Marginated tortoise, Testudo marginata

Marginated tortoises are large, docile and make great pets

At a glance...
  • Marginated tortoises are one of the largest in Europe
  • Docile temperaments make them great pets
  • Easy husbandry requirements, but need plenty of space
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Do Marginated tortoises make good pets?

Marginated tortoises are one of the largest species in the genus Testudo, and can be found across Italy, Greece and parts of Southern Europe. There are two distinct subspecies of Marginated tortoise, the Greek marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata marginata) and the Sardinian marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata sarda).

Marginated tortoises are a beautiful species, characterised by beautifully marked shells with pearly white highlights and rear marginal scutes that form a 'bell' shape around the rear end of the shell.

Marginated tortoises are docile pets, but don’t enjoy being suspended in the air, so although handling young tortoises is easy, it is better to interact with them whilst they are roaming or eating to avoid causing them too much stress.

At Swell Reptiles, all of our Marginated tortoises were captive bred in the UK, leaving you safe in the knowledge that your new tortoise came from a reliable source, with no negative impacts on their native ecosystems.

Although two individuals of this species are unlikely to fight, when kept together they will compete over resources which often leads to one becoming stressed and/or malnourished, we therefore recommend against cohabitation for Marginated tortoises.

What enclosure do I need for my Marginated tortoise?

In nature, Marginated tortoises would spend much of their time roaming, covering surprisingly large distances in a single day. They should, therefore, be provided with plenty of space in captivity. We recommend a minimum footprint size of 150 x 90cm (5 x 3ft) for an adult, although juvenile Marginated tortoises can be kept in smaller enclosures.

Open-topped tortoise tables are recommended over vivariums here, as this species is prone to respiratory infections when kept in low-ventilated areas. However, if an enclosed wooden vivarium needs to be used, this isn’t a huge problem, but extra care should be taken to increase the ventilation, for example by drilling holes into the ceiling panel.

Do Marginated tortoises need heat and UV?

Marginated tortoises should be kept with a basking temperature of around 32°C (89°F) and a cool end temperature between 22-25°C (71-77°F) to allow them to regulate their internal body temperature. To ensure good shell growth and prevent serious health issues such as metabolic bone disease, they should also be provided with a medium-high level UVB, within a UVI range of 3-4.

When kept on a tortoise table, your Marginated tortoise can be provided with heat and UVB from a single source, a mercury vapour lamp. The height of the bulb from the tortoise's shell will dictate the UVI in the basking zone, the required height can differ between brands so it is important to check the product packaging or use a Solarmeter to work this out. Mercury vapours cannot be thermostatically controlled, so it can take a little trial and error to figure out the required wattage in your own home.

If using a vivarium, a mercury vapour lamp is not a good option as it is likely to overheat, so your heat and UV should instead come from different sources. Heat can be provided using an overhead heating system such as a basking light and dimming thermostat, or a ceramic heater and pulse thermostat to achieve the proper temperature gradients.

The percentage of UVB required will depend on the height of your enclosure, so if the light fixture will be between 30-40cm (12-15”) above the tortoise's shell, an Arcadia ProT5 Kit - Forest 6% can be used, whereas if this distance will be between 40-60cm (15-24”), an Arcadia ProT5 Kit - Desert 12% is a better choice.

What substrate should I use for my Marginated tortoise?

Thicker substrates such as ProRep Tortoise Life work best for Marginated tortoises, as this will allow them to exhibit natural behaviours such as digging and burrowing, whilst giving an overall natural look to the set-up. If you would like to add live plants, ProRep Tortoise Life Bio is a better option, as it will provide a better growing medium for the plants.

How do I decorate a Marginated tortoise’s enclosure?

Most tortoise tables have hiding areas built into them, but if yours doesn’t, or if you decide on a vivarium, you will need to provide your tortoise with a wide-opening hiding cave or two, for example, the Exo Terra Tortoise Cave. You should also provide shallow water dishes such as the ProRep Tortoise Pool, and a shallow feeding dish to prevent accidental ingestion of substrate when feeding.

Along with this, you can provide enrichment for your Marginated tortoise in the form of tunnels, hills, rocks, bark pieces and foliage either from real or artificial plants, keeping in mind that live plants are likely to be eaten. The more coarse and hard pieces of decor will help to keep your tortoise's nails trim and also assist during the shedding process.

What do Marginated tortoises eat?

Marginated tortoises are herbivores, and should be fed a varied diet including garden weeds, other leafy green foods, vegetables and fruits. You can also supplement your Marginated tortoise's diet by adding edible live plants into their enclosure, such as Prickly pear cactus. 

Many examples of formulated dry reptile food also exist in the market, but we do not recommend these as a sole diet, as they tend to lack variety and are not as nutritious as a fresh, varied diet, but are great for adding variety, or if you are in a pinch and do not have any fresh food around.

To ensure all of the required nutrients are provided in your Marginated tortoise’s diet, all food items should be dusted with supplements according to a strict schedule. We recommend using a calcium-rich multivitamin on every feed, such as Arcadia EarthPro-A, a calcium plus magnesium supplement on every fourth feed, such as Arcadia CalciumPro Mg and finally, a vitamin D3 supplement on every eighth feed such as Arcadia EarthPro RevitaliseD3.

How do I buy a Marginated tortoise?

If you would like to take home one of our UK captive bred Marginated tortoises, please come in and see us, bringing with you some images of your set-up, which should be completely ready for the tortoise to go into.

We will ask a few quick questions and also to see your set-up images to ensure you are ready for the commitment of this beautiful tortoise. We reserve the right to refuse adoption to anyone we feel is unprepared to adopt.

If you would like to learn about an alternative to the Marginated tortoise, we recommend checking out our Horsfield tortoise care sheet.

Common names Marginated tortoise, Greek marginated tortoise, Sardinian marginated tortoise
Scientific name Testudo marginata marginata, Testudo marginata sarda
Country Europe
Captive-bred Yes
Adult size 30-40cm (12-15”)
Natural habitat Arid habitats
Housing 150 x 90cm (5 x 3ft)
Ideal temperature 32°C (89°F) (warm end); (22-25°C (71-77°F) (cool end)
UVI 3-4
Ideal humidity 60-70%
Diet Herbivorous
Average lifespan 80+ years
Personality Docile
Ease of handling Easy, more difficult with adults
Cohabitable No
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