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Red-Footed Tortoise Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common NameRed-footed tortoise
Scientific NameChelonoidis carbonaria
Captive LifespanMore than 20 Years
Size12 – 20 inches
MassUp to 60 lbs
HabitatOpen grasslands, tropical forests
Country of OriginSeveral Caribbean Islands, South America

Physical Description

Red-footed tortoises are part of the Chelonoidis genus, and they belong to the Testudinidae family of tortoises.

Red foots possess a bumpy, concave shell. The skin of these reptiles is black in color, with shells that are usually gray, brown, or black.

Red foot tortoises appear as if tattooed with distinct red splatters on their feet. The beautiful, typical splatters for this tortoise species also cover the head, and in this particular part of the body, the splatters come in vibrant shades of yellow, orange, or red.

Young red foots have small areas of tan or yellow coloring that either covers each bump or surrounds each bump.

Male red foots are usually larger than females. While females average about 28.5 centimeters (11.25 inches) in length, males can easily reach up to 34 centimeters (13.5 inches).

Males have pretty much the concave plastron, with some of them having a constricted waist that gives them somewhat of a peanut-like shape. On the contrary, females often have a bit concave, flat plastron.

Red-footed tortoises weigh as much as the average weight of a pet cat, as adults are known to weigh up to 9 kilograms (20 pounds).

As red foots mature, they develop quite a distinct hour-glass-like shape, so when looked from above, they appear as if having a well-defined waistline.

Types

Red-footed tortoises from different regions are known to display easy-to-recognize differences in their physical appearance. Red foots are quite close relatives with the yellow-footed tortoise (C. denticulata).

Based on their geography and anatomy, red foots have been divided by various authors into different groups. DNA research has identified a total of five genotypes, although some authors categorize the different types of red foots into seven recognizable groups.

The most obvious differences can be found between the red foot groups native to the south and to the north of the Amazon basin, as the northern types pretty much resemble the holotype, being distinguishable by their limb, head, and shell coloration. On the other hand, the southern types are known to possess a rather different plastral pattern, and they also have an enlarged spur-like scale located on the inside of their forelimb elbows.

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Hypo Red-footed Tortoise

Hypo Red Foot Tortoises (also commonly referred to as hypomelanistic) are types of the Red-footed tortoise species known to possess a gene that makes up for greatly reducing the otherwise typically abundant melanin black pigment.

South American Red-footed Tortoise

Just as the name implies, this type of red foot is a South American variant of the species. Southern American red foots have black or dark brown carapace. Also, they lack the constricted waist. Interestingly, female Southern American Red-footed tortoises are usually larger than males.

Bolivian Red-footed Tortoise

Unsurprisingly, Bolivian red foots are native to the regions in northern Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. One of the distinguishable features of this type of red foots is that their carapace is sometimes light grey or whitish instead of quite dark brown or black. Bolivian red foots have a symmetrical mottled pattern.

African Red-footed Tortoise

The limb and head colors of the African Red-footed tortoise are primarily colored in light orange, often varying to red, while their plastrons are usually yellow in color. African red foots inhabit Suriname, Guiana, Brazil, Venezuela, and Suriname. 

Russian Red-footed Tortoise

Russian red foot tortoises are generally smaller in size than the other types of red foots. Compared to other red foots, they need a much drier environment.

Cherry Head Red-footed Tortoise

Probably one of the most impressive types of red foots because of its aesthetic appearance is the Cherry Head Red-footed tortoise. Cherry red foots are very hardy and typically smaller in size.

Albino Red-footed Tortoise

Albino red foots are super easy to recognize as their carapace is very pale in color, and so are their limbs and skin. The carapace of all types of red foots is known to change from colored in pale yellow to almost black, brown or navy as these beautiful reptiles mature.

Habitat & Lifespan

In the wild, Red-footed tortoises are known to inhabit the lands of South America, ranging from Argentina to Panama. Nonetheless, they are found on the islands of Barbados and Trinidad in the Caribbean.

Red foots live in grasslands, as well as tropical forests, although they can sometimes also be found in dry forests and even in the savannas.

