Small Tortoises

Small Tortoises

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6 Tortoises That Stay Small

Belonging to the family Testudinidae, tortoises come in many different shapes and sizes. Giant tortoises such as the Galápagos giant tortoise can reach lengths of over 6ft.

However, our focus today is on the small tortoises, tortoises with lengths of under a foot. Small tortoises make excellent pets as they are much easier to care for.

They require less space and can be easily kept indoors throughout the year. The most popular small tortoises include Egyptian tortoise, Hermann’s tortoise, Greek tortoise, and Russian tortoise.

All of which are discussed in this article. When acquiring a tortoise, captive-bred is the best way to go.

Quick Reference Section

1. Kleinmann’s Tortoise

Egyptian Tortoise
Egyptian Tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Expert
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo kleinmanni
  • Other Common Names: Egyptian tortoise, Leith’s tortoise
  • Average Adult Size:  4 – 5 inches
  • Average Price Range: $1000 – $1300

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Herbivorous mix of leafy green vegetation
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 85°H/65°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90°F

The Egyptian tortoise is quite a popular tortoise among tortoise enthusiasts. This species is one of the smallest tortoises in the world reaching lengths of just 4 inches for males and 5 inches for females.

While they are relatively popular among captive breeders, the wild population is near extinction. The Egyptian tortoise is critically endangered.

Apart from habitat destruction, and illegal collection for folk medicine, the low reproduction rate of the Egyptian tortoise means that the species is edging closer and closer to complete extinction in the wild.

The only legal way to obtain an Egyptian tortoise is through a breeder in your country. Although breeding the Egyptian tortoise is difficult as gravid females lay just 1 or 2 eggs per clutch, they have been successfully bred all over the world.

The Egyptian tortoise can be kept in a 2 cubic ft tortoise table. Be sure to provide the needed heat and UVB lighting. Housing them outdoors is extremely difficult as they have a narrow comfort zone.

Learn more about the Kleinmann’s (Egyptian) Tortoise here.

2. Greek Tortoise

greek land tortoise (testudo hermanni)
Greek Tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo graeca
  • Common Forms/Subspecies: Ibera Greek tortoise (T. g. ibera), Libyan Greek tortoise (T. g. cyrenaica), North African Greek tortoise (T. g. graeca), Tunisian Greek tortoise (T. g. nabeulensis), and “Golden” Greek tortoise (T. graeca)
  • Average Adult Size:  5 – 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 125 years
  • Average Price Range: $200 – $400

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Weeds, dried herbs
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 95 – 100°F

Greek tortoises are tiny tortoises with adults reaching lengths of 5 to 8 inches. These small tortoise species have a high dome that is connected to their plastron by means of a thick bridge.

They are generally golden-yellow to dark brown in color. Flecks, spots, and lines mark their shell. Greek tortoises are endemic to North Africa, southern Europe, and southwest Asia.

Greek tortoises have several common names. Popular common names include Spur-thighed tortoise, Greek tortoise, and Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise. They are referred to as greek tortoises because the marking on their shell is reminiscent of Greek mosaic.

Greek tortoises are best kept in a fenced enclosure or a tortoise table (when the temperature is low). Daytime temperatures should be around 75 to 85 F, and nighttime temperatures should be around 65 F.

You can feed greek tortoises weeds such as cat’s ear, clover, dandelion, hawksbit, plantain, thistle, and wild strawberry. You can also offer them dried herbs.

Learn more about the Greek Tortoise here.

3. Hermann’s Tortoise

Hermanns-Tortoise
Hermanns Tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Testudo hermanni
  • Subspecies: eastern Hermann’s tortoise (T. h. boettgeri ) and the western Hermann’s tortoise (T. h. hermanni)
  • Average Adult Size:  5 – 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $20 – $40

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Weeds, dried herbs
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 95 – 100°F

The attractive Hermann’s tortoise is a small Mediterranean tortoise. It has yellow and brown carapace and short strong legs. This small tortoise loves to run, dig, and move around.

The Hermann’s tortoise is an active tortoise. Housing both males and females together is a bad idea as males can be quite aggressive towards females.

Hermann’s tortoises are endemic to southern Europe, in particular the Mediterranean. The eastern Hermann’s tortoise can be found in Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Greece.

The western Hermann’s tortoise, on the other hand, can be found in Corsica, eastern Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, southern France, the Balearic Islands, and south and central Italy (Tuscany).

The active Hermann’s tortoise is best housed outside. Build it an escape-proof enclosure with a length of 16 feet and a width of about 10 feet. They like to eat weeds and greens such as collard greens, turnip greens, radicchio, mustard greens, mulberry leaves, plantain, clover, and many more.

Lastly, keep Hermann’s tortoise well-hydrated. This is especially true of hatchings. For hatchlings keep their substrate slightly damp through regular misting.

Also, soak them for 15 minutes in lukewarm water about 4 times each week. Always keep an inch of water in the tortoise’s water tray at all times.

Learn more about the Hermann’s Tortoise here.

4. Indian Star tortoise

Indian-Star-Tortoise
Indian Star Tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans
  • Common Names: Indian Star tortoise, Star tortoise
  • Average Adult Size: 5 – 15 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 – 80 years
  • Average Price Range: $300 – $600

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Herbivorous mix of leafy green vegetation, grass
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90 – 95 °F

Indian star tortoises are easy to identify as they have bold golden star patterns on their carapace. These small tortoises are threatened and one of the main reasons for this is the illegal exotic pet trade. As such, if you wish to acquire one as a pet do so through the right channels.

