South America presents a very unique climate for tortoise species. Most are tropical to sub tropical forest dwellers. However the desert and sub tropics regions do present a variety of different species of old world species. The ever so popular species along the islands of Galapagos are within these regions as well. South America presents 4 genus, 15 species, and 21 subspecies of tortoises.
Chelonoidis means ‘son of the turtle’, or ‘like the turtle’. There are actually several other members of the genus, but this page focuses on the omnivorous or forest species. The others are several species and/or sub-species of Galapagos tortoises (C. nigra). You can see the entire Tortoise taxonomy list here on our Taxonomy Page. Here we will concern ourselves with the more common species found in the pet trade.
Genus: Chelonoidis(or Geochelone)
There are many areas where red- and yellow-footed ranges overlap, but they are rarely found in the same micro-habitats in those areas- yellow-footeds preferring the wetter, shadier areas and red-footeds taking the somewhat drier areas usually on the edges or openings. It is generally assumed that the red-footed is more adaptable since it is found in the wider variety of locations and the yellow-foot has a much more restricted selection. Both species are strong swimmers, with yellow-footeds often found soaking in water.
Both species like warm, humid climate with plenty of shade. Yellow-footeds generally are less tolerant of hot or cold, need higher humidity overall, and tend to not like much light. The preferred temp range is 80-85F. They can tolerate 65-70F lows for short terms and they do not do well about 90F. Red-footeds are more tolerant of a wider range of temps than yellows. They also require high humidity (80-100%). Young red-footeds can tolerate less humidity as they get older but yellows need it all the time.
These species do not brumate, but may aestivate in hot or dry weather, especially south of the Amazon basin.
In northern Patagonia, at the beginning of each spring the Chaco tortoise digs short burrows (50 – 60 cm) in sandy soils, in which it seeks refuge at night and during the mid-day heat. Dens are also constructed, but these are much deeper (usually over 2 m), dug in hard soil and used over several seasons. In the southernmost part of its range, this species has been reported to hibernate for as long as five months in burrows or dens.
Classified as Vulnerable (VU), the Chaco tortoise is listed on Appendix II of CITES, limiting and regulating its international trade
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