Red-Footed Tortoise – A Complete Care Guide

red footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoise is a kind of tortoise that is very different from other tortoises. It is a very fascinating tortoise to learn about and keep as a pet. For reptile pet lovers, these are lovable creatures that they should consider while owning a pet. 

Red-footed tortoise is easy to take care of, and it doesn’t require lots of care either. These tortoises are truly wise investments, they are such gentle creatures, and a plus point is that they are long-living. Their friendly nature and attractive shell make the investment so worth it!

 Overview of the red-footed tortoise 

Common name:Red-footed tortoise, red leg tortoise, and savannah tortoise
Scientific name:Chelonoidis carbonarius
ColorBlack and orange shell and legs 
Weight10 kgs 
Length10 to 16 inches
Lifespan30 to 50 years
NativeCentral and South America.
Climate and temperature for survival:Around 80F to 90F and humid climate.

The appearance of a red-footed tortoise

The red-footed has a very attractive color, unlike other tortoises they are very different in terms of their appearance. If we had to define a red-footed tortoise based on its physical appearance, we can say that they are blazing and gorgeous reptiles.

These tortoises are known as red-footed tortoises because of their legs that have red scales on them, this gives the red-footed a pop of color. Along with the legs the tortoise also has red, black, and brown scales on its shell, head, tail, and limbs too.

Some tortoises have orange or yellow scales instead of red scales because they live in different regions, so the color of the scales also depends largely upon the region in which the tortoise lives.

If we observe closely, we find out that the red-footed tortoise has a head that is flatter in comparison with other tortoises.

 The plastron (protective bony plates beneath the shell to protect the stomach of a tortoise) of a female is a lot flat while the plastron of a male red-footed tortoise is concave.

red footed tortoise
Image credits: redfootbreeder


When baby red-footed tortoises are born their average size is about 1.5 to 2.5 inches, but as the tortoise grows into the adult stage its average size increases up to 16 inches. 

The female red-footed is a little smaller in size as compared to the male red-footed tortoise, the size of a female red-footed is usually approximately 13 inches.

In rare cases, these tortoises have also reached up to 19 inches!

Growth rate:

The growth rate of a red-footed is quite slow, they grow around one to two inches per year


On average the weight of a red-footed tortoise is about 10 kgs. The female tortoise weighs around 9kgs and the baby tortoise weighs only some grams when born.

baby red footed tortoise
Image credits: tse2

The texture of the red-footed tortoise:

The shell of the red-footed tortoise has bumps, these bumps are smooth to the touch. The shell is glossy and shines if it is put under torch lights. The legs are a little gritty to feel, as they have scales on them.

Description of the red-footed tortoise 

Red-footed tortoises are native to South America and they are found in countries such as Columbia, Argentina, Panama, Brazil, and Bolivia. They are also found in the grassland, Trinidad, and the Caribbean. The red-footed tortoise prefers living in heavily forested habitats like rainforests, temperate forests, and dry forests. Red-footed tortoises live in humid areas, but not in areas that have a lot of mud as it makes it harder for them to burrow in.

Speed of the red-footed tortoise

Other species of tortoises have a speed of 0.2 to 0.6 km/h but red-footed tortoises are a lot faster than other tortoises, the speed of red-footed is 8km/h!

The life span of the red-footed tortoise

If you want to keep a red-footed tortoise as a pet you need to commit to it, as the lifespan of this tortoise is from 20 to 50 years. In the wild the red-footed tortoise lives for approximately 40 years, but if it is taken proper care of and is provided with the requirement for a healthy life they live for a lot longer period. They can live for 1 century too!

Some unfavorable conditions may cause the death of the tortoise, but it largely depends on how much we take care of our tortoise, which determines its lifetime.

Breeding and mating of the red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoises reproduce asexually and they lay eggs. Red-footed tortoises can mate any time during the year, there is no specific month in which they mate as they do not hibernate, but it’s at the peak in March and April. They usually lay their eggs around June to September.

 Red-footed tortoise reaches their reproductive state at the age of 6 to 8 years old. The weak and small tortoise often produce infertile eggs, but as they grow they produce more fertile eggs, which are more likely to hatch.

A female can lay up to 13 eggs in each clutch, and it can reproduce several times in the year. Although a single pair of red-footed can reproduce offspring, chances are higher if the breeding is done in a group.

