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Home > Turtles > Marginated Tortoise: Care Sheet, Tank Setup, Diet & More (With Pictures)

Marginated Tortoise: Care Sheet, Tank Setup, Diet & More (With Pictures)

Marginated Tortoise on the grass_Joel Mathey_Unsplash

The Marginated Tortoise is a truly beautiful animal that is becoming an ever more popular pet due to its prolific breeding in captivity and ease of care. It is the largest species of Mediterranean tortoise and can grow to 14 inches wide and beyond, but it typically stays around 12 inches. They make great pets for first-time owners but bear in mind that these animals have exceedingly long lifespans and are a massive responsibility indeed.

We put together the following care sheet to help first-time owners get all the basic information that they may need to keep one of these creatures, but bear in mind that there is always more to learn! Before bringing home a majestic creature like this, you should always thoroughly research what is involved. Read on for a basic outline on caring for these beautiful tortoises!


Quick Facts About Marginated Tortoise

Species Name: Testudo marginata
Family: Testudinidae
Care Level: Moderate
Temperature: 90-degrees Fahrenheit basking light
Temperament: Docile, friendly, hardy
Color Form: Black carapace with yellow highlights
Lifespan: 20-100 years or more
Size: 12-14 inches
Diet: Herbivorous
Minimum Tank Size: 15×25 feet
Compatibility: Best kept alone

Marginated Tortoise Overview

The Marginated Tortoise is native mainly to the southern parts of Greece and Italy, but there are a few isolated populations on neighboring islands too. Their natural habitat consists of dry scrubland, woodlands, and hillsides. They are hardy animals that can adapt well to new environments, evidenced by populations found at elevations as high as 5,000 feet! In their natural habitat, they endure hot, humid summers and cold icy winters with ease, using their black shell to absorb heat from the sun. They hibernate in the wild, but hibernation lengths vary depending on their location.

How Much Do Marginated Tortoises Cost?

Marginated Tortoises are readily bred in captivity and are found easily throughout the United States. Prices can vary depending on their age and on the particular breeder, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $200-$500 for a hatchling.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

As you’d expect, Marginated Tortoises are docile and relaxed creatures and will spend most of their day basking in the sun. They are friendly animals that are great around children and are generally slow to anger, but in the wild, they are known to be territorial. If they are not given sufficient space and food, they have been known to become aggressive at times and will bite when they feel threatened. If you have small children around, it’s vital to teach them how to interact gently and calmly with these tortoises.

Marginated Tortoise-Unsplash
Image Credit: Aron Visuals, Unsplash

Appearance & Varieties

The Marginated Tortoise gets its name from the rear scutes of its shell that flare out in a skirt-like fashion. Juveniles typically have a shell of contrasting black and white, but this fades to a green/black color over time, punctuated by creamy yellow highlights. It has a large black head with a pointed snout and strong jaws and large, strong legs with thick, sharp claws.

Hatchlings have a beautiful, almost white to cream-colored shell, with brown borders on each scute that gradually darken as they age.


How to Take Care of a Marginated Tortoise

Indoor housing

Marginated Tortoises can be successfully housed indoors with the right equipment. Small juveniles and babies can be housed in small plastic tubs of about 3 square feet minimum because they need room to explore and for proper temperature gradients. They’ll need a substrate of about 2 inches deep, consisting of coco fiber or peat moss, with soft hay on top. This will allow for burrowing and should be kept moist to maintain humidity, but not saturated.

Tortoises like small, tight hiding places, so you’ll need to provide them with ceramic caves, flat rocks, and even flat logs. It’s important to note that you should avoid using sand as a substrate indoors because it can stick to their food and get into their eyes. Indoor tortoises will need powerful lighting to ensure that they remain healthy. They’ll need a temperature of 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit for basking, but the rest of their tank should be at room temperature. They need humidity, but keep it under 60% to avoid respiratory issues.

Outdoor housing

Once your tortoise reaches around 4 inches long, it can live happily outside. Outdoor housing is the preferable choice for these animals because it allows them plenty of space to roam and live as naturally as possible, and they require far less maintenance this way. Plus, they’ll love the sunshine and fresh air! Feeding is also far easier outdoors, as you can grow food plants that are an almost constant source of nutrition.

The larger the enclosure that you can provide for them, the better, and 15×25 feet is a good rule of thumb and can handle multiple adults. Pick a place that will give them plenty of sun during winter and shade during hotter summer months. Plant edible grasses and plants for them to forage.

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Image Credit: Gary Bendig, Unsplash

Do Marginated Tortoises Get Along With Other Pets?

In the wild, Marginated Tortoises live mostly solitary lives and only come together when breeding. Even young tortoises live alone because females guard their nests but do not raise their young. Male tortoises kept together will most likely fight, especially if there is a female around, so they are better kept alone. If you want to own more than one tortoise, it’s a good idea to get one male and multiple females to prevent fighting, but this is still not a guarantee of peace!

One important point is that you should never keep Marginated Tortoises with another species due to the possibility of illness. Some organisms or parasites may be harmless to one species but fatal to others, so it’s best to not take any chances. However, tortoises of the same species raised together from hatchlings generally will get along into adulthood.


What to Feed Your Marginated Tortoise

Marginated Tortoises are herbivores and eat a diet consisting of mainly leafy greens, grasses, and various flowers. Their food needs to be low in protein and high in fiber and calcium in order to stay healthy. Avoid giving your tortoise too many fruits or vegetables because these are lacking in adequate fiber and contain too much sugar for tortoises. Weeds and flowers that can grow naturally in the garden, such as dandelions, clover, and thistle, are ideal.

In general, you should aim to feed your tortoise about 80% or more leafy greens and around 5-10% fruits and vegetables.

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Image Credit: Clint Patterson, Unsplash

Keeping Your Marginated Tortoise Healthy

The easiest way to assess your tortoises’ health is the condition of their shells or carapaces. The top of the shell should be firm and smooth and free from any cracks or soft spots. Tortoises have tough, hard skin that always appears wrinkly and dry, so if it is looking moist, there may be too much humidity or moisture in their living area. Also, check their eyes for any discharge or dryness, as both can indicate a health issue.

Tortoises are known to suffer from respiratory infections, so they should not have too much humidity in their enclosure. They can also suffer from common infections and parasites, all of which can be largely avoided with a clean enclosure and a balanced healthy diet. These tortoises can live for 100 years or more in the right conditions, so they are generally healthy, hardy animals.


Breeding Marginated Tortoises in captivity is relatively easy, and keeping a male and female together will naturally result in breeding without much need for intervention from you. However, there are important things to consider and plan for, and breeding is best left to experienced breeders.

Females will need a nesting box or hole where they can lay their eggs, which can vary from 3-12 eggs at a time. They may naturally hatch in the box or burrow, but it’s best to remove the eggs and incubate them yourself for more successful hatchlings. They typically begin hatching after 60-75 days.


Are Marginated Tortoises Suitable for You?

Marginated Tortoises are incredibly fascinating creatures that are a joy to keep and observe. They are easy to care for and have few special requirements, making them ideal for beginners and children. That said, these tortoises have incredibly long lifespans — up to 100 years or more, in some cases — so they are a massive responsibility.

If you have the outdoor space and want a docile yet unique pet to grace your yard, the Marginated Tortoise is a wonderful, gentle, and docile creature to have around.

Featured Image Credit: Joel Mathey, Unsplash 

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