Marginated Tortoise Care Sheet

Marginated Tortoise

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Marginated Tortoise
Scientific Name:Testudo Marginata
Life Span:More than 20 Years
Length: Up to 14 inches
Clutch Size:Up to 15 eggs
Habitat:Mountainous areas
Country of Origin:Italy and Greece

Physical Description

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The Marginated Tortoise is a beautiful species belonging to the tortoise family. They primarily occur in the southern parts of Italy and Greece, with some populations isolated on islands within this range. These tortoises share the same range with Hermann’s tortoise in certain areas, though wild specimens of these varieties do not hybridize to a major extent, in contrast with those in captivity. On the other hand, Marginated Tortoises are known to hybridize with other species, including Greek, Russian, and Hermann’s Tortoises. 

In terms of appearance, adult tortoises can be identified easily with the intense flaring of the back of their shells, similar to that of a skirt. The shell color patterns of juveniles is a contrast of black and white, with the intensity of this pattern fading through time. At times, they turn into a dark gray hue. The skin of younger tortoises is mainly black, with some pearly white highlights on top of their heads. 

These tortoises are considered the largest among European tortoises. In fact, a fully-grown, mature marginated tortoise may reach a length of up to 14 inches, with a weight of up to 11 pounds. Unlike other species of tortoises, the carapace (shell) of marginated tortoises have an oblong shape and is particularly thicker around the middle part of their body. 

The wild habitat of this species is mainly arid, with these tortoises present at elevations of up to 5,000 feet. They are also found in really cold areas in their range. Their dark-colored shell helps them to warm up under the sun, especially during the morning hours. Later on, they will retreat in shelter and shade during the hottest hours of the day. 

Marginated tortoises are commonly selected for pets because of their interesting and attractive appearance, as well as their friendliness. They are known to love basking under the sunlight, just like a flower. They are highly active in the daytime, rarely hiding away during these hours. They are also happy to spend a sunny afternoon just exploring the rest of their enclosure or a back garden. Note, however, that since these tortoises are herbivores, it may be wise to keep them from your plants. 


In the wild, marginated tortoises are usually found in the Southern regions of Greece, from Mount Olympus to the Peloponnese peninsula. They are also found in smaller groups in Italy, the Balkans, as well as in Northern Sardinia. 

This specific tortoise breed loves mountainous areas, even discovered to be thriving in elevations up to 5,200 feet. In these cold regions, their usually black carapace serves them well, as it makes it easier for them to absorb heat in the daytime. This helps them maintain healthy body temperature. 

These tortoises also love spending their hours in the morning just basking under the sun, absorbing sunlight while looking for food. After eating, they go back to their shade to relax and digest. 

Indoor Captivity

Marginated tortoises are observed to be prolific in captivity. Captive-bred young tortoises are available commonly in the United States. They are also bred in huge amounts in Europe.  From time to time, 4-inch imports enter the U.S. Import Marginated Tortoises have done well generally, compared with other tortoises that struggle during importation.

This species is hardy, despite being small to medium in size. They reach 12 to 15 inches, making them manageable for most tortoise enthusiasts. In an indoor location, babies can be placed in low-sided plastic tubs that measure around 3 square feet at minimum. Smaller enclosures are not recommended as they usually do not allow for room to explore and proper temperature gradients. 

For these young tortoises, you can start using peat moss or coco coir, at times along with a handful of grassy/hay or cypress mulch placed on the top, or in specific areas. The substrate needs to be at least 2 inches in depth in order to allow for burrowing as well as other microclimates. The substrate should also be kept moist in order to maintain humidity inside the enclosure.

It may also be beneficial to provide a few hiding areas with items such as magnolia leaves, ceramic reptile caves, and stacked flat rocks. You can also add similar cage furniture items, while making sure that they will not fall easily, injuring a tortoise. These tortoises love tight hiding places, which means that half-log hides do not work as well as the tighter, smaller hides. 

As they continue to grow, they can be transferred to thicker substrates, including cypress mulch, especially if they are kept in an indoor location. It is not recommended to use sand for indoor locations since it can stick to their food, even irritating their eyeballs. Dirt and sand in their wide range are usually hard-packed, and they do not eat directly from the substrate. They are only observed to do this in captivity.

