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Redfoot tortoises are native to northern and central South America, as well as some parts of Central America. They are lovely mid-sized tortoises that generally do not grow larger than about 14”, and live for 80-85 years. Redfoots are extremely placid and easy to maintain, which makes them popular as pets.
Habitat - For Hatchlings
Glass aquariums should be avoided since they provide no proper airflow. Reptiles are very susceptible to bronchial infections, and mold and mildew can collect far too easily in a standard aquarium.
However, a low-sided Tupperware container (such as an under-the-bed sweater box) will work quite well while your hatching is still small. Crumble a water-absorbent substrate like mulched coconut bark, and soak it well, then add sphagnum moss to hold in the moisture. Hatchlings require high amounts of humidity, and will dehydrate quickly unless sprayed frequently, and housed in humid environments.
UVA and UVB are a must for proper growth. To provide proper heat and UV, suspend a high-quality bulb above the habitat. (We love the ZooMed PowerSun bulbs, which provide all the necessary light, heat, and UVA/UVB in one bulb.) Carefully measure the ambient temperature in the basking area, and the non-basking area, with a digital thermometer. Temps in the basking area should be in the lower 90s, while the cooler end should be in the mid- to upper-70s. If your house gets colder than about 70 degrees, supplement the heat with an underpad heater or a ceramic heat emitter.
Habitat - For Adults
If you live in southern regions that are typically warm, and can provide a safe area outside where your tortoise can bask without fear of hawks, raccoons, or other predators, set up an outdoor pen where it can graze on fresh grass during the daytime. Be sure to bring it inside at night, and when the weather turns chilly, for its own safety.
If an outdoor enclosure is not an option, set aside a large area (preferably at least 10’ x 10’) in your home. A spare bedroom works very well for this. Lay down plastic sheeting to protect the floor or carpet, then layer the area thickly with a safe substrate such as coconut bark or cypress mulch. These two barks are very low-resin, so they will not injure your tortoise. Also, since they’re “wet-water” trees, they will absorb water without turning moldy.
Provide your tortoise with a spacious enclosed box where it can hide and feel secure. Many breeders install ceramic heat emitters inside the box to keep it warm at night, and on cool days.
Redfoots are herbivorous grazers. Their primary diet should be about 70% natural grasses, weeds, and leaves; 20% dark leafy leaves such as collard, turnip, or mustard greens; and 10% fresh fruits. Bananas, strawberries, watermelon, papaya, mango, and hibiscus blossoms are favorites. They can also eat some vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and green beans.
Redfoots love to soak in water, and must have it available for drinking at all times. If you have the space for it, provide yours with a kiddy pool (with one end cut away) on a slight incline that it can paddle around in. Remember that the water level should never be higher than its throat, because tortoises cannot swim.
Redfoot tortoises will be happiest in an environment that simulates their natural habitat. The easiest way to accomplish this is to plant a variety of trees, bushes, and flowers in its pen that will not only provide groundcover for this shy tortoise, but also a wide range of tasty grazing treats.
The list of edible plants is huge, but some of the most common are: Aloe, Agave, Marigold, Cucumber, Sweet Potato, Timothy, Blackberry, Oregano, Clover, Dandelion, Blackberry, Rose, Hibiscus, Artichoke, Butterfly Bush, Yarrow, and Strawberry. A more comprehensive list can be found at http://russiantortoise.org/plant_photos.htm. Although that site primarily focuses on Russian tortoises, their diet is nearly identical to Redfoot tortoises.
Plants that are poisonous to tortoises, and should be strictly avoided, can be found at http://russiantortoise.org/toxic-plants.htm.