Animal-World > Reptiles - Amphibians > Tortoises > Red-footed Tortoise

Red-footed Tortoise

South American Red-footed Tortoise, Red-leg Tortoise, Savanna Tortoise

Family: TestudinidaePicture of a Red-footed Tortoise, Geochelone carbonariaGeochelone carbonariaPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Russ Gurley
Latest Reader Comment - See More
Have had a red foot tortoise for 2 years. During warm weather she is in an outside pen & always looking for bugs or worms. 'Ruby' will not eat veggies or fruits... (more)  cathy

   A medium-sized tortoise, the popular Red-footed Tortoise is considered to be one of the most responsive and personable of the tortoises!

   The Red-footed Tortoise, also sometimes called the Red-leg Tortoise or Savanna Tortoise is described as one of the best pet tortoises. They are typically outgoing and curious. Besides staying relatively small they are colorful, hardy, and long-lived.

For more Information see:
Selecting and Caring for Your Turtle or Tortoise

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Genus: Geochelone
  • Species: carbonaria

Distribution:    Red-footed Tortoises are found in the tropical and humid forest areas of South America. They inhabit Guianas, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and there are some on the Caribbean islands. They live in the underbrush and forage for fallen fruit, plant growth, and will even eat carrion.

Status   This tortoise is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species but is listed on CITES: Appendix II.

Description:    One of the most colorful tortoises, the skin and carapace (upper shell) of the Red-footed Tortoise is dark brown to black with lighter patches in the centers of the scutes and around the edges, usually a yellowish tan or red color. The plastron (bottom shell) is a bland yellowish brown, sometimes with a hint of red. A few or sometimes many of the scales on the front legs, as well as patches on the head are orange, yellow, or red. Due to the large natural range they originate from, this coloring can be quite variable from one tortoise to the next.
   A descriptive characteristic of the Red-footed Tortoise is their adult body shape, more pronounced in the male than the female. The sides of the carapace become concave, almost giving it a 'waist'. The shape of the shell is often described as a loaf of bread or an hourglass. A medium size tortoise, they stay relatively small growing to about 12" to 16" (30 - 40 cm) for most types. The male is slightly larger than the female and has a longer, wider tail.
   On the juvenile Red-footed Tortoise, the carapace is lighter. It has a pale yellowish background color that develops into darker patches as it matures.

Care and Feeding:    Red-footed Tortoises are omnivorous, eating both animal and plant material in nature. In captivity they will feed eagerly on a mixed salad of fruits and vegetables every other day. They should be fed some higher protein items once or twice a week. Most Red-footed Tortoises will eagerly feed on dead mice and dead chicks, but some prefer to feed them a high-quality commercial food once a week. Mazuri Tortoise Diet® and Zupreem Primate Diet® ("Monkey Biscuits") are great supplements to their diet.
   Water should be offered in a large flat saucer. This can be a cat litter pan sunk into the substrate (make sure the tortoise can climb in and out easily) or a large plastic saucer which is normally placed under a potted plant. These can be easily cleaned and sterilized once a week or as needed.

   Red-footed Tortoises require warm, humid environments. A pair of adults will require an enclosure that is at least 4' wide x 6' long.
   The substrate can be a mixture of ½ sand and ½ peat moss. A layer of cypress mulch can be placed over the top of the substrate to help hold in moisture. The addition of piles of dry leaves, hay, and plants in pots can add to the natural look of a Red-foot enclosure.
   A variety of shelters can be offered to give the young Red-footed Tortoise a feeling of security. Add large pieces of curved cork bark, large banana leaves, piles of hay, or grass clippings for the tortoises to use as shelter. The shelter should be located at the cooler end of the enclosure and not directly under the heat-emitting lamps.
   Provide heat using a heat-emitting bulb in a clamp-type fixture over the enclosure. Ideally, you can hang a fixture overhead that will hold the bulb and keep it about 12" above the surface of the substrate. Most of these bulbs get very hot and so should be kept in a fixture with a ceramic base. The heat-emitting bulbs should provide a basking spot of 90{deg} F (32{deg} C) at one end of the enclosure. The heat in this area will allow the Red-footed Tortoise to bask and to digest its food properly.
   Lighting can be provided with a shop light fixture overhead that is fitted with one or two UV-emitting bulbs. These can be found at your pet store or on-line from a variety of sources. UVB-heat bulbs® from T-Rex products and Zoomed Reptisun® bulbs will provide UV radiation to the enclosure. This UVB is necessary for Vitamin D3 synthesis, which allows the tortoises to properly use calcium and to carry on metabolism.
   A glass terrarium works well for small and medium sized Red-footed Tortoises. A young tortoises can be kept in a 20-gallon long terrarium (20" l x 12" w x 12" h) while a medium tortoise will need a 40-gallon breeder terrarium or larger. Tape paper on the back and sides of glass terrariums to keep the young tortoise from constantly trying to walk through the clear glass.
   You can also use plastic tubs, wooden cages, and other enclosures; but glass terrariums are easy to find at the local pet store and they come in a variety of sizes. Of course, as the tortoise grows, it will need larger and larger enclosures.
   All tortoises benefit from being kept outdoors for all or part of their lives. They received doses of UVB radiation, environmental heat, and of course enjoy a connection to the grass, plants, and soil found in outdoor pens. Outdoor enclosures should offer shelter from heat, a secure place to rest, and a water source. Feed outdoor tortoises three times a week and at their leisure they can eat some of their favorite grasses, fruits, and vegetables within the enclosure. Also be very diligent to make sure that outdoor enclosures are escape-proof and predator-proof.
   Red-footed Tortoises require warm, humid environments. If you live in an arid area, you will need to offer mud wallows or will need to turn on the water sprinkler once a day, especially during midday heat.

