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what is a tortoises favorite food?

What Do Tortoises Love To Eat?

(Last Updated On: January 18, 2023)

Tortoises like variety and color in their meals. Wild tortoises forage for hours throughout the day, seeking out weeds, flowers, leafy greens, and grasses.

Their meals will change daily, and they aim for brightly colored foods. So, always select foods that your tortoise enjoys eating to avoid boredom.

What Is A Tortoise’s Favorite Food?

Tortoises don’t have one favorite food. In the wild, the right meal for a tortoise can vary, depending on its:

  • Species
  • Age
  • Geographical region
  • Individual preferences

For example, broccoli is a classic favorite of pet tortoises, but some may ignore it in favor of grasses or fruits. Likewise, tropical tortoises enjoy bananas, while desert tortoises may get sick from eating this fruit regularly.

There are over 49 species of tortoise across the world. Some are herbivores, while others are omnivorous. With their color vision, tortoises sample from hundreds of different plants or insects to fulfill their dietary needs. With that in mind, it’s clear that every tortoise will have its favorite food.  

However, most tortoises rely on a plant-based diet. For herbivorous tortoises, they will need fruits and vegetables. Carnivorous species will also need animal-based proteins. What’s the best food to feed tortoises? Here are the favorites from each category:

Leafy greens

Leafy greens should compose the bulk of a tortoise’s diet. Common favorites of this category include:

  • Butter lettuce
  • Kale
  • Lamb lettuce

Tortoises, like sulcatas and Hermanns, will also love to see a splash of color in their greens. Think of leafy foods with red, purple, or yellow varieties. Good choices include:

  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Green onions
  • Purple mustard greens
  • Carrot tops

Weeds And Herbs

Weeds and herbs are an addition to leafy greens because wild tortoises find these more commonly as they forage and explore. Good options include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Endives
  • Clover
  • Basil

Grass And Hay

Grasses and hay are crucial to balancing your tortoise’s digestive system and sharpening its beak. Alfalfa is a common grass but should not be more than a treat since it contains too much oxalic acid. Alternatives include:

  • Orchard grass
  • Timothy grass
  • Oat grass
  • Meadow grass

Vegetables

Tortoises tend to favor bulkier vegetables. Sulcata tortoises are particularly fond of veggies that are bright in color. Powerful shades of red and yellow will catch your tortoise’s eye.

Hermann’s, too, are known for their great color vision and will prefer bright reds and oranges. Good choices for veggies include:

  • Red, green, and yellow bell peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Butternut squash
  • Broccoli
what food do tortoises like?

Fruits

Fruits are packed with nutrients, but tortoises should only be provided fruits on a limited basis due to their high sugar content.

Unless your tortoise is a tropical variety, its digestive system won’t cope well with fruit as a regular meal. Instead, fruits make a great treat. Most tortoises love eating fruits like:

Animal-Based Proteins

Some tortoises require animal protein, like the red-footed and yellow-footed species. However, this shouldn’t compose the bulk of their diets. The amount of animal protein needed will depend on their:

  • Size
  • Age
  • Species

Consult a vet to ensure your tortoise receives all the nutrients it needs. There are many ways to get animal-based proteins into your tortoise’s meals, including:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Chicken
  • Feeder worms
  • Tuna and mackerel

Commercial Tortoise Feeds

Sometimes, a tortoise’s favorite meal comes in a pack. This might seem counterintuitive since prepackaged meals are rarely better than raw veggies and greens. However, commercial tortoise feed is different from prepackaged meals designed for humans.

High-quality tortoise food will contain the ingredients that tortoises need, condensing flavors and ingredients from various food groups. This ensures your tortoise gets more nutrients with each bite than it may by eating fresh, natural food.

As a bonus, it’s prepared to be appetizing to tortoises. They often love these commercial feeds, especially omnivorous species.

Of course, every tortoise is different. Consider buying a few different kinds of commercial tortoise feed, and see which (if any) becomes your tortoise’s favorite.

What Food Do Tortoises Like?

Apart from the food groups outlined above, there are individual foods that most tortoises go wild for. Some need to be given in moderation and others are better for certain species. Here are common foods that tortoises like:

Hibiscus

Tortoises love to eat flowers, and hibiscus is a common favorite. This is mostly because of its bright coloring, especially with dark red varieties. Sulcatas are known to love the china rose hibiscus. Even if your tortoise is not a sulcata, it can benefit from the nutrients found in the hibiscus.

This flower contains many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Due to its nutritional profile, your tortoise can freely graze on this plant. It’s also an ideal plant to grow near an outdoor tortoise enclosure because the leaves can serve as a shade for grazing torts.

Two main species are considered safe for torts to eat. The first is the hibiscus rosa-sinensis, also known as the:

  • China rose
  • Chinese hibiscus
  • Hawaiian hibiscus

The second is the hibiscus syriacus, sometimes called the rose of Sharon. The syriacus is often considered better for tortoises since the rosa-sinensis has thicker, more leathery leaves.

