The cherry-head tortoise and the common red-footed tortoise are often confused.
Fundamental to their appeal is their colorful appearance and small size. No matter which one you choose, you’ll own an eye-catching tortoise that doesn’t take up much space.
While these tortoises share similarities, they differ in appearance, temperament, price, lifespan, and activity levels. These factors determine how easy the tortoise will be to care for in captivity.
Cherry Head Tortoise Basic Information
Cherry-heads are the red-headed variant of the common red-foot tortoise (chelonoidis carbonarius). They’re also called eastern red-foots or Brazilian red-footed tortoises.
That’s because they’re indigenous to Brazil’s eastern and southeastern regions. They can also be found in Bolivia, Panama, and Paraguay, albeit in smaller numbers.
As the name suggests, cherry heads have bright-colored heads, with colors ranging from brick red to cherry red. Often, the legs will be covered in the same reddish hue.
They look identical to the yellow-footed cherry-head tortoises from afar, but the latter is bigger.
Not all cherry head tortoises have red heads, as many brandish orange, dark yellow, and pinkish hues. However, their heads are always brighter than ordinary red foots.
Cherry red tortoises aren’t bred for their color like other animals, as they’re a distinct sub-species, and their colors are genetically transmitted.
Their origins remain a mystery, and how they attained their head color is unknown.
It’s unclear whether diet plays a role in their colors. Still, we know that the reddish hue is only present in tortoises from the southern and eastern parts of the Amazon basin.
Red-Footed Tortoise Basic Information
The ordinary red-foots (also known as northern red-foots, red-leg, or savanna tortoises) are the main sub-group of the chelonoidis carbonarius species.
They mostly inhabit the areas north of the Amazon basin, including:
- Northern Brazil.
Unlike the cherry heads, red-foots are also found in other regions, such as Europe.
According to Organisms, Diversity, and Evolution, red-footed tortoises aren’t a monolith because they’re spread across a massive geographical area. Instead, they have up to 5 genotypes.
However, the differences between these genotypes aren’t significant enough, with the plastron colors being the only noticeable differences. The head and limb colors are mostly the same, ranging from pale yellow to orange. Some tortoises have a reddish hue, but this is rare.
In recent years, breeders have started crossing northern red-foots with cherry heads. These hybrids have a more pronounced orange color and are smaller than red-foots.
Differences Between Cherry Head and Red-Foot Tortoises
When choosing between tortoises, a difference in origins, genetics, and basic coloration is important. However, you’ll need more than that before committing for 2-3 decades.
Here are the details that set these tortoises apart so you can tell which is right for you:
Despite their color differences, minor physical characteristics set these tortoises apart. From their nasal shape to their growth rate, here are where the variants separate from each other:
Cherry heads have darker shades of red or orange on their heads and limbs. That’s paired with more elaborate color patterns on their heads.
Red-foot tortoises mostly have pale yellow scales on their heads and necks. Only some have a touch of orange or near-black hues in these areas.
Cherry heads have darker plastrons, which are often arranged in symmetrical patterns. In between the patterns are thick, whitish, or light-gray lines.
In red-foots, the plastrons have pale yellow bases, but some variants have darker markings between the scutes. Others have light gray plastrons, with dark marks rare among the sub-species.
Cherry heads are smaller on average, with normal adults growing up to 10 inches for males and 9 inches for females. However, it’s not uncommon to find giant cherry heads, which are larger than 14 inches, which is more likely in wild tortoises than captive tortoises.
Red-foots average from 12-14 inches and often grow to 15-16 inches if well cared for. As with cherry heads, the males will be larger on average than females.
Cherry reds have a more pronounced nasal structure, which also appears brightly colored compared to other parts of their heads. Meanwhile, the noses of red-foots are less bulbous and darker in color.
The leg scales of cherry heads normally brandish the same colors as the head. In contrast, red-foots come in various colors, with red and orange being the dominant hues. Furthermore, red-foots possess more black scales on their legs than the more colorful cherry heads.
Due to their smaller growth potential, cherry heads mature faster than red-foots, growing up within 4-6 years. However, red-foots take more time to reach their mature size.
Red-foots have lots of energy, which they spend exploring their tanks, digging, and foraging.
In comparison, cherry heads are less active, especially in cooler temperatures, and will spend entire days in their burrows.
Cherry heads cost $400-$1500 at credible pet shops. Ordinary red-foots are far cheaper, fetching as little as $150, with prices rarely exceeding $600.
The steep prices for cherry heads can be explained by how most people perceive unusual color variations because they’re considered signs of “exoticness” and higher desirability.
Consequently, people are prepared to pay more for a cherry head.
Additionally, many breeders tag their cherry heads as “dwarfs” to take advantage of the universal preference for smaller pets.
The fact that cherry heads are naturally smaller than red-foots works in their favor. Many buyers mistakenly believe that they’re merely the dwarf variety of red-foots.
In captivity, red-foots can live for an average of 50 years if kept in the right conditions and fed the right diets. The same holds for cherry heads, as they’re a subspecies of the same group.
How Are Cherry Head and Red-Footed Tortoises Alike?
Aside from their distinct differences, cherry heads and red-foots have much in common. Here are traits you don’t have to worry about losing when you choose one over the other:
Red-foots and cherry heads are both considered intelligent species.
According to Behavioural Processes, they both demonstrate proficiency in using touchscreens and understanding the concept of spatial discrimination.
This shows that they can be trained to perform tricks, work through mazes, and follow basic commands.
According to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, cherry-head and red-footed tortoises take more risks than their yellow-footed tortoises.
They’re likely to scale cage walls, jump off high decorations, or squirm out of your hands.
Be sure there are no climbable walls or precarious rocks in your tortoise cage because this will prevent attempts to escape and explore the world beyond their enclosure.
Red-footed tortoises are normally shy, calm, and friendly; the same applies to cherry heads. Some are so docile that they constantly hide to avoid contact with humans or other pets.
Male torts, across all variants, are antagonistic and will fight each other, mostly over females. For this reason, keeping several males in the same enclosure isn’t recommended.
For both kinds of tortoise, a large portion of their diet comprises fruits, flowers, leaves, fungi, and cacti, and the latter is especially popular with cherry heads.