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How to Care* for Your Red-Foot Tortoise

How to Care* for Your Red-Foot Tortoise


Red-Foot Tortoises (Chelonoidis carbonaria)  are medium-sized (10-14” or more) long-lived (up to 50 years), terrestrial, diurnal reptiles native to South America. Their scutes (sections of their shells) are generally black with yellow centers.  They have distinct red coloring on their legs and feet, which gives them their name.  The tortoise’s long life and large enclosure size make them an intermediate level pet.


Red-Foot Tortoises can be housed indoors or outdoors in a large, penned enclosure.  An indoor enclosure for a single adult Red-Foot Tortoise is recommended to be at least 2’x3’.  50-gallon Rubbermaid tubs are frequently used (43”x21”).  The substrate most recommended for them is cypress mulch or coco fiber.  Indoor enclosures should also include a basking area, a hide area large enough for the tortoise to turn around in, a humid hide area, and a flat rock in the basking area, which will retain heat and also allow for good toenail wear.  A shallow water bowl for soaking and drinking is also important and needs to be cleaned regularly. Some keepers prefer to soak their tortoises weekly if the water bowl is not big enough for them to soak themselves. 

The outdoor enclosure needs to meet the following criteria: at least 4’x4’, walls extending about 16” above and a few inches below ground level to prevent escape, safe from possible outdoor predators, heated hide box for colder weather, shaded area for warmer weather.  Naturally growing plants for the tortoises to eat can also be included.  There should be a water bowl large enough for the tortoise to soak, but shallow enough for them not to be submerged.  The bowl should be cleaned out regularly.  Red-Foot Tortoises kept outside where winter temperatures drop below 50F will need a heated hide area, and it will be important to ensure that they are in these hides at night.

Heating and Lighting

In their native habitat, daytime temperatures may reach 90-100F with a night time drop-off below 70F.  They have been reported to tolerate even lower temperatures in captivity with the provision of a heated hide. It is crucial that they have areas in their outdoor enclosures to escape from bright sunlight and cold temperatures.  Indoor enclosures require a heat-producing light for a basking area about the size of the tortoise that will reach 90F, and full-spectrum lighting 12-14 hours a day to provide appropriate UV.  The recommended UVB light is a full-spectrum 10.0 fluorescent bulb that runs most of the length of the enclosure.  The fixture can be placed inside the cage underneath the cover or on top of a mesh cover.  If the fixture is placed on top of the cage, a glass cage cover should not be used, since the UVB will not penetrate through the glass.  Florescent bulbs decrease in the amount of UVB emitted with time.  It’s safest to replace the bulb every 6 months, though a more accurate schedule can be determined if a UV meter is purchased and used to check UV levels.  Red-Foot Tortoises rarely require extra heat as long as the ambient temperature is comfortable for humans.

Food and Supplementation

Red-Foot Tortoises are primarily herbivorous and tolerate a diet moderately higher in protein than other tortoise species.  They enjoy a variety of dark leafy greens, grasses, flowers, and fruits.  They can also be fed commercially available tortoise pellets which must be moistened.  Red-Foot Tortoises do eat limited amounts of live prey and will benefit from several feedings of large Dubia Roaches, crickets or earthworms a month.

Red-Foot Tortoises require calcium to build strong bones, vitamin D3 to metabolize the calcium and a variety of other vitamins and minerals.  They are generally provided with the calcium, vitamins, and minerals they need through the grasses they consume and with the vitamin D3 from the sun or full-spectrum lighting if kept indoors.  Additional nutrients can be provided by dusting their food with calcium with vitamin D3 several times a week.

*This care sheet contains only very basic information.  If you are new to Red-Foot Tortoises, please do additional research to obtain additional information from more detailed care sheets.

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