If you have been thinking of owning a miniature tortoise as a pet, you probably consider which species is right for you.
There are many things to consider before deciding on a mini tortoise as a pet.
Do you have any experience keeping reptiles, or are you a beginner?
How much space do you have available in your home for a miniature tortoise enclosure?
What is your expected budget for a new pet?
Are you ready for the lifelong commitment of having a mini tortoise as a pet?
It is usually recommended to have some experience in keeping other reptiles before getting a miniature tortoise as a pet because the babies of this particular species are more delicate than those of larger tortoise species.
However, if you are willing to do your research, be dedicated to proper care, and are prepared for the lifelong commitment of tortoise ownership, you will not have any problems keeping a miniature tortoise even if you are a beginner.
We will explore the different mini tortoise breeds and explain their individual needs and care requirements and behaviors.
We will also discuss the adult size, average lifespan, and initial cost of each mini tortoise breed.
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Some Things to Consider
In addition to the initial purchase price of a miniature tortoise, there are other costs you will need to be prepared for.
You will have to budget for the costs of setting up an enclosure, the regular purchases of food, heating and lighting bills, and necessary vet visits.
Most people may assume mini tortoise breeds do not need a large enclosure due to their smaller size, but this is not true.
Mini tortoise breeds need a lot of room for exploring, and you will also need to ensure the enclosure is tall enough and has smooth walls to prevent them from escaping as they are excellent climbers.
A Closer Look At Enclosures
Tortoise tables are specially made enclosures, and they are perfect for keeping mini tortoise breeds indoors.
The walls of your turtle enclosure should be made of wood or frosted glass.
You should avoid enclosures with glass walls because tortoises like to explore, and they may become depressed from attempting to reach an area beyond the glass.
Proper humidity, temperature, and lighting are also vital for indoor enclosures.
A shallow dish of water should be in the tortoise enclosure for drinking and soaking.
Provide fresh water daily to avoid the accumulation of harmful bacteria.
It is also ideal for changing the water after your tortoise soaks itself, as the water will get dirty quickly, especially with a very active tortoise.
You will also need to consider the climate where you live and available space if you would like to provide an outdoor enclosure.
Research the humidity, lighting, and temperature needs of the specific mini tortoise breed you wish to purchase to provide the best enclosure for them.
It is also very important to purchase your miniature tortoise from a reputable breeder or vendor verified as humane.
So often, tortoises are captured in the wild and sold as pets with little to no consideration for their health and well-being.
This results in tortoises arriving at their destination in poor condition with various illnesses and diseases.
Miniature tortoises bred in captivity have fewer problems with stress and health issues due to being accustomed to being fed and kept in some kind of enclosure.
Adopting a mini tortoise is also a good option as it allows them to have a second chance at a better life after being abandoned.
Good purchasing and adoption habits help protect wild tortoises from the dangers of poaching.
Tortoises may exhibit strange behavior when you first bring them home.
The tortoise may pace or refuse to eat for up to two weeks.
This behavior is quite normal because tortoises generally do not like change, but they will acclimate to their new environment rather quickly and return to normal behavior.
During this transition phase, you will need to soak your tortoise in a shallow water dish to avoid dehydration.
Tortoises generally do not like to be handled, so you should keep this to a minimum, but they enjoy human interaction in varying degrees.
Be aware tortoises require a great deal of care compared to other reptiles and be prepared to commit to proper care to ensure your mini tortoise’s health and happiness.
The Russian Tortoise
Scientific Name: Agrionemys horsfieldii
The Russian tortoise is a miniature breed native to Central Asia.
The carapace, or the top half of the shell, has a tan, yellow, or olive color with brown or black markings.
The plastron, or the bottom half of the shell, is either solid black or has splotches of brown or black.
Russian tortoises are sexually dimorphic, meaning there are differences in appearance between males and females.
Male Russian tortoises tend to have longer tails and claws than females, which have short, fat tails and short claws.
An indoor enclosure for a Russian tortoise should include a basking spot of about 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 C), and the overall temperature should never be lower than 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
Optimal humidity for an indoor enclosure should be around 30%-50% humidity.
