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Guide to Keeping a Mediterranean Tortoise
RESOURCE ARTICLE

Guide to Keeping a Mediterranean Tortoise

Introduction

Buying any pet is a big decision but there are several things you may want to consider first to make sure that a Mediterranean Tortoise is the pet for you:

  • Are all of the people in your household happy with a tortoise coming to live there?
  • Can you guarantee that you will have a regular supply of dry tortoise diet and fresh organic greens to feed to your tortoise?
  • Are you prepared to look after an animal that could live up to and beyond 80 years?
  • Is there someone that you can ask to look after your tortoise if you are away?
  • Mediterranean Tortoise are diurnal animals so will sleep at night and be awake during the day.
  • A Mediterranean Tortoise may eventually need to be hibernated.
  • Most Mediterranean Tortoise will need specific paperwork; this will be supplied by any reputable pet shop.

Types of Mediterranean Tortoise

There are 4 main types of Mediterranean Tortoise that are kept as pets:

Buying a Mediterranean Tortoise

We recommend buying a Mediterranean Tortoise from a reputable pet shop. The shop will also be able to help you with a supply of good quality dry tortoise diet to feed to your Mediterranean Tortoise.

Check before purchasing:

The Mediterranean Tortoise is feeding well.
Any reputable pet shop should be able to provide answers on how often the Mediterranean Tortoise is being fed and what foods it enjoys to eat most.
The Mediterranean Tortoise is healthy.
5 point animal health check:
  • Make sure that the animal is alert and responsive (Tortoise will naturally withdraw into their shells when handled but they should eventually come back out and be aware of their surroundings)
  • The mouth should be clear of any thick mucus and should not smell bad. There should be no bubbling from the nostrils or wheezing rattling sounds from the tortoise.
  • The Tortoise should be able to easily open its eyes, which should be bright, clean and clear.
  • The Mediterranean Tortoise should have a clean and crack free shell.
  • The Mediterranean Tortoise should be a keen feeder. If the tortoise is feeding on greens they will sometimes have a green stained beak, which is a sign that it has been eating well.
The Mediterranean Tortoise has the correct paperwork, if required.
Any pet shop selling a Mediterranean Tortoise must have the correct Article 10 Certificate paperwork in place before it can be sold in the UK. The only exception is the Horsfield Tortoise.
Any tortoise offered for sale in a pet shop which requires an Article 10 Certificate will be microchipped and should therefore have specimen specific paperwork available. This must be given to the customer at the time of the transaction. If there is no paperwork available for the tortoise do not purchase. Once the tortoise has been purchased this paperwork should be kept in a safe place until required.

Caring For Your Mediterranean Tortoise

Overview

  • Ease of Care:Beginner
  • Adult Size:20-35cm (Marginated tortoise up to 35cm) (7.5-14")
  • Life Span:Up to 80 years+
  • Diet:Greens and Dry Food
  • Temperament:Friendly
  • Background Temp:25.5-29.4⁰C (78-85⁰F)
  • HOT Spot:30-33.3⁰C (86-92⁰F)

Equipment Needed

Top Tips

  • Always collect your greens from an organic source.
  • Stimulate your tortoise’s senses by offering a variety of foods with different colours and smells.
  • Avoid high protein foods as these will cause rapid shell growth and deformation.
  • Try using a cuttle fish bone to increase calcium intake and help to keep the beak trim.
  • Try soaking your tortoise in lukewarm water a couple of times a week to help keep the tortoise hydrated

Housing:

A Tortoise Table or Tortoise Vivarium is the perfect housing solution for a Mediterranean Tortoise throughout its whole life.

Why not watch our demonstration video on how to create the ideal set up for a Tortoise. You can find this in the News and Info section on our website.

Environment

Heating

Mediterranean Tortoise are ectothermic (cold-blooded), taking all of their heat requirements from external sources in the wild. They are naturally exposed to high temperatures which help the tortoise to function normally and digest plant matter.

Mediterranean Tortoise are a group of tortoise species residing across France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Russia and areas of northern Africa.

Heating a Tortoise Table

To provide an appropriate heat source in a Tortoise Table we recommend using a mercury vapour bulb, which emits heat, light and essential UV rays vital to the tortoise’s health and wellbeing. The mercury vapour bulb can be fitted inside a dome clamp lamp fitting which can be hung from the bracket featured on the Tortoise Table.

Our Tortoise Table also features a sleeping quarters. We recommend using a thermostatically controlled heat mat as a heat source within the sleeping quarters to give the Mediterranean Tortoise a warm area to sleep in once the daytime heat source has switched off. The heat mat should be installed onto the roof of the sleeping area using the supplied fittings and glass panel. It should never be on the floor as a tortoise will bury itself to get away from the heat. If your house does not drop below 20⁰C (68⁰F) this would not be required.

The heat mat should be used in conjunction with a heat mat thermostat. Heat mat thermostats are designed to regulate temperatures using a thermostat probe (also known as a sensor). Correct placement of the probe is critical to avoid overheating and injury to the tortoise. Insert the probe through the lid opening of the tortoise table sleeping quarters and tape directly to the inside of the wall, roughly halfway between the floor and the roof, adjacent to the heat mat. The probe cable should be taped 2-5cm (1-2”) back from the actual probe sensor to allow for a correct temperature reading and avoid it becoming dislodged.

