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FEEDING MEDITERRANEAN TORTOISES
The diet of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species) in the wild consists almost entirely of herbaceous and succulent vegetation, including leaves, grasses, flowers, and very, very occasionally fallen berries. Fruit is categorically not a regular or significant component of their diet. These tortoises are almost exclusive herbivores. They categorically do not consume meat of any kind in the wild, other than - possibly - on a very, very rare and opportunistic basis. It is in no way a regular part of their diet. Claims that Mediterranean tortoises "need" meat in their diets are quite simply complete nonsense.
· Buffalo grass · Couch grass · Kikuyu grass · Dallas grass · Blue Grama grass · Big Bluestem grass · Darnel Rye grass
· Wintergrass or Bluegrass · Western Wheatgrass · Fescue sp. grasses · St Augustine Grasses
The general rule for feeding Mediterranean tortoises in captivity: a high fiber, low fruit content, low protein and calcium rich diet will ensure good digestive tract function and smooth shell growth. Try to provide a mixture of edible flowers and leaves. Mulberry leaves and hibiscus leaves and flowers are excellent, for example. Opuntia cactus pads are also a great favorite and are rich in both calcium and fiber. A balanced diet for Mediterranean tortoises can include dandelion and a very wide range of naturally occurring non-toxic "weeds". Do not use head lettuces such as iceberg, as these contain very little in the way of vitamins, fiber or minerals. Root vegetables are far too high in readily digestible carbohydrates, and have no place in the diets of these species. Most Mediterranean tortoises fare best when allowed to graze, offering the other listed items as occasional supplements. Do not routinely offer cabbage, spinach, chard, bok choy, or any vegetable related to these, as they inhibit calcium absorption and can cause serious health problems.
Although Mediterranean tortoises will take animal protein if offered (as will most normally herbivorous tortoises), in practice this leads to excessive growth and causes severe shell deformities, liver disease, and renal stress. It should therefore be avoided entirely.
Mediterranean tortoises fed on cat or dog food, or other high protein food items such as peas or beans, frequently die from renal failure or from impacted bladder stones of solidified urates.
Because they grow quite rapidly, and are actually developing their bone structure in the process, juvenile tortoises are likely to suffer serious consequences from dietary mismanagement. There is little room for error when feeding hatchlings and juveniles. Just a few weeks on an incorrect diet can result in irreparable harm. A fully grown adult may survive longer, even on a truly terrible diet, but will slowly suffer serious liver and kidney complications over the medium-long term. Herbivores are not equipped to deal with large amounts of saturated fat, or with high protein intakes.
FEEDING LEOPARD AND SULCATA TORTOISES
For large savannah species, such as Geochelone sulcata (African spurred tortoise) or Geochelone pardalis (Leopard tortoise), grasses and hays are a critical dietary component. Aldabra and Galapagos tortoises also do extremely well on this type of diet. Some other species also benefit from the inclusion of both fresh and dried grasses in their diet - although certain species, such as Redfoot, Yellowfoot, Hingeback and Mediterranean tortoises are ill-equipped to digest the high silica content of grass fodder. For species adapted to it, however, grass is not only nutritious, but its fiber content makes a significant contribution to digestive health. For leopard and African spurred tortoises, mixed grasses should comprise approximately 70-75% of the total diet.
Availability of grass types varies greatly according to location. The following list of suitable fodder grasses is based upon availability in the USA. In Europe, these particular species are rarely available - although local equivalents can usually be found. General "meadow hay" and "orchard hay" mixes are usually suitable, for example. Avoid hays that have excessively "prickly" seed heads - these can injure mouths or eyes. The use of coarse Timothy hay is excluded on this basis. Second or third cuttings of grass hays tend to have less spiny heads than first cuttings.
This grass-based primary diet should be supplemented with flowers as frequently as possible (Hibiscus, dandelion, petunia, Viola sp. etc.). De-spined Opuntia pads, clovers and other fodder ‘weeds’ can also be included on a regular basis. Fresh green grass is also a favorite of Leopard and Sulcata tortoises.
Hibiscus leaves and flowers - Mulberry leaves -Fresh lawn grasses (this is a grazing species)
Petunia leaves and flowers - Clover - Dandelion - Plantain (the 'weed', not the similar sounding fruit) - Sanseveria sp. - Mesembryanthemum sp. - Crassula sp.
FEEDING REDFOOT, YELLOWFOOT AND AFRICAN HINGEBACK TORTOISES
A wild Hingeback tortoise (Kinixys belliana) will enjoy a meal of a live snail. Snails and millipedes are a regular part of their diet.
These tortoises are basically omnivorous or a greater or lesser extent depending upon species. Include some low-fat animal protein in the diet of these species. Protein deficiency has been noted in some Red-foot and Yellow-foot tortoises raised on entirely herbivorous diets. We recommend re-hydrating dried cat foots with additional minerals and vitamins as for turtles. Provide one meal per week containing animal protein. Fruits are also part of the diet of these species in the wild - unlike Leopard or African spurred tortoises, their digestive tract copes easily with this richer, sweeter intake. The same frequency seems to suit Hinge-backs, which are also highly omnivorous in nature. It is also important to note that these tortoises, if allowed access to a damp, moist garden or well vegetated tropical house will usually find slug, snails and night crawlers for themselves. This is both psychologically and gastronomically stimulating for them in addition to helping out with their owners' garden pest control efforts! Needless to say, never use slug pellets or other toxic chemicals in any garden where tortoises (of any sort) are kept. Millipedes and similar invertebrates constitute an important part of the diet of Kinixys sp. in nature.
FEEDING INDIAN STAR TORTOISES
Indian Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) have dietary requirements that fall mid-way between that of Mediterranean tortoises (Testudo species) and Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis). In captivity, they should not be given fruit either in quantity or on a routine basis, or they will suffer serious digestive tract disorders. They need a diet which is very high in fiber, is low in sugars and easily digestible carbohydrates, and which is primarily based around coarse green leaves, mixed grasses, and flowers. Juveniles and egg-laying females require large amounts of calcium. Use a supplement - always. Good foods include:
Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizzii) - in the wild it feeds on a variety of seasonal succulent plants, flowers, grasses and cacti. Like all arid-habitat tortoises it is a strict herbivore.
If you keep Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) you will find that the above diet is also suitable, with minor modifications, as their requirements are very similar indeed to the Mediterranean Testudo species. The Russian tortoise, Testudo horsfieldii, though geographically not a Mediterranean tortoise, also has near identical dietary requirements.
Tortoise Care & Feeding Page 2