Atlas, and discussion on the husbandry and basics of keeping Red Foot Tortoises

Recently, I came across another rescue situation, a young lady with another space and moving crisis asked for help with… Atlas. She told me at one point Atlas was a purchase made at an expo, through LLL Reptiles, some may be familiar with the company, but she was sold as a Grenada Island Red Foot, and I don’t have much info past that, hatch date or anything, she stopped communicating with me after a couple of days following my correspondence about the changes I made for Atlas and her enclosure, which she came with, and I outfitted to better suit her, I think because she’s satisfied that Atlas found a good home but couldn’t answer my questions about her purchase info. Since we have access to this wonderful plethora of information, I wanted to bring this to here, and because I know we have several people here that are more than experienced with this species, and other locales of the species, to assist with positive identification, if possible, and to explain some about things like sexing a tortoise, and some basics about their care, diet, etc. I’ll bullet point the subjects I’ve been looking through and trying to research, with very limited specific information on this species, and if she’s a Grenada Island Red Foot, any pertinent information about the species in comparison to the other locales, such as the smaller Cherry Head Red Foot from Brazil. Now, I’ve never kept a tortoise before, although I’ve always wanted to, since I was a little kid, they’ve always fascinated me, and although I have a lot of experience with many other types of reptiles, this is a totally new experience for me, and I’ve done a lot of research on the care and such of Red Foots for a while, especially here more recently because of the MRC, which gave me a pretty good help with a head start, regarding taking her on and management of her health and environment. HOWEVER. That being said, I think I can count on one hand the threads we have available here with wholesome information about some of the questions I had about them, some of which I feel are fairly basic for someone who’s never had a turtle or a tortoise before. And the rest of the internet is very hit or miss, forums about just tortoises for example are very convoluted, or opinionated, and one of the reasons I like the MRC enough to be on here every single day, is that it allows us to very cleanly, and with good representation by our members, teach and distribute good open source info, and I hope between my own curiosity, and the lack of information I was able to collect, we can do a better job here. Anyway, my bullet points are as follows:

  • Habitat Needs and Recommendations, Do’s and Dont’s (in regards to indoor keeping), such as substrate requirements and different environmental needs such as plants, soil types, woods, hide needs etc.

  • Dietary Needs and Recommendations, such as what kinds of foods they eat regularly, what foods they eat based on preference, what supplements (Calcium/D3 for instance) should be used, or not, and why. Most convoluted subject I’ve seen so far about them.

  • Lighting, Heating and Humidity Needs and Recommendations, such as what temperatures and humidity levels are acceptable, what temperatures/humidity levels they thrive in and breed well in best, what type of lights/heating elements need to be used, etc.

  • Basic Interaction Info and Suggestions and Social Needs, such as how to approach and befriend your tortoise, if you’re a beginner, and how they tend to interact with their people, and other tortoises.

  • Basic Locale Differentials and Explanations, such as size, health, age and husbandry differences and info between the locales, what applies anyway.

  • This is the MOST important, in my opinion, and was, aside from dietary, the least covered subject I was able to research. Specific information on Hatchlings, Juveniles, and what, if any, specific needs they had, as opposed to adults. And breeding information, such as age of maturity, mating seasons and circumstances, clutch collection and incubation, etc.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s Atlas!


And this is her current set-up, after my changes and new accomodations.


It looks good to me, a shallow dish that the tortoise can get out of, rocks to bask on, the ability to keep high humidity. There are some things I would fix/improve. I would add more hides, good cover is usually beneficial, just make sure the tortoise can move around since they are very active reptiles. If you want (it’s not necessary) you could add a very shallow terracotta dish. Be sure to keep the humidity high, low humidity is one of the biggest problems for beginners. If the tortoise can see out of the sides cover them, tortoises don’t do well in aquariums or other transparent containers because of this. It looks like you likely have a UV light which is good, not enough UV can cause pyramiding. Make sure the temperature reaches high enough, I’m not positive on the hotspot but it’s usually higher than most people think.
Hatchling tortoises should be soaked for a half hour daily, dehydration is a major concern. The tortoise should have food available all the time, the more types of food available the better. If the tortoise doesn’t eat a certain item leave it in there, the tortoise might suddenly start eating it. Supplements aren’t usually necessary, especially with a UV light. If you think more calcium is necessary you can add a pinch of calcium on the food once or twice a week (since you have UV I would only do this once a week minimum). is a useful site and the most informative I’ve found, I recommend it for further reading. Also, Atlas looks amazing, super cute!
@osbornereptiles might also be able to help.


