarely territorial, even when it comes to food, and can often be kept in groups.
What does a Red-footed tortoise look like?
Red-footed tortoises are medium-size tortoises with dark brown carapaces that resemble a loaf shape. They sport yellow to red spots in the center of their main scutes.
These tortoises get their name from the reddish scales found on their dark brown legs. These colors can vary depending on the tortoise’s age. Red-footed tortoises also have red patches on their heads and cheeks, although colors can vary.
How big do Red-footed tortoises get?
On average, Red-footed tortoises grow to between 12 and 14 inches. Males are normally slightly bigger than females. These tortoises are a medium-sized species that make them fairly manageable for more keepers.
Where do Red-footed tortoises live?
Red-footed tortoises are natives of the northern regions of South America. Some countries where Red-footed tortoises can be found include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
What kind of habitat do Red-footed tortoises need?
In their native range, Red-footed tortoises usually live in areas that join dense forests with open savanna and scrubland. They like relatively hot and humid environments, but not so extreme that they can’t be replicated in areas of the United States.
These tortoises seem to be very active after rainstorms, which has also been observed to stimulate breeding.
How long do Red-footed tortoises live?
Red-footed tortoises aren’t as long-lived as some larger species of tortoises. An average life expectancy in captivity ranges from 30 to 50 years. That is still a long-term commitment.
What do Red-footed tortoises eat?
Red-footed tortoises are opportunistic herbivores and aren’t picky eaters. The Red-footed tortoise is usually a fruit-eating species, although this may depend on their individual tastes. In the wild they will often eat fruits, leaves, and succulents.
Grasses are also popular for these grazing tortoises. Occasionally they may also eat protein sources like earthworms and sometimes carrion.
How do Red-footed tortoises breed?
During the breeding season, Red-footed tortoises will attempt to identify if their neighbors are male or female. Upon finding a female, the male will usually follow her, uttering a series of clucking noises until she is receptive to breeding.
The male will then mount the female and make loud noises. Once copulation is complete, the female will dig out a nesting site about six weeks after copulation.
The eggs will then be laid and then covered with earth and vegetation to keep them hidden. It will take about five months for them to hatch on average.
What predators do Red-footed tortoises face?
Red-footed tortoise eggs are easy prey for lizards as well as mammals such as mongooses or rats. Juvenile tortoises can be taken by larger reptiles such as crocodiles, lizards, and snakes. Birds, especially birds of prey, and mammals will also take young tortoises. Adults are often eaten by bigger predators like jaguars.
Red Footed Tortoise Care sheet
Whenever possible, adult Red-footed tortoises should be housed in an outside enclosure. This gives them plenty of room to roam as well as access to natural light.
However, if your temperatures regularly drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or so, you’ll either need to provide a heated area or keep your tortoise indoors. Red-footed tortoises can comfortably handle temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, providing their humidity is kept correct.
Red-footed tortoises do like to burrow a fair amount, so be prepared for this. When creating the borders for the enclosure, the wall should be about 16 inches high and the supports should be buried about eight inches under the surface to prevent your tortoise from escaping underneath.
When crafting an outdoor enclosure, make sure that a small area receives direct sunlight. This will give your tortoise somewhere to bask.
You should also provide some shaded areas to allow them to regulate their body temperature as they choose. This area should include some vegetation to give your tortoise some cover using tortoise-safe plants.
It may be necessary to use misting devices or sprinklers to preserve humidity in an outdoor enclosure. You can also create a wallowing area of mud to give your tortoise somewhere to cool off.
You can house Red-footed tortoises indoors if necessary, especially if you live in colder regions. When doing this, an enclosure should measure around 8 feet long and 4 feet wide at a minimum. The height of the enclosure should be around 16 inches.
A tortoise table or Zoo Med Tortoise House can be good places to start.
Recommended basic products
When putting together an indoor or outdoor enclosure for your Red-footed tortoise, there are a few essential items you’ll need. In indoor enclosures, these will include heat bulbs and UVB lamps. Other items such as substrate and a water dish are needed in both internal and external enclosures.
Here we’ve put together a basic list of recommended products to help get you started.
- Enclosure: Zoo Med Tortoise House
- Substrate: Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding
- Food: Mazuri Tortoise Diet
- UVB & Heating: Zoo Med Lighting Kit
- Thermometer: Zoo Med Thermometer & Humidity Gauge
- Water Dish: Zoo Med Reptile Rock Dish
Cleaning up after a Red-footed tortoise is fairly simple, especially for an outdoor enclosure. In these cases, you pretty much just need to scoop the poop as well as clean and change the water dish thoroughly every day.
For indoor enclosures and tortoise tables, cleaning between once a week and once a month is a good routine to get into. Spot clean daily, including removing waste or uneaten food.
