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Types of Tortoises for Pets

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Several species of tortoise are available on the pet market, each with different needs, appearances and temperaments. Which tortoise species you choose should be depend on the size of habitat you can provide, whether your tortoise can venture outside, how large a tortoise you want and how outgoing you'd like your new pal to be.

South American Species

Tortoises from South America are some of the most popular species to be kept as pets, largely because of their beautiful colors. The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) is a common tortoise species for hobbyists that's native to South and Central America. These animals are considered easy to care for because they tolerate a range of conditions. They enjoy shady spots and are primarily herbivores. They're appreciated for their outgoing nature and their shells reach 12 to 14 inches. These reptiles sometimes dig burrows in search of moisture. The yellow-footed tortoise (Geochelone denticulata) is a bit more shy than the redfoots, but eventually warms up to its keepers. Because these turtles are a protected species in their homeland, it's recommended they only be acquired through a breeder. The radiated tortoise (Geochelone radiata) is prized for its unusual diagonal-patterned black and off-white shell. These omnivores require temperatures between 75 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit and should only be acquired through a breeder because of their protected status.

Mediterranean Species

The benefit of the Mediterranean tortoises is that their native environment is much easier to duplicate than rainforest or desert specimens. Many Mediterranean tortoises can be kept outside in safe enclosures at least part of the year. The Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) is the most popular Greek species in pet stores. Hermanns are friendly herbivores that only grow to an 8-inch shell size. A more decorative Greek tortoise is the marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) native to Italy, Greece and the Balkans. These are the largest tortoises in Europe, with a shell up to 14 inches long, but they're also herbivores that enjoy a temperate climate. The Golden Greek (genus Testudo) is actually not a Greek tortoise at all, but refers to a number of tortoise species that share similar characteristics. It's not completely clear where these species originated -- possibly the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Israel or Jordan) or North Africa (Tunisia, Libya or Morocco). Their shells are small and golden with brown markings, hence the name. These tortoises tend to be shy and like to burrow.

Eurasian Species

The Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii) is another highly popular species in pet stores. These reptiles are most active in the morning and are adaptable to many conditions. Their native home is dry, sandy, grassy and hot, so their instinct is to burrow in search of moist earth. The Russian is another small species that only reaches 6 to 8 inches. The Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) is highly prized among tortoise lovers because of its distinct and varied carapace markings in black and off-white. Originating from India and Sri Lanka, the Indian star is a fussy eater, is usually very expensive to buy and is recommended only for experienced tortoise keepers.

African Species

Many species of pet tortoise originate from the deserts, savannah and forests of Africa. The African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) make good pets because they're excitable, outgoing animals with big appetites. They come from the driest parts of Africa and have a tendency to burrow. As the third largest tortoises in the world and the largest mainland tortoises on Earth, their shells can reach 24 to 30 inches long, so they require a comparatively big enclosure. Leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis) are somewhat smaller at 15 to 18 inches. They require a rather hot environment at about 90 degrees and are recommended for experienced tortoise owners. The ivory snow leopard tortoise is a highly desired variant because of its beautiful creamy white carapace with dark and light brown markings. The African forest hinge back tortoise (Kinixys homeana) is unusual because it can close the back of its plastron (the belly part of the shell) to protect its legs and tail. These tortoises enjoy lots of moisture and shade, and need an area in which to bathe.