Selecting a Tortoise

Which species is right for me?

This depends on a lot of things, but mostly what kind you like the most, and what is available. There are a few things that may help you decide.


Your local climate may make some choices logical, especially if you keep the tortoise outside:

– Warm and wet? (American southeast) Forest species, like Red- and Yellow-footeds, Hingebacks, etc.
– Warm and dry? (American southwest) Arid and dry grassland species, like Sulcata, Leopards, and the Mediterranean species.
– Short, dry summers and long winters? Russian Tortoises do well here.

Local wildlife

Your local animals can help predict how comfortable a tortoise might be:

– Eastern Box Turtle- good predictor for most tortoises.
– Gulf Coast Box Turtle, alligators- good predictor for tropical and forest tortoises.
– Three-toed Box Turtle- good for most grassland species.
– Ornate Box Turtle- good predictor for Mediterranean species.
– No local box turtles (for Americans)?- you need to work a bit harder to provide the right climate.

Available space

– Very limited space- consider terrestrial turtles. Many are only 4-6 inches long. The very small tortoises are generally very endangered and/or expensive and/or hard to care for.
– Limited space- Russian or Steppe Tortoises, Hingebacks (not the serrated), Mediterranean, and others in the 6-8 inch range.
– Lots of space, like a very large back yard- African Spurred (Sulcata), Leopard Tortoises; Burmese Mountain and so on in more humid locations.

Interaction and personality

This is very subjective, and depends a lot on individuals, but Red-footeds, Russians, and Sulcatas seem to get the most positive comments about being personable.

Ease of care

This comes down to Hermanns, Greek, Russian, Red-footed, and if space allows, Sulcata and Leopard. In general, the Red-footed is a bit tougher since it needs a warm, humid habitat which is harder to establish and run, while the Sulcata and Leopard can be tough due to sheer size.

Overall easiest?

(Cheap to buy, easy to feed, smallish space needs, etc.?)

– The Russian Tortoise is a popular beginner for just this reason, but remember that ANY tortoise is more of a challenge than most small caged animals or fish.

Finding a healthy tortoise

You generally have a few basic ways to get a pet tortoise.
– Pet store
– On-line source, either a retailer or breeder
– Local breeder
– Pet rescue, adoption
– Local “for sale” ads, like Craig’s List
– Reptile or pet expo or show

Each source has its pros and cons, but try to use a source that lets you at least see current photos of the animal you are considering and can answer questions about it, such as when it was hatched, what and how often it’s eating, etc. Also look for a source that offers some sort of guarantee, especially if the animal has to be shipped.

If you can, check for:
– Egg yolk scar is completely healed over
– What it eats and how often it eats, as well as if it has defecated lately
– Length and weight. If you see it, does it feel “heavy”
– Clear eyes and nostrils- no puffiness, discoloration, runniness, etc.
– Overall condition
– Pulls in tight when picked up, and/or claws like crazy to get away
– If possible, get a vet check-up before purchase with special attention to parasites

Baby or older tortoise?

Most people want to start with very young or baby animals for most pets, but babies generally require the most care, and many of them pass away for a variety of reasons. There is also the issue that babies need smaller habitats, but as they get older, they need bigger ones quickly. Lots of people get babies thinking they have plenty of time to build the bigger cage, only to get caught by surprise when the once little guy has outgrown the starter home.

If you can, consider a year or two old tortoise. It will be past most of the hazards, be able to be placed outside from the onset, and still offer you a long life.