Red foots can easily outlive their owner, as they are known to live up to more than 50 years in the wild. In most cases, captive red foots live for more than 20 years.

Behavior

Red-footed tortoises are especially amazing, calm, and mesmerizing creatures possessing an impressive temper that humans can learn a lot from.

Red foots tend to be quite passive and only locally nomadic. It is during the day when these reptiles are most active, and especially shortly after rain when they adore roaming their territories.

Red foots are not aggressive, and they are not territorial. They prefer to peacefully wander, searching for food.

The only time when red-footed tortoise are inclined to express aggression towards each other, and not to other species, is during the breeding season. The breeding seasons is the time when males compete for the attention of the females, so sometimes aggression is an inevitable “weapon.”

Interestingly, female and male red foots can identify each other, and they use head movements as signals for this purpose.

Caging

1. Red foots require an enclosure that is at least 16 inches in height.

2. For best results, keepers are recommended to ensure that the enclosure goes a few inches below the ground, apart from being raised at a minimum of 16 inches above the ground, for the purpose of preventing and/or discouraging digging. However, red foots are not typically into digging, so this shouldn’t be much of a concern.

3. The ideal enclosure should be equipped with a sturdy wall.

4. Avoid using see-through fences or walls as this makes it very tempting for the tortoise to try to escape.

5. Open enclosures with lots of sunshine and a hide are not suitable for housing a red-footed tortoise since these types of settings make it quite difficult for the caregivers to keep the temperature and humidity levels within the optimal range.

6. With a mind to providing a red foot with a wonderful enclosure, keepers should make sure that about 60% – 70% of the total enclosure area is to be covered in plants in order to simulate conditions in the reptile’s natural habitat.

7. It is advisable that young red-footed tortoises are to be raised indoors in the case the climate conditions outdoors are beyond the reptile’s tolerance.

8. Outdoor housing is preferable for red foots. However, many caregivers do raise the young tortoises indoors during the first few years of their lives as this ensures the animal’s well-being and proper development.

9. For indoor enclosures, one of the most suitable types to opt for are quite simple, namely plastic sweater boxes. Also, tortoise tables work great, and these can be either purchased from reputable shops or simply made from scratch, provided that the owner is skillful in the art of DIY practices.

10. As a rule of thumb, the type of indoor container is not as important as the furnishing that is to be arranged inside, including lighting, cage furniture, temperature gradients, and nonetheless, lighting.

11. For large, adult red foot tortoises, building an appropriate indoor enclosure to house the animal during the cold winter months can be easily set up in the garage.

12. Baby red-footed tortoises need access to a humid area, which also serves as a hiding spot. This way, the babies can get a dose of humidity, and they can also snuggle, which is exactly what they do in the wild in their natural burrows. Providing and maintaining a cozy, humid microclimate in the enclosure is crucial so that the young tortoises can be well-hydrated and grow healthy. In the lack of such microclimate, their shells will not grow smoothly but will become “bumpy” instead.

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Substrate

1. As a rule of thumb, taking care of a red foot tortoise in an indoor enclosure allows the keepers to make the best use of many different substrates.

2. For red foots of all ages and sizes, cypress mulch can be excellent bedding. Cypress mulch is affordable, safe, and very absorbent.

3. Peat moss and coconut coir do also make wonderful options.

4. For outdoor enclosures, red foots’ requirements are very easy to cater to, as long as the soil has not been treated with any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or any other chemicals. Natural soil makes a truly great substrate for red-footed tortoises.

5. Include several flat, large rocks within the indoor or outdoor enclosure. Do make sure not to use rocks with sharp edges as the tortoise can harm itself. The rocks will serve the purpose of helping to file down the reptile’s nails. Plus, rocks will give your pet a clean, comfortable, all-natural surface for food. 

Temperature, Lighting & Humidity

In the wild, red-footed tortoises can be found in a rather wide variety of habitats, ranging from jungle to grassland. The temperatures, however, are quite similar in any of the natural habitats of these reptiles, as red foots thrive in moderate temperatures. Humidity rates in the natural environment of red foots are never low but vary from moderate to high. This is what caregivers should simulate.

