Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Samantha Harris
Tortoises like flavorful, colorful, and nutritious meals. Wild tortoises forage for hours during the day, seeking out weeds, grasses, flowers, leafy greens, fruits, insects, slugs, and even animal carcasses.
Tortoises’ meals will change daily, but they’ll always provide brightly-colored and tasty meals. Select foods that appeal to tortoises in terms of scent and visual appeal to avoid inappetence.
What Is A Tortoise’s Favorite Food?
There are 49 species of tortoise under 18 extant genera (surviving until the present day) across the world.
Some tortoise species are herbivorous, thriving on a plant-based diet, but most are omnivorous, eating plant matter and animal proteins.
Tortoises are foragers, not hunters, sampling different plants and insects to fulfill their dietary requirements. So, each tortoise species has dietary preferences based on its origins.
The right meal for tortoises varies based on the following factors:
- Geographical region.
All tortoises need a diet high in calcium but low in fat, protein, and sugar.
Let’s explore the different types of foods that tortoises enjoy:
Hays And Grasses
Hay is vital to the digestive health of tortoises due to its high fiber content, which helps to prevent hard stools, constipation, and impaction.
The diet of grassland tortoises should consist of 85% hays and grasses, which applies to these species:
- Russian tortoises.
- Sulcata tortoises.
- Desert tortoises.
- Mediterranean Spur Thigh Tortoises.
- Pancake tortoises.
- Leopard tortoises.
Also, hay’s abrasive texture wears down the beak, keeping it at the optimal length and sharpness.
Greener hay contains more chlorophyll, so it contains more vitamins and minerals. If the hay is browner, it contains fewer nutrients but is an excellent fiber source.
There are many kinds of hay, including the following:
- Orchard hay.
- Timothy hay.
- Brome hay.
- Bermuda hay.
- Alfalfa hay.
- Oat hay.
Alfalfa is a common hay but shouldn’t be over-consumed since it’s high in protein and oxalic acid.
Oxalates bind to calcium, leading to unhealthy bones and shells, and may also increase the risk of kidney stones. Also, high protein diets may lead to shell deformities, like pyramiding.
Oat hay has a low calcium content and can be high in nitrates. Oat hay is a good type of bedding but isn’t the most nutritious food for tortoises.
Avoid hays that are overly dusty or have a moldy appearance.
While weeds may be undesirable to gardeners, they’re a sought-after meal for tortoises. Although taste preferences vary, tortoises like foraging for and eating common garden varieties of weeds.
While not all weeds are tortoise-safe, here are some of the varies that can be safely consumed:
- Stinging nettles.
- Wild clematis.
- Cat’s ears.
Provide tortoises with a diverse range of weeds and let them graze at their leisure. Some owners with outdoor enclosures (or even window boxes) grow weeds for pet tortoises.
Leafy Greens And Vegetables
Leafy greens are rich in antioxidants, which fight inflammation and free radical damage. They’re low in calories and high in essential vitamins and minerals.
They’re also a good source of dietary fiber, aiding digestion and creating a feeling of fullness.
Healthy leafy greens include the following:
- Swiss Chard.
- Bok Choy.
- Collard Greens.
Vibrant shades of red and yellow will almost certainly catch the eye of tortoises. Vegetables get their colors from phytochemicals, which are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Tortoises, like sulcatas and Hermanns, love color in their greens. If so, good choices include:
- Red leaf lettuce.
- Green onions.
- Purple mustard greens.
- Carrots and their tops.
- Bell peppers (red, green, and yellow).
- Butternut squash.
If you offer vegetables to tortoises in a dish, this will prevent them from accidentally ingesting small pebbles and stones, which can lead to impaction.
Fruit is nutritious, but many tortoise species can’t eat it without experiencing health complications.
Unless a tortoise is a tropical variety, the digestive tract won’t cope well with fruits. Over-consumption can change the pH of the gut, encourage parasites (due to the high sugar content), and cause diarrhea.
Yellow-footed tortoises, red-footed tortoises, and African hingeback tortoises can safely eat fruit. Up to 50% of their diets can consist of different varieties of fruit.
Most fruit-eating tortoises enjoy the following:
Most tortoises can consume a small quantity of fruit, but not all. Check the specific dietary requirements of the tortoise species before offering any fruit.
Most tortoises are herbivorous animals, like Hermann’s tortoises and Mediterranean tortoises. These tortoises should never be fed meat.
