Tortoises are popular pets, largely because they’re cute in a unique way. Egyptian Tortoises, however, take the cuteness factor to the next level.
Also known as “Kleinmann’s Tortoise,” the Egyptian Tortoise is the smallest tortoise species in the Northern Hemisphere. This makes them even more adorable, while also making it easier to keep one as a pet.
Quick Facts About Egyptian Tortoise
|Species Name:||Testudo kleinmanni|
|Temperature:||75°F – 85°F|
|Color Form:||Gray, ivory, golden|
|Lifespan:||70 – 100 years|
|Size:||3-4 inches, 0.5 – 1 pounds|
|Diet:||Grasses, broadleaf plants, flowers, grass hay, insects|
|Minimum Tank Size:||2’ x 2’ x 2’|
Egyptian Tortoise Overview
The Egyptian Tortoise’s small body and attractive features make it a popular pet among reptile enthusiasts, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s bad because the species is now critically endangered, but it’s good because its popularity among hobbyists may be the one thing keeping the animals alive.
Hobbyists aren’t the reason that the animals are endangered, though. That’s due to the systematic destruction of their habitats in Africa. However, the upshot of this is that it can be difficult to get your hands on one, and legally, you can only buy one from a breeder in your country of origin.
In some areas, owning one at all may be forbidden, so it’s a good idea to check your local laws before you start contacting breeders. Speaking of which, you should only buy through a reputable breeder, as smuggling is a huge problem with these animals.
Assuming that you can (legally) get your hands on one, though, you’ll have a friend for the rest of your life — and probably longer than that. These tortoises can live upward of 70 years, so don’t buy one if you suspect that your interest is a passing fancy.
Owning one of these animals is a fairly low-maintenance proposition, but you’ll have to ask yourself whether keeping an endangered animal in your home jibes with your moral sensibilities. You may be better off finding another small tortoise that isn’t endangered, like the Hermann’s Tortoise.
How Much Do Egyptian Tortoises Cost?
Egyptian Tortoises are surprisingly affordable for being such a critically endangered species. You can get one for around $1,000, give or take a few hundred.
They’re quite easy to find as well. Breeders have been producing them as fast as they can for years, so paradoxically, as the species becomes more endangered, it also becomes easier to own.
Of course, you’ll have to buy more than just the animal itself, but these tortoises don’t require much in the way of specialized equipment. Buying the gear will likely be significantly less expensive than paying for the tortoise.
Typical Behavior & Temperament
It’s important to remember two things about these animals: They’re cold-blooded, and they live in some of the hottest places on Earth.
As a result, their behavior and activity level depend in large part on what the weather is like. If it’s hot out, they won’t do much of anything but sit there, but they become more active in the early mornings and evenings.
They generally have a mild-mannered and non-aggressive temperament, but they can lose their sense of humor if handled too roughly or too often. This could lead to snapping or other impolite behavior.
Appearance & Varieties
The carapace of the Egyptian Tortoise has a moderately-high dome that peaks in the middle. The shell comes in a variety of colors, ranging from ivory to gray or yellow.
The plastron, or underside, of the tortoise is almost always pale yellow. It has two triangular markings as well; these are dark brown or black and become darker as the tortoise ages.
Female Egyptian Tortoises are larger than males, while males are usually slenderer with longer tails. The typical female is about 5 inches long and weighs nearly a pound, while a male is usually an inch shorter and weighs half as much. Females tend to have a higher dome on the carapace as well.
Both sexes have moderately-sized heads with non-protruding snouts. Their skin is often yellow or ivory, with black markings on top.
How to Take Care of Egyptian Tortoises
Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup
These tortoises are used to living in extremely arid conditions, as their natural habitat is sparsely vegetated, sandy, and subject to only 2 to 4 inches of rainfall per year. Their natural surroundings aren’t too hot, though, as the temperature clocks in at an average of 68°F and seldom gets higher than 85°F or so.
You’ll want to keep them in a wooden vivarium, as the wood makes it easy to control and retain heat. The cage needs to be at least 2’ x 2’ x 2’, but there needs to be different temperatures in different parts of the vivarium, and it’s easier to do that in a larger enclosure.
Bedding and Decoration
These tortoises need a dry substrate that won’t add to the enclosure’s humidity levels. Beech woodchips are an excellent choice for this purpose.
Egyptian Tortoises aren’t big climbers, but you’ll need to provide them with enough substrate that they can burrow deep when they feel like it.
Their tanks should be decorated with artificial or desert plants. Again, most plants won’t be able to tolerate the dry conditions that these tortoises require, so your life will be easier if you opt for fake decorations.
They also need a hidey-hole of some sort. This can be a hollowed-out log or a piece of bark. However, they’ll usually opt to burrow rather than hide if they feel threatened.