 The eggs take around 120 to 150 days to hatch, and they become independent after hatching.

Red-footed tortoises mate by male tortoise circulating the female and moving his head, they also make clucking noises to attract each other.

The mating type of red-footed tortoise is polygyny( a mating kind in which the male gets more than the female).

The behavior of the red-footed tortoise 

Red-footed tortoise makes a good pet as they are very peaceful and calm animals, they are mostly active during the day and prefer sleeping at night, just like us humans so they don’t create any disturbance. Sometimes they can sleep during the day after large meals, red-footed rest for so long that mold of termites, dust, and leaves gather upon its shell.

Red-footed like nature and wandering, they often come out after the rains.

These reptiles are not territorial or aggressive, they can’t harm humans in any way. Red-footed tortoises do not bite but they also don’t like being handled a lot so avoid touching the tortoise too much. The only time a tortoise can harm the other tortoise is during the breeding season, they fight so that they can gain access to the female, and the losing tortoise is flipped over.

Food chain 

The red-footed tortoises are herbivores, and they eat plants, but occasionally they eat small invertebrates like slugs and snails.

red footed tortoise eating
Image credits: i.ytimg

Red-footed tortoises are often not preyed on because of their hard shell, but they are eaten by humans. small red-footed tortoises are preyed on by birds, crocodiles, lizards, mammals, and birds.

Jaguars also prey upon red-footed tortoises.

Extinction of red-footed tortoise 

Although the exact population of red-footed tortoises is not known, they are a threatened species. Humans eat red-footed tortoise and their eggs, they also get harmed by human activities like pollution, cutting, and logging.

The animal is listed in CITES appendix II and international trade is restricted.

Pet guide of the red-footed tortoise 

A complete guide for pet red-footed tortoises is stated below.

The housing of a red-footed tortoise – Habitat

Red-footed tortoise can be housed indoors as well as outdoors, here we will discuss several ways that you can house a red-footed tortoise.  Keep in mind that the newborn red-footed tortoise should not be exposed to outdoor housing before the age of 6 years, so you must make indoor housing for them.

Indoor housing of the red-footed tortoise

If you live in cold climates that do not have enough humidity in the environment like in Britain and Canada it’s a better option for you to choose indoor housing, as it provides warmth, humidity, and protection to your pet tortoise. There are three kinds of housing that you can choose for your pet red-footed tortoise, these are a tortoise table, a terrarium, and a vivarium.

Tortoise table:

Tortoise tables are wooden tables built with a small wooden aquarium on top that is open.

Red Footed Tortoise Table
Image credit: Pinterest

These wooden tables although provide an aesthetic look to the house, but they aren’t the best option for your pet as they are open and can’t retain heat and humidity. Tortoise tables are recommended in houses that are warm naturally or in countries that are on the hotter side. You will require a table as big as 35 inches which is 900mm, but you may require an even bigger table as the tortoise grows because the red-footed tortoise-like to exercise and walk around.


A glass terrarium retains heat, and you can also use heating pads or ceramic heaters to achieve the required temperature. They also have a closed lid so it retains the moisture once the substrate is sprayed with water but it doesn’t have a lot of ventilation, which is also crucial for the pet red-footed tortoise.

 A single red-footed tortoise requires a terrarium of at least 55 gallons big, but a bigger one should be taken into consideration as the tortoise grows. The walls of the terrarium should be at least 16 inches tall above the substrate, and 16 inches deep under the substrate, so that the tortoise can dig in safely when it wants to.

If you want to set up a glass terrarium for your pet red-footed tortoise, add leaves and rocks to it, also spray water in the tank once a day to retain humidity, so that you can provide it with an environment closer to its natural habitat.

terrarium for Red Footed Tortoise
Image credits: i.pinimg

 As vivarium is made out of wood they are excellent insulators of heat they retain just the right amount of heat, and humidity, and also provide ventilation.

For the vivarium to have the right amount of heat for the pet red-footed tortoise, one side of the vivarium should be hot and the other side should be colder this can be done by maintaining a distance between both sides. The benefit of a vivarium is that it is easier to control the temperature with them.

The vivarium should be 46 inches big.