Thanks @erie-herps. I’ve got her water level to where she can soak if she wants, I caught here in there once so far. As for hides, it’s in my plans today actually, I just used what I had in my stuff to put what you see together. She hasn’t spent much time in the hide though, especially since I upgraded the lighting and heating to better than the cheap UTH she came with. (Side note, I’m looking for a Zoo Med RH-20, new or used, let me know) Fortunately I’ve had a lot of extra equipment and it went together fairly easy. I’m considering using a DHP over the CHE I currently have in use, I think it will disperse heat better, and at a lower wattage, but that’s to be determined as well. Other than that, I thought this was a pretty great set-up, I just need some more Reptisoil in there to blend with all the coconut fiber she had in there. Dry as a bone, before she came home with me. Now I think I’ve probably gone through a half mister tank alone every day keeping things right in there. She hasn’t moved from the spot you see her in, in my last shot, since last night, but she seems okay, and looks up at me whenever I come to say hey. Temps are around 85 in the hotspot zone, 80 where she’s at, and relative to 75 or so around the rest of the enclosure. Low 70s to high 60s at night, but I won’t let it get below 70 right now, I feel like she’s too small to get too cold.


Covering some of the top might help hold in humidity, the substrate you have is good for humidity so maybe try directly adding water to the substrate and let it release it over time. I would lower the light/change the bulb so you have a hotspot in the low 90s. Since you have a large enclosure (for now, torts grow quick lol) you might be able to go higher.

Seriously following this thread as I’ve been contemplating adding a tortoise to our collection. I really like the idea of using a metal trough for an enclosure. Genius idea.


Her humidity is great now, I live in Seattle, and someone actually misted the enclosure, haha. I already added some Reptisoil, and it helped a lot, but I don’t have enough, and I grabbed the last bag from my local store here the other day though, so I have to wait and see if they had any come in today, it’s stock day. The coconut fiber wasn’t bad, just not great by itself. I did already bump the light down a little bit, so we’ll see if that has the effect I was looking for, but I really like the deep heat projector, at least for what I’ve used them in prior to this, so I might just go with that anyway.


Also, this might be one of many “overprotective questions” to come, but should I be concerned about her eating moss?

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I loved reading through this @wrai.


Thanks @lumpy, I’m looking forward to filling out those bullet points! And I’d like to get enough information together here on Red Foots that we can eventually justify a singular category for Tortoises, instead of just putting them in Other Reptiles, because they really are something else.


I would love owning some down here in Florida because I have such a big backyard that I could have a few in a pen. I’ve always been amazed by them.


My wife wants to do the same thing with our back yard. This was at one my customers houses, turtle is bigger than it looks.


He must love his home!


His home is absolutely large and even has tunnels over 30 feet long. You should see the amount of greens that guy eats a day. Lol.


(edit: I have work, A LOT of work, to do on this still, help me ADD to this, any editing that needs to be done, explain why, rather than simply exchanging information)

Husbandry and Basic Information, primarily for indoor keeping
Chelonoidis carbonaria, Red Foot Tortoise

Habitat Needs and Recommendations: (in regards to indoor keeping)

  • Substrate requirements: Red Foot Tortoises require a high level of humidity, about 60 - 80%, which requires substrate that can cycle moisture well without decaying, mixtures of soil, peat moss, etc, such as Zoo Med ReptiSoil, or blended coconut fiber with another similar substrate type, and it must be misted at least once a day to retain to appropriate level of humidity.

