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Do Tortoises Make Good Pets? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

Which animals come to mind when you hear the word pet? You likely thought of dogs, cats, parrots, rabbits, or fish.

But did you know that tortoises indeed make good pets? If you’ve never considered that, this guide will change your perspective.

Tortoises are quiet, attractive, hearty, and easy-to-care-for reptiles. Besides, they are relatively small and shed no fur. Moreover, due to their long lifespan, they are excellent lifetime pets.

But as great as they are, not all species of tortoises make great pets. Here are the most suitable breeds.

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10 Tortoises That Make Good Pets

1. Russian Tortoise

Scientific Name: Testudo horsfieldii
Adult Size: 5 – 8 inches
Weight: 1.5 – 2.5 lbs.
Lifespan: 40+ years

The Russian tortoise is one of the popular choices in the United States because it is small, inexpensive, easy to care for, beautiful, and quick to bond with its owners.

It has an average lifespan of 40 years, which makes them a lifetime commitment. The males grow 5-6 inches in length, while females are 6-9 inches.

The coldblooded reptile needs secure 8 square feet housing. Reason? It is a burrower and can dig its way out of the enclosure. They also dig to escape extreme hot and temperatures and during hibernation.

The Russian tortoise’s housing also needs a 95-degrees Fahrenheit basking spot, UVB light, a shallow water dish, and room temperature that should not drop below 75 degrees.


2. Pancake Tortoise

pancake tortoise_Nick Greaves_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Nick Greaves, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Malococherus tornieri
Adult Size: 6 – 8 inches
Weight: 1.5 – 2.5 lbs.
Lifespan: 40+ years

As its name suggests, this tortoise’s shell is flat like the turtle’s. Besides, while other tortoises rely on their shells to hide from predators, this breed uses flexibility and speed to evade danger. As absurd as that might sound, the pancake tortoise is an excellent runner and is considered the fastest tortoise.

That’s not all. It is a great climber, too.  The species is often found up the mountains in the wild. Here, they find their way up and around rocky surfaces to escape predators.

Therefore, you need a 40-gallon aquarium with high walls and a screen top to house a pancake tortoise. It should also feature a basking spot, 60-75% humidity, 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit temperature gradient, and UVB light.


3. Red-Footed Tortoise

Red-Footed Tortoise
Image Credit: Brenda Carson, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Chelonoidis carbonaria
Adult Size: 12 – 14 inches
Weight: 20 lbs.
Lifespan: 50 years

The red-footed tortoise has red legs and feet, and at times, the head and tail. This species grows no more than 14 inches long and has a curious nature. It makes a perfect tortoise pet for beginners.

Their enclosure should be at least 50 square feet, with UVB light and temperatures of 80 degrees F all year round. The humidity levels should be between 70-80%.

The reptile’s diet mainly includes leafy greens, but they enjoy occasional insects, small rats, mice, and chicks.


4. Hermann’s Tortoise

hermann's tortoise
Image Credit: Rudmer Zwerver, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Testudo hermanni
Adult Size: 5 – 8 inches
Weight: 7 – 9 lbs.
Lifespan: 50 – 100 years

The Hermann is docile and gentle and known for its excellent temperament. They are also famous for their cute personalities and unique patterns on their shells. In addition, they have a unique horn-like claw at the tip of their tails.

The Hermann tortoise is suitable for both indoor and outdoor enclosures. They are an active species that enjoy climbing. Due to this, owners are advised to have high-wall housing that features hideouts, not-toxic plants, large rocks, and décor in the enclosure to stimulate them.

Like other tortoises, it needs temperatures of 70-85 degrees F and a 90-95-degree basking spot. There should also be a 12-hour UVB light to provide the animal with a day and night cycle.

Their primary diet is leafy greens, but they don’t mind fruits.


5. Indian Star Tortoise

Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans
Adult Size: 8 inches
Weight: 3 – 4.9 lbs.
Lifespan: 30 – 80 years

The Indian star tortoise is a genuinely stunning pet. It gets its name from the star-like markings on its shell. Due to its unique patterns and high demand, it has become the most expensive tortoise.

Moreover, it is illegal to export them from their native home, India and Sri Lanka. So, if you need to purchase one, ensure that you get one from a trusted captive breeder.

They, like the Herman tortoise, can live indoors or outdoors. The minimum enclosure for one pet is 36 square feet, but they do not mind sharing space with other tortoises. The temperature range should be between 70-85 degrees and a basking spot of 90-95 degrees.