Vivarium for Red footed Tortoise
Image credits: Pinterest

Outdoor housing:

Pet red-footed tortoises should be kept indoors till the age of 3 to 6 years, but as the pet red-footed tortoise grows it is beneficial for them to have outdoor housing, or to at least spend some part of their day outside in nature such that they can enjoy the fresh air and get natural UVB light.

 In colder countries, it is hard to maintain adequate outdoor housing for the red-footed tortoise, so you can let them out for some hours when the temperature increases, but in tropical regions, there is not much you have to do to provide the pet red-footed tortoise a home-like feeling in your back yard.

There are several things that you should take care of, if you want to provide your pet red-footed tortoise with proper outdoor housing, like making sure that your backyard or where ever you keep your tortoises is predator safe. Predators such as rats, cats, dogs, and foxes can be a great danger to the pet red-footed tortoise. 

To keep your pet red-footed tortoise safe from predators, you should provide them with fenced outdoor housing. They should also be provided with shade this can be done by using a sunshade or building a dog house to provide the red-footed tortoise with shade is a good idea.

Also, grow plants in your backyard so that the Pet red-footed tortoise can feed on them when hungry.

Substrate for pet red-footed tortoise:

For indoor housing of red-footed tortoises, many kinds of substrates can be used. Often people use different substrates for each size of red-footed tortoise, but cypress mulch has proved to be the greatest bedding than any other, this is because cypress mulch is cheap when it comes to its cost also it is absorbent and safer. 

Some other kinds of substrates that you can use are coconut coir, peat moss, orchard bark, etc. Depending upon what region you have bought your pet red-footed tortoise from, the substrate should be according to the substrate of that environment.

In the case of outdoor housing, there is no special kind of substrate that you require just the soil and rocks are more than enough.

Some of the substrates that you should avoid are sand, pine, fiber, dusty, alfalfa, and paper. These substrates prove to be toxic for the pet tortoise, the use of sand can also cause eye infections to the tortoise, sand overall is not a good substrate even if your tortoise belongs from a sandy region. Dusty substrates can cause respiratory problems, and paper as a substrate provides absolutely no benefit to the tortoise.

Obstacles to mimic the natural habitat should be provided to mentally stimulate the tortoise, although they can’t climb or hide. Make sure to spray the substrate lightly with water to keep the tank humid.

Lighting required for pet red-footed tortoise

Light plays a very vital role in the growth of a red-footed tortoise, the red-footed tortoise needs two kinds of lights one is UVA and the other is UVB. UVA stands for ultraviolet radiation A and UVB stands for ultraviolet radiation B.

UVA is necessary to stimulate appetite while UVB is necessary for metabolism and calcium for the bones of the tortoise. If you keep your pet tortoise outside, then you do not need to worry about the lighting as the sunlight provides them with UVA and UVB, but when it comes to indoor housing you need to install bulbs in the terrariums or vivarium(housing types for pet tortoises). As red-footed tortoises need big and spacious enclosures they tend to require more illumination of light than what a UVB light bulb may provide. For this purpose, the best thing you can use is a T5 HO fluorescent light or 6500K LED.         

 It is important to have the right distance between the UV light and your pet, as distance affects the amount of UV light absorbed by the pet red-footed tortoise. The distance between your pet and the UVB light should be 12 inches, this is a safe distance it is not too close nor too far. Turn the light off during the night so that the pets can rest.

Even after providing your red-footed tortoise with the right amount of light in indoor housing you should take him out in the sunlight once in while because nothing beats the benefits that the sunlight provides to the tortoise.

Temperature for pet red-footed tortoise:

Red-footed tortoises belong to tropical areas, so they need a warm environment for survival, during the day the temperature should be between 80 to 95F, but during the night the temperature can fall up to 70 to 80F, this is safe for the pet red-footed tortoise.

To heat the tanks, you can use ceramic heat emitters or an overhead light emitter, also giving your tortoise a basking spot is healthy for them.

A basking spot is a dock that is stable and easy to access and is heated by a lamp.

The humidity level for a pet red-footed is high they require a humidity level of 70-80%.

Diet of the red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoise is herbivores they primarily eat fruits, vegetables, and leaves, but they can eat slow-moving invertebrates like slugs and snails occasionally. A healthy diet for pet red-footed tortoise should mainly contain dark leafy greens and lead graze. You can also offer your tortoise fruits, chopped vegetables, hay, and berries just make sure that they are small so that the tortoise can nibble on them easily.

