How long have tortoises been around? Fossil records indicate that tortoises have been on our planet for over 65 million years. Very little has changed in their anatomy in all that time. Many prehistoric tortoises had teeth! All turtles and tortoises today have a rostrum or beak for a mouth.
What is the difference between turtles and tortoises? Turtles, with the exception of box turtles, live in the water. They are often found basking on logs, rocks and other surfaces near or in the water. Box turtles will be found near water, and sometimes swimming in the water, but do not actually live in the water. Tortoises are land based, although tortoises evolved from turtles.
Do tortoises make good pets? It depends. Are you able to provide a safe, nurturing environment for a tortoise? Are you able to commit to a pet that will, in most cases, out live you? Can you provide a future plan for someone to care for it after you are gone? In the case of larger species like Sulcatas, are you able to provide a secure, escape proof enclosure? Can you lift 75+ pounds if needed? There is a lot to consider when thinking about bringing a tortoise into your home. Please do your research on the species you are considering purchasing.
Do I need to register or micro-chip my tortoise or turtle? It is highly recommended. Hundreds of tortoises and box turtles escape their enclosures each year. Many of these reptiles live within city limits and are at a higher risk of being hit by cars or falling into trouble in any number of other ways. Many tortoises are expert diggers or climbers, making it somewhat difficult to keep them within their enclosures. Escapes happen! Registering your tortoise or turtle with your veterinarian will help assure your pet is returned to you should it become lost.
Can tortoises or turtles hear? Yes, they have a very good sense of hearing. Their ears are covered by a flap along the side of their head. Many tortoises and turtles will come to the sound of their owners voice.
Can tortoises or turtles smell? Yes, they have an acute sense of smell. Like other reptiles, tortoises detect the faintest of smells with the Jacobson's Organ, on the roof of their mouths. Instead of flicking their tongues like snakes or lizards, they pump their throats to circulate air through the nose and around the mouth. BTW, they love the smell of flowers!
Do tortoises bite? I always say anything with a mouth can bite. Typically tortoises do not bite, at least not with malicious intent or in a defensive way. Bites usually happen accidentally when you hand feed them and they miss, biting your finger. Or if they can get at your feet. Some species of tortoises, especially Sulcatas, seem to love to have a go at toes.
What is that thing protruding from the rear of my tortoise? Most likely it is his penis. Tortoises are easily excited, especially if a female is nearby. No worries, he'll tuck it away in short order.
Do I need a veterinarian to look after my tortoise or turtle? YES, in most cases your turtle
or tortoise will be perfectly healthy, but occasionally that is not the case, and they will
need professional care. Before acquiring a turtle or tortoise look for a veterinarian
close by that can provide the care they may need in the future. You don't want to be scrambling
to locate a veterinarian when an emergency occurs.
Can my tortoise have dog or cat food? NO. The majority of tortoises are herbivores.
The few exceptions that are omnivores will do better with a specialize tortoise diet that will
provide the protein they need. Too much high protein can cause shell deformities, bladder
issues and other health concerns. Always research the proper diet for your particular species.
What plants can I plant in my tortoise enclosure? There are many suitable plants for tortoises, including chickory, succulents, cacti, clover, dandelions, grasses. Again, research the plants that are suitable for your species, and plant accordingly.
My tortoise loves fruit! Is it safe for him? Fruit and most lettuce varieties are not healthy for many tortoises. Sugar disrupts their digestive system and iceberg or Romaine lettuce lacks nutrients. They need high quality tortoise food and plenty of grasses and plants for browsing. However there are species, like red-footed tortoises that require fruit to make up a small portion of their diet. Again research is your friend.
What tortoise food is good for my tortoise? Its obvious not all tortoise diets are created equal. Many tortoise diets available at pet stores lack in any real nutritional value. Those colored pellets look tempting, but are full of very non-natural tortoise diet ingredients.
Ingredients of 5 major brands of tortoise food:
• Soybean hulls
• Wheat middlings
• Suncured alfalfa meal
• Whole ground wheat
Owners and prospective owners are encouraged to continue learning about the animals in their
care. Tortoises are very new to domestication (most sold by the pet industry are wild-caught) and
there is not enough scientific information to understand how to replace a wild tortoise
diet with processed food. Processed foods are nutritionally inadequate and potentially harmful.
Provide a fresh, varied, natural diet. Your tortoise will thank you!
Zoos regularly feed Mazuri tortoise pellets, as do we here at Tortoise Run Farm. They are a little
more pricey, but the quality is much better and offers more nutritional value. We feed pellets once
a week as a supplement to their normal diet.
