Tortoise Food/ Diet


It is important to try to replicate the natural diet as closely as possible.

There is an excellent seed mix available from a company called Herbiseed, which sells a good mix of seeds, very similar to the diet which the tortoises would find in their native habitat.
This can be found at  http://www.tlady.clara.net/herbiseed.htm This is the Tladys mix which is a special formulation for Mediterranean tortoises, from a list compiled by Lin King, following research into plants eaten by tortoises in their native habitat. There is also an excellent grass mix for leopard and sulcata's, tortoises which need a diet high in grasses. This is also available from herbiseed on request. Some have mentioned that the price for these seeds is expensive, but when it is realised that the seeded areas are self perpetuating outdoors then it is actually a very economical way to feed your tortoises and 10 grams goes a very long way.
Be wary of imitation seed mixes available on the net, many are not a good diet for tortoises.
Remember that a good variety is important and just because a certain plant may be found in the list does not mean that that plant alone would provide a balanced diet.
Always have fresh water available. Tortoises prefer a water dish that they can climb into for a good soak. They usually pass urine and sometimes faeces at the same time so this can be a messy business and water dishes need to be inspected regularly. The reason that tortoises do this is because, in their natural habitat they would hang onto water until a fresh source became available to them.
The following list of edible plants is intended to replicate the tortoises natural diet as closely as is possible in the UK.

Worth mentioning in the diet section is growth rate.
Hatchlings should ideally not grow more than 2-3 grams per month, slowly increasing as the tortoise gets bigger. An easy guide is to check the lighter coloured growth line evident around the scutes, particularly above the marginal scutes around the lower edge of the carapace (upper shell). Normal slow growth will show as around the width of a fine pencil line. Wider bands of light coloured growth go hand in hand with over feeding, so if this happens, cut back on the amount offered. No lighter bands at all mean it's not growing or has reached adulthood. 

Click on the Pictures below for a larger version in which you can zoom to see details.



Dandelion - taraxacum officinale
 


Plantain
Plantain - ribwort/round leaved - plantago major/plantago lanceolata


Sowthistle
Sow thistle - sonchus oleraceus


Bell Flower
Campanula - bell flower - campanula  rapunculoids


Hawksbit
Hawkbits - leontodin


Convolvuls sarvensis
Convolvulus - calystegia


Nipplewart
Nipplewort - lapsana communis


Chicory
Chicory - cichorium intybus


Sheapards Purse
Shepherd's purse - capsella bursa pastoris


Mallows
Mallows - malva sylvestris


Lavatera
Lavatera
 

Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle - lonicera


Bittercress
Bittercress - cardamine hirsuta + flexuosa


watercress
Watercress (water grown not salad punnets)


Red Clover
Red/white clover - trifolium pratense + repense


Vetch
Vetch - vicia sativa



Sedum
Sedum - spectabile + album


Hedge mustard
Hedge mustard  - sisymbrium officinale


   Welsh Poppy
Welsh poppies - meconopsis cambria


Romaine/Cos Lettuce

Romaine/cos lettuce


Hibiscus

Hibiscus



Evening primrose
 

As a stand by in winter months, many supermarkets sell a mixed crispy salad by Floretti but this should not be used as a regular food source as it is not very fibrous and will most likely produce loose stools if fed continually.

It is also most important to supplement your tortoises diet with Nekton MSA or Nutrobal to encourage healthy shell growth. This needs to be given daily while the tortoise is growing and 3 - 4 times a week when adult. Remember that in the UK our natural uvb levels are far less than in the tortoises native country and so we need to assist this with added vitamin D3 in the form of supplements. UVB lamps, too are far inferior to their natural sunlight.

Fresh water should always be available.

Poisonous / toxic plants

It is widely thought that tortoises will avoid anything that is harmful to them and to a point this is correct, Often a tortoise will taste a plant that it has not come across before only to back off and attempt to remove the offending leaf from it's mouth. Occasionally though, this is not the case and some tortoises seem to have a specific liking for things known to be harmful to them. Possibly this could be because tortoises metabolism is so slow that some mildly toxic plants would not affect their systems, but in other cases, tortoises have died after ingesting unsuitable plants.
Below is a list of plants found in many gardens and hedgerows which should be removed from gardens where tortoises forage.

Ragwort - senico
Daffodil and most plants coming from a bulb including crocus's, snowdrops, tulips etc
Pieris - forest fame
Spurge - euphorbia
Columbine or Aqueligia
Hellebore - Christmas Rose
Foxglove
Bleeding Heart - dicentra
Tobacco plant - nicotiana
Hypericum- Rose of Sharon
Mistletoe
Hydrangea
Periwinkle
Papaver poppies - the large red feild poppies.
Lily of the Valley - convalaria 
Monkshood - aconitum
Garlic - including wild garlic
Lupin
Rhubarb
Paeony
Lobelia
Rhodendron

Feeding Regimes

Some people have preferred times to feed their tortoises. Again I like to replicate nature as closely as possible. I feed my tortoises first thing in the morning and then a tiny amount later in the afternoon if they are still out foraging. I do not stick to exact times as this would not happen in nature. The rough timescale is to do with the position of the sun, the hottest time being mid-day, when tortoises will hide away for a time in really hot weather. Indoors, where enclosures are usually smaller, I tend to only feed once per day as the tortoise will spend less time foraging and given the opportunity, will put it's energy into eating more.

Many people ask how much to feed. There is no hard and fast rule about this and it is best to weigh your tortoise regularly to see how fast it is gaining weight. For tiny babies, anything above 2-3 grams weight gain per month is probably too much. Having said this, tortoises gain weight quickly immediatley after hibernation and then tend to slow down to a more steady gain - it is up to you to keep things on an even keel. Larger tortoises will gain a little more weight per month, with monthly weight gain tapering off as they reach adulthood.  If you think your tortoises shell is growing unevenly or starting to show raised scutes or pyramids, then take a look at how fast he is growing and adjust the amount accordingly. Have a look at the growth lines, which are a paler colour than the rest of the shell. These should be hardly visible, showing that growth is smooth and steady. If you have large pale growth lines, you are likely overfeeding.

I find it best to scatter food around so that the tortoises have to work to find it, therefore building up healthy leg muscles and giving them an interest and something to do with their time.

Try not to offer bowls of food as you would a dog or cat as this can lead to obesity which is not good for the tortoises general health.


It will not do any harm if the tortoise eats some dried leaves from the previous day as this is what he would do in his natural habitat. Do not however, offer purposely dried foods to him as these fast dried foods have undergone different chemical changes and are generally high in protein and can lead to shell abnormalities and in some cases kidney and liver problems.

The only book I would recommend specifically to help with tortoise feeding is Linda Kings, compiled after many years research into tortoise diet in the wild. It's a brilliant price too http://www.tlady.clara.net/id16.htm

An excellent discussion group to answer all your queries on Tortoise Nutrition is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tortoisenutrition