If you are set on getting a tortoise for a pet, your choice of a Greek tortoise is a good one. They make excellent beginner pets, but are a solid choice for those with more experience raising reptiles as well.
But, before you pull out your wallet it’s important to understand two details.
First, you should acknowledge you’re in it for the long haul as Greek tortoises can have lifespans that surpass four decades. Second, you will want to do your research and preparation before you take one home.
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Also often called the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise, the scientific name of Greek tortoises is Testudo graeca. You may also occasionally hear them called the testudo tortoise.
They are a relatively small tortoise, maxing out at around eight to ten inches in length from nose to tail. That makes them very attractive to prospective owners who don’t want to take in a large reptile.
Regardless of their size, you will still want to ensure you’re prepared to give your new pet the proper care is needs to flourish.
What Type of Housing Will You Need?
This tortoise is OK both indoor and outdoors as long as your climate meets their needs. You also don’t have to choose only one or the other by giving them some space in your yard and in your home.
If you house them outdoors you will want to give them a nice amount of room to roam around while still making sure they can’t escape. They aren’t very fast but can travel surprisingly long distances if left to their own accord.
If you house your Greek tortoise indoors you will also want to provide ample space. You don’t so much have to worry about a tank or enclosure with high walls. Instead, you want to provide plenty of square footage. Think horizontal over vertical.
Regardless if you house them inside or outside, you’ll want to make sure you provide all of the following:
Because they are terrestrial explorers, you want to give your pet a fair amount of space in their pen. This can be a bit difficult for some people when you compare the space you need in your home for a small or medium tank or aquarium that other reptile pets need.
The good news is that as they aren’t large tortoises you should be OK with around fifteen to twenty square feet. Aiming for the higher end of that range is better, but you can get away with the minimum too. Anything smaller is not recommended though for a full grown adult.
If you house them in an outdoor pen you will also need to make sure you bury the walls of their enclosure six to eight inches as they can and will dig. Covering their enclosure will keep them safe from predators.
Lighting & Heating
When outdoors you have the luxury of natural sunlight. It will help provide both warmth and a full light spectrum that contains plenty of UV light for your reptile.
When indoors, you are going to need to supplement the light they are not getting from the sun. The good news is there are lots of UVB lights made for just this purpose. UVB helps your pet synthesize Vitamin D3, a key nutrient in prevent metabolic bone disease (MBD).
If you’re primarily keeping your Greek tortoise indoors you will also want to provide something to mimic day and night cycles, which is usually done using a fluorescent light on a timer.
While a UVB bulb will provide some heat the flourescent one will not. That means you will most likely need to set up a heat lamp.
This tortoise thrives in a temperature range between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But, they also like a warmer basking area. That spot should be in the 95 to 100 degree range.
An easy way to help create the required temperature gradient needed so that your tortoise’s home has both a suitable ambient temperature as well as a hot basking area is to place the heating lamp and UVB bulb directly over a slightly raised area. That will act as a basking spot while the rest of the pen will be cooler.
Lighting is on of the easier requirements to fulfill, and heating can be a little tricky to dial in. But, after a little experimentation you should be able to figure out in a couple days.
Humidity however can be a real headache for reptile owners. The good news is that Greek tortoises don’t need extremely high humidity levels. They are generally OK with something with the 40% to 60% range, which is not all that difficult to maintain.
Daily misting along with a fresh clean water dish is usually enough to keep everything right where it needs to be.
You can always use a hydrometer to keep and eye on the humidity or a combined hydrometer and thermometer for both humidity and ambient temperature.
Substrate doesn’t really come into consideration unless you are keeping your tortoise inside full or part-time. You can use retile carpet or any type of reptile-safe mulch or dirt.
Avoid using any kind of sand as it can cause impaction, which can lead to death. And, it’s best to avoid feeding you tortoise on loose substrate entirely.
Feeding & Diet Needs
Providing a safe and comfortable home for your tortoise is just one part of your job as their caretaker. You also need to provide their food.
Luckily, this tortoise is an herbivore. They tend to be much easier to provide a healthy nutritious diet for than their carnivore counterparts.
As herbivores they don’t require a lot of protein. You can focus on providing lots of tasty vegetables. Some fruit is OK too.
Some vegetables you can include in their diet include:
- shredded carrots
- dark leafy greens (think kale and not iceberg lettuce in moderation)
Some fruit you can include:
Generally it’s recommended to use a 90/10 split with vegetables making up the majority of their diet.
You can also supplement your pet’s meals to help ensure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need. The two most common ways are to occasionally dust their fresh food with reptile-friendly calcium. And, there are commercially produced tortoise pellets that act as a multivitamin.
Greek tortoises, AKA Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoises, are a wonderful starter reptile pet. But, they aren’t only for those who have yet to buy their first reptile.
Though Greek tortoise care is on easier end of the spectrum when compared to other tortoises and most reptiles, they aren’t classically thought of as a beginner reptile pet. That doesn’t change the fact they are absolutely adorable.
Do your research and make them part of your everyday life, and you will have a great pet for a very long time.