Note that St. John’s Wort is sometimes called the rose of Sharon but is not a hibiscus. Most importantly, it is toxic to tortoises. Hibiscus trionum, another common hibiscus species, is also toxic to tortoises and should be strictly avoided.

Hens And Chicks

Cacti are a favorite of many tortoise species, especially those hailing from desert areas. Of all the cacti, hens and chicks is a common favorite.

Hens and chicks often refer to succulents in the sempervivum family. The name comes from the plant’s look. It has one big rosette, which is the hen, who will readily create smaller rosettes, which are her chicks.

Hens and chicks are easy to grow and beginner-friendly. They’re hardy and tolerant to bad soil and humid conditions. This plant doesn’t even need fertilizers and rarely needs watering.

Clippings from a hen and chicks can be easily added to a tortoise’s meal. Some owners also grow hens and chicks in their tortoise’s enclosure, which allows them to forage and play with the rosettes.

There are two main types of hens and chicks: echeveria and the mother of pearl. If your tortoise doesn’t like one species, try the other!

Rose Flowers And Leaves

Roses can be fed to tortoises in moderation, but they don’t contain many nutrients. Due to their appetizing flavor, some tortoises refuse to eat anything else when provided with roses.

However, roses are appealing for their brightly colored blooms and dense, chewy leaves. They’re non-toxic, but roses purchased from a store should never be fed to tortoises because they’re likely to contain pesticides.

If you grow roses in your garden, feel free to offer the blooms and leaves to your tortoise. Roses, despite their reputation, are hardy plants. Newer varieties, like the flower carpet pink, Roald Dahl, and Sally Holmes, are designed to be beginner-friendly.

Clip off the thorns at ground level for outdoor enclosures or gardens where tortoises roam. These will not grow back, preventing your tortoise from injuring itself while it forages. Alternatively, choose thornless or nearly-thornless varieties.

Prickly Pear Cactus

The prickly pear cactus (often called nopales or the opuntia cactus) is a favorite among desert-hailing species. It’s safe but may have a laxative effect in larger quantities.

Prickly pear can be cut into smaller pieces for a tortoise to eat. Both the cacti pads and the fruit can be safely eaten. Your tortoise will find the texture interesting and the flavor enticing. As a bonus, prickly pear cactus is high in fiber and calcium.

Prickly pear is one of the most common cacti fed to tortoises. However, you can also include Rhipsalis. Known as the mistletoe cactus, it’s packed with nutrients and flavor. Be sure to choose varieties that do not have soft white spines, as these can be irritating.

best food to feed tortoises

Arugula

Arugula is a favorite of tortoises from the Mediterranean since it is found native to this region. Species that enjoy it the most include the Hermann’s, Greek spur-thighed, and Egyptian tortoises.

Arugula is packed with health benefits since it contains many vitamins and minerals. The most important one is calcium, which is vital to a tortoise’s bone and shell development. As a bonus, this plant is chewy with a peppery taste, making it more appealing to tortoises.

With that said, arugula should only be given in moderation. That’s because of its glucosinolates, which have been known to damage the liver and kidneys. According to Parasites and Vectors, high levels of glucosinolates can reduce the production of skeletal muscle cells and liver cells.

Dandelion

Dandelions are a common favorite among tortoises, no matter the species. They are bursting with health benefits, the most notable being the high amount of antioxidants. Specifically, this includes beta carotene, which can improve skin and eye health.

According to the International Journal of Oncology, dandelion leaf extract has been shown to fight against cancer cells. It has a crunchy flavor and comes in various colors, which can entice tortoises.

Remember that the common dandelion, taraxacum officinale, is best given in moderation due to its high oxalate content.

Other plants are related to dandelions that are safe in larger amounts. Hawksbeard, from the Crepis species, looks very similar to dandelions. Likewise, you can choose the bristly oxtongue, though it’s more difficult to find. 

Chicory

Chicory plants are a common favorite among grazing tortoises. They’re healthy and balanced with the right nutrients for a tortoise.

In particular, chicory leaves and flowers contain good levels of calcium but low levels of proteins and phosphorus. This appropriately fits a tortoise’s dietary needs. Just make sure to avoid the roots, as they can be starchy and high in sugar.

Artichokes

Artichokes come from the Mediterranean, making them a favorite of many tortoise species. This veggie contains many vitamins and minerals, especially when given raw.

Tortoises will appreciate their shape, color, and texture, especially varieties with a purple shade. With that said, some tortoises will find artichokes too gummy to chew. If this happens, consider buying frozen artichokes and thawing them because they’ll be much softer and easier on a tortoise’s mouth.

Tortoises like food that’s colorful, with crunchy textures and flavorful tastes. You can keep mealtime engaging by choosing veggies, fruits, grasses, weeds, and flowers that tick these boxes. Just be sure you ration certain foods appropriately, as not all tortoise’s favorites are healthy in large amounts.