The proper substrate for an indoor enclosure should include a mix of sand, soil, peat moss, or fine coconut coir.
Ensure the substrate is deep enough for burrowing, at least 3-4″ inches (10 cm).
Rocks of various sizes should also be provided, as the Russian tortoise loves to climb, and the rocks are also helpful in naturally filing down its nails.
They thrive very well in warmer outdoor environments and benefit from an outdoor habitat as long as the temperature is within the proper range.
The Russian tortoise is very active, and you will need to provide a proper substrate for burrowing.
If you choose to provide an outdoor habitat, the walls need to extend into the ground for 8-12″ inches (30 cm) to ensure the tortoise cannot burrow underneath and possibly escape.
The habitat walls should also be at least 12″ inches (30 cm) tall to keep the tortoise from climbing out.
It is also important to provide some sort of covering for the outdoor habitat, such as a screen.
Russian tortoises are very small and maybe attractive to certain predators such as hawks or other birds of prey, and covering the outdoor habitat is an excellent measure of protection.
The Russian tortoise is an herbivore, meaning it only eats plants, so its regular diet should include various dark leafy greens.
Some excellent choices include kale, Romaine lettuce, carrot tops, collard greens, mustard greens, and beet greens.
Other good vegetable options are carrots, squash, and bell peppers.
Fruits such as apples, bananas, figs, and strawberries should be fed as treats only and should not make up more than 10% of the tortoise’s diet.
If your Russian tortoise does not get time outdoors every day, you should lightly dust a calcium supplement powder with D3 onto its food twice a week.
Avoid feeding your tortoise nutrient-deficient iceberg lettuce, as well as grains or meat.
The Russian tortoise has a very docile and friendly personality, making it an excellent pet for new tortoise owners.
Be aware when purchasing a Russian tortoise because they are more likely to be wild-caught than other species due to the limited number of breeders.
An adult Russian tortoise is almost always wild-caught, and while this may lower its price, there is a greater chance of the tortoise having a parasitic infection than one bred in captivity.
- Adult Size: 8-10″ inches (25 cm) long, with females being slightly larger than males
- Lifespan: More than 40 years
- Average Initial Cost: $80-$200 USD
Indian Star Tortoise
Scientific Name: Geochelone elegans
The Indian star tortoise is native to India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, all of which have arid climates and monsoon seasons.
The scutes of the Indian star tortoise are raised and form a ridge-like appearance.
The carapace has a dark brown or black base color, with yellow streaks radiating from each scute.
This pattern resembles a star, hence the name Indian star tortoise.
The plastron is usually a lighter color than the carapace, with varying dark brown or black streaks.
Baby Indian star tortoises do not yet have star patterning, and their shells are usually solid black with small yellow splotches until the pattern develops.
An indoor enclosure should include a basking spot with a temperature of 95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C), and ambient temperatures should never go below 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
Humidity levels in the enclosure should be around 80%.
Choose a substrate such as soil, peat moss, or coconut coir, all of which are excellent at retaining moisture levels.
You will also need to provide a hide box, as Indian star tortoises are shy creatures.
Much like the Russian tortoise, the Indian star tortoise will thrive well in an outdoor environment as long as the proper temperature and humidity are met.
The requirements for an outdoor habitat are less strict; however, due to the fact, Indian star tortoises are not known to burrow or climb.
While you will not have to bury the walls, you should still cover the habitat to protect your tortoise from predators.
The Indian star tortoise is an herbivore, and its diet should consist of dark leafy greens such as collard or mustard greens and Romaine lettuce, kale, dandelion greens, and parsley.
Other vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, and squash are also healthy choices.
Calcium and vitamin supplement powders should also be added to your turtle’s diet 2-3 times a week.
Due to their higher humidity requirements, Indian star tortoises are more prone to respiratory infections than other miniature tortoise species.
If you notice signs of inflammation or discharge around the nose, eyes, or mouth, this indicates a respiratory infection, and you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Unlike most tortoise species, the Indian star tortoise is a very social animal and will happily share a habitat with another Indian star tortoise.
