Information about activities. How to join
                  the TT. Discussion
                  list, for members and others! Species-specific Care sheets Articles
                  from our Newsletter. Links to
                  important sites. Links to
                  members' sites. Search our
                  site! What has
                  been updated, and when.

 Feeding Mediterranean Tortoises - Some Basic Guidelines for a Healthy Diet

A. C. Highfield

The diet of Mediterranean tortoises in the wild consists almost entirely of herbaceous and succulent vegetation, including grasses, flowers and twigs.

During episodes of rainfall the tortoise will drink from the puddles which form, and it may also approach streams or ponds. It will frequently also pass urine at this time as well, and will simultaneously dispose of the chalky white uric acid residues which form in the bladder. It is categorically not true that wild tortoises rarely drink. I have seen both Testudo ibera in Turkey, and Testudo graeca graeca in Morocco approach streams and ponds and drink copiously, in addition to regular observations of drinking following rain. During the dry season, and in the more arid parts of their range, tortoises rely mainly upon the water content of their food in order to supply their moisture requirements. In captivity, we suggest soaking the tortoise for 10 minutes twice each week in fresh, shallow water to ensure an adequate state of hydration.

In captivity, a high fiber, low protein and calcium rich diet will ensure good digestive tract function and smooth shell growth. 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. Avoid reliance upon ‘supermarket’ greens and fruits which typically contain inadequate fiber levels, excessive pesticide residues, and are too rich in sugar. Fruit should not be given as it frequently leads to digestive upset, intestinal parasite proliferation, and colic. It is also incredibly high in phosphorus but very poor in calcium. The opposite of what is needed.

When planning a diet for captive tortoises, take their natural dietary behavior into account as fully as possible. In the case of Mediterranean tortoises, try to provide a mixture of edible 'weeds'. A lack of dietary fiber, or roughage, will precipitate digestive tract disturbance, loose droppings and an apparently much increased susceptibility to flagellate and worm 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. In our experience, tortoises that are fed animal protein suffer premature mortality.

A balanced diet for Mediterranean tortoises can also  include dandelion, naturally occurring non-toxic weeds, white (Dutch) clover (in moderation, it is quite high in protein), both leaves and flowers, rose leaves and petals, and sow-thistle, romaine or red leaf lettuce (in very limited quantities). Do not use head lettuces such as iceberg, as these contain very little in the way of fibre ,vitamins or minerals.

Most land tortoises can and do fare best  when allowed to graze outdoors. The regular use of a cuttlefish bone left in the enclosures allows tortoises to regulate the amount of calcium in the diet. Some tortoises like this very much, while others will refuse to eat it. Allowing Mediterranean tortoises to forage and graze naturally actually helps the tortoise to maintain good digestive-tract health, and greatly assists in the prevention of obesity. If scute pyramiding is noted, this usually indicates that either too much of the ‘right’ type of food is being consumed, or, more likely, that the overall digestible  content of the diet is too high. We recommend the use of a good quality phosphorus free calcium supplement at least twice per week, more frequently for juveniles and egg-laying females.

A. C. Highfield