  • Environmental Needs: Red Foot Tortoises need a variety of things to thrive, and building the enclosure properly is very important. Since humidity is highly important for this species, plants and mosses are recommended around the enclosure, there are also several grasses that can be planted and eaten by them safely. Because they like to, and need to, soak for a while every day, they need to be provided a clean water supply that they can safely climb in and out of, that isn’t too cold or too deep. They also need hides, something they can go in and feel safe inside, outside of the shell, and multiple locations for them and sizes should be provided, at least two. Keep plenty of hides and cover as they love to explore and find their perfect hiding spot. Red Foot tortoise enclosures require a sturdy wall, at least 16 inches in height above ground, as well as a few inches below ground, to prevent (or discourage) these tortoises from digging. Red Foot tortoises aren’t usually burrowing or digging tortoises, so this isn’t as much of a concern as it would be with other tortoise species. See-through fences and walls should not be used, as the tortoises tend to try to escape through or over these walls if they can see the other side.

Dietary Needs and Recommendations:

  • Red Foot tortoises can be offered a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, and will need to be offered a variety, not kept on simply their “favorite food”.

  • Leafy greens, such as spinach, romaine and similar are a staple, and should be shredded, as well as foods like apples, carrots, zucchini, strawberries, mango, blackberries, blueberries, and sources for protein like mushrooms, and smaller pieces should be cut up for baby and juvenile tortoises. Red Foot Tortoises are seasonal feeders, meaning as different plants produce “fruit” at different times of the year, their diet should also reflect this season variety. Wild food is generally plentiful as they will devour dandelions (greens and flowers), mulberry leaves and berries, grasses, grapes and leaves, etc. Occasionally, it’s acceptable to provide protein, such as with a dead rat… They will leave no trace behind from a jumbo rat (adult sized tortoise feeding). One useful tool for determining what is acceptable for tortoises to consume, and also not acceptable, is the Plant Database at The Tortoise Table, which gives a wide outline of different foods and plants that are edible for tortoises, with in-depth explanations of the reasons a food/plant is edible or not. Also, specifically for Red Foot Tortoises, another good source of information regarding diet can be found at Tortoise Town.

  • Supplements, such as Calcium/D3 shouldn’t be be necessary, if there is a UVB light being used, which is important for the tortoise for vitamin D3 production, because it is essential for them to process the calcium from their diet.

Lighting, Heating and Humidity Needs and Recommendations:

  • UVB lighting should be made available, especially if vitamin D3 and calcium aren’t being supplemented. Red Foot Tortoises are considered a dense forest species and get minimum direct sunlight, so while some UVB lighting may be beneficial, it is not considered entirely necessary for this species.

  • Temperatures need to range from 68 °F (20 °C) at the lowest end to an ambient temperature of 80 °F (26 °C) - 88 °F (31 °C), with a basking zone of up to 95 °F (35 °C) being acceptable, and this can be achieved using an appropriate UTH, spot basking lights such as halogens, CHE/DHPs, all regulated by thermostat. Redfoots prefer temps in the mid to upper 80s (°F) but can tolerate temps in the 90s (°F). Extreme heat is not recommended and should be a cause for concern, especially when approaching upper 90s (°F) and beyond. Adults can handle short cycles of temps into the mid 50s (°F) and the most southern locales, into the low 50s (°F).

  • Humidity should be above 60% and should not exceed 80% more than periodically. Humidity is the main concern related to shell pyramid. Proper humidity and hydration are key to keeping the shell smooth. Always allow for soaking even if it’s minimal. Redfoots love water.

Basic Interaction Info and Suggestions and Social Needs, such as how to approach and befriend your tortoise, if you’re a beginner, and how they tend to interact with their people, and other tortoises:

  • Contrary to what many sellers tell customers, tortoises generally should not be handled with any regularity. They are easily stressed when over handled, and children tend to drop them when spooked. These stress factors can lead to a decline in a tortoise’s activity levels and health.

  • Juvenile and older red-footed tortoises are generally more resistant to handling, but all tortoises should be handled carefully. Avoid pinning them down or restricting them. Allow them to carry on in their intended way, especially when they’re young. Older red-footed tortoises are usually pretty tolerant of people.

Basic Locale Differentials and Explanations

(From Reptiles Magazine article, Keeping And Breeding Red-Footed Tortoises)

By Terry Kilgore, Article written November 11, 2015 5:23 pm

  • Chelonoidis carbonaria has not as yet had any subspecies determination. Specimens from the northern part of its range exhibit subtle physical differences and some tendency to follow a unique color pattern, but coloration has proven to be the least reliable method of identifying the origin of individuals. Factoring in the number of tortoises that were imported from the entire northern range, over a number of decades, it has become inevitable that locale hybrids/integrates exist in today’s breeding programs, making it increasingly difficult to identify individual origins.
    Hybridization has become a controversial subject, especially in regard to redfoots from the southern portion the tortoise’s range, in Brazil, etc. There, physical differences are virtually nonexistent, yet coloration can be quite variable. These tortoises obviously differ in appearance from their cousins further north.