Tortoises that are kept in an indoor enclosure need intense lighting in order to grow in the most normal way possible, staying active and healthy at the same time. Among the favorite options of keepers include 100-watt mercury vapor bulbs. 

They provide light, heat, UVA, and UVB, all in a single bulb. A bulb can be positioned in order to maintain a temperature directly below the bulb, within the range of 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature also needs to lower done to room temperature in certain parts of the enclosure. 

These tortoises do not require a heat source, especially at night, during normal conditions. They are generally fine within the temperature range of 65 to 70 degrees at night. If humidity is high artificially, particularly 60%, they need to be kept over 80 degrees all the time, since humid and cool can be a bad combination for their health, causing respiratory problems. It is best to offer day/night cycle for these tortoises, with a recommended schedule of 12 to 14 hours every day.

Outdoor Captivity

Once the juvenile tortoises reach around 4 inches in length, they are capable of living outdoors, even when faced with relatively harsh weather conditions. They prefer outdoor housing since it allows the tortoises to enjoy more space while requiring less maintenance. With this type of setup, it is possible to plant many seeds and foods, thus serving as a constant food source for them. 

Adult tortoises that are kept in a well-designed enclosure outdoor will become relatively zero maintenance in most climates, and they also prefer enjoying the fresh air. Installing shallow water dishes can also go together with drip systems, and cleaned only as needed. Aside from the plants and the small dripper, which provides a quarter of an inch of water, small sprinklers are also good at keeping things cool, particularly during the hot months. 

It has been observed that tortoises that are kept outdoors grow slower than they would have when cared for indoors. One possible reason for this is because they are forced to have a lean diet. Since these tortoises are hardy and strong, they can handle these conditions, provided that they are given the right amount of care and maintenance. 

The substrate for these enclosures is mainly natural dirt. The larger the enclosure prepared for these tortoises, the better. You can prepare a tortoise enclosure with a size of 15 by 25 feet, which houses up to a dozen adult marginated tortoises quite well. Planning for sun exposure, as well as the different seasons, is also important. 

Inside the enclosure, trees that drop leaves at winter can be added, allowing the ground to have a little more sun, especially during the colder months. Then, the leaves will come back to offer shade during summer. Mulberry and Mesquite trees are good options, which also adds smaller bushes in some bare areas. 

The tallest trees and bushes are on the central and western end of the enclosures, providing shade to the entire area, especially during summer afternoons. The eastern part can be kept more open to allow the sun to get in, warming up the tortoises in the morning. Plan in advance the growth of the trees, making sure that the sunny parts will still be available after several years as the years continue to grow, most especially in cooler climates. 

It is interesting to prepare an outdoor enclosure for your tortoises. When selecting plants and other items that will go with your enclosure, it is important to consider the climate in your location. As a general rule of thumb, you can search for tortoise-friendly and non-toxic plants that will thrive well in your area. Among the safest options available include clump grasses, sage, cactus, and desert trees, all of which can also be munched on by your pets. There is no need to worry about wind-breaking off a branch of your plants since the tortoises will happily clean up the mess. 


Providing hides inside the enclosure is a must, and is helpful during hibernation. Marginated tortoises will carve their own hideouts into these locations. Some keepers build wooden boxes with some small doors, allowing the tortoises to enter anytime they want while keeping winter drafts out. 

Most of the tortoises hibernate inside these boxes. When they do not move around much during fall, they are usually found inside the hide boxes. At this point, you can start covering them with cypress mulch or straw to help with the insulation during the cold nights. Marginated tortoises hibernate in the wild. When housed outdoors, they will also do so in captivity, especially in areas with temperatures that are low or below freezing point during the winter. 

Even though Marginated tortoises are considered as among the most cold-tolerant species out there, care should be observed to avoid hibernating tortoises to below body temperature of 33 degrees. If you are worried about this, their actual temperature can be monitored by using a temperature probe against them while hibernating. 

When the outdoor temperature becomes too extreme at times, some keepers boxed the hibernating tortoises in cardboard boxes filled with straw, keeping them inside a spare refrigerator that is set to around 38 degrees. Once the temperature outside starts to warm up, the tortoises can be buried loosely in the ground, still covering them with straw. 