Heating a Tortoise Vivarium

To provide an appropriate heat source in a Tortoise Vivarium we recommend using a ceramic heat bulb that is thermostatically controlled. The ceramic heat bulb should be set up using a ceramic bulb holder, which can be hung from the roof of the vivarium, approximately 15-20cms from one side. The ceramic heat bulb should be used in conjunction with a pulse thermostat.

Pulse thermostats are designed to regulate temperatures using a thermostat probe (also known as a sensor). Correct placement of the probe is critical to avoid overheating and injury to the tortoise. The probe should be positioned on the floor in the basking area and the probe cable should be taped to the floor 2-8cm (1-3”) back from the actual probe sensor. This will ensure an accurate temperature reading and prevent the probe becoming dislodged. Carefully place the substrate on top of the probe cable leaving just the probe above the surface.

A Spotlight Guard can be used to surround the ceramic heat bulb to prevent the animal coming into direct contact with the heat source but in the case of a tortoise this is not normally necessary.

Temperature and Monitoring

As a rough guide, daytime temperatures should average between 25.5-33.3⁰C (78-92⁰F) with the hot spot being 30-33.3⁰C (86.92⁰F) going down to 25.5⁰C (78⁰F) at the cooler end of the enclosure. Night-time temperatures should not be allowed to drop lower than 20-22⁰C (68-71.6⁰F), unless the tortoise is to be hibernated.

Make sure temperatures are checked regularly to ensure that there are no extreme fluctuations.

Lighting

In the wild, Mediterranean Tortoise have access to high levels of light and UV. They will naturally find shelter during the brightest part of the day so there should be sufficient hides present to allow them to do this in captivity.

In captivity, a UV light is essential for a Mediterranean Tortoises health, wellbeing and shell formation. For a Tortoise Vivarium we recommend using a UV tube which has been specifically designed for desert dwelling reptiles. Ensure that the UV light is fitted correctly and securely to avoid it falling on to the tortoise or it breaking and presenting a hazard. No additional UV lighting is required for a tortoise table if a Mercury Vapour bulb is being used as these provide sufficient amounts of UV.

Substrates and Decoration

Personal choice will dictate how you decorate your tortoise table or tortoise vivarium but we recommend the following as a guide:

  • Substrates: A substrate such as Bioactive, Tortoise Terrain or Herbi-Floor that is easy to spot clean.
  • Wood for hiding under and climbing on.
  • Live Plants may be used for decoration but it is highly likely that the tortoise will eat these so only use plants that are safe for them to eat! Artificial plants must NOT be used as these may be ingested by a hungry tortoise and be detrimental to their health.
  • Hide to allow the tortoise to hide away if it chooses to and give it an area to feel safe and secure.

Diet and Water

Tortoise should be offered greens that have been collected from a renewable organic source and a formulated dry tortoise diet. Food should be offered to young tortoise (up to 3 years old) every day and older tortoise every other day. Tortoise are grazers and as such will keep coming back during the day to the food source provided for them. Do not worry if they do not eat all of the food during their first sitting, instead monitor their daily intake.

A Mediterranean Tortoise’s diet should be high in fibre, low in protein and contain calcium rich elements. Some of the best food items to feed are:

Available from most supermarkets:

  • Baby leaf salads (without iceberg lettuce included)
  • Watercress
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Lambs lettuce
  • Rocket leaves

Collected from an organic source:

  • Dandelion greens
  • White Dead Nettles
  • Red or Purple Dead Nettles
  • Broad-leaf Plantain
  • Sow Thistle

This list is purely a guide and we recommend that further research is carried out to compile a range of safe food items to be fed to your tortoise.

Make sure fresh water is always available for the tortoise to drink as contrary to popular belief tortoise do drink water. The water will need to be changed every day as tortoise will soak and occasionally defecate in the water.

Supplementation

Mediterranean Tortoise need additional supplementation to their diet to help them to flourish and maintain healthy and productive lives. We recommend using a calcium Magnesium mix and a multi-vitamin powder.

Health & Hygiene

Always wash your hands, surfaces and equipment with warm water and disinfectant immediately before and after handling your tortoise, their enclosure and any other equipment.

Additional Information

Tortoise possess a tough horny beak instead of teeth. This can be quite sharp with some tortoise so take care not to put your fingers too close.

A group of tortoise is called a “creep”.

Each section of a tortoises shell is called a scute, the amount of scutes a tortoise has stays the same throughout its whole life and they grow with the rest of the tortoise.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How big will my Tortoise grow?

    Most Mediterranean Tortoise will reach a size of around 20cm (7.5"). Marginated Tortoise can grow up to 35cm (14").

  • Can my tortoise swim?

    No, Mediterranean Tortoise should not be exposed to deep water sources as they may drown but a shallow source of water should always be available for the tortoise to soak in.

  • How long will it take for my Tortoise to get to full size?

    Tortoise will do the main part of their growing in the first 10-15 years of their lives. After this they are considered to be adult size and will grow at an extremely slow rate.

  • How long will my Tortoise live for?

    A Mediterranean Tortoise may live for up to 80 years in captivity, if cared for correctly.

  • Does my tortoise need to hibernate?

    Please see hibernation guide.

  • What other types of beginner tortoise are there?

    Red Foot Tortoise