These ancient shelled reptiles, also known as chelonian, are extremely interesting creatures. They make good pets but special care needs to be taken to ensure that they are provided for and looked after in terms of diet and hibernation.

Diets in captivity must be the same as in the wild. Primitive lettuce and fresh, natural weeds are brilliant food sources. Weeds – including buttercups, goose grass, bramble, sow thistle, field milk thistle, wild mustard, dandelions, white clover, chickweed, buddleia, clover and grasses – can be collected anywhere where there are not pesticides.

Tortoises ideally need to be fed one meal (constituting a maximum amount of four to six tablespoons of food), four or five days out of every seven. Contrary to popular belief, spinach and cuttlefish are not very good sources of calcium for tortoises because they constitute calcium phosphate and tortoises require calcium carbonate (chalk). Raw chalk from the ground is excellent and tortoises are more than happy to gnaw it.

They must not be overfed – it is just as detrimental to over-feed tortoises on the correct diet as it is to over-feed them the wrong foods. When they are not overfed, they are slimmer, fitter and more active. Good access to sunlight and fresh water is also essential for a tortoise’s health.


Not all breeds of tortoise hibernate but here’s some information relating to ones that do.

Tortoises hibernate because temperatures drop too low for them to be active. They generally should not be hibernated for more than 20 weeks.

During hibernation, at temperatures of 4-6°C, tortoises should only lose about one per cent of their body weight per month. As temperatures rise, they begin to burn off a much higher percentage of weight. It is at this time that they have the lowest reserves and cannot afford to lose much more. Leaving tortoises in hibernation for extended periods of time will usually lead to sickness or even death. If your tortoise has not woken up by itself and has been in hibernation for 20 weeks, then gently wake it up. To wake your tortoise you should bring its hibernation box indoors and place it in a warm room (approximately 15-18°C). Within a few hours your tortoise should begin to stir.

Once it opens its eyes and seems aware of its surroundings you should be ready to begin the process of recovery. This includes providing it with heat in the form of a heat lamp; re-hydrating it, by bathing daily for 10-15 minutes at a time; providing it with food within 24 hours of waking up.

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