If outdoor Marginated tortoises in areas with severely cold climates are to be hibernated artificially for safety, it may be best to leave them outside until they naturally go down, most likely when the nighttime drops are nearing freezing. At this point, the turtles have already transitioned their bodies, emptying their digestive systems in order to prepare for hibernation.


The diet of marginated tortoises mainly consists of leafy greens. Their bodies are not that receptive to fruits, though some owners still give fruits in very limited amounts. With leafy vegetation, variety is the key. Captive marginated tortoises also love commercial diets, including Zoo Med grassland or Mazuri LS tortoise foods. These commercial feeds contain calcium and Vitamin D3, as well as other multivitamins, which eliminate the guesswork for their healthy diet routine. They can be fixed with other leafy green foods. 

For baby tortoises, on the other hand, spring mix plays a huge part in their diet. As they continue to grow, they can move to other food varieties as well. Mulberry trees can also serve as a good source of food, as well as other desert-type plants, including globe mallow, sage, as well as prickly pear cactus. 

Tough foods are recommended for marginated tortoises, which means that there is no need to worry about shredding or chopping everything that they have to eat. Bigger slices are good for them as it will allow them to fight for their bite. As such, foods in their natural raw form works best. 


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Marginated tortoises should only be housed with other marginated tortoises. This will help in to prevent hybridization. A tortoise that is raised alone will most likely be difficult to place within-group, or with other tortoises. On the other hand, tortoises that are raised in the group will also get along easily. 

On rare occasions, some specimens love pestering others. These types of tortoises are best housed alone. Otherwise, seasonal fighting and minor bumping is not a problem. When pecking order is already established, these types of events do not usually pose a problem. 

Water and Hydration

When it comes to raising baby marginated tortoises. In fact, dehydration is one of the primary causes of death among baby tortoises. This could be because of not getting enough water, or they are not kept in a humid climate. Dryness and heat combined can easily kill a baby tortoise in just a few hours. This is also one of the fatality reason for tortoises that get flipped over. 

As such, you can place your baby tortoises on the moistened substrate. All the tortoises need to be given access to hide boxes that are maintained with high humidity of over 80%. With this said, they still have the option to leave this environment if they want to. Failing to prepare this type of microclimate may lead to problems and fatalities. 

To avoid dehydration, your baby tortoises can also be placed in a quarter of an inch of warm water. This can be done for 10 to 20 minutes every day. Juvenile tortoises, as well as adults, can maintain moisture in their bodies more effectively. 

While keeping standing water inside the enclosure works well with adults, baby tortoises have the tendency to flip-over and drown in these dishes, even if it only contains half-inch of water. As an alternative, they can just be soaked outside the enclosure, where they can go through “force hydration”.

All in all, marginated tortoises are a great option for beginners. They have a high tolerance for cold and heat, making them easy to keep in a variety of climates. Their medium size is also easy to manage, especially in locations with limited space. Their friendly countenance also makes them one of the most popular species of tortoises these days. 


If you keep a male and a female tortoise together, they may breed naturally. There is no need for any keeper to encourage this, given that the tortoise pair is healthy, and the conditions are good enough. However, if you plan to breed marginated tortoises, there are things that need to be kept in mind. 

In the wild, female marginated tortoises dig a hole where they can lay their eggs after mating. If the female is especially healthy and large, she may lay up to 15 eggs in a clutch, which can happen up to three times in one summer. 

A gravid female should be given access to a nesting box where she can lay her eggs. This box should be spacious enough for her to turn around fully inside it. A soil mix can also be used, one that is wet enough to clump. 

The eggs need to be incubated inside an incubator at a temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit. The eggs can be incubated in open boxes with the dry substrate with water inside the incubator in order to offer the needed humidity around the eggs. 

After around 60 days, the eggs will begin to hatch. The first babies will emerge, encouraging the rest of the batch to hatch. 

How to Care for a Marginated Tortoise

Needless to say, these marginated tortoises are very easy to care for. They just need a large enclosure. To make them extra happy, you may want to use a tabletop vivarium. Lighting and heating may also be needed in order to ensure the appropriate shell growth. Adding UVB lighting is also a must. This should be turned on for at least 12 hours a day, mimicking the actual daylight schedule. A basking light may also be added in order to ensure warmth. This light should be installed at one end of the enclosure. 

