Tortoises are a popular pet. They are typically hardy, friendly, full of character and personality, and long lived. They are also now quite expensive because of the importation limitations and rarity of some species in the wild. Endangered species require CITES paperwork and this should be kept safe. The usual tortoise we sell at Reptile Cymru is the Horsfield Tortoise (Testudo horsefieldii) and this caresheet is designed for that species. However many Mediterranean species including Hermann’s, Marginated and Spur Thighed can be kept in the same conditions. Horsefields do not need any CITES paperwork, whereas the other three species mentioned do. Click here to see what tortoises we currently have in stock.
We recommend open topped tortoise tables for Mediterranean species. Horsefield’s Tortoises whilst slow and fairly small (males average 6-7” shell length, females 8”), are surprisingly active and will cover a large amount of ground every day. As such it is recommended that you provide them with as much space as you can spare. We recommend a 36x24” Tortoise Table as a bare minimum for a hatchling tortoise. In the summer, providing an outdoor enclosure will be of great benefit even if your tortoise only goes out on sunny days. Just make sure that the enclosure is secure as tortoises can dig and many have escaped gardens this way!
All tortoises require the UVB (naturally available from unfiltered sunlight) to process calcium and vitamin D3. Without access they will suffer a long drawn out deterioration that will result in permanent health problems and eventually, death. It is essential that a tortoise housed indoors have 12 hours a day during summer months of 10-12% UVB lighting. The highest strength is best for the tortoise. Heating is best provided with basking lights, which can also be infra red for night time heating. Heat mats are also commercially available for under tank heating.
The temperature should be between 29-32C (84-90F) underneath the basking spot, with an ambient in the cooler areas of the tank at 20C (68F). Night time can drop lower.
In your enclosure you should have several inches of substrate available for digging. We recommend a sand and soil mix, although aspen bedding can also be used. The substrate needs to be kept clean and dry. Horsefield’s Tortoises do not tolerate humidity – which is one of the reasons an open topped cage is important. They will need a shaded area to hide in, such as a large log roll. They are not good climbers but will investigate anything they can see – you will need to make sure that whatever accessories you put in are safe and that the tortoise is not likely to fall or injure itself. Provide a large feeding bowl so that no substrate is accidentally ingested and a shallow water bowl.
Soaking the tortoise once weekly is important to ensure that it is hydrated. You can do this in a large bowl or bath tub. The tortoise needs to be able to comfortabley stand in the water, which should be lukewarm. In an outdoor enclosure if you have a large enough bathing area for the tortoise to wade into, this might not be necessary.
It is essential that tortoises be given a good quality calcium and vitamin supplement with their meals. This can be reduced to two or three times a week for adults.
Few tortoises have much fruit in their diet, but most can be offered some berries and apple occasionally. African species should not be offered fruit. The bulk of any tortoises diet is made up with weeds (such as clover, grass, dandelion leaves) and vegetables. Larger species will also eat hay.
A good selection of safe vegetables to eat include Cabbage, Spring Green, Carrot, Cauliflower, Spinach, Beans, Peas, Brussel Sprout, Cucumber, Kale, Cress, Watercress, Broccoli, Parsnip, Lettuce and Fennel.
A selection of weeds and flowers that are safe to eat include Dandelion, Clover, Chickweed, Buttercup, Plantain, Heather, Sow Thistle, Hawkbits, Bindweed, Rose Petals, Forget-Me-Not, Fuchsia, Antirrhinum, Hibiscus, Aubretia, Nasturtium, Pansies, Petunia, Geranium.
Commercial tortoise foods have increased greatly in quality over the years and there are now some excellent 100% natural diets that can either be fed as a complete diet, or simply as a supplement. We would personally recommend feeding as much fresh salad as possible as a varied diet is not only nutritionally good but helps keep the tortoise mentally stimulated.
Tortoises reach sexual maturity between 6 and 8 years of age. They are usually sexable earlier than this, but not as hatchlings. Two males living together may fight and stress each other out, whilst a male with a single female is likely to constantly chase her and attempt to mate. A male is not recommended unless he has multiple females to give his attentions too. A group of females usually live together fine. Tortoises do not need company, they do not get lonely so you are absolutely fine to keep one on their own.
There are conflicting opinions on hibernation, some keepers will never hibernate their tortoises whilst other insist on it. As they come from areas in the wild that have extremely cold winters, they have no option but to hibnerate. In captivity, even our winters are not reliable enough to let them hibernate outside, so if you are going to hibernate your tortoise you need to be prepared to do so artificially. As well sell young tortoises, usually 1-2 years old, we do not recommend you hibernate them in their first year. After this we would recommend you visit www.tortoisetrust.org for their in depth articles on hibernation. Exotic vets will be happy to do a health check on your tortoise for you as well, which may give you peace of mind to ensure that they are ready for hibernation.
Overall Horsfield Tortoises are an active, intelligent tortoise that will be part of your family for a long time. They are relatively easy to care for but do require you to be aware of their dietary needs and to provide the right enclosure. If you’re prepared to offer one the care it needs for the next 60 years then you will be well rewarded with an interesting pet!