Handling:    Red-footed Tortoises are typically outgoing and curious. They can be hand-fed and strawberries, pieces of melon, and hibiscus flowers are some of their favorite treats. They usually won't retreat into their shells but will look around to see what is going on.
   Specimens that have been raised from small, captive-hatched babies and which are open to daily interaction over many years become the most tame and easily handled. You should however, provide a variety of shelters to give these tortoises a feeling of security.

Breeding:    An established pair of Red-footed Tortoises can be very prolific and in warm areas can produce year-round. A light winter cooling, followed by warm, rainy days triggers breeding in Red-footed Tortoises. Males are very eager breeders and a healthy pair can produce two to four clutches of 3 to 4 eggs each season, depending on the size of the female.
   It is felt by most keepers that the addition of protein and calcium to a female Red-foot's diet is essential in having her produce clutches of healthy, viable eggs. The young Red-foots hatch out in approximately 100 days at 82{deg} to 84{deg} F

Ailments / Health Problems:    As with most other tortoises Red-footed Tortoises are found in warm habitats. Thus, their captive enclosures should reflect this need. When kept cool for an extended period of time, you can expect a Red-footed Tortoise to begin showing respiratory problems. The early signs are puffy eyes, runny noses, etc. You should strive to maintain an enclosure that is hot and humid (but not soggy) to avoid these health issues.

Be Aware:

  • As Red-footed Tortoises are really only available as captive-hatched babies these days, you should not be concerned about internal parasites.
  • HOWEVER, many of the Red-footed Tortoises available on-line are "farm-raised" specimens. These tortoises are being produced in HUGE numbers on farms which are basically fenced off natural areas in their native habitat.
  • These animals have arrived in great condition, but some have internal parasites from being fed in large numbers on the soil on these farms.
  • If you are buying a farm-raised animal (a 4 - 5" animal from Brazil, Suriname, Venezuela, etc. from a dealer and not the actual breeder) you should have a vet run a fecal exam for you.
  • Collect a fecal sample in a plastic bag and take it to your local veterinarian. They will check it and offer treatment options for you.

REMEMBER: Ivermectin, a famous wormer in the cattle industry,
will KILL your tortoise.

(You might even remind your veterinarian of this fact though most will know.)

   Long-term lack of appetite, runny or smelly stools, and blood in the feces are signs of a problem and a keeper should approach a qualified veterinarian if any of these signs are noticed.

Availability:    Red-footed Tortoises are readily available from better reptile stores, on-line, or at reptile shows and expos.
   Try to purchase your tortoise from a breeder or someone with intimate knowledge of tortoises. Be careful when purchasing a tortoise on-line. There are many many imported "farm-raised" Red-footed Tortoises arriving into the pet trade (see ailments above). These animals are not necessarily the best for beginning keepers.
   Captive-hatched animals from a breeder are excellent animals for a beginner. A breeder will help you set up the proper enclosure and will give you helpful hints so you are successful. Also, if you don't have to ship your tortoise, that is always best. A beginning keeper should purchase a tortoise that is at least three months old to make sure it is past the delicate stage.

Author: Russ Gurley
Additional Information: Clarice Brough, CRS
Edited by Animal-World.
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Lastest Animal Stories on Red-footed Tortoise

cathy - 2013-12-20
Have had a red foot tortoise for 2 years. During warm weather she is in an outside pen & always looking for bugs or worms. 'Ruby' will not eat veggies or fruits in what I feel is proper amounts & when I bring her in the house she heads straight for the dog food bowl. I have been using green veggie baby food w/ a piece of dog food in it and once started she scoops most all the baby food looking for more buried dog food. How long can I let her go without feeding? She has gone a couple of days refusing a proper diet, holding out for the dog food/baby food soup.