Prepare some décor for hiding, climbing, and solitude for your tortoises. Note that they do not like being handled, which means that handling needs to be kept at a minimum. When you do so, however, your tortoises will love it. Provide fresh vegetables every day. 

Monitor the activities of your tortoise, including the environment inside the enclosure, making sure that your tortoise is eating and drinking accordingly. Keep the habitat clean and neat, making sure that the risk of your pets acquiring a disease is kept at a minimum. Supplements, vitamins, and minerals can also be purchased at a local pet store. Caring for a marginated tortoise is no doubt a very fruitful endeavor. 

Where to Get Marginated Tortoises

Marginated tortoises are currently being bred locally. As such, it is best to get your tortoise from a recognized breeder. One advantage of doing so is that they can provide you additional information regarding the right care of this species. These breeders can also be sourced online. 


What does marginated tortoise eat?

Among the favorite food items of marginated tortoises include plants such as dandelion, clover, kale, watercress, coriander, honeysuckle, spring greens, parsley, parsnip, carrot, as well as bell peppers. These tortoises love leafy greens, reflecting what they eat in the wild. 

Are marginated tortoises friendly?

The Marginated tortoise is a friendly breed. They have beautifully marked shells, making them very attractive to look at. In the summer months, they love being outside and basking under the natural sun. Just like with other tortoise varieties, having the right temperature is the key to making them happy.

How long do marginated tortoises live?

These tortoises have the potential to live up to 100 years. However, the average lifespan of marginated tortoise is over 20 years. 

Do marginated tortoises hibernate?

Most species of tortoises hibernate, including marginated tortoises. They do so in the wild as part of their natural process. When housed outdoors, they will also hibernate in captivity, especially in areas with temperatures that are below freezing point during winter. 

How fast do marginated tortoises grow?

Marginated tortoises grow quite fast. With good handling and with an ideal biotope, they gain 100 to 500 g every year. This fast growth rate lasts throughout their young years. The moment they reach their twentieth year, their growth becomes minimal. 

Can marginated tortoise eat cucumber?

Vegetation is the primary diet of marginated tortoises. Among the best foods for them include clover, dandelion, leafy salads, honeysuckle, curly kale, watercress, spring greens, Brussel tops, rocket, parsley, parsnip, courgette, and bell peppers. There is no problem with feeding them cucumber; however, it is recommended to consider the ratio of cucumber to leafy greens. 

How big do marginated tortoises get?

The marginated tortoise is considered as the largest among European tortoises. They can reach up to 5 kg (11 lbs.) in weight and a length of 14 inches (35 cm). This tortoise has an oblong shell, with a noticeable thickness around the middle part of the body.

Can marginated tortoises eat strawberries?

Even though an occasional treat of the strawberry piece will do no harm to your tortoise, it will most likely suffer from diarrhea if they eat a lot of strawberries. This is mainly because of its high sugar content. 

Do marginated tortoises know their owners?

By nature, marginated tortoises are affectionate creatures. As such, they recognize their owners readily. They love being touched right away. When you touch a tortoise’s shell, they can also feel this inside, even though the sensation is not as strong compared with touching their neck, legs, or head. 

What can marginated tortoises not eat?

The majority of a tortoise’s diet is consists of plant-based foods. When it comes to fruits, grapes, melon, and apples should make up no more than 20% of their diet. 

What happens if a marginated tortoise gets too cold?

One of the main reasons why a tortoise suffers from respiratory infection is because of its environment is too cold. If the temperature inside the enclosure is too cold, installing a heat bulb or a heating pad may do the trick to balance the temperature inside. 

What happens if you don’t hibernate your marginated tortoise?

The breeds of tortoises, including marginated tortoises, that breed do so for health reasons. There is just no way of tricking nature without any consequence. Failing to hibernate your tortoise could lead to increased food intake, thus leading to abnormal growth. This may cause issues including lumpy shells, metabolic bone disease, and sometimes bladder and kidney stones. 

Do marginated tortoises bite?

Captive marginated tortoises unintentionally bite their owners sometimes. These bites can be unpleasant. Finger bites from these tortoises may be painful, despite the lack of teeth. 

Do marginated tortoises get lonely?

In general, tortoises are solitary animals. Most likely, they do not get lonely. In fact, in some households, only one tortoise is enough. 

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