The Indian star tortoise is native to India (central and southern parts of the country), Pakistan (Sindh province), and Sri Lanka. They can be found in thorn scrub forests, moist deciduous forests, semi-arid lowlands, semi-deserts, and dry grasslands. As herbivores, Indian star tortoises feed on grass and weeds found in their natural habitat.

Indian star tortoises are best housed outdoors. During the winter, they need to be housed in a heated environment. Depending on where you live, you may need to bring them in for the fall and winter.

Unlike the greek and Hermann’s tortoises, males don’t constantly harass females so both males and females can be housed in the same enclosure.

Alternatively, you can house Indian star tortoises in a tortoise table.

Feed Indian star tortoises foods rich in fiber and calcium. They eat grass (such as rye, and Bermuda), opuntia cactus, dandelion greens, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, carrots, bell peppers, and even alfalfa.

Learn more about the Indian Star Tortoise Here.

5. Russian Tortoise

Russian-Tortoise
Russian Tortoise

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginners
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Agrionemys horsfieldii / Testudo horsfieldii
  • Common Names: (Russian) steppe tortoise, four-clawed tortoise, Horsfield’s tortoise, the Central Asian tortoise, Afghan tortoise
  • Average Adult Size:  6 – 8 inches
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Average Price Range: $200 – $300

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Herbivorous mix of leafy green vegetation, weeds
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 85°H/75°L
  • Basking Spot Temperature: 90 – 100 °F

Russian tortoises are a popular choice among tortoise enthusiasts and tortoise pet owners because they are small, readily available, and easy to care for. Because of their small nature, they don’t need a lot of space.

Russian tortoises are also very tolerant of extreme temperature differences as such they can be housed outdoors in many places around the world. The tolerant, active, and feisty nature of Russian tortoises make them great tortoises for beginners and veterans alike. Most Russian tortoises found in the United States are wild-caught and imported into the country.

When Russian tortoises hatch they are about an inch in carapace length. Expect them to reach about 8 inches as adults.  Russian tortoises are best kept outdoors if you live in a warm climate such as Nevada.

In places where temperatures get very low, you can house them in a tortoise table. The outdoor enclosure of the Russian tortoise should be about 4ft by 2 ft. Russian tortoises are burrowers so the walls should be set about a foot into the ground to prevent the tortoises from escaping.

One of the reasons why Russian tortoises make great pets is that they are enthusiastic eaters. Russian tortoises accept almost any vegetable and leafy greens offered.

Offer them broadleaf, spring mixes, dark lettuce, turnip greens, kale, and collard greens. They also eat grasses and weeds such as cat’s ear, clover, dandelion, hawksbit, plantain, thistle, and clovers.

As with other tortoises, Russian tortoises don’t like to be handled. Only handle them when necessary. Don’t let children pick them up as they can easily drop and injure the tortoise.

Learn more about the Russian Tortoise here.

6. Pancake Tortoise

Pancake-Tortoises
Stack of Pancake Tortoises

Quick Facts

  • Experience Level: Beginner
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Scientific Name: Malacochersus tornieri
  • Other Common Names: Tornier’s tortoise
  • Average Adult Size:  6 – 7 inches
  • Lifespan: 30 years
  • Average Price Range: $500 – $600

Quick Care Requirements

  • Diet: Herbivorous mix of leafy green vegetation, grasses, weeds
  • UVB Lighting: Required
  • Ambient Temperature: 90°H/75°L
  • Basking Temperature: 100 °F

Pancake tortoises’ name refers to the flat nature of their shell. In fact, these tortoises are just an inch in height. Additionally, the shell of the pancake tortoise is very lightweight.

This makes the pancake tortoise quick and agile. The carapace of this tortoise is brown with a pattern of radiating dark lines on the scutes. The unique appearance of this tortoise has made it a sought-after animal leading to their overexploitation.

Native to southern Kenya and Tanzania, these tortoises require a warm enclosure. They can be housed outdoors if the temperature is warm enough.

When temperatures drop during fall and winter, you need to bring them inside as they do not hibernate. Alternatively, you can house them indoors – in a tortoise table or a terrarium. Pancake tortoises are excellent climbers and can run. Take note of this.

Pancake tortoises can be offered a wide variety of vegetables, grasses, and leafy greens. Offer them Bermuda, rye, or alfalfa grasses, greens such as mustard, turnip, or collard, dandelion, hibiscus leaves, carrots, endives and many more.

Supplement their diet with commercial tortoise diets and calcium and multivitamins.

As mentioned earlier overexploitation for the pet trade alongside habitat destruction has had a negative effect on wild populations.

As of now, the pancake tortoise is critically endangered. Although the prices of captive-bred pancake tortoises are high, captive-bred is the way to go.

Learn more about the Pancake Tortoise here.

Conclusion

Small tortoise breeds are easier to house inside. You don’t need to worry about constructing and maintaining a large outdoor pet for the tortoise.

Smaller tortoises can be housed indoors all year round as far as the right environmental conditions such as UV exposure, temperature, and humidity are maintained.

Additionally, offer tortoises cuttlebone as a calcium supplement and a way to maintain their beaks. As always, it is best to acquire a captive bred specimen. This helps protect the wild populations of the species.

If you ever decide to adopt a tortoise you need to consider the costs, care, space, and the legal issues involved in keeping a particular tortoise species as a pet.

There are of course plenty of other tortoise species that can make good pets, but these are our favorite small ones.

If you have any questions or additional information, kindly leave a comment. 

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.

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