Care of Red Footed Tortoise

Bennett Greenberg
by Bennett Greenberg
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Red-foots are capable of producing eggs at any time during the year, although seasonal activity may be noted. One collection of tortoises kept outside in Kansas during warm weather and indoors during the colder months, laid eggs only from October to April for 7 consecutive years (Renquist, 1994). Because red-foots are capable of producing eggs at any time, it is advisable to have a nesting chamber full of damp peat moss and sand available to the females at all times.

A nesting chamber can be constructed by creating a large, open topped box with a ramp so the tortoises can enter and exit at will. The chamber should have the dimensions of 4 x 4 x 2 (l x w x h in feet) and be filled with moist nesting material to a depth of at least 20 inches (50 cm). It is important that more than one male be included in a breeding group, male to male combat is important in inducing breeding in red-foots.

Male to male combat begins with a round of head bobbing from each male involved, and then proceeds to a wresting match where the males attempt to turn one another over. The succeeding male (usually the largest male) then attempts to mate with the females. The ritualistic head movements displayed by male red-foots are thought to be a method of species recognition. Other tortoise species, most notably the closely related and sometimes sympatric yellow-footed tortoise (Geochelone denticulata), have different challenging head movements. Red-footed tortoises have challenging head movements that are a series of lateral jerks, by contrast, yellow-footed tortoises utilize a long sideways sweep in their displays (Auffenberg, 1965).

Male red-foots peruse walking (seeming uninterested) females until they can maneuver them into a position for mating. The unique body shape of the male red-footed tortoise facilitates the mating process by allowing him to maintain his balance during copulation while the female walks around, seemingly attempting to dislodge the male by walking under low-hanging vegetation (Moskovits, 1988).

Incubation and Hatchling Care

Gravid females will become restless before oviposition, and will wander around the enclosure looking for a suitable nesting site. A few days before oviposition occurs, the females will begin digging in their chosen nesting site. After the eggs are laid, the female will cover the eggs with substrate. Make sure to note where the female has been digging so that the eggs can be retrieved for artificial incubation. Clutch sizes vary from one to eight eggs, although some large clutches may reach 15 eggs. Red-foots are capable of clutching several times during the year.

After the eggs have been removed, bury them halfway in a container of slightly moistened vermiculite (1:1 ratio vermiculite to water by weight) and place them in the incubator. There is some controversy among tortoise breeders as to whether or not tortoise eggs should be moved from their original orientation in the nest before artificial incubation. Some breeders are careful to mark the top of the eggs so that their orientation is not changed when they are moved to the incubator. Others see this procedure at unnecessary and do not believe disorienting the eggs in the incubator has an effect on hatch rate. According to Marchellini and Davis (1982), red-footed tortoise eggs that were rotated from their original positions had a lower hatch rate, poorer survival rates, and higher incidence of hatchling deformities.

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