Lesson 5: Redfoot Tortoise Habitat

TEXT VERSION: Redfoot Tortoise Habitat Needs

….with exotic animal specialist (herpetologist) Danielle Inman & redfoot tortoise keeper Shannon Cutts

SHANNON: What is the best habitat for a redfoot tortoise in captivity? 

DANIELLE: That is a broad question. That is going to depend on the size of your redfoot and on the restrictions within your home or yard.

So the biggest key factors to keep in mind when creating the ideal habitat for your redfoot are size – these guys are wanderers and they appreciate having a large space to roam – as large as you can manage.

But at the same time you have to remember that you have to maintain heat and humidity within that enclosure and so it becomes a bit tricky.

So for a small redfoot, a hatchling or a juvenile, cages that are made of PVC or livestock troughs with modified lids, cement mixing tubs with modified lids, even glass aquariums – again you will have to modify the lid a bit in order to hold the humidity that you need – but all of those things are good options.

Now if you can house your redfoot outdoors, that is what I would advocate for.

Dependent upon where you live, obviously you may not be able to do this year-round. Here where we are in the sub-tropics we have the advantage of being able to have them out almost continually. But certainly throughout the U.S. and the world that is a variable that needs to be considered.

So an enclosure should have plenty of enrichment – things to burrow under, things to climb over – safely – now, you don’t want your tortoise to flip and be stuck. It should have a water area for  them to wallow in. These guys aren’t strong swimmers but they certainly do like to wallow – and poop within that wallow.

Planting live plants is a great option as long as they are safe and edible – that way they can browse.

Having a bio-active enclosure is really great because they can also forage for the occasional protein treat. If you do have live arthropods within the exhibit – if you have any sort of insects and things.

But the biggest things to keep in mind are making sure that your tortoise is enriched, your tortoise is warm, your tortoise is humid and has a large space to roam.

Now if you are unable to provide a large enclosure that meets all of those needs, something that you can do to some degree – and this should be done with caution with young redfoots because you don’t want to stress them out – but allowing them time in a yard as long as it’s protected is a good option for them to get UVB light, for them to get exercise and enrichment.

Of course they need to be protected from predators and you need to make sure that the yard is not treated with any sort of chemicals and that the temperature and climate parameters are appropriate for the redfoot.

redfoot turtle cartoon

NOTE from Shannon

Choosing a habitat for Malti was the thing that felt the most daunting to me when I first brought her home. This was probably because Malti was an impulse purchase (something you should never ever EVER let yourself do) and she came to me sitting in a tiny round plastic tub with a little moss and a few carrot shavings.


I had nothing prepared for her the day I bought her from the breeder and brought her home. Was I nuts? (Don’t answer that – we know I was.)

In hindsight, my habitat choices weren’t awful. I used plastic tubs I got from Target or Home Depot and they worked just fine. It was my choices of lighting (UV, heat) and humidity that sucked so bad they led to lifelong health issues for my precious girl.

Habitat choice doesn’t have to be rocket science, especially for a hatchling redfoot tortoise. But just like a human kiddo, expect to need to upsize that habitat regularly. If your redfoot comes to you as a hatchling, you may very realistically start out with a 20-gallon tub and end up with a 10′ x 10′ outdoor enclosure.

As long as all the essentials are in place (all the stuff you are learning about here) the main thing your redfoot tortoise habitat must provide is safety.

Safety means the habitat keeps your tortoise safely inside and keeps all potential threats (both known and unknown) safely outside. And by “outside,” I mean the habitat must repel threats coming from above, from below and from all sides.

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