Tortoises are popular pets. These gentle reptiles prefer vegetation and vegetables. As such, most of these are herbivores. In captivity, tortoise accepts a variety of dark leafy vegetables, grass, hay, and weed. Occasionally, you can feed them fruits.
Very few tortoises actually to eat animal-based foods such as insects, worms and mollusks. However, it is important to know exactly what the species of your pet eats. In this article, we discuss the dietary needs and preferences of the most popular tortoises kept as pets as well as what not to feed tortoises.
While many of us are here because we wish to find out what to feed our tortoises many have wondered, ‘What do tortoises eat in the wild?’ Generally, wild tortoises feed on grass, weeds, and shrubs found in their natural habitats.
Remember to feed all tortoise on a grassy surface, concrete, flat rock or from a tray. Never feed them on soil or gravels as they can ingest these materials.
Feeding Habits of the Sulcata Tortoise (Geochelone sulcata)
The sulcata tortoise also known as the African Spurred Tortoise is one of the most popular tortoise species kept as pets. While these species are massive, growing up to almost 3 feet and weighing up to 100 pounds, pet sulcata tortoises are easy to care for.
They are hardy creatures and thrive with proper care. As desert tortoise, if you know what the African spurred tortoise eats then you can easily answer the question ‘What do desert tortoises eat?’
Wild Sulcata Tortoise
In the wild and captivity, the Geochelone sulcata is strictly vegetarian. As desert tortoises, they get most of their water from succulents and cacti. They also eat fibrous grass and weeds. Occasionally, they do eat fruits and blossoms.
Pet Sulcata Tortoise
Since it’s difficult to feed tortoises the foods found in their natural habitat, you have to provide local foods that provide all the needed nutrients.
Feed pet sulcata a mix of dark leafy greens such as red leaf and romaine lettuce (or any of the darker lettuce, avoid iceberg lettuce as their nutritional content is low), mustard, and collard greens. Also, offer carrot tops and beet greens.
They also need to feed on grasses, weeds, and hay. I recommend a diet of alfalfa, timothy hay, and feed store grasses for adult sulcatas. For juveniles, I recommend a mix of spring mixes and several leafy vegetables. Ensure that these foods up to about 80 percent of the tortoise’s diet.
In addition to the food items already mentioned, feed them dry pelleted tortoise foods such as Rep-Cal tortoise diet and Grassland tortoise diet. This ensures they get all the required nutrients. Feed them these diets occasionally.
Sulcatas enjoy fruits, however, limit just how much you feed them. Fruits are high in sugar and too much sugar is bad for their health. You can offer fruits and berries once or twice every two weeks. Apples, banana, fig, strawberries, and melons are all good choices.
Remember to dust their food with calcium and vitamin D3 supplements.
Don’t feed the tortoises on dirt or gravel as they can ingest rocks and soil. Feed them on a grassy surface, concrete, flat rock or from a tray.
Learn more about Sulcata Tortoise Care Here
Feeding Habits of the Russian Tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii)
The Russian tortoise also is known as the steppe tortoise, Central Asian tortoise or the Afghan tortoise is species which makes excellent pets. The Russian tortoise is a small species with adults reaching lengths of 5 to 10 inches. As small tortoises, they don’t take up much space and are easy to care for.
Wild Russian Tortoise
In the wild, the Russian tortoises are herbivores and feed on succulents and herbaceous vegetation such as grasses, flowers, and twigs, fruits, twigs, leaves and stems from native plants.
Pet Russian Tortoise
Russian tortoises love to eat and will eat and destroy any outdoor plants which aren’t tortoise-proof. They like to eat broadleaf weeds but will accept any vegetable and leafy greens offered them.
Provide these tortoises with spring mixes. (Mix the spring mixes with leafy greens). Leafy greens that I recommend include dark lettuces (such as romaine and red leaf lettuce), kale, turnip greens, and collard greens. Remember to vary their diet.
Plant dandelions, clovers, grasses, hibiscus, and other plants that are safe to eat within their enclosure. As vicious eaters, expect them to eat the vegetation off these plants until there is nothing left. You can partition up their enclosure, and rotate the tortoises between the separate spaces. This allows the plants to recover.
As always sprinkle supplements over the foods fed to the tortoise and ensure they have drinking water when temperatures are high.
Learn more about Russian Tortoise Care Here
Feeding Habits of the Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)
The red-footed tortoise is a south American tortoise. These small tortoises ate popular pets all over the world. While the length of an average adult red-footed tortoise is 12 inches, they can grow to be over 16 inches. Their shells, limbs, and heads are covered in dark red spots which gives them their common name.
Wild Red-Footed Tortoise
The red-footed tortoise is not a strict herbivore as they also eat animal matter. These omnivores eat fruits during the wet season and flowers during the dry season. Throughout the year, they supplement this with carrion, stems, fungi, dead and living foliage, soil, sand, and pebbles. You read right. The red-footed tortoise ingests soil occasionally.
Pet Red-Footed Tortoise
These tortoises are omnivores and eat a mix of plants and animal matter. However, their diet should be composed mostly of fruits, vegetables, flowers and leafy greens such as dandelion greens, mustard greens, escarole, and endive.
They also graze on plants such as hibiscus flowers and leaves, grape leaves, and mulberry leaves.
Feed babies and juvenile spring mix with leafy greens such as dark lettuce, turnip greens, collard greens, and kale.
