Tortoises might move slowly, but even the least active of creatures still needs to eat! In the wild, tortoises browse for a wide variety of plants and grasses. A pet tortoise’s diet should mimic their wild diet as closely as possible to keep them healthy.
As you plan your tortoise’s daily meals, you might wonder if certain fruits or vegetables are okay to incorporate into their diet. We know that humans need to eat plenty of fresh produce to stay healthy, but can tortoises eat these foods as well? For example, can tortoises eat tomatoes? Ripe tomatoes are safe to feed many tortoises, but they aren’t necessarily good for them and should only be offered occasionally. Tomato plants and unripe tomatoes are toxic to tortoises and should never be fed.
Can All Tortoises Eat Tomatoes?
While ripe tomatoes aren’t toxic to any tortoise, some species of tortoise can tolerate them better than others.
Mediterranean or desert tortoises, such as the Sulcata or Hermann’s tortoise, eat primarily grasses and other plants. Because of this, their digestive tract doesn’t tolerate fruits, like the tomato, particularly well. Most of these tortoises should eat tomatoes extremely rarely or not at all.
In contrast, tortoises that come from tropical environments, such as the yellow-footed tortoise, sometimes eat fruit as part of their natural diet. These tortoises are better able to digest tomatoes and they can be offered on occasion as treats.
Are Tomatoes Healthy for Tortoises?
For humans, eating tomatoes offers many health benefits. Tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C, among other nutrients. But are tomatoes healthy for tortoises?
While the vitamins and minerals present in tomatoes are healthy for tortoises, tomatoes also have high sugar content. Too much sugar is just as unhealthy for tortoises as it is for humans. The vitamins present in tomatoes are also found in other foods, such as many vegetables, that come without the added sugar.
Most tortoises love the taste of tomatoes, which makes sense considering the sugar content. Because of the vitamins and the high water content of tomatoes, they have enough health benefits to be fed to a tortoise as a treat. Tomatoes can also be used to give medications to a tortoise if needed.
What Should a Tortoise Eat?
The best diet for a pet tortoise will vary somewhat based on what type of tortoise they are and where the species originates.
Mediterranean and desert tortoises have slightly different dietary requirements than tropical tortoises. Even in these broad categories, there are some individual species variations so ask a veterinarian or knowledgeable tortoise keeper about the best diet for your specific pet tortoise.
The bulk of any tortoise’s diet, about 80%, should be grasses, plants, flowers, and other leafy greens. If you own a Mediterranean tortoise and live in a warm climate, your tortoise will happily graze on your lawn. Dandelion greens, clover, kale, and a variety of other flowers and weeds can also be fed.
Vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, or peppers should be offered a few times a week. Fruits, including tomatoes, should be offered more rarely because of the sugar content. Tropical tortoises can tolerate small amounts of fruit weekly. Other types of tortoises should only be fed fruit every couple of weeks or even less.
Tropical tortoises typically eat a little more protein than others. Offer them a protein source like earthworms or mealworms about once a week.
Tortoises need access to clean, fresh water daily. Ideally, they should have a water container large enough to immerse themselves in because tortoises absorb water through their skin as well as drinking it.
Besides a healthy diet and water, tortoises also need a calcium supplement to stay healthy. Ask your veterinarian if any other supplements are required as well.
What Should You Not Feed a Tortoise?
Because tortoises eat so many wild plants and grasses, the biggest danger they often face is toxic native plants. Some commonly encountered plants that may be toxic to tortoises include:
Ask your veterinarian if you are uncertain about the safety of any plants your tortoise could encounter in your yard.
Some other human foods that you shouldn’t feed a tortoise include the following:
If you’re ever concerned about something your tortoise eats (or if they stop eating altogether), don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.
By human standards, a tortoise’s diet could be considered quite bland and boring. It’s understandable that we might want to spice up their meals a bit by adding in a colorful fruit like a tomato. As we’ve seen, ripe tomatoes (never the leaves, plants, or green tomatoes) are safe for tortoises, but don’t add a lot of nutritional value to their diet. Stick with other vegetables to get the variety into your tortoise’s diet and save the tomatoes for an occasional treat.
Featured Image Credit: ignartonosbg, Pixabay