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Land tortoises are very personable, long lived, fantastic pet reptiles. The phrase 'land tortoise' encompasses a wide variety of tortoise species with very diverse requirements. Use this care sheet as a guideline, but try to find more detailed, species specific information.


Zeigler Monster Diets for tortoises are designed to be a nutritionally complete diet for your pet. Treat foods can be offered, but they should not make up more than about 10% of your tortoise's diet.

Other items that can be offered as treats include dark leafy greens, and chopped vegetables and fruits. Collard, turnip, and mustard greens are good treats, as is romaine lettuce. Chopped beans, squash, zucchini or other vegetables are also good treats. Fruits should only be offered occasionally, but grapes, apples, bananas and other sweet fruits are a good treat as long as they are not fed too often.

Most land tortoise species are grazers, but a few do take animal matter, often in the form of carrion, or by eating worm, grubs, etc. Check the references for further information about the species that you are working with.


There are dramatic differences in size, and thus housing requirements, for land tortoises. Mediterranean tortoises may be full grown at around 12", while spur-thigh tortoises will get nearly a yard in length. As such, it is difficult to make generalizations. You should become well acquainted with the adult size of a tortoise you are considering before you purchase one, and make sure that you understand the housing requirements of your pet.

As a very rough guideline, figure that you will need about five to ten times the length of the tortoise in square feet to house your pet. As you can see, it becomes very difficult to house large tortoises unless room size enclosures are available. Large tortoises are most appropriate as pets for people in southern states where they can be outdoors for most of the year. Smaller tortoise species, such as Mediterranean tortoises, are more appropriate pets for people in northern states.

Required Equipment

In addition to large cages, tortoises require a fair amount of equipment. You will need to provide a heat lamp, full spectrum lighting, a heavy food dish, and some hide areas.

Heat lamps should be used to provide a hot spot of around 90� F for most tortoise species. Again, do some additional research to find more species specific recommendations. Make sure that the heat lamp is situated at one end of the cage, to provide a heat gradient between the warm end and the cool end of the cage.

Under-tank heating pads or heat lamps with red bulbs may be required if the temperature drops too much at night. A night time drop in temperatures is natural, but if the evening temperatures are below 75� F, you may need to provide supplemental heat.

Full spectrum fluorescent lighting is very beneficial for tortoises. Tortoises are diurnal, and receive a lot of sunlight in the wild. A full spectrum bulb is the best way to simulate this in captivity (short of exposing them to natural sunlight). There are numerous brands of full spectrum bulbs available. Try to use a bulb that will provide some UVB light for your tortoise. Your local pet shop should be able to recommend a good bulb for you.

Tortoises are bulky and strong, so you want to use a shallow, heavy food dish that is not likely to get tipped over. Make sure it is shallow enough that the tortoise can easily eat out of it.

In many cases, it is difficult to give a tortoise a water dish that it can effectively use. They are not agile enough to climb into a large, high-sided water dish. In large cages with deep substrates, which are not easy to construct, a shallow cat pan may work well for a tortoise, although you must provide a sloping exit so the tortoise doesn't get stuck there. A good solution for most tortoises is to soak them in shallow lukewarm water every day to every other day.

Tortoises will really appreciate a place to hide, especially in the evenings. Smaller tortoises can be given a piece of cork bark or palm hollow. Larger tortoises will often use a small doghouse. This is a good place to provide supplemental heating if your tortoise is housed outdoors.

While tortoises are not likely to climb out of their enclosure, it is still a good idea to provide a lid. Dogs, cats and children may harass your tortoises if the cage is not covered.


There are numerous choices for substrates for tortoises, and probably as many opinions as to the best substrate as there are substrates.

Newspaper is a good substrate for most tortoises, although it does have to be cleaned very frequently (at least once a day). Cage carpets are similar, but more attractive. Never use cage carpets with loose threads around the edges, as tortoises are likely to eat these.

Particulate substrates may work better for many tortoises. Mulch or bark substrates are good choices for most species, although for species from drier areas these may raise the humidity too much. Try to use a particulate size large enough that it is not likely to be ingested. If you use a bark substrate for tortoises from drier areas, make sure that you let it dry completely first.

Rabbit pellets are sometimes recommended as a substrate for tortoises. Some people have had good success with this substrate, but there is also some concern that, because the tortoises will eat it, it can contribute to some health problems. The pellets are designed for rabbit nutritional needs, and if it becomes a significant part of your pet's diet it may become a problem.

Dried hay is sometimes recommended as a substrate, especially for larger tortoises in indoor enclosures. Like the rabbit pellets, this will also be eaten. As it is not a complete diet, the tortoise must be watched to make sure it is eating enough of it's food if it is kept on hay.


Tortoises need to be fed every day. Larger tortoises can go for a few days without food, but as they are grazers it is best to offer them food every day.

Water should be provided every day, either by changing the bowl, or by soaking the tortoise. If you soak your tortoise, larger tortoises can be soaked every other day. Juveniles and sub-adult tortoises of most species should be soaked every day for a short period of time.

The substrate should be cleaned regularly. Because tortoises eat a lot every day, you will probably have to clean the cage every day. Newspaper should be replaced daily, or cage carpets should be washed daily. If you use a particulate substrate, you can spot clean the cage daily and replace the substrate as needed. You will also need to disinfect the entire cage periodically. A 10% bleach solution works well, but make sure the cage is rinsed well and dried before putting the tortoise back into the cage.

Species Notes

Mediterranean Tortoises (Testudo): These tortoises are the most appropriate indoor tortoises.  This group includes Greek (T. graeca), Russian (T. horsfieldi), Herman's (T. hermanni) and other small tortoises. Check the references for further species-specific information. In recent years Russian tortoises have become commonly available, and captive bred babies of many species are now more available. Most species are small, with an adult size of less than 1' in length. They are herbivores, and should do well on Zeigler Monster Tortoise Diet.

Spur-Thigh Tortoises (Geochelone sulcata): These are very large tortoises; they can reach 2.5' in length.; They are only suitable for outdoor enclosures, unless you can give them room-sized cages. They are long-lived animals, and are very responsive. If you can meet their needs they are excellent pets.

Leopard Tortoises (Geochelone pardalis): Leopard tortoises can also make very good pets. These can also get large, with some specimens over 2' in length, although most are smaller. Wild collected leopard tortoises sometimes have problems with the humidity in southeastern states, but in the southwest they do well. Captive bred offspring tend to be less humidity sensitive.


deVosjoli, P. Popular Tortoises: General Care and Maintenance. AVS Publishing. 1996.

Ernst, C. and Barbour, R. Turtles of the World. Smithsonian Institution Press. 1989.

For many natural history and reptile related references, check with www.zoobooksales.com

For help in finding a reptile veterinarian, check with the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, at www.arav.org


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