1. Captive adult red-foots can successfully handle variable amounts of humidity, from 50% to 70% on an average. For babies, however, humidity levels must be kept on the high side (above 60%) for the purpose of ensuring that their shell will grow properly during their first years.

2. The preferred habitat of red foots is consistent in seasonal temperatures, typically within the 86 degrees Fahrenheit range (respectively, about 30 degrees Celsius).

3. Red foots are capable of tolerating temperatures that get below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), or temperatures that exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). However, it is best that such fluctuations in temperatures are to be limited as much as possible.

4. Red-footed tortoises living in an outdoor enclosure tend to be more tolerant to various temperature ranges. As long as the tortoise is provided with a cozy shaded area as to be able to escape from the heat whenever needed, and if desired, as well as with constant access to fresh, clean water for soaking and drinking purposes alike, high temperatures of up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit should not be a problem.

5. When selecting a suitable shade cloth for the hot summer months, mind that 80% shade cloths work best.

6. For red foots kept in outdoor enclosures in regions where the temperatures tend to get quite high during the summer, it is a great idea to sprinkle the live plants with clean water several times a day, apart from providing shaded areas and access to water. Sprinkling the live plants raises humidity and helps the reptile feel much more comfortable.

7. Red foot tortoises are amazingly hearty creatures, and they can handle temperatures that fall as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit without any problems. However, it is best that these animals are not to be regularly exposed to such temperatures.

8. As soon as nighttime temperatures outside are to drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, caregivers should provide the tortoise with a heated hide box. The heated hide box should maintain a minimum of 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night, although adjusting the temperatures to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit is better for the reptile’s comfort and well-being.

9. In the case you cannot or do not want to utilize a heated hide box when nighttime temperatures drop below the recommended rates, you can also simply bring in your red foot indoors.

10. It is crucial that red foots are monitored closely before going to bed whenever the nighttime temperatures in the outdoor enclosure fall lower than the optimal rates. If needed, the tortoise can be gently placed within its heated hide area, since the point is not to allow the reptile to fall asleep outside, ending up exposed to the cold night temperatures. 

11. Indoors, red-footed tortoises will thrive at normal room temperature between 68 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

12. A basking area is a must for red foots. The basking area can be heated with a ceramic heat emitter or an overhead light. The temperatures in the hot basking spot should be maintained within the 90 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit range, with the lights running for 10 – 12 hours per day, and best controlled with a dimming thermostat.

13. For indoor enclosures, utilizing an additional UVB light is required. UVB helps red foots to properly process calcium. The UVB light should be placed overhead, or else, it may lead to eye damage issues.

14. The lights within the tortoise’s enclosure should run on schedule, from 12 to 14 hours a day. Lamp timers can help caregivers keep the light cycle consistent easily.

15. A mild heat source, such as red bulbs, ceramic heat emitters or small heat pads, can be utilized over or under the hide box area for best results, running for 24 hours, 7 days a week.

16. It is crucial that red-footed tortoises are to be kept dry on cold nights to avoid nasty health issues.

Diet

Similar to other tortoises, red foots are herbivorous, or in other words, primarily vegetarian.

In their natural habitat, they feed on various wildflowers, grasses, leaves, wild vegetables, fungi, and fallen fruits. Occasionally, they may also further supplement their diet with carrion.

Despite being mainly herbivorous, red foots do sometimes snack on small amounts of animal matter, for instance, invertebrates.

Establishing the best diet for a captive red foot is not a complicated task, as long as keepers remember that balance is key. Feed your red foot pet with a varied menu that includes a well-dosed amount of cellulose, proteins, carbohydrates, and minerals.

Adult red foots are best to be fed with a good mix of veggies, fruits, leaves, and flowers, such as grape leaves, mulberry leaves, hay, bananas, berries, papaya, mango, carrot tops, beet tops, as well as hibiscus flowers and leaves, among others.

Readily-available tortoise food that comes in the form of pellets can work excellently in the case caregivers do not have access to fresh greens.