However, some species (red-footed and yellow-footed) eat meat from dead animals (carrion). Tortoises don’t hunt for food but may partake if they encounter an animal carcass when exploring the wild.
There are various ways to introduce animal-based proteins into a tortoise’s meals, including:
- Hard-boiled eggs.
- Feeder worms.
- Tuna and mackerel.
If you have a meat-eating species, don’t over-feed it to them, as too much protein can cause pyramiding. This irreversible condition leads to the abnormal stacking of keratin in the shell.
What Food Do Tortoises Like?
There are individual foods that tortoises love eating. Some must be fed in moderation, and others are more suited to certain species. Here are some nutritious foods that tortoises like:
The hibiscus is a diverse genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Tortoises love to eat hibiscus, mainly due to its bright colors, especially the dark red varieties.
Sulcatas love the china rose hibiscus. Even if a tortoise isn’t a sulcata, it can benefit from the nutrients. Hibiscus is a good source of iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B, and C.
Due to its nutritional profile, a tortoise can freely graze on this plant. It’s also an ideal plant to grow in an outdoor tortoise enclosure because the leaves can serve as shade from the sun for grazing torts.
Two species of hibiscus are tortoise-safe. The first is the hibiscus rosa-sinensis, also known as the:
- China rose.
- Chinese hibiscus.
- Hawaiian hibiscus.
The second variety is the hibiscus syriacus, sometimes called the rose of Sharon. The syriacus is better for tortoises because the rosa-sinensis has thicker, more leathery leaves.
However, St. John’s Wort is sometimes called the rose of Sharon but isn’t a hibiscus and is toxic to tortoises. Hibiscus trionum is also poisonous for tortoises and should be avoided.
Hens And Chicks
Hens and chicks refer to succulents in the sempervivum family. Hens and chicks have one big rosette, which is the hen, creating smaller rosettes, which are the chicks.
There are two main types of hens and chicks: echeveria and mother of pearl.
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 added to a tortoise’s meal. Some owners also grow hens and chicks in a tortoise’s enclosure, which allows them to forage.
Rose petals can be fed to tortoises in moderation, but they don’t contain many nutrients. They’re appealing due to their brightly colored bloom and flavor.
Roses, despite their reputation, are hardy plants. Newer varieties, like the flower carpet pink, Roald Dahl, and Sally Holmes, are beginner-friendly.
Clip off the ground-level thorns where tortoises roam. The thorns won’t regrow, preventing a tortoise from injuring itself while foraging. Alternatively, choose thornless or near-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. The cacti pads and the fruit can be safely eaten because a tortoise will find the texture interesting and the flavor enticing.
As a plus, prickly pear cactus is a good source of fiber and calcium.
Prickly pear is among the most common cacti fed to tortoises. However, you can also offer Rhipsalis. Known as the mistletoe cactus, it’s high in nutrients and flavor.
Choose varieties that don’t have soft white spines, as they can cause discomfort and irritation.
Arugula is a favorite of tortoises from the Mediterranean since it’s native to this region. Species that enjoy it the most include the Hermann’s, Greek spur-thighed, and Egyptian tortoises.
This plant is chewy with a peppery taste, making it more appealing to tortoises.
Arugula is a vegetable rich in vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. It also contains beneficial compounds like quercetin, caffeic acid, and kaempferol.
Arugula should be given in moderation due to glucosinolates (sulfur-containing compounds), which can potentially cause damage to the liver and kidneys.
According to Parasites and Vectors, high levels of glucosinolates (when broken down by the body) can reduce the production of skeletal muscle and liver cells (due to isothiocyanate).
Dandelions are a favorite food for all tortoise species. They’re brightly colored and have a crunchy texture that provides vitamins A and K, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, fiber, and antioxidants.
Dandelions aid digestion and the passage of waste because they contain inulin. This soluble fiber draws water into the digestive tract, adding moisture and bulk to tortoises’ stools.
However, the common dandelion, taraxacum officinale, is best given in moderation due to its high oxalate content, which can prevent calcium absorption.
Other plants related to dandelions are safe in larger amounts. Hawksbeard, from the Crepis species, looks similar to dandelions. Also, you can offer the bristly oxtongue.
Tortoises prefer colorful food with a crunchy texture and a rich taste. You can keep mealtime engaging by choosing hay, weeds, and flowers that meet these criteria.