I keep three species of Mediterranean tortoises all of which do well in our climate with a little care and attention at certain times of the year.

These are:
Hermanns Tortoise : Testudo hermanni,
Spur-thighed Tortoise : Testudo (graeca) ibera, and the
Marginated Tortoise : Testudo marginata.

Hatchlings are feeding within a couple of days of hatching and are usually ready for a new home from about one month later.

I keep my hatchlings in open-topped plastic 'Hagon Jumbo' containers - these have a floor area of about 18'' x 9'' - with a substrate of beech chips (newspaper or gravel is also suitable but don't use sand) with a shallow water bowl (such as the lid from a jam-jar), which minimises any chance of drowning, and a small pile of hay to provide a shelter/refuge.
A larger container which is suitable for several hatchlings or for well-grown animals is the 'Ferplast Duna' container which is also a better size for fitting a strip-light to.
Each container is equipped with a 40W spotlight suspended from above at one end and a fluorescent 'daylight-type' strip-light (such as the Arcadia D3) which is recommended to promote calcium metabolism. It is essential that the spotlight is at one end so that there is a temperature gradient which thus produces a cooling-off area to enable the hatchlings to get away from the heat if necessary - too much heat can be fatal. This set-up ensures good ventilation and the promotion of a dry environment - as a permanently damp habitat will result in breathing problems. The lights are on for 12-13 hours a day.

All my tortoises are 100% herbivorous - they must not be fed any meat product or derivative.
Food is supplied fresh-picked from the garden on a daily basis. Staple diet is dandelion leaves (and flowers with stalks when available), to which plantain, clover, convolvulus, buttercup, honeysuckle (leaves and flowers), sedum ('Ice plant') and others are added when available.

This is sprinkled lightly with a calcium/vitamin supplement (Reptavite) twice a week and it is also a good idea to have a small piece of cuttle-bone or a small lump of pure chalk available at all times. This enables them to ingest extra calcium when they feel the need and also helps to keep their beak in good condition.
I keep hatchlings indoors over their first winter. In mid-winter I sometimes have to revert to greengrocer's produce - such as cabbage, cale, cress, cucumber, courgette, watercress and occasionally (as a treat) tomato, but only until it is possible to find wild vegetation. All greens should be thoroughly rinsed under the cold tap to remove pesticide residues.

I usually add pure calcium carbonate powder to supermarket produce using a small kitchen sieve to improve its nutritional value Calcium carbonate powder is available as a special order from your local pharmacy.

During the winter it may be necessary to provide extra background heat if the room that they are in becomes too cool overnight. My animal room drops to a minimum of about 18C at night so if the night-time temperature drops significantly below this you may find that your tortoise starts to become less active and less keen to feed. To rectify this you can use a small heat-mat placed underneath the plastic container to provide a warm area during the night-time. It must be placed outside and underneath the container (hence why I recommend plastic containers - the surface of a heat mat can get hot enough to crack a glass tank and this will also burn the underside of a tortoise's plastron). I recommend that heat-mats are never placed inside the vivarium to avoid this possibility.

Turn the heat-mat off during the daytime - a tortoise's carapace (shell) has evolved to act as a solar panel and their daytime heat must be supplied from above by the use of a spotlight.
From May onwards I put my baby tortoises outside on suitably sunny days from about 11am to about 3pm on the lawn to give them access to natural sunlight and mixed lawn vegetation. Outdoor accommodation must be escape-proof, predator proof (e.g. mesh top allowing sunlight through but keeping cats and birds out) and include an area of shade to enable the tortoises to get out of the heat if they feel the need to.


For the second winter I over-winter all my Mediterranean tortoises out-of doors in cold-frames
which give frost protection. My adults live in greenhouses with outside access to direct
sunlight. Several excellent publications dealing with hibernation and with general care of tortoises are available from The Tortoise Trust

The Tortoise Trust,
BM Tortoise,
Tel/Fax 01267 211578

and I strongly recommend that you obtain one of their care-sheets and study it in depth before purchasing any tortoise. These are available from their web-site if you have the technology to access it.
They also publish two excellent books covering the care and maintenance of these species among others.
The law relating to tortoises
All my three Mediterranean species are listed on CITES II and each animal is supplied with a yellow DEFRA Article 10 exemption certificate as required by law.
It is illegal to offer any of the above tortoise species for sale without the proper certificate and you should report the details of anyone offering to supply you with a Mediterranean tortoise which does not have a certificate to

Zone 1/17J,
Temple Quay House,
2 The Square,
Temple Quay,
Tel: 0117 3728469

who will investigate the matter.

At the end of the day the law exists to protect these tortoises and it is up to us to help to make it work.
All my tortoises are supplied fit, healthy and feeding well but if you experience any health problems with your tortoise you are always welcome to contact me for further advice by phone or e-mail.

These tortoises, given proper care, can live for upwards of 40 years so look at them as a long- term investment - look after them and they will see you through a hefty chunk of your life!

For further information please contact the author.

Recommended reading
Keeping and Breeding Tortoises in Captivity A C Highfield R&A Research and Information Ltd 1990
Practical Encyclopaedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles by A C Highfield Carapace Press 1996

This care sheet may be reproduced in full provided all references to Marcus Langford remain in the text.
MJL 7/2000
Revised 12/01

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