Baby red foots should be supplemented with spring mixes, including turnip greens, collard greens, kale, and all similar darker, leafy lettuce types of greens.

Red foots do also enjoy eating cactus pads. Then again, balance and variety are key for these reptile’s proper diet.

Red-footed tortoises are believed to require slightly higher amounts of protein as compared to other tortoises.

Proteins can be supplemented into their diet but only in small amounts, and as an offering rather than a consistent part of their daily meals. Some suitable protein sources include mealworms, super worms, wax worms, dry dog food, and earthworms, all of which should be offered only every 1-2 weeks.

If keepers are to use a readily-available diet food in pellet form, additional protein supplementation is typically not needed.

Eating Habits

When it comes to locating food, red foots rely on their sharp sense of smell.

Keep in mind that red-footed tortoises are known as heavy, eager eaters, and so they would very rarely turn down a meal, so it is crucial not to overfeed them.

A red foot tortoise should be fed from a tray, a grass surface, a flat rock, or from a concrete surface.

Light-colored trays make the best choice as they remain much cooler in the sun, thus, preventing food from drying out way too quickly.

In order to prevent your red foot from eating rocks, soil or other types of substrate, do never feed the animal directly on the dirt surface and/or gravel.

Not the least, remember that red foots are grazers. They will happily munch on any live plants within their enclosure, so it is best to select plants that will make renewable food sources, such as clump grasses, palm trees and/or hibiscus.

Sleeping Habits

Red-footed tortoises are active during the day. They do not hibernate, but they do typically go through a particular slow-down period during the cold winter months, however, this period does not occur with red foots kept indoors where seasonal temperatures do not fluctuate so abruptly, and neither is there a shortage in the daylight hours.

Water

1. Captive Red-footed tortoises should always have access to dishes of fresh, clean water.

2. For outdoor enclosures, small ponds can also work wonderfully as water sources for these magnificent reptiles.

3. Glazed dishes make cleaning and general maintenance very easy.

4. Caregivers should best make use of low-sided, shallow water dishes.

5. Mind that cleaning the water of a Red foot should happen on a regular basis. These tortoises do often get to soak in their water dishes, and they also tend to defecate in them.

6. Even though red foots will barely use their water dishes during the cold winter season, it is still a must that they have access to the dishes.

7. During the hot summer months, it is best to provide puddle areas or mud holes for your red foot to sit in it as to cool itself.

8. For red-footed tortoises taken care of indoors, shallow water dishes can be utilized. It is important to note that regular cleaning remains a MUST. When provided access to shallow water, red foots usually drink immediately while flushing their system at the same time, so it is imperative that keepers will make sure the water is always clean and fresh as to avoid possible health issues.

9. As a rule of thumb, baby, as well as juvenile red foots are known to dehydrate much faster than adults. In order to keep them well-hydrated at all times, it is a great idea to soak them outside the enclosure in warm (but not hot!) water placed in a shallow dish every once or twice a week for about 15 – 30 minutes. Doing so is a double win-win, despite being a form of forced hydration, as you will be able to keep the enclosure clean while also keeping the immature red foot healthy and happy.

Development and Reproduction

After mating, female red foots clear a patch of leaves on the forest floor or dig a hole, and then deposit their eggs, usually a total of 2 to 15 eggs. Next, the females cover up the eggs until finally, they walk away.

The eggs need to incubate for about 3 to 7 months. It is the temperature of the surrounding soil and/or leaves that determine the hatchlings’ sex.

Once the hatchlings are to dig their way out of the nest, they are ready to explore the surroundings, entirely on their own.

As female red foots do take zero care of their offspring, only a few of the babies in the wild make it into adulthood as they are quite tempting prey for predators. However, those that survive can easily live up to half a century, or sometimes, even more.

The carapace of red-footed tortoises hatchlings is approximately 1 ½ to about 2 inches in length.

The growth rates of the young greatly vary, depending on a number of factors, the major ones being the amount and quality of food they manage to take in.

Another factor that plays a key role in baby red foots’ growth rates is the temperature in the reptile’s habitat. The more consistent and optimal the temperature and humidity rates, the faster the growth.

