Red-Footed Tortoise care guide

The Red-Footed Tortoise is a South and Central American species originating from forest habitats. They are black-brown in shell colour with each shell ring containing an orange-red splodge and a yellow-orange underside. Their heads and legs also have orange-red colouration.

They usually have a docile nature but become physically difficult to handle the larger they get, especially as they don’t enjoy being suspended. They will roam, feed and allow for some interaction though so still make an interesting pet and a different tortoise species from the norm.

Housing

The Red-Footed Tortoise has a large adult size so will need a large amount of space to enable proper movement and enrichment opportunity. An enclosure of at least 5 x 3ft in size is recommended although the more space the better, and larger individuals would definitely benefit from a greater area. 

Tortoise housing should come in the form of a tortoise table as it allows the best airflow – essential for a species that is prone to respiratory infections in an enclosed vivarium. The table should incorporate a sufficient amount of hiding opportunity so your tortoise feels secure, and also a number of decor additions such as rocks, wood and vegetation. Live vegetation can double as a great nutritional opportunity. 

Tortoises are not able to climb but are built to tackle rough terrain and lower obstacles which will make their enclosure more mentally stimulating and make a more natural setting. Being a Central and South American forest species, Red-Footed Tortoises also require moderate humidity, so a moisture-holding substrate like Arcadia’s Earth Mix is best. 

During colder seasons the metabolism of this species would naturally slow to enable them to survive on very little food. In captivity, however, there should always be access to food and basking opportunity. They will still enter a state of sluggish behaviour where they eat and do a little less than usual, but they will still be ‘awake’ all year round. Being diurnally active, most of their activity will take place during daylight hours, giving plenty of opportunities for you to see your pet. 

Heating and lighting

The right heating and lighting is essential. The easiest way to provide both in a table setup is a mercury vapour bulb (heat and UV in one bulb), although these need to be attached to a movable bracket for temperature regulation as they cannot be thermostatically controlled. For more information, see our Tortoise Table Lighting blog.

Red-Footed require a basking temperature of around 32C at one end, with the cooler end displaying temperatures of 22 – 25C. During the night, temperatures can safely drop to 15C but should be monitored with an accurate digital thermometer. UV should always be used in a 12-hour cycle and replaced regularly.

Humidity

Humidity needs to be 60 – 80% and can be monitored with an accurate digital hygrometer. To reach higher humidity, good substrate choices, regular misting and foggers should be utilised. Live plants can also contribute to humidity, though they may not last long if your tortoise takes a liking to them! It is essential to have a shallow water dish within the enclosure to ensure your tortoise is able to get into the dish for drinking and bathing, these dishes will need regular cleaning.

Diet

To keep a healthy tortoise you will need to provide a good variety of veg, weeds, flowers and live plants on which calcium, multivitamins and D3 should be dusted in a relevant routine – these will ensure that a healthy and nutritionally valuable diet is provided. Red Foots are also one of the only tortoises that will feed on meat if given the opportunity – naturally taking advantage of carrion in the wild. The occasional pinky mouse and egg can be a great protein boost although ensure it is only in moderation.

Species profile:

  • Scientific name – Chelonoidis carbonaria
  • Adult Expected Size – 11 – 14 inches
  • Habitat – Central and South American species that inhabits forest habitats. Terrestrial living.
  • Required Enclosure Size – 5 x 3ft Table or larger
  • UV Lighting – 2 – 3 UVI (Mercury Vapour or 6% T5 – enclosure height dependent)
  • Expected Lifespan – 50+ Years
  • Temperature Gradient – 22 – 32C
  • Humidity Levels – 60 – 80%
  • Feeding – Herbivores – veg, weeds, flowers and live plants / will also eat pinky mice and egg in moderation (mimicking wild habits of feeding on carrion)
  • Handling – Usually docile nature but become physically difficult to handle the larger they get.


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