For both indoor and outdoor enclosures, especially tortoise tables, Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is a good substrate to use. Cypress mulch is also a good choice for indoor enclosures as it helps retain humidity and is pretty absorbent. Peat moss is also a decent option as well as coconut coir.
For outdoor housing, you can pretty much use whatever ground or soil you already have, provided that you don’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides in your garden.
If you do, you’ll need to provide a fresh, untainted substrate for your tortoise’s enclosure, otherwise the chemicals could harm your reptile.
A safe temperature range for your Red-footed tortoise is between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This applies to both indoor and outdoor enclosures. A form of heating will be needed if the temperature regularly drops below this level.
At nighttime for tortoises in outdoor enclosures, the temperature should not drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If it does, you should provide a heated sleeping area for your tortoise to prevent them from suffering severe health problems.
If you are keeping your Red-footed tortoise indoors, you’ll also need to provide a basking spot with a temperature of around 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The ambient temperature indoors should be between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit; common room temperature levels.
Red-footed tortoises like humidity levels somewhere in the 50% to 70% range as they come from fairly humid habitats in South America. These conditions should be replicated as closely as possible whether you’re housing your tortoise inside or out.
Provide a humid hide in your tortoise’s enclosure to give them a moist area to burrow into. Sphagnum moss is a good substrate for this. You can also use a substrate that retains moisture. Regular mistings from a bottle will help keep the humidity right.
If you’re housing your tortoise outside in hotter conditions, a misting or sprinkler system can be useful to keep the humidity up. You should also provide a water bowl or receptacle large enough for your tortoise to soak in, but not so deep that they can’t get out.
Like most reptiles, Red-footed tortoises need to absorb ultraviolet light to help keep themselves healthy. If you’re keeping your tortoise outside, they should get enough UV light as long as a part of their enclosure receives direct sunlight.
Red-footed tortoises kept indoors will need a full spectrum UVB light to ensure they can absorb and process all the nutrients in the food they are eating. This light should be left on a 12-hour day/night cycle.
The Zoo Med Lighting Kit comes with both a UVB light and a 50-watt heat bulb to take care of all of your tortoise’s lighting needs. The aluminum dome can handle up to a 100-watt bulb, so if you need to get a higher wattage bulb to increase the heat then you have that flexibility.
As far as accessories go, you should provide some cover for your Red-footed tortoise in the form of some plants. These will help provide some shade and humidity if your tortoise is housed outside.
A humid hide is also another necessary accessory to help keep the humidity levels for your Red-footed tortoise in the right range.
A cuttlefish bone can be a good accessory to provide as this will help to promote good beak health for your tortoise and can also be an extra source of calcium.
As for decorations, some large flat rocks can be good things to use, especially when constructing a basking spot for your tortoise.
A good Red-footed tortoise diet should mainly consist of green leafy vegetation such as dandelion greens and mustard greens alongside a variety of supplemental foods such as fruits or Mazuri Tortoise Diet.
Red-footed tortoises are naturally omnivorous, meaning that they eat a larger variety of foods than many other tortoises. While they may eat carrion occasionally in the wild, it’s best to try and avoid feeding them animal protein in captivity.
Instead, use Mazuri Tortoise Diet to meet their protein requirements. Fruits can also be given in moderation as Red-footed tortoises are known to eat fruit. If your tortoise refuses fruit though, don’t try and keep feeding it to them.
How often should I feed my Red-footed tortoise?
You should feed your Red-footed tortoise every day, mainly leafy greens and a varied rotation of supplemental foods. You should also sprinkle calcium and multivitamin supplements on three meals each week. This will help your tortoise get all the nutrients it needs.
Fresh water should be changed every single day.
Temperament and handling
Is the Red-footed tortoise a good pet?
Although often shy in captivity, Red-footed tortoises are great as pets. While they do not like to be handled, they are fairly active in their enclosures, especially if burrowing a bit.
They can be relatively low maintenance after the initial outlay of setting up the enclosure and are a good species for intermediate keepers or beginner keepers who have the space.
You can even house a group of these beautiful tortoises if you have the room as they are not often aggressive or territorial towards one another. Males may fight over females during the breeding season, so keep them separate in those times if you want a mixed-sex group.
Signs of good health
Whether you are choosing your first Red-footed tortoise or checking the health of one you’ve kept for years, there are a few signs of good health that you should look for.
A tortoise’s eyes should be clear and alert, and there shouldn’t be any mucus constantly dripping from their nose. A healthy shell will be smooth and not have any flaking.
If a Red-footed tortoise is refusing to eat it is usually a sign of health problems. Before taking a new tortoise home, ask if you can see it eating to check if it looks healthy.
