Basic Information Sheet: Red-Footed Tortoise

Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria)

Red foot tortise

Source: “Sarah and Iain” by Flickr Creative Commons

Natural history

“Red-foots” are a medium-sized, hardy tortoise with energy and personality. The red-footed tortoise is native to a wide variety of habitats ranging from humid tropical forests to the dry savannah or semi-arid land of Central and South America. Generally, the species prefers a humid environment.

Red-footed tortoises make excellent pets. Hatchlings in the pet trade are usually captive-bred in the United States, whereas adults may be wild-caught imports.


Class: Reptilia

Order: Chelonia/Testudines

Family: Testudinidae

Chelonoidis carbonaria: red-footed tortoise

Chelonoidis denticulata : yellow-footed tortoise

Color and Size

Adults have a high domed carapace, yellow-orange to red facial markings, and yellow-red to orange-red scales on the forelimbs. Each keratin shield or “scute” on the upper shell or carapace has a yellow center. Adult size varies and may range from 12-20 in (30-50 cm).


Red-footed tortoises are generally herbivores but will eat carrion and slow-moving invertebrates such as slugs and snails:

  • The bulk of the diet should consist of dark leafy greens and broad-leaf graze.
  • Also offer a variety of chopped vegetables, hay, some berries, and other fruits. Red-foots relish tropical fruits such as banana, mango, and papaya.
  • Offer a small amount of animal protein (i.e. low-fat dry dog food or earthworms) every 1-2 weeks.

Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet of salad greens with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1. Also offer high-calcium graze and forages such as clover and dandelions. Both are enjoyed by red-foots and require no dusting. A general vitamin/mineral supplement can also be offered once weekly.


Temperature Provide a temperature gradient of 78-85°F (26-29°C) and a basking spot that reaches 90°F (32°C). Drop the temperature to the high 60s to low 70s F at night (20-22°C).
Humidity/water Provide lots of water for drinking and soaking as well as a “hut” or warren where relative humidity is elevated.
Cage size and design These tortoises are extremely active. Provide a pair of adults with at least 4 x 8 ft (1 x 2 m) of floor space. Outdoor housing is preferable when temperature allows.
Cage furniture/supplies Provide a full-spectrum light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium.
Social structure Red-footed tortoises are social, although breeding males can become aggressive.


25-35 years (>50+ years is possible)

Anatomy/ physiology

Dermatologic: Chelonians possess a tough, horny beak instead of teeth.The shell consists of bony plates covered with keratinized shields called “scutes”. The upper shell is called the “carapace” and the bottom shell is the “plastron”.
Respiratory: There is a relatively short trachea with complete tracheal rings. The lungs are large and sac-like with many septa, lie against carapace.
Urogenital: Turtles have a thin-walled, very distensible, bilobed bladder.A single, large, smooth phallus sits on the floor of the cloaca.Male red-foots have a concave plastron and longer tail. The plastron of females is flat, and the tail is relatively short.


Tortoises are easily held by the shell or carapace, although a complete physical examination including extension of the head and neck, often requires sedation.

Due to the risk of salmonellosis, always wash your hands after handling a reptile.


Dorsal coccygeal venous sinus

Jugular vein (The right vessel tends to be larger)

Brachial artery/distal humeral plexus

Subcarapacial sinus

Preventive medicine

Regular physical examination

Do not use ivermectin in chelonians.

Important medical conditions

Red-footed tortoises are relatively hardy. Problems seen in captivity can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Hepatic lipidosis
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or “metabolic bone disease”
  • ObesityIf obesity is a problem in a sedentary adult red-foot, the patient may be fasted one or two
    times weekly, however, red-foot    tortoises are active pets. A better solution is to increase habitat size in order to increase exercise and calorie utilization. One or two red-foots will enjoy and utilize a half-acre field or, at minimum, a 12 x 12 room.
  • Penile prolapse
  • Pyramiding
  • Respiratory infection

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Bartlett RD, Bartlett, PB, Griswold B. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide, 2nd ed. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 2010.

Ebenhack, A. Redfoots and Yellowfoots: The Natural History, Captive Care, and Breeding of ‘Chelonoidis carbonaria’ and ‘Chelonoidis denticulata’. Living Art Publ. 2009.

Moskovits DK, Bjorndal KA. Diet and food preferences of the tortoises Geochelone carbonaria and Geochelone denticulata in Northwestern Brazil. Herpetologica 46(2):207-218, 1990.

Pingelton, M. The Redfoot Manual: A Beginner’s Guide to the Redfoot Tortoise. CreateSpace. 2009.

Senneke D, Tabaka C. Red-foot tortoises. World Chelonian Trust. Available at Accessed February 17, 2011.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Red-footed tortoise. July 12, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at