The tank should be between 75° and 85°F, with one exception. One end should be dedicated for basking, and this section should be kept around 90°F.
The temperature inside the tank needs to drop toward the end of the day, mimicking the drop in temperature that these reptiles would experience in their native environment. You can achieve this by just turning off any heating elements and lights, or you can use dimmers.
These animals spend most of their time in the sun, and as a result, they’re used to soaking up high levels of UV-B radiation. You should include a 10% UV-B bulb in their enclosure; many of these are specifically targeted toward desert reptiles.
Lighting should be dimmed and ultimately turned off toward the end of the day as well. These animals do best with 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.
Do Egyptian Tortoises Get Along With Other Pets?
Egyptian Tortoises can be tolerant of other species, including other tortoises, so long as the other animal is tolerant of them as well. Ultimately, they spend so much of their time in energy-conservation mode that they don’t feel the need to get violent or aggressive toward others.
The one exception is having too many males together when females are present. This can lead to aggressiveness and competition. Single-sex colonies can flourish, though.
It’s also not recommended to pair them with tortoises of other species, as this can lead to violence and potential hybridization.
They do especially well with other Egyptian Tortoises, and the ideal ratio is one male with two or three females. Adding more males will stress the tortoises out, as the males will compete with one another and are likely to want to mate continuously.
What to Feed Your Egyptian Tortoise
While these animals will occasionally snack on insects, they’re primarily vegetarians. In nature, they eat grasses, broadleaf plants, and flowers, with a special preference for saltwort and sea lavender. They tend to do best on a plant-based diet, so there’s no need to bring crickets home.
You can offer them mixed greens and grass hay four times per week. You can mix this up (and add fiber to their diet) by mixing in hibiscus leaves, flowers, or sea lavender leaves.
Be careful which greens you serve them, though. Any plants high in oxalic acid — like parsley, spinach, and rhubarb — can lead to kidney or bladder damage.
You should instead offer them plants like dandelions, leafy salads, kale, and watercress. You can give them carrots or bell peppers as an occasional treat as well.
You may also be able to feed them tortoise pellets, if you don’t want to do all the legwork yourself. Make sure you read the label first, though, to ensure that they’re getting all the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Keeping Your Egyptian Tortoise Healthy
These tortoises can be prone to all manner of health issues, with the most common being respiratory infections or parasitic infestations. They may also suffer from issues like kidney stones and improper shedding.
Many of these health issues can be avoided by taking proper care of your tortoise, especially keeping their habitat clean. You also need to be careful what you feed them, as many kidney problems are caused by improper diet.
Unfortunately, if your tortoise gets sick, you may struggle to track down a vet who’s experienced with exotic pets. It’s a good idea to find such a doctor well before your tortoise gets sick, so you know exactly whom to call if you notice your pet acting strangely.
Mating two Egyptian Tortoises isn’t too difficult for experienced breeders, but novices should probably leave the operation to the pros. Many inexperienced breeders mate them when they’re too small, and that can lead to reproductive issues that can kill the female.
If you know what you’re doing, though, these tortoises can be very fertile indeed. The clutches are usually small, with only one to five eggs in each, but they can mate as often as seven times per year. Typically, though, females will only reproduce once or twice each year.
If you keep a male and female together, you’ll notice a loud mating call that will precede any sexual activity. The male will then encircle the female, occasionally ramming her shell, and the act itself will last around 20 minutes.
When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she will begin to pace constantly. You’ll want to have at least 6 inches of substrate for her to deposit her clutch in or to offer her a separate nesting box with plenty of material in which to burrow.
You can remove the eggs as soon as she’s finished laying them and begins covering them. Place them in an artificial incubator at temperatures around 86°F — anything lower will produce more males, while higher temps will produce more females. Keeping the mercury right at 86°F is your best bet for getting an equal mix of both.
Most eggs will hatch around 3 months after they were laid, but some will linger for a 4th month. Leave the hatchlings inside the eggs until they are ready to emerge on their own, at which point, you can keep them in a small container with a moistened paper towel until their shells straighten.
Are Egyptian Tortoises Suitable for You?
The Egyptian Tortoise is a tiny, adorable little reptile, and it’s no wonder that they’ve grown so popular as pets. They’re critically endangered, though, so you may have issues finding one.
They’re fairly easy to keep as pets, making them suitable for first-time tortoise owners. They don’t need much in the way of a fancy habitat, so after the initial outlay, they’re pretty inexpensive to keep.
We’ve long believed that the only thing cuter than an animal is a smaller version of that animal, and the Egyptian Tortoise is no exception. These little creatures are fun to watch, easy to get along with, and interesting to talk about. What more could you possibly want?
Featured Image Credit: reptiles4all, Shutterstock