As soon as red foots reach a size of about 11 – 14 inches, they are generally considered adults, and they are also sexually mature at this point. However, there might be exceptions on that note since there are recorded cases of females measuring as little as 9 inches to succeed in mating and laying eggs.

Red-footed tortoises are known to grow rapidly within the first 5 to 10 years of their lifespan. The growing pace slows down as these reptiles age.

How to Breed

1. Red foots can be usually bred as soon as they reach 6 – 8 inches in length.

2. The eggs of clutches of smaller size often tend to be infertile.

3. Larger, well-mature red-footed tortoises are considered more successful when it comes to producing fertile eggs.

4. In the wild, males will often fight during the breeding season, as this stimulates reproduction. However, there are occasions when males simply ignore each other.

5. It is not uncommon for female red foots to actively seek out male partners. If the males seem not to be interested, the females would usually nudge them.

6. For red-footed tortoise pet owners, the key aspect of successful breeding is diet.

7. The red foot tortoises that are known to have the largest clutches, as well as the highest hatch rates, are the ones that have been fed with a balanced, broad variety of food at least a few times a week. The animal matter should be present in the diet of red foot parents-to-be.

8. Red foot breeders can obtain high-quality animal matter from turtle brittle, boiled chicken, boiled eggs, salmon canned in water, frozen, thawed mouse pinkies, chicken livers, as well as Butterworms.

9. Proper, sufficient food is crucial for breeding as in the absence of plenty of nutrients; the egg yolks will fail to provide the embryo with the much-needed essentials for full development.

10. It is an inadequate diet that often causes “dead in the shell.” Dead in the shell occurs when the tortoise almost gets to develop into hatchling size but then suddenly dies before hatching because of lack of nutrients.

11. Mating starts when the male red-footed tortoise is to begin walking very closely behind the female. Next, the male is to slowly mount the female, letting out low grunts. 

12. Red foot hatchlings should be kept in a separate enclosure, although they have quite similar needs to adults, with the major difference that young red foots are more sensitive to dehydration and drafts.

13. Breeders are should keep the red-footed tortoise hatchlings on a dry substrate. Overfeeding should be avoided.

Handling

One of the most common and faulty misconceptions regarding the way a red foot tortoise is to be handled is that handling should be done on a regular basis. This is exactly what many sellers tell customers in an attempt to make the caregivers-to-be purchase the reptile as a pet.

However, the truth is quite contrary, as red foots can be easily stressed when over handled. That’s especially true if the red foot pet is to share a house with children who often tend to drop the reptile while playing. Dropping really spooks these creatures, and the stress factor can lead to a significant decline in the red-footed tortoise’s health, as well as activity levels.

All of that being said, it is absolutely okay to handle a red-footed tortoise, provided this is not to be done on a regular basis, as well as only done with care and respect for the reptile’s well-being.

Simply gently handle the tortoise’ carapace with both hands for maximum stability and control, and lift it up slowly and carefully, thus, stressing the animal as little as possible.

In general, older red foots, as well as juveniles, tend to be more resistant to handling. However, unlike some snake species that can be tamed through regular handling, this is not the case with red foots, so it is best to limit any excess handling.

When handling a red foot, avoid restricting it and/or pinning it. Instead, just allow it to carry on its intended way. That’s especially important when the tortoise is still young. As your red foot grows, the animal will become much more tolerant of human interaction, handling included, without fear or stress, so patience is key.

How to Treat and Prevent Possible Health Issues

Red foot tortoise owners-to-be should be careful to pick a healthy specimen.  Doing so is the best way to avoid having to deal with any health issues in the future, provided that all other basic care requirements are followed.

Keepers want to purchase an active, alert tortoise. Check out if the eyes of the tortoise are clean and bright, as this is a sign of good health.

Red-footed tortoises can suffer from the same common health problems for other reptiles. However, parasites and respiratory infections tend to be prevalent, especially with imported red foot tortoises.