  • So-called “cherryheads” were named by a group who imported tortoises that had been illegally trucked from Brazil to Paraguay (Brazil was closed for exportation at that time)—these tortoises displayed screaming red coloration on their head and legs. These importers figured that by calling these tortoises cherryheads they could sell them at a higher price—it was strategic marketing genius that worked! As a result, the name “cherryhead” has come to be used to describe all redfoots from Brazil, much to the detestation of many redfoot breeders today. Later also in the same article The exceptional red coloration on the heads of Brazilian redfoots led to them being given the name “cherryheads". From other resources, Cherryheads, as a sub species, are typically significantly smaller than other localities of Red Foot Tortoise, but aside from the bright red head and neck markings they retain into adulthood, they’re also discernable based on the black and darker plastron, or the undersides of them, Cherryheads are very easy to tell from other localities using this identification.

  • (In regards to laying eggs) The only differences I have found among the different locales are the size and number of eggs that are produced. The three Colombian bloodline females averaged six to eight eggs, which were seldom larger than 15/8 inches. The two Guyana females, which were at least 1 to 1½ inches larger SCL and possibly 10 years older, laid eggs measuring 1¾ to 2 inches in length and averaged four to five per clutch (seldom six).
    Because all the females were bred with the same Guyana males, I’m inclined to believe the Colombians lay smaller eggs traditionally.

Hatchlings, Juveniles, Breeding: This section is for what, if any, specific needs they have as hatchlings and juveniles.

  • Red Foot Tortoises have a natural lifespan of about 50 - 60 years, and in captivity on average live to be in between 30 - 60. Red Foot Tortoises typically are sexually mature when they are about 7.5" - 9.5" (20 - 25 cm) long, usually at about 5 years of age.

  • Hides need to be made available for smaller and younger tortoises, to help them in feeling safe and secure in their environment. Food needs to be chopped into small enough pieces they don’t choke and can tear off chunks as they go of fruits and vegetables.

  • As with many reptiles, Red Foot Tortoise eggs are temperature gender dependent. Temperatures above 88 °F (31 °C) during incubation result in females and temperatures below 82 °F (28 °C) produce males. Temperatures between these ranges will produce a mix of genders. Incubation periods are from 115 to 150 days from laid to hatched, with 125 days being the average.


I am loving this project!


I’ll add, humidity is the main concern with shell pyramid. Lack of proper humidity and hydration are key to keeping the shell smooth. Always allow for soaking even if it’s minimal. Redfoots love water.

As for UV lighting, Redfoot tortoises are considered a dense forest species and get minimum direct sunlight, so while UV lighting can be beneficial, it is not considered necessary for this species. Keep plenty of hides and cover as they love to explore and find their perfect hiding spot.

As far as temps go, Redfoots prefer temps in the mid to upper 80s but can tolerate temps in the 90s. Extreme heat is not recommended and should be cause for concern when approaching upper 90s or above. Adults can handle short cycles of temps into the mid 50s and the most southern locales into the low 50s.

As for food, they are seasonal feeders, meaning as different plants produce “fruit” at different times of the year, their diet should also reflect this season variety. Wild food is generally plentiful as they will devour dandelions (greens and flowers), mulberry leaves and berries, grasses, grapes and leaves, etc. The variety of different seasonal plants they eat is amazing. We also occasionally provide protein with a dead rat…yes they will leave no trace behind from a jumbo rat.

I didn’t have time to read this entire post but skimmed through to point out what I have experience with.


Didn’t expect this lol :joy:


It doesn’t surprise me, given deer and other “herbivores” will happily eat baby birds and other helpless snacks. Provided they can catch them of course.


The fact that they would eat them doesn’t surprise me, it was that I was so engaged in reading it, it just threw me off guard.

“Just throw a dead rat, as a snack, you know?”