Common name Red legged tortoise, Red footed tortoise, cherry head
Origin Most South American countries.
Also introduced on some Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica.
Habitat Ranges from dense tropical forest to semi-open savannah. Never far from water or damp humid conditions.
Typical Adult size Varies depending on place of origin. Small variants (Caribbean stock) to 15- 20cm. Largest variants (British Guiana) to 25- 35cm
A hardy, gentle and colourful tortoise, imported primarily as ranch bred hatchlings. Easy to keep, and slow to grow to its potentially large size.
Environment variants Breeding Feeding Issues
Variants, Races, Sub-Species:
Each country has its own identifiable variant of the species. Variations in front legged spottiness, plastron markings, head colouration and the size of carapace aureole.
No recognised sub-species.
a) Indoors This tortoise requires all year round heated accommodation. Provision of a sleeping hutch, a water trough large enough to bathe in, and both direct and indirect heat sources (IR/UV lamp such as a 'Prosun', and background heating in the hutch i.e. a tubular heater or a reptile mat).
Draughts must be avoided, although a day/night temperature variation is acceptable. (Ambient 250C - 200C)
Substrate: not critical. Use damp newspaper or peat for smaller tortoises. Alfalfa Lite, Redigrass, or Astro-Turf can be used for larger tortoises. Use absorbent material (such as dry thick newspaper) in the hutches.
A humidifier should be used in large spaces to raise the humidity to 80%. In smaller spaces, a heat mat under the water trough should provide sufficient moisture in the air.
b)Outdoors Adults and 5+ year old juveniles are hardy enough to experience
the British summer (May- September), although a new specimen must be slowly
acclimatised in small doses for a few years before they will thrive in a semi-outdoor
Provide a heated shed or greenhouse (or a tortoise flap out from the indoor environment). Moisture is more crucial here, and ensure a bath is always available. Ensure the outside area is deeply grassy, and has shade available. This species can climb well, and so ensure that any fence work has an overhang if it is below 50cm.
Water the grass in dry weather.
c) Seasonal Variations This species does not, and cannot hibernate.
This species relates the UK variations in climate to its own native environment, treating winter as the Rainy Season, and summer as the Dry Season. Mating and egg laying will predominantly take place during the 'Rainy Season' (Autumn). For an egg laying female, providing plenty of natural late summer sunshine is an ideal preparation for the onset of the wetter months. The sunshine will provide the trigger for the development of natural Oxytocin, ensuring the punctual delivery of eggs during the Winter.
a) Adult Despite a reputation for taking carrion in the wild, these tortoises are herbivorous, and should be given a wholly vegetarian diet. Their diet can reflect the lush tropical forest from which they hail, by adding some fruit into the diet. Care must be taken with fruit however, as overdosing with plums or other sweet fruit can cause diahorea, whereas too much banana can have the opposite effect. Avoid feeding overripe melon or similar, as fermented fruit contains alcohol, which is toxic to tortoises.
A balance for sweet fruit in the diet can be made with the addition of good quality (low salt) soaked bread, which provides roughage. This can also have medicinal effects in countering gut bacterial imbalance (see common ailments).
Minerals and vitamin supplements must be added to all food in the form of limestone flour, and either Reptivite or Nutrobal vitamin preparations.
b) Hatchling/Juvenile In general, the same foods can be fed to the young, as
to the adults. However, extremes of food, such as sweet fruit, and bread can
be avoided. It is particularly important that no meat is fed, as this will cause
pyramiding of the scutes.
The food should be chopped finely to the customers tastes!
Vitamins and minerals should be added to all meals.
a) Sexing Adult males have a long thin tail, a crescent shaped rear plastron scute, a deeply dented plastron, a shallow 'fastback' carapace profile and a 'peanut' shaped waistline.
Adult females have a short tail, a v-notched rear plastron scute, a flat plastron, a domed carapace profile- higher towards the rear, and an oval top profile.
Maturity comes in about 6 -8 years, and first evidence of sexuality is usually behavioural- a potential male will begin to display mating behaviour.
b) Mating Mating behaviour from the males involves nodding the head from side
to side when in head to head confrontation with a female. No biting or butting
will be observed.
The male will then mount the female, caressing her back with his front legs as he does so. Once mounted, thrusting with the back legs is accompanied by a sequence of deep, rhythmic grunting, each sequence starting high, and getting deeper over half a dozen grunts. Often the female will facilitate entry by raising the rear of her shell off the ground with her hind legs. Coupling only lasts a few minutes.
c) Egglaying A female carrying eggs will become restless, walking far, and
eating little in the weeks leading up to laying. A suitable spot must be found
for her if egg retention, or egg discarding is to be avoided.
Eggs are laid into traditional bell shaped chambers dug into damp warm soil. She will typically choose a spot (if outdoors) which is up against a sunny wall. If indoors, a deep tray of soil (20cm+), placed in a corner, heated with a lamp and/or heat mat, and watered with warm water from a water butt or pond will work. Egg laying will often start in the early evening, going on into dusk.
A typical clutch size is 5 eggs, the sizes of which depend on the maturity of the female, but which can reach 4-5cm in size. Females may lay 2 – 4 clutches in a season, 6 weeks apart.
d) Incubation Eggs should be kept at 80% humidity, on dry absorbent material
such as Perlite or vermiculite. Temperature for predominantly females should
be 320C, for males 30-310C. Temperature values within these boundaries, or where
regular fluctuations occur between these limits, mixed clutches can be expected.
Incubation time at 320C is about 110-120 days. 300C can expect incubation times up to 150 days.
e) The first year Allow a hatching tortoise to fully emerge from the egg before
providing assistance. This may take several days.
Bathe daily until regular feeding is taking place.
Bathe weekly for the first year (until they are big enough to safely negotiate a suitably deep water trough).
Check the plastron for signs of softness- at vitamins and minerals to the baths if discovered.
a) Wild Caught Parasites, gut imbalance dehydration, starvation
b) Captive bred Soft shell, anorexia, dry eye
c) Common Ailments Flagellates. Balantidium protozoan
d) Behaviour Secretive, quiet gentle