Even the healthiest, captive-bred red foots can be prone to respiratory infections if kept in wet and/or cool enclosures. Owners can spot possible respiratory issues if the animal makes a gurgling sound as it a breather, has raspy breathing and/or a bubbly nose.

The early stages of respiratory issues can be often corrected by simply lowering the humidity and raising the temperatures for about a week or two. In the case foaming or bubbling at the mouth or nose are to occur, though, owners should immediately consult a vet.

Possible Dangers to Humans

Red-footed tortoises are not venomous, and they carry few possible threats to humans, as long  as the tortoise is obtained from a reputable retailer and has been examined by a qualified vet.

Mind that red foots can bite, even though they do not attempt to bite because of aggression unless they are into their breeding season or during feeding. Their bites can be painful, especially those of large adult specimen.

Red foots, similarly to other reptiles, can carry Salmonella. Wild-caught red foots can also harbor Amblyomma genus ticks.

Availability: How to Get a Red-Footed Tortoise?

Captive-bred, healthy red-footed tortoises are easily available from various reputable sources, such as breeders, reptile expos, and pet stores.

Do not get a red foot tortoise from illicit retailers or from the wild, as this will highly likely indicate severe health issues in the future.

Fun Facts

1. In order to attract females, male red foots make a clucking noise that sounds quite like a hen.

2. In cool weather (lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit), red foots can survive on a single banana for about a full month as their metabolism slows down.

3. Adult red-footed tortoises move around in sturdy, full-body armor, quickly withdrawing into their shells whenever threatened. Because of this, they have few natural predators; except for humans; however, hatchlings are quite vulnerable to various predators.

4. Traditionally, the meat of red foots is considered a superb delicacy in their native range. As these magnificent creatures do not put up a fight, they are most threatened because of over-collection and over-hunting, apart from the threat related to loss of habitat.

5. When sometimes males are to compete for breeding access, the fight usually ends as soon as one male manages to turn another over onto its back.

How to Take Care of a Red-Footed Tortoise

Provided one is to obtain a red-footed tortoise from a reputable breeder/retailer, establishing and maintaining the right conditions for this beautiful animal to thrive happy and healthy is not a hard task.

For housing, make sure to provide a suitable vivarium and a suitable tortoise table.

Remember that creating a basking area is crucial.

Desert-strength UVB fluorescent tubes that fall into the 10% – 12% range are best to be utilized, although, in sunny regions, these may not be needed.

Provide your red foot with a balanced, varied diet, fresh water, and avoid handling it excessively as not to stress it.

Maintain temperature and humidity within the optimal rates, keep hygiene high, and you can have a calm, wonderful companion for a lifetime.

FAQ Section

Are Red-Footed Tortoises Friendly?

Red-footed tortoises are rather calm, friendly creatures, known to spend most of their time foraging throughout the day and resting during the night. When given a large meal, they can even rest for a full week!

Do Red-footed Tortoises Bite?

Red-footed tortoises are capable of biting; however, they do not bite because of mere aggression. Although their bites are not fatal, large adults’ bites can be painful. A red foot may bite you if you try handling it during feeding, if very startled, or if forced by any means.

Do Red Foot Tortoises Enjoy being Petted?

Yes, red-footed tortoises enjoy being petted! In particular, they enjoy having their necks scratched. Red foots do also feel when their shells are touched, although this sensation is known to bring them neither pleasure nor pain.

Do Red Foot Tortoises Get Lonely?

Like other tortoise species, red foots are not believed to get lonely. Red-footed tortoises are rather solitary creatures, except for when their mating instincts kick in when the suitable company is welcome.

Can Red Footed Tortoises Bond with their Owners?

Even though tortoise species, including red-footed tortoises, are claimed to have poor hearing, many captive red foots do respond to the voices of people they know. In fact, some red foots can come to their owner when called!

How Often Should I Feed my Red-Footed Tortoise?

As a rule of thumb, you should feed your red-footed tortoise pet as much as it can eat within 30 minutes. Within a 24 hour period, red foots should be supplied with a pile of food that is nearly the size of their bodies, typically every other day. A varied diet is key, so owners can give fruits for a few days and then switch to greens for another few days.

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