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Caring and Feeding a Red Foot Tortoise

Updated on August 12, 2010
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney has raised and bred different species of geckos, snakes, lizards, tortoise, and other exotics since 2003.

Caring for Red Foot Tortoises

Tortoises can make great pets as long as they're cared for properly. Without proper care and research, a pet tortoise will become ill, stress, and unhappy. If you're going to get a pet, make sure that you do the research so that you know how to properly care for the pet, especially for a pet that has as long of an average lifespan as a pet tortoise.

Red Foot Tortoises are native to the southernmost parts of Panama, through Argentina, Columbia, and Brazil, living in the tropical forests. Basically, these tortoises are native to central and northern South America, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean Islands.

These tortoises have a dark shell with a dark brown to black coloring, with a red head and red spotted legs. The amount of red and coloring on the tortoise will vary upon location. Some tortoises will have brighter heads and more red coloring, whereas some may appear orange or even yellow, which can sometimes be hard to differentiate with the yellow foot tortoise. Some red foot tortoises may be loaded with red coloring on the legs, whereas others may be more melanistic with near solid black legs; again, it all really depends on location.

These tortoises are a medium sized tortoise, ranging from about 10 to 17 inches in length. Depending on location, that adult size may vary, as some of the Brazilian red foot tortoises, average at smaller sizes, ranging from about 10 to 12 inches in length.

These tortoises are native to humid forests, and are commonly found playing in mud puddles and soaking in shallow pools. In captivity, you want to create a large humid enclosure in order to have a happy tortoise.

Red Foot Tortoise Enclosure


When setting up a red foot tortoise enclosure, you want to keep in mind that this species is a medium sized species that need a lot of space and room to exercise. You don't want to keep an adult red foot tortoise in a small enclosure, and you'll find that you won't be able to keep even a baby in an aquarium for long. (Plus, tortoises generally don't do well being housed in aquariums, as they can see through the walls and will always try to get to the other side.)

While housing a baby or juvenile red foot tortoise, you'll want to use a 50 gallon tote, which measures near about 2 feet wide and near 4 feet long. This should be sufficient until the tortoise is about 2 years old, and around that point, you'll notice that the tortoise will start moving around more and will need more space.

For adults, you'll need to build an enclosure of at least 4 feet by 8 feet. This will provide plenty of room for exercise. It's actually ideal to create this space outside. These tortoises generally don't need a lot of UV rays, especially as youngsters, but it's hard to accommodate an adult red foot tortoise inside year round.

An outdoor pen, should include plenty of hiding places, shade, direct sun, plants, and even a small, shallow pool or stream (if you opt to build this).


The substrate needs to be something that can hold moisture and humidity, as keeping high humidity is a must with this species. For younger tortoises, it's necessary to keep the humidity up, as a tortoise that is started off right, will typically have a live of fewer health problems.

For younger tortoises, sphagnum moss is a great substrate. It holds in humidity, yet dries out to prevent mold and bacterial growth. Coconut coir, which is generally sold in compressed bricks, is another good substrate to use. Even creating a mixed substrate of moss and coconut coir is also a good idea.

For younger tortoises, they tend to hide and burrow a little more, so the moss is great because it keeps the humidity close to the shell, which is good to prevent pyramiding.


You want to keep the temperatures around the mid to upper 80s. You do not want the temperature in the basking area to go over 90F. The cooler end of the enclosure is fine to be kept in the 70s.


Because humidity is a huge factor in a healthy tortoise, you'll want to make sure that your substrate is going to hold in humidity. That means, not newspaper, sand, or dry substrates. You want to keep the humidity up, so as to not dry out your tortoise.

You'll want to soak the tortoise several times a day, misting the shell until it drips. Be careful doing this within the enclosure, as the extra moisture may cause bacterial growth, if it cannot dry up.

Also, make sure that you provide a water dish that the tortoise can soak in as needed. Some keepers will also soak the tortoise in addition to the misting and provided water dish; so you'd need a separate bowl to soak the tortoise in outside of its enclosure.