Red-footed tortoise enjoys eating strawberries, mangoes, papaya, bananas, watermelons, and blackberries.

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Feed the tortoise daily every morning, the amount of food that you should be feeding a red-footed tortoise is equal to the size of its body but it depends on the tortoise’s age too.

A good diet should contain up to 60% greens 30% fruits, and 10% vegetables.

Water requirements

Red-footed tortoises need water every day to survive. We recommend keeping a low-sided shallow plate or dish inside the tank of the tortoise so that it can climb easily, and lay in it when it wants to. 

Change the water on a regular base, as the tortoise drink, and flush their system in water at the same time.

 Red-footed tortoises like to be soaked outside their enclosure for approximately 15-30 mins to be fully hydrated. This process is forced hydration, but it benefits the tortoise, keeps it well hydrated and the tortoise stays cool during very hot days. This process also helps in cleaning the housing or the enclosure.

The red-footed tortoise should be soaked once every day until they are 1 year old, as baby red-footed tortoises tend to get dry quicker than the bigger ones.

Cleaning after the red-footed tortoise

Red-footed tortoises aren’t very messy, the most they require is to be soaked in water and that cleans them, other than that you will have to remove its feces, uneaten food, and do spot cleaning.

Changing the substrate and cleaning the enclosure of the pet red-footed tortoise is to be done at least once every month.

Also, clean its water dish every day. Some people brush the shell of the tortoise, but that is not essential the shell is not as strong as it may seem so brushing it with a brush is not a great idea.

Health care of pet red-footed tortoise 

 There aren’t many health problems if a red-footed tortoise is provided the right amount of light, food, and water. It’s very unlikely that you face health problems, but some of the health problems you may come across are respiratory diseases, swollen eyes, ear infections, internal parasites, gut syndrome, and shell rots.

Respiratory disorders

 These may be caused due to some dusty or sandy substrate, or they may be because by bacterial and some other viral parasitic infections. humidity and temperature changes, along with some vitamin A deficiency can cause respiratory disease.

 If you hear a wheezing noise or mucous coming out of the nose of your pet tortoise then you should visit a vet it’s likely that the red-footed tortoise has some respiratory disorders, you can cure this by turning the temperature up a little or providing him with more water so the tortoise is hydrated enough.

The vet will give the tortoise antibiotics or nebulize him, this depends on the condition of the tortoise.

Swollen eyes

Sometimes due to the deficiency of vitamin A in the body of the red-footed tortoise or due to bacterial infections and lack of proper diet the tortoise may develop eye infections. you should take the tortoise to the vet and usually, the vet prescribes it an antibiotic injection.

Ear infections

Improper husbandry is the main cause of ear infections and so are unsanitary surroundings, drinking contaminated water, and a weak immune system. This is detected easily if you notice swelling of the cheek or behind the jaw, thick us coming out from the ear, not eating properly, and eye inflammation.

Take your pet to the vet, it is most likely he gives the tortoise an antibiotic he may also take a blood sample.

Shell rots

If there is any sort of cut or scrape on the shell of the red-footed tortoise, it is likely for it to develop bacterial and fungal infections in the cuts. If these remain untreated they can cause the shell to rot and turn into septicemia (blood poisoning by bacteria, this increases the death read up to 50%).

Take your tortoise to the vet, he will wash its shell with mild soap and a brush, then put an antiseptic on its shell. keep the enclosure of the pet red-footed tortoise dry during this period.

Empty gut syndrome 

If you see undigested food in the feces of the red-footed tortoise, it can be that the tortoise has developed an empty gut syndrome. This is caused due to wiping out good bacteria in the stomach.

To cure it, add some yogurt to the meal of your pet red-footed tortoise. 

Internal parasites

These are protozoa, ringworms, and worms that form in the body of wild-caught red-footed tortoise usually. This can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

You must take your tortoise to the vet, he will take a physical exam and examine its feces to find out eggs of parasites or ringworms in it. If they are detected the vet will give the tortoise Panacur (oral deworming medication).


If you keep your tortoise with some other animal, they likely catch mites. Be very careful while taking them out as they may develop in different and hard-to-reach places.