Does my tortoise or box turtles need water? YES! Provide clean, fresh water daily. Most tortoises
benefit from regular soakings as well. Hydration is of utmost importance. Even if you never witness your tortoise
drinking, provide water nonetheless. A thirty minute soak weekly for sub-adult and adult tortoises is adequate. Juvenile and hatchling tortoises need to be soaked multiple times weekly. You can use a plastic tote or tub that the tortoise cannot climb out of. Fill with warm water (not hot), just to the bottom of the carapace (upper shell) of your tortoise. Soaking not only allows the tortoise to hydrate, but to defecate, and release uric acid.
What is Uric Acid? In reptiles, uric acid is cleared from the bloodstream by the kidneys. Tortoises convert this ammonia to uric acid, which is less toxic to the bladder wall and lets them hold water in their bladder for long periods of time. A combination of excess uric acid, minerals, and other body waste products that the tortoise's kidneys have filtered out and will be excreted. These urates can vary in consistency from totally liquid to about the same consistency as toothpaste, and will be white to yellowish-white.
Can I keep my tortoise in a glass aquarium? NO. They are incorrect for housing your tortoise.
Why are glass tanks bad?
• Little to no air circulation - acts as a sauna
• Cannot obtain or maintain correct temperatures
• Clear sides - stresses out the tortoise
• Tortoises don’t understand a glass barrier; if they can see through it, they will try to get through it.
What happens while living in glass?
• Abnormal development - many health problems and early death come from inadequate environmental conditions
• Stress and depression - tortoises are active,
curious creatures and glass confinement results
in abnormal behaviors:
• Stress - constantly climbing the glass trying to get out
• Depression - hiding or giving up, no activity
• Stress and depression are the causes of many
significant and permanent health problems
If glass is bad, why does the pet industry advocate its use?
• Money - the pet industry is focused on profit, not the well-being
• Glass is easy to make, cheap and profitable
Does my Tortoise need a friend? The short answer is no. Tortoises are primarily solitary creatures... only coming together in the wild to mate or vie for mates. Males should never be kept together. Even if they seem to get along in the beginning, fights will eventually happen. Males fight for dominance, even if females are not present. Injuries can be severe. Housing males with females is also discouraged, and will often result in the male harassing the female trying to mate continuously. This can, and does stress the female, and can result in health issues. Housing females together in some circumstances may work, but constant observation should be maintained. Have an exit plan ready it you need to separate them. Hatchlings and juveniles of most species can be housed together, but again observe them for issues and have an exit plan ready.
How big can I expect my tortoise to get? It depends. Which species do you have or plan to acquire?
Russian Tortoises----females may reach lengths up to 8 inches, males are smaller
Leopard Tortoises, depending on subspecies can range in length from 12 inches up to 20 inches and weigh from 25 pounds to more than 50 pounds.
Red-footed Tortoises generally max out at 16 inches and 20 pounds.
sulcatas are the third largest tortoise in the world, and may reach a shell length of 2 feet or more, and weigh more than 200 pounds. Although typically they will weigh around 100-150 pounds when full grown.
Research should be done on the species you are interested before acquiring it. A Russian tortoise is far easier to house than a sulcata.
How old will my tortoise live to be? In most cases tortoises live more than 75 years. More than 100 years is not uncommon.
What is the largest tortoise in the World? The Galapagos is the largest and may weigh upwards of 800 pounds. The second largest is the Aldabra, and they may weigh in at 500 pounds or more.
Can tortoises swim? NO, do not provide a swimming hole deeper than the tortoises shell. That being said....Some of the larger island tortoises have the ability to float and basically bob in the water like a bobber. This is how they get from island to island. However the tortoise you are likely to bring home will not bob like a bobber, but sink like a rock. Watering holes should be shallow and easily accessed both in and out.
Can my tortoise feel when I touch his shell? Yes, the tortoises shell is made up of the same substance as your fingernails, keratin. Just like you can feel when someone (or yourself) touches your fingernails, tortoises and turtles can feel when you scratch, touch or rub their shell. Their shell is porous and covered in nerve endings. They absorb Vitamin D through their shells which aids in digestion. Never apply oils or other substances to the shell.
The scales on the Carapace (top portion of the shell) are called scutes. Scutes protect the bony part of the shell from injury and infection. They also help camouflage the tortoise or turtle in their natural environment. If you count the rings around their scutes you can age a turtle, somewhat like aging a tree when you count the growth rings. Some older turtles will have rings that are worn smooth, making it more difficult to age them.