For adults and tortoises that spend a lot of time outside, you'll want to use the water hose and spray down the outdoor enclosure, tortoises and all. This will help boost the humidity. If you live in dry weather, consider adding a sprinkler on a timer so that throughout the day, the sprinkler will help boost the moisture in the outdoor tortoise enclosure.

Humidity is very important, so you'll want to do what you can to boost the moisture in the air. In some cases, for indoor tortoise enclosures for younger tortoises, you may have to put a piece of plexiglass over 1/3 to 1/2 of the tank to create a semi closed enclosure to help hold in the humidity.

Ceramic Reptile Heat Bulb


The lighting for a red foot tortoise can be a bit of a controversy. Some believe that they do not need any sources of UV rays, as they are native to thick forests and spend a lot of the day under the bushes and trees, out of direct sunlight. Others, claim that they bask and need some sun.

The one thing that is agreed upon is that you do not want to use UV lighting or any form of lighting for younger tortoises. The bright lights and UV can burn the tortoises eyes, so when it comes to indoor lighting, don't use any.

Outside time a few times a week is ok, and it's actually beneficial for the exercise and some sun rays, but you don't want to offer constant lighting for young tortoises.

The main concern of housing is to focus on the humidity and heating, not the lighting. As long as the tortoise gets a few hours a few times a week outside, it will be fine. The older the tortoise gets, the more outside time it will need, as being couped up in a small indoor enclosure isn't healthy for larger tortoises.

Use a heat bulb that does not produce any lighting. The ceramic heat bulbs are ideal.

Red Foot Tortoise Diet

Red foot Tortoises are mostly herbivorous, eating a wide variety of plants, vegetables, and fruits, but they are known to eat insects and small amounts of meat proteins.


  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Cactus fruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew
  • Mangoes
  • Papaya
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon

Meat Proteins

  • Crickets
  • Cooked turkey or chicken
  • Earthworms
  • Eggs
  • High quality dog or cat food (with high proteins, low fats, and high fiber)
  • Mealworms
  • Roaches (Discoid, Dubia, or Latteralis)

Foods to Avoid

  • All human food except what's been listed as "good"
  • All grains (to include bread, pasta, etc.)
  • Bok Choy
  • Commercial pellet diets


  • Californian Poppy
  • Chrysanthemum flowers
  • Cornflowers Plagiobothrys ssp
  • Dayflower (flowers and leaves)
  • Forsythia (flowers and leaves)
  • Hen and Chicks
  • Henbit
  • Hibiscus (flowers and leaves)
  • Hosta
  • Ice Plants
  • Mallow (flowers and leaves)
  • Mulberry leaves
  • Plantain (the weed)
  • Prickly pear flowers, fruit, and pads (burn spines off)
  • Rose (flowers and leaves)
  • Sedum


  • Bell peppers
  • Carrots (occasionally)
  • Chicory
  • Collards
  • Dandelion
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Green beans (occasionally)
  • Kale
  • Mushrooms
  • Pumpkin
  • Radicchio
  • Red & green leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring Mix (mixed salad greens)
  • Squash
  • Turnip greens


You want to make sure that you're not only providing a proper diet, but that you're providing proper supplements. You want to lightly dust the fresh vegetables with non-phosphorus calcium with D3, especially if you house your tortoise inside. Even if you house your tortoise outside, you should still supplement calcium daily.

The problem can arise if your tortoise gets too much calcium, as your tortoise can cause a secondary deficiency such as zinc, copper, and iodine. Too much calcium can also cause mal-absorption of fatty acids, as well as the formation of bladder stones.

You can prevent secondary health concerns by still supplementing your tortoise daily. What you can do is put a cuttlebone in the enclosure so that the tortoise can regulate his own calcium intake


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    • IsadoraPandora profile image


      8 years ago from Tennessee

      Great, informative Hub! These are such beautiful animals.


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