“Tips for Properly Caring for Your Land Turtle (Genus Testudo)”
Natural History of the Land Turtle
Land turtles are native to arid regions of the Mediterranean in Europe, Africa, and parts of the Middle East. Most Testudo species are primarily herbivores and undergo brumation (or hibernation) in the wild.
Testudo marginata (Marginated Tortoise), T. weissingeri, T. horsfieldii (Russian Tortoise), graeca (Greek Tortoise), T. ibera (Iberian Tortoise), T. hermanni (Hermann’s Tortoise), kleinmanni (Egyptian Tortoise)
What Do They Eat?
Land turtles are primarily herbivores, and most of their diet should consist of high-fiber plant material, as well as sources of calcium and carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A). While vitamin D3 is obtained through exposure to sunlight or UVB-emitting bulbs, land turtles can also utilize vitamin D2 from plants.
If they live in a garden, they will likely graze on grass, clover, and various herbs. Ensure they do not have access to toxic plants such as ficus and ferns.
Hay is a crucial part of their diet. Fresh vegetables like escarole, endive, carrot tops, spinach, Swiss chard, arugula, watercress, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, etc., should also be offered. Limit fruit intake as it contains high sugar content and can lead to digestive issues and bacterial imbalance. Variety in their diet is essential to prevent nutritional deficiencies. To encourage land turtles to consume a diverse diet, you can cut vegetables into small julienne-like pieces to minimize them picking out their favorites.
Add calcium supplements to their vegetarian diet once or twice a week.
Place food on trays or dishes to prevent accidental ingestion of substrates.
Do not position food directly under heat sources to avoid drying.
Freshwater should always be available.
Care and Housing
Ideally, land turtles should live in an outdoor garden or terrace. When they are juveniles, it’s better to keep them in a fenced area to prevent them from getting lost or being taken by other animals like birds, rats, dogs, or cats.
They require significant direct sunlight exposure because the ultraviolet radiation from the sun is crucial for proper bone calcification. If you need to keep them indoors, provide artificial UVB radiation using special fluorescent bulbs or mercury vapor bulbs. Remember that fluorescent bulbs should be replaced every 6-8 months, even if they still emit light. Additionally, both fluorescent and mercury vapor bulbs should not be protected by glass, plastic, or mosquito netting.
As mentioned earlier, land turtles are seasonal animals and hibernate during cold months. You’ll notice decreased activity and reduced food intake as temperatures drop. They will also seek shelter. Newly hatched turtles and those not in perfect health should not hibernate for better survival. In such cases, it’s necessary to maintain a perpetual summer indoors, with a daytime temperature of 26-30°C (78-86°F) and nighttime temperature of 18-20°C (64-68°F). A 12-hour day-night cycle is usually followed. As substrate, you can use newspaper, alfalfa pellets, hay, large pieces of bark, hemp, peat moss, coconut fiber, etc. It’s advisable to bathe the turtle once or twice a week in a container with a couple of inches of warm water (28°C or 82°F) for 15-30 minutes to keep them hydrated and stimulate their digestive system.
Provide specific ambient relative humidity levels for each species. Juvenile land turtles may require higher ambient humidity levels to prevent pyramiding of their shells. Desert species like the Moroccan tortoise and Egyptian tortoise require drier environments, as constant high humidity can predispose them to upper respiratory infections.
Avoid clear walls, as turtles will attempt to move through or over them to see the world beyond.
Outdoor enclosures should also be escape-proof, as these turtles are adept climbers and diggers.
If multiple turtles are housed together, provide covered or visually secure areas. Monitor groups closely for signs of stress or fighting, as males may harass females constantly, causing them to lose weight or flip them over. Some individuals also fight with other males.
Have an indoor cage or enclosure ready for the land turtle when ambient temperatures are colder or outdoor conditions are not suitable.
An open-top cage that can be disinfected is recommended.
Glass aquariums and vivariums are generally unsuitable as they require good ventilation.
The enclosure should provide an appropriate temperature gradient and may require an overhead heat source and one beneath the substrate so the turtles can regulate their temperature naturally. Care should be taken to avoid fires when using heat sources near potential fuels like substrate material and hay.
Provide multiple hiding and shelter areas for land turtles both indoors and outdoors, ensuring each turtle has multiple protection options. Hiding spots should be placed at variable distances from the main heat source in the habitat and should provide adequate shading from the sun or other light and heat sources.
These types of land turtles are known for their longevity, and with proper care, Testudo species can live anywhere from 50 to 100 years.
Do Land Turtles Need Vaccinations?
Land turtles do not require vaccinations for any diseases. However, it is advisable to deworm them twice a year (spring and autumn) before and after hibernation. During the veterinary check-up, their feces will be examined via coprological analysis to determine the most appropriate treatment.
Can They Transmit Diseases to Humans?
Reptiles can carry some bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted to humans without the animal showing signs of illness. The most significant and well-known disease is Salmonellosis. Young children, elderly individuals, and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of infection. If individuals at risk are in contact with the turtle, an analysis can be performed to confirm or rule out the presence of this microorganism. If positive, a treatment plan can be established. However, normal hygiene practices significantly reduce the chances of transmission.