To cure the red-footed tortoise use lice spray on the bedding but NOT on the tortoise itself.


Ticks are organisms that feed on the host these form due to bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

It is not that likely that a self-raised red-footed tortoise has ticks, but an imported red-footed tortoise or a wildly caught tortoise might have ticks. Ticks are found on the legs, tail, and neck. Carefully remove them with a pair of tweezers. After taking out the tick put antibiotics wherever the tick has bitten the tortoise.

grooming of Red-Footed Tortoise

The red-footed tortoise doesn’t usually need any sort of grooming but sometimes due to some unfavorable conditions, you may have to groom your pet.


Depending on what substrate you use your pet red-footed tortoise will grow nails according to that. Usually, they have short toenails because the substrate used in soil or dirt, soil and dirt wears down the nails, but if you keep them on a flat surface with no substrate their nails can grow very long, and this may create a disturbing noise when the tortoise walks. You can trim the nails with clippers, be careful not to cut the vein that passes through each nail.


The beak of the red-footed tortoise is strong, but if it breaks or cracks due to some reason, there is no need to worry because the beak rebuilds and repairs itself. You may need to go to the wet if the beak needs a little shaping. 

Handling a pet red-footed tortoise 

Red-footed tortoises are very calm animals, they are shy and don’t harm other animals. Their shyness may be a response they give to the danger of predators. Red-footed tortoise is easy to handle yet they don’t like to be touched that often if they feel irritated they might bite as they have quite a strong beak, especially bigger tortoises.

Keeping multiple pet tortoises together

Red-footed tortoises aren’t social animals. Although they can be housed together in groups they like being in solitude. The eggs of red-footed tortoises are kept together but after they hatch the tortoises become individuals and don’t remain together in groups.

Individuals tortoises only come together while mating.

If you want to keep more than one tortoise in the enclosure, make sure that they are of the same gender. It is okay to keep one male and one female red-footed together; but it is advised not to keep two males and one female as the males may become aggressive and fight each other while breeding.

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Cost of getting a pet red-footed tortoise

The cost of the red-footed tortoise depends on the age and gender of the tortoise, on average the cost of a red-footed is between 150-500$ adding to that the tortoise habitat will cost approximately 500$, this includes the water dish, substrate, ceramic heaters, and hiding areas.

The enclosure will cost 50-200$ depending on what kind of enclosure you choose.

If you are on a budget don’t buy the female red-footed tortoise, instead, go for a baby red-footed tortoise as they are a lot cheaper.

A young red-footed tortoise costs about 150-200$, and the bigger one can range from 200-500$.


Some species of tortoise are endangered, and those species are not allowed to pet. It also depends from county to country whether it is legal to buy a pet red-footed or not, in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States it is legal to buy a red-footed pet, but in India, it is illegal to buy a red-footed tortoise.


In conclusion to this, we can say that red-footed tortoises are good pets they are harmless and children-friendly if you have small children at home. They are also long-living, these tortoises are adorable, especially the smaller ones. They don’t develop diseases that often.

The red scales on their shell, feet, and head make them very attractive but they are a little bit on the costly side and are also a longtime commitment because of their long lifespan.

Although they are very tiny when born, they tend to grow to a very large size over time. They require a big enclosure and outside time, you will have to supervise them during their outside time to keep them safe from predators. you also have to soak them in water almost every day, which can be a little tough for people who have 9-5 jobs and are busy.


Should I clean the shell of my red-footed tortoise with a toothbrush?

No, you aren’t supposed to clean the shell with a toothbrush because toothbrushes are a little harsh, if you want to clean the shell you should use a soft-bristled brush.

Can I keep my pet red-footed tortoise with other animals?

No, it is best that you only keep the red-footed with other red-footed tortoises. keep them away from dogs especially as they make think of the tortoise as a toy.

Can red-footed tortoises live with other species or tortoises? 

Yes, they can just make sure the enclosure is big enough and there is enough food so they don’t fight for food.

Can a frog live with red-footed tortoises?

Yes, you can keep a frog in the enclosure of red-footed tortoises, they don’t harm each other, but make sure to provide it with food and a proper hiding spot. you should house both the tortoise and frog in outdoor housing.

Does a red-footed tortoise bask?

Yes, red-footed tortoises bask during summers, so that they can get the required amount of UVB.

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