Metabolic Bone Disease is usually the biggest and most common ailment that affects Red-footed tortoises. This is caused by the tortoise not getting enough calcium through their diet and UV exposure.
MBD can result in deformed growth in their shells along with weak bones. Pyramiding is usually a clear sign of MBD, alongside other symptoms.
Shell rot is also something to watch out for. This happens if your tortoise develops a fungal infection and can also cause deformed shell growth.
Breathing problems can also afflict Red-footed tortoises. This is usually caused by incorrect temperature or humidity levels, so make sure to follow these guidelines. You can detect breathing problems if your tortoise is very lethargic or if you hear them wheezing.
Red-footed tortoise breeding
First, you need to make sure you have a male and a female. An easy way to check that is by looking at their shell and plastron. Males will have a shell that from the top looks like it tapers in towards the middle as well as a concave plastron.
Female Red Footed Tortoises will have a wider shell when looking at them from the top, and when looking at them from the bottom will have a flatter shell. This is where their eggs are housed.
You should only start breeding these tortoises once they have reached the appropriate size and age. The recommended minimum size is around 5 to 8 inches long.
You will only need a pair of Red-footed tortoises to initiate breeding. However, the odds can be improved by using multiple male specimens.
Breeding seems to be able to happen any time of year. When it comes to laying eggs, create a nesting area for females that is about six inches deep and contains a damp substrate.
When incubating the eggs, a minimum temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit is needed. You should also keep the eggs in an area or incubator with about 80% humidity. Eggs will on average take about five months to hatch.
Red-footed tortoise care video guide
Red-footed tortoise hatchling care
Red-footed tortoise hatchlings are more sensitive to dehydration and ventilation than adults. Their housing should protect them from outside predators and they should have heating and lighting provided just like adults.
Hatchlings will need humidity levels closer to 80% to help stimulate good, healthy growth. They should be housed completely indoors for the first few years of their lives. A glass tank of around 20-gallons works well for fresh hatchlings, but you’ll need to upgrade as the tortoises grow.
During their first week, the hatchlings survive by feeding on yolk sac reserves. After this, you can then feed them green leafy vegetables. They will eat more and more as they grow bigger. Cut the food up into smaller pieces for younger tortoises.
Frequently Asked Questions about Red-footed tortoises
Do Red-footed tortoises get lonely?
Red-footed tortoises will not get lonely if they live alone. In the wild most tortoise species will live fairly solitary lives until it comes to the breeding season when they will seek mates.
That being said, Red-footed tortoises can be housed in groups as they are not especially territorial unless they are males competing over a female. This can make Red-footed tortoises more attractive to some keepers.
How can you tell the age of a Red-footed tortoise?
As Red-footed tortoises age, the red markings on their heads will gradually change into a more yellow color. This can help give a rough idea of how old the tortoise is.
Red-footed tortoises will also grow quickly during their first few years, so growth spurts can be a determinant of age in younger tortoises. The growth rate slows as the tortoise ages.
For a more in depth guide check this age guide.
Can Red-footed tortoises eat carrots?
Red-footed tortoises can indeed eat carrots as a supplemental part of a varied diet. However, it is important to feed them carrots only in moderation. Eating too many carrots can make your tortoise gain unhealthy weight rapidly. And in case you’re wondering, yes tortoises can get fat.
Carrots also have quite high amounts of oxalic acid. This can affect the tortoise’s ability to absorb calcium efficiently. If your tortoise doesn’t get enough calcium, it may begin to suffer from metabolic bone disease and other problems.
How fast should Red-footed tortoises gain weight?
Healthy growth rates can vary wildly in many tortoise species. A steady gaining of weight each month is the healthiest way of growing, rather than inconsistent spikes in weight.
Tortoises will always grow faster during the first few years of their life. Gaining an average of around 15 grams per month is a fairly healthy rate, but this will vary on the individual tortoise.
If you provide a healthy, varied diet and limit their protein and carbohydrate intake, Red-footed tortoises should grow steadily and healthily.
Once you’ve got their enclosures set up, Red-footed tortoises can be pretty low maintenance as a pet. These beautiful, medium-sized tortoises are ideal for intermediate reptile keepers or first-time tortoise keepers.
The most important thing to do is keep their temperature and humidity levels at the correct ranges. This will help prevent health problems. You should also give them space outdoors if your climate allows it.
If you enjoyed this guide to Red-footed tortoise care and are thinking about getting one yourself, then please feel free to comment down below!
Saturday 1st of February 2020
im looking for a medium size tortoise for adoption. I have all the right things to caren for. I have a common snapping turtle now that ive had for 38 yrs. waiting to hear from you