There are a number of reasons why people decide to get a tortoise. It may be because they are fairly easy to care for and require less attention than some domestic animals, or it may just be that you or your children have a fondness for them. Regardless of the reason, buying a tortoise isn’t as simple as going down to the local pet store and saying, “I want to buy a tortoise.” Based on your individual personality, your schedule, and the space you have, you are need to figure out what is the best type of tortoise to get for a pet. If you don’t have any clue, here are four popular types that make great pets.
Also known as the Russian or Horsfield tortoise, this species is quite small compared to some others. Females range from 8-10 inches when fully mature, while males (who don’t need extra space for eggs) are slightly smaller at around 6-8 inches. Although it’s commonly called a Russian tortoise, this is somewhat inaccurate, because even though they do inhabit the area known as the Russian steppes, their origin lies mostly in the heart of Asia, and extends into Iran, Afghanistan , northern Pakistan, and Kazakhstan, and north-western China. They are distinguished by their rounded shell, olive green skin, and the four claws on each foot.
In the wild, these reptiles live in arid, open climates. So, even though they are smaller herbivores that are easy to feed (they eat a wide variety of greens, flowers, hay and grasses), you shouldn’t assume that they don’t have specific needs that must be met. As a pet, this species thrives in extreme conditions, which means cold winters and hot summers, and that they fare better outdoors. They are natural diggers and climbers, hibernating for much of the year until they surface around March. Then, after around three months, they dig back underground to avoid the hottest part of the summer. You may accommodate them in a greenhouse environment, however, provided they are given ample sand and gravel for digging, and a secure cage (they are climbers, so if you don’t secure their living space they will escape).
Since they are accustomed to more arid, desert-like climates, the Horsefield tortoise is not a good choice for humid or damp areas. This species cannot tolerate the moist air and may end up with respiratory conditions. Additionally, although the Horsefield tortoise is a cute pet, if you are looking for a more active reptile, this isn’t it.
Life span: 50-60 years
The Leopard Tortoise
Compared to other tortoises, the Leopard tortoise is a passionate grazer who needs a consistent diet of high fiber grasses and greens. They love the warm outdoors (around 80⁰F-90⁰F), cannot tolerate humid climates, and fare better in areas where the nighttime temperatures stay above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (ideal is 65⁰F-75⁰F). If they are kept indoors, it is important that they be given a Calcium and Vitamin D3 supplement to keep them healthy, as well as provide them a long cage (8 feet minimum) with temperature control, a basking light, and a shallow pool of water.
Unlike the Horsefield tortoise, they do not hibernate, although they may slow down slightly in the winter months. These tortoises are also a little larger, measuring approximately 16-18 inches on average, although they can grow to 24 inches. They are also more substantial in weight, with the low side being 40 pounds, and the top being around 70 pounds. These tortoises are a great choice for those who want a more active species.
Life span: around 50 years.
Sulcata Tortoise/ African Spurred Tortoise
The Sulcata Tortoise is one of the coolest looking and largest tortoises in the world; and, although they are called by different names, the Sulcata tortoise is actually the same as the African Spurred tortoise. The length of the Sulcata generally ranges from 24-30 inches and they can weigh between 80-110 pounds, although some can get even bigger. Like the Leopard tortoise, it is an avid grazer who needs a high fiber/low protein diet. The diet should consist of grasses, hays, edible weeds, flowers, and green leafy vegetables. Seventy-five percent of their diet, however, should be in the form of grasses and hays. It would also serve them well if they were provided a Calcium/D3 supplement on a regular basis.
Because the Sulcata is so large, it is really impractical to keep them indoors unless absolutely necessary. Even then, it may be better to consider a heated shed or greenhouse. They do not hibernate, and need warm climates of up to 100⁰F in the daytime, and above 70⁰F at night. If the temperature drop below the 70⁰F mark, you will need to provide a heated shelter.
One of the easiest options for creating a good environment for your Sulcata/African Spurred tortoise in your backyard is to provide them with a doghouse for shelter and a shallow pan of water. For safety reasons, because they are prone to burrowing and flipping, any fencing should extend underground and steep inclines should be out of their access (if they flip over and you aren’t home for a while, they can die).
Life span: 80-100 years
Which Tortoise is the Best for You?
When it comes to food, nearly all tortoises feed on the same type of diet: grasses, hay, some edible weeds and fibrous greens. So, feeding is going to be the same, regardless. It’s important, however that they all avoid foods which contain fruit or animal protein, and those high in oxalates (like beet and mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, and kale). Plus, even though they sell tortoise pellets, it’s not a good idea to use them.
Other considerations include size, longevity, and space, and each of the tortoises have their own unique characteristics. So, the bottom line is that you just have to pick one that suits you. Just remember, to pay attention to how long their lifespan is. They can live for decades (even longer than the average person), and raising and caring for these reptiles are a long-term commitment.