Alone, they are very shy and hide from other animals and humans, so handling is not recommended.
Because it has become illegal to export the Indian star tortoise due to its endangerment status, it is one of the most expensive breeds of miniature tortoises.
This strict import status may also make it more difficult to find an available Indian star tortoise due to a low number of breeders.
- Adult Size: Males grow to between 5-10″ inches (25 cm) long, and females are generally 2-3″ inches (7.5 cm) larger
- Lifespan: Between 30-55 years
- Average Initial Cost: $500-$4,000 USD
Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise (AKA Greek Tortoise)
Species Name: Testudo graeca
The Greek tortoise is found in northern Africa, southwest Asia, and southern Europe and tends to live in arid environments such as meadows, forests, and rocky hillsides.
The carapace ranges from yellow to tan, with black or dark brown markings on the scutes.
The patterning of the scutes is said to resemble Greek mosaics.
The plastron is usually the same base color as the carapace, from yellow to tan, with large black or dark brown streaks.
There are usually 1-3 scales or spurs on each thigh, and the tortoise has a blunt head with large eyes.
The Greek tortoise requires a large enclosure, so it has plenty of room to roam around and explore.
A basking area should be provided at one end of the enclosure, with a temperature between 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C).
The average temperature within the enclosure should be within 80-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C), and the temperature should never go below 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C).
The optimal humidity in your Greek tortoise’s enclosure should range between 40%-60%, with hatchlings requiring a humidity level between 65%-75%.
A suitable substrate for the enclosure is cypress mulch, aspen shavings, or another reptile-friendly mulch.
A 50/50 mix of soil and sand is also a good substrate choice.
Greek tortoises like to burrow, but they are not as adept at climbing.
You should provide UVB lighting for 12 hours during the day.
A greek tortoise’s diet should include dark leafy greens and vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli, and shredded carrots.
Fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, or apples may be given as treats, and fruits should make up no more than 10% of the tortoise’s diet.
Calcium and vitamin supplements may be used 2 times a week.
Greek tortoises are not social animals, and two males housed together will fight.
The greek tortoise has a very mellow attitude and usually only becomes aggressive if kept in too small of a space.
Greek tortoises are readily available, and their price is very similar to the Russian tortoise.
- Adult Size: Males average 5-8″ inches (20 cm) long, while females are slightly larger
- Lifespan: 50 years or more
- Average Initial Cost: $200 USD
Egyptian Tortoise (AKA Kleinmann’s Tortoise)
Species Name: Testudo kleinmanni
The Egyptian tortoise is found along the North African coast and the coastal Middle East and is now a critically endangered species.
The carapace has a high dome and a light tan or yellow color with very few marks on the scutes.
The plastron is usually a pale yellow with two distinct black triangles, which become more pronounced as the tortoise ages.
The Egyptian tortoise is the smallest tortoise species, but it still needs a fairly large habitat to thrive.
You should provide a basking area with a temperature of 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C) in the enclosure, and ambient temperatures should not go below 70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C).
Since Egyptian tortoises are from an arid environment, the enclosure’s optimal humidity should be between 20%-30%.
An outdoor habitat may be provided for occasional outings, but because of their temperature and humidity requirements, Egyptian tortoises are more suitable for an indoor enclosure.
A substrate mixture of sand and soil with a depth between 2-3″ inches (7.5 cm) is ideal.
Because of their low humidity requirements, you should soak your Egyptian tortoise several times a week to prevent dehydration.
An Egyptian tortoise’s diet should include a variety of dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens, Romaine lettuce, and arugula.
Avoid greens high in oxalates, such as spinach, rhubarb, and parsley, as Egyptian tortoises are especially prone to kidney and bladder stones which are often fatal.
Fruits such as bananas, pears, and apples may be given as a treat and should never make up more than 10% of the tortoise’s diet.
Calcium and vitamin supplements may be used twice a week.
Egyptian tortoises have a calm personality and tend to be shy.
Because of their endangered status, Egyptian tortoises may be expensive and difficult to find.