6. Sulcata Tortoise/African Spurred Tortoise

African spurred tortoises in the grass
Image Credit: WikiImages, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Centrochelys sulcate
Adult Size: 18 inches
Weight: 80 – 150 lbs.
Lifespan: 80 – 100 years

It is among the largest tortoise species and is found in the Sahara Desert. An adult can reach a size of 30 inches long and weigh 100 pounds or more!

This giant reptile is an excellent beginner pet because it is intelligent, friendly, sweet, and enjoys human interaction. Yes, they enjoy petting.

However, the breed is not best for owners with limited outdoor space. Its enclosure should be at least 80 square feet. The space should include substrates because the species likes burrowing and digging.

The animal is hardy and can handle temperatures of 70-100 degrees F. But should it get colder than 70-degrees, it is best to provide the animal a heating source.


7. Leopard Tortoise

leopard tortoise inside a tank
Image Credit: polyfish, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Stigmochelys Pardalis
Adult Size: 10 – 18 inches
Weight: 40 – 120 lbs.
Lifespan: 50 – 100 years

Of all the tortoises, the leopard tortoise is the fourth largest. But despite its size, the animal is shy and prefers hiding in its impregnable shell whenever there is danger or disturbance.

And did you know that it can also sprint when scared? Even though it is not as fast as a leopard, the sprint is relatively fast for the slow-moving animal.

Its front legs are club-shaped with pigeon-toes, with the back legs resembling a truck. They come in handy when maneuvering rocky terrain, but they cannot dig.

In addition, the species can swim, thanks to the absence of a nuchal shield. They can raise their head freely when in water since they lack a protective scute on their neck like other tortoise species.

The pet is herbivorous and eats grass, succulents, fungi, flowers, and fruits.

If you are considering house one, the enclosure should have at least 80 square feet and temperatures of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The species does not do well in moist conditions.


8. Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise/Greek Tortoise

closeup of Greek tortoise
Image Credit: Piero Di Maria, Pixabay
Scientific Name: Testudo Graeca
Adult Size: 6 – 7 inches
Weight: 2 – 3 lbs
Lifespan: 50 – 100 years

The Greek tortoise, also known as the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise, is a popular pet. It features spurs on the sides of its tail, and its domed shell has goldish to black color patterns. The animal has an average lifespan of 50 years, but it only grows 10 inches long.

It needs an 18 square feet enclosure with temperatures of 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also include a UVB light, 40-60% humidity, and a 90-degree F basking area.

These friendly pets are easy to care for and consume leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables.


9. Marginated Tortoise

Scientific Name: Testudo marginate
Adult Size: 12 – 15 inches
Weight: 11 lbs.
Lifespan: 100 years

The marginated tortoise is native to Greece and is the largest European breed. It loves spending time outdoors basking. Their enclosure should have at least 16 square feet, a basking spot, UVB light, temperatures of 80 degrees F, and 50-70% humidity.

Besides, these animals can climb and dig. Therefore, ensure the enclosure’s walls are buried below the surface, to at least six feet. They should also be 12-18 inches high.

The marginated tortoise is hardy and can survive harsh environments. And there is a high chance it will outlive you with its 100-140 years lifespan.


10. Kleinmann’s Tortoise/Egyptian Tortoise

Egyptian Tortoise on a rock
Image Credit: reptiles4all, Shutterstock
Scientific Name: Testudo kleinmanni
Adult Size: 3 – 4 inches
Weight: 0.25 – 0.80 lbs.
Lifespan: 70 – 100 years

This species is endangered, and getting one might be difficult and pricey. But should you find one, ensure you purchase it from a trusted breeder or a dealer within your state.

If you are buying it from abroad, have the necessary documentation and shipping records or risk confiscation of the tortoise and face jail time.

Kleinmann’s tortoise is among the smallest species, with an adult size of 105 grams. It is a more suitable indoor pet, especially for owners with limited space. It only requires a 4 square feet enclosure.

It also requires average temperatures of 75-85 degrees F, a UVA basking light, UVB light, and 20-30% humidity.

Their average lifespan is 70 years.

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Summary

Tortoises make great pets despite their shy, docile, and quiet state. These low-maintenance animals are easy to make room for, and they are harmless.

The Russian tortoise, Greek tortoise, Egyptian tortoise, Indian star tortoise, Hermann’s tortoise, and pancake tortoise are small-sized pets.

The marginated tortoise, red-footed tortoise, and leopard tortoise are relatively larger but smaller than Sulcata.

Each tortoise is unique, but there is definitely one that suits your lifestyle.


Featured Image Credit: Lukas Zdrazil, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.