These tortoises need more protein than other tortoises. You can supplement their diet with Mazuri tortoise diet which is high in protein as compared to other tortoise diets.
You can also offer an adult 1 ounce of low-fat cat food or lean meat once every two weeks. If you must offer them animal protein, it should be minimal. Worms such as the superworms and the mealworms can also be used to supplement their diet once every two weeks.
Learn more about Red-Footed Tortoise Care Here
Feeding Habits of the Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca) & Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni)
Since these two species are closely related, they have the same dietary needs. As Mediterranean tortoises, they inhabit the same geographical range. Other tortoises in the genus Testudo (Mediterranean tortoises) include the Egyptian tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni), and the marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata).
Both the Greek and the Hermann’s tortoise are very alike and are often confused with each other.
Wild Greek Tortoise & Hermann’s Tortoise
Mediterranean tortoises are primarily herbivores that feed on ground vegetations such as flowers, leaves, and grass. When vegetation is scarce, they may turn to animal materials such as slugs, snails, worms and other small insects to fulfill their dietary needs.
Pet Greek Tortoise & Hermann’s Tortoise
While both the Greek and Hermann’s tortoises accept animal protein such as cat food, avoid feeding them this. Instead, feed them foods high in fiber such as grass and weeds.
These tortoises love greens such as fresh parsley, dandelion greens, endive, and collard greens. Chop up Timothy hay, or alfalfa and add this to their meal. This ensures they get the needed fiber.
These tortoises also accept fruits. This should make up a small portion of their diet, about just 5 percent of their diet. Fruits to offer the tortoises include chopped apples, strawberries, raspberries, and melons. While they accept gut-loaded insects such as mealworms and dubia roaches, this is not necessary.
Supplement their diet with commercial tortoise foods such as the Mazuri tortoise diet. Additionally, lightly dust all the food offered them with calcium and vitamin D3 powder.
Feeding Habits of the Leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis)
The leopard tortoise is a stunning marked tortoise endemic to Eastern and Southern Africa. These markings closely resemble that of a leopard’s fur, thus their common name. These markings fade as they age. Adult leopard proposes can reach lengths of 16 inches.
Wild Leopard tortoise
In the wild leopard tortoise are folivores, with plant material making up about 98 percent of their diet. They may eat fruits and berries which makes up the remaining 2 percent of their diet. Unlike most herbivore tortoises that mostly consume grasses, the leopard tortoise mostly consumes forbs.
Pet Leopard tortoise
As herbivores feed the leopard tortoise with high fiber foods such as grass hay (for instead timothy hay and orchard grass hay), and broad leafy weeds. In addition to this offer sow thistles, plantain weeds, clover, and succulents. Succulents and cacti to offer include prickly pears, aloe vera, and spineless Opuntia cactus pads.
Supplement their weed and grass diet with dark leafy greens rich in vitamin A and C and calcium such as red leaf lettuce, endive, escarole, romaine, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and dandelion greens. Treats to feed this tortoise include parsley, cilantro, mint, and dill. Hibiscus flowers and grape leaves are also acceptable.
Sprinkle calcium and vitamin d3 powder on their food. Desert/Mediterranean tortoises need water only when the temperature is high. The leopard tortoise, on the other hand, drinks a lot of water Provide water at all times.
Learn more about Leopard Tortoise Care here
Commercial Diets And Nutrient Supplements
Supplementing your pet tortoises’ diet with commercially produced diets is one way to ensure they acquire all the needed nutrition. Several excellent commercial diets have already been mentioned.
These include Rep-Cal tortoise diet, Grassland tortoise diet, and Mazuri tortoise diet. Other excellent choices include Fluker’s Tortoise Diet, Nature Zone Bites for Tortoise, Rep-Cal Maintenance Formula Tortoise Food and Zoo Med Tortoise and Box Turtle Flower Food Topper.
Also, you must supplement the tortoise’s vegetables with calcium powder. If your tortoise is housed indoors, you will need to supplement their food with vitamin D3 as well.
Tortoise Food List
Here is a list of foods to feed your herbivorous tortoise.
Foods That Should Make Up 80% Of Their Diets
These foods can be fed the tortoise daily (juveniles) or every other day (adults).
- turnip greens
- timothy hay
- orchard grass hay
- mustard greens
- dandelion greens
- collard greens
- cactus pear (prickly pear)
- cactus pad/leaf (prickly pear)
Foods To Occasionally Feed Them
- grape leaves
- fresh cranberries (fresh)
- cherries (with no pit)
- uncooked carrots
- red cabbage
- pea sprouts
- honeydew melons
- bell peppers
- beans (pinto, lima, kidney, green, garbanzo)
- fresh apricots
- uncooked yams
- wheatgrass (pet grass)
- uncooked pumpkin
- alfalfa sprouts
Foods To Rarely Feed Them
- beet greens
- Swiss chard
- red leaf lettuce
- romaine lettuce
- Brussels sprouts
Some Foods To Avoid
- iceberg lettuce
- loose leaf lettuces
Of course, the lists provided doesn’t include all the foods you can feed your tortoise, nor does it contain all the foods you mustn’t feed your tortoise. If you are unsure about a food choice, contact a breeder or herp vet. Some research online can also help you clear any doubts.
If you ever had the question, ‘What can tortoises eat?’, I hope this article has helped you answer that. Knowing the right foods to feed our reptile friends ensures that they are healthy and grow well. If you have any questions, additional information, or comments, kindly leave them. We would love to hear from you.