Caring For Tortoises


Tortoises are land animals, turtles are marine and terrapins live in freshwater, although in America the word ‘turtle’ is used to describe all three. Those kept as pets are usually Mediterranean tortoises, European pond terrapins and tropical Red-eared terrapins.

None of these animals is well enough suited to our northern climate to successfully breed, and as a result their continued importation depletes wild populations. For this reason they are not recommended as pets.


Tortoises must feed well during the summer months to build up their fat reserves for winter hibernation. They feed almost exclusively on green plants such as cabbage, peas, lettuce, green beans and dandelion, together with fruits and root vegetables. Some will also take wholemeal bread and drained tinned beans, e.g., kidney beans, which are valuable for their high protein content. A sprinkling of a vitamin or mineral supplement is very beneficial.

Grate, shred, mince or chop food if it entices small specimens to eat more and provide artificial light and heat to keep them eating when the weather is dull.

Water provided in a large shallow pan will suffice for both bathing and drinking and must be constantly available.


A safe enclosure is needed for exercise and, although sunlight is essential for their health, tortoises need shelter from excessive sun and rain. A box-like shelter with abundant bedding, or access to a greenhouse or outhouse is invaluable.

During the coldest months, tortoises can hibernate in a large box of earth and dry leaves. This must be ventilated, and be both rat-proof and frost-proof. Do not keep them warm; they must be allowed to hibernate.