- Adult Size: Males average 4″ inches (10 cm) in length, while females grow slightly larger at 5″ inches (12.5 cm)
- Lifespan: 70-100 years
- Average Initial Cost: $900 USD or more
Species Name: Testudo hermanni
The Hermann’s tortoise is native to southern Europe.
Their natural environment includes lots of sunshine; they tend to live in rocky hillsides, scrublands, and Mediterranean forests.
The carapace of a Hermann’s tortoise is dark brown, olive green, or black, with bright yellow blotches.
The plastron is yellow with two dark bands on both sides of the seam.
If you live in a warm climate, an outdoor habitat is ideal for the Hermann’s tortoise.
Make sure the walls of the habitat extend into the ground for at least 12″ inches (30 cm) to ensure the tortoise does not burrow its way out.
Wooden enclosures are ideal for keeping a Hermann’s tortoise indoors, and they should be very large to give the tortoise room to move and explore.
A substrate mixture of soil, sand, and cypress bark is ideal for maintaining humidity levels and should be at least 2″ inches (5 cm) deep to allow for digging.
The basking side of the enclosure should maintain a temperature between 90-95° degrees Fahrenheit (35° C), with the cooler side being 80° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C).
Various rocks should be placed in the enclosure to give your Hermann’s tortoise places to climb.
The optimal humidity in the enclosure should be at least 25% and no more than 70%.
The diet of a Hermann’s tortoise should consist of a variety of leafy greens and vegetables such as dandelion greens, carrots, apples, parsley, bell peppers, and clover.
Calcium and vitamin supplements may be given at every meal by lightly dusting the tortoise’s food.
There are two varieties of Hermann’s tortoise, known as the eastern and western.
The eastern variety is known to be flat and broad, with brighter colors on its shell.
The western type has a more oval or rounded shape, and their shell coloring tends to be more brown and muddy.
Western Hermann’s tortoises tend to be smaller than their eastern counterparts.
The Hermann’s tortoise is very active and enjoys climbing, so ensure the walls of its enclosure are tall enough to prevent it from escaping.
Their personality is docile and gentle, and they maintain an even temperament, which makes them a great choice for novice reptile owners.
- Adult Size: 5″ inches (12.5 cm) for western males, 7″ inches (17.5 cm) for eastern males, and 6″ inches (15 cm) for western females, 8-9″ inches (22.5 cm) for eastern females.
- Lifespan: 50-100 years
- Average Initial Cost: $150-$500 USD
Species Name: Malacochersus tornieri
The pancake tortoise comes from southern Kenya, northern and eastern Tanzania, and parts of Zimbabwe and Zambia.
They tend to live on hillsides with rocky outcrops and arid scrublands, and savannas.
The most notable characteristic of the pancake tortoise is its flat shell, which is thin and slightly flexible.
The carapace is usually brown with variable patterns of radiating dark lines on the scutes.
The plastron is pale yellow with dark brown seams and bright yellow lines.
A screen top is essential for both outdoor and indoor habitats because pancake tortoises are avid climbers and likely to escape.
It is safer to keep them primarily indoors with supervised outdoor time due to their small size, which makes them attractive to predators, and their softer shells offer less protection.
A basking area ranging from 95-100° degrees Fahrenheit (38° C) should be provided at one end of the enclosure, while the cooler end should range from 75-85° degrees Fahrenheit (29° C).
The ideal humidity for a pancake tortoise should be between 40%-55%.
Rocks of varying sizes should be placed in the enclosure to give the pancake tortoise plenty of places to climb.
The substrate in the enclosure should be a mixture of sand and soil and should be deep enough for the tortoise to dig and burrow.
The pancake tortoise’s diet should consist of leafy greens and vegetables such as collard, mustard, and turnip greens, carrots, endive, squash, and dandelion greens.
Calcium and multivitamin supplements may also be added twice a week.
Unlike most tortoise species, the pancake tortoise will run and hide if it feels threatened.
Pancake tortoises have a friendly personality, and their running and climbing behavior is fun to watch.
With time, they will learn to recognize you and will even run to you for food.
- Adult Size: 6-7” inches (17.5 cm) long
- Lifespan: 25-35 years
- Average Initial Cost: $600-$1200 USD