  • Clarice Brough - 2013-12-26
    These tortoises are omnivores, so will eat both veggies and protein. There may be something in the dog food she is craving. They usually need food every couple of days. See the care and feeding section above for a more complete description.
Travis Reed - 2007-09-09
Also note that red-footed tortoses LOVE humidity. If your tortoise is kept inside or in an outside enclosure in an area with low humidity you must provide them humidity. If you can't provide a smoke machine/mister or frequent sprinklers, I have found it effective to turn a plastic container such as a trash can on its side, bury it a couple inches in the ground, and fill it up with mulch. Keeping the mulch wet all the time allows for a good humidified area that your tortoise can crawl into and regulate his own humidity. Enjoy your red-foot and take good care of him/her!

Emily - 2013-10-11
I bought a red-footed tortoise about 2 years ago so far 'it' seemed to be doing great until just recently...'it's' eyes are cloudy and his neck seems to be swollen I'm not sure what to do please help.

Joel - 2013-02-27
I have had my red foot zissou for about a month now. Firstly, he really has only taken to bananas. I'm assuming this was what he was given a majority of the time at the pet store. Is there a good way to transition him? Doesn't seem like he eats at all if there are no bananas. Secondly, he never poops in his water dish. He poops on the ground, and today i caught him eating it. I've read that this can be normal. . . . Is it?

  • Jasmine Brough Hinesley - 2013-02-27
    I would suggest continuing to offer him a wide variety of foods, with few bananas. I would hope that over time he would warm up to other types of foods as well. I would also keep an eye on his stools - if they are excessively runny then he is probably not getting the proper nutrients. It is normal for tortoises to eat their stool sometimes too. Yours may be getting additional nutrients from it.
  • Anonymous - 2013-07-05
    No. Too many bananas are VERY unhealthy for your tortoise. The best diet for a baby redfoot tortoise would be romaine lettuce, kale, and escarole as well as collard greens in the Leafy greens section. For vegetables, I suggest very well grated or sliced thin carrots. Use baby carrots for grating and slicing thin. Mushroom is always another option. For fruits, this is supposed to be a very half percentage of their diet so feed strawberry slices, mango cubes, watermelon slices of red stuff, and feed a banana slice once or twice a month during a leafy greens and fruit feeding time. Feed your tortoise TWICE a day, using the food schedule I found for you. SUNDAY Leafy greens MONDAY Leafy greens with fruit TUESDAY Leafy greens WEDNESDAY Leafy greens with vegetable THURSDAY Leafy greens with fruit FRIDAY Leafy greens with meat SATURDAY Half amount of leafy greens as usual I hope this helps very much for I have a red foot tortoise as well and she is as healthy as possible. I have a tip for you though. That 10 gallon tank won’t be helpful for long for red foot tortoises can grow to 20 inches (50 centimeters) and the minimum for a red foot tortoise for the enclosure size is 40 gallons. Make sure that you have soil that is not moldy and make sure your tank is low in height and very wide. Go to Big Al’s, (in Canada) in Scarborough if possible. They have tanks for 99.99 dollars that are PERFECT. DO NOT GET ANY TURTLE KITS FOR YOUR TORTOISE. And make sure you have a soaking area to cool off if your red foot gets a little tired of the humidity. Make sure the red foot never stays underneath the heat spot lamp for longer than 15-20 minutes. This can kill your red foot. If your red foot is not defensive when you pick it up, then something is wrong. Check for scarps of broken legs. If you found anything or nothing go to your veterinarian for a observation.
  • bettycole - 2013-09-13
    I have a redfoot. Got him because I felt sorry for him $60.00. He always poops when I pick him up to be in the house. He does not bite I feel bad he is afaid of me. I feed him all the above except bananas. Caught him eating dog poop today, already had 5 flowers 2 lettuce, romaine leaf a small piece of dog food. Called vet said ok as long as not his only thing he's eating and he eats other things first.
ANN - 2011-04-10
How do I know if my red foot is male or female?

  • Charlie Roche - 2011-04-12
    Animal World does describe how to tell the difference between a male and female in the article on the red footed tortoise. It would be a lot easier if you had one of each and then you could put them side by side. However, without that, then hopefully you will be able to tell from the description in the article. I like photos but......easier to tell. I look up U tube and see if they have some photos with male and female side by side. You are supposed to be able to tell.
  • Susan B - 2012-05-08
    Females have a flat plastron and males have a concave one. Have to wait until they are old enough for it to show. Approx 1 year.
  • Anonymous - 2012-11-07
    Check the tail -  if the tail is small but triangular it is a female if its a male the tail will seem ropelike

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