Various types of tortoise species have adapted to all kinds of habitats by evolving interesting behaviors and diets. People worldwide also own pet tortoises due to their intriguing features and lifestyles. However, the demand for these reptiles has created an illegal pet industry, threatening many tortoise breeds with extinction.
This article explores 18 out of 49 tortoise species, from those living in deserts to those roaming in forests. We aim to give readers an in-depth look into this region of the animal kingdom.
The Aldabra Giant Tortoise lives in the Seychelles and can live for over 100 years. Some individuals have even reached 200 years. Males can weigh up to 550 pounds, while females grow to 350 pounds.
Their diet consists mainly of grasses, leaves, and fibrous woody plant stems, although they occasionally eat small invertebrates and carrion. These social animals share meals among their large herds. Unknowingly, these tortoises help spread seeds in their habitats1.
When it comes to their snail-like pace, these giant tortoises move at 0.2 miles per hour.
The African Spurred Tortoise is the third-largest tortoise species worldwide. They can grow up to 30 inches and weigh over 100 pounds. Due to their size and spiky yellow-brown shells, they have earned the nickname "living tanks."
The African Spurred Tortoise has adapted to the desert heat by building underground burrows about ten feet deep. They are also solitary animals that seek out other tortoises only during the breeding season. Moreover, large conical spurs sit at the front of their shells, hence their name.
Greek Tortoises inhabit various landscapes in North Africa, Southern Europe, and parts of the Middle East. They can survive in Mediterranean forests, scrublands, lush meadows, and semi-desert landscapes.
The high-domed shell of a Greek Tortoise can assume multiple colors and patterns depending on the region. Their colorful shells make it challenging to spot them in the wild. Sadly, the illegal pet trade has threatened the species' survival.
Moreover, Greek Tortoises eat leaves, fruits, and flowers, although they may occasionally consume insects or carrion. They are most active in the early morning and evening and hibernate in winter.
The Indian Star Tortoise has a star-like pattern on its shell. It lives in the dry grasslands of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Interestingly, each shell has a distinct pattern.
In the wild, solitary Indian Star Tortoises can live up to 80 years and are typically solitary creatures. However, they become more social during the mating season following the monsoons. These tortoises are most active in the cooler morning and late afternoon; they seek shelter under vegetation or in burrows at midday.
This type of tortoise eats succulent leaves, native fruits, flowers, and grasses. They also consume a small amount of calcium-rich soil to maintain and strengthen their shells.
The Leopard Tortoise inhabits the grassy expanses of eastern and southern Africa. Its patterned shell, adorned with yellow spots and streaks, resembles a leopard, hence the name.
Unlike other tortoises, the Leopard Tortoise doesn't dig burrows but makes a home in abandoned animal burrows or beneath vegetation. Additionally, it has an uncanny ability to climb and even swim.
They eat seeds, grasses, succulents, and new shrub growths. Moreover, their role in the ecosystem is to disperse seeds throughout the forest floor, helping diverse plant life spread and grow.
Interestingly, this type of tortoise communicates using body language and subtle clucking noises, which reminds of birds rather than reptiles.
The Hingeback Tortoise is native to the rainforests and savannas of West and Central Africa. They emerge during the dawn and dusk to avoid the African heat. They eat leaves, fruits, insects, carrions, and small mammals.
This type of tortoise has flexible shells with a hinge-like structure at the back, which enables it to close tightly.
Additionally, Hingeback Tortoises spend most of their time in their burrows, a haven from extreme weather conditions and potential predators. Interestingly, while they appear distant, these tortoises often live in small groups.
The Hermann's Tortoise is native to Southern Europe. This tortoise species varies in size depending on the subspecies, featuring a hooked upper jaw and a shell adorned with a black and yellow pattern. The Western variant measures up to 7 inches, while the Eastern one can reach up to 12 inches.
Hermann's tortoises are most active in the early morning, foraging for plants, flowers, and the occasional fruit. As the day heats up, they retreat into their burrows or under vegetation for shade. In the late afternoon, as the day cools, they become active again.
Interestingly, the Hermann's Tortoise can endure temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit as they hibernate for several months during the winter. This species hibernates from October through March.
This tortoise inhabits Central Asia's barren, rocky landscapes spanning Iran to China. Moreover, they tend to thrive in cooler climates. They dig deep tunnels up to 10 feet long to survive the cold and avoid predators. They hibernate there until spring.
Additionally, Russian Tortoises feed on leafy greens, juicy fruits, and various flowers–high in fiber but low in protein. During the day, they bask in the sun and forage for food. Additionally, they are solitary and territorial creatures.
This species has become a famous pet tortoise in the United States.
As its name indicates, the Red-footed Tortoise has red or orange-colored scales on its legs and feet. These animals live in the forests and savannas of South America.
Unlike other tortoise species, the Red-footed Tortoise is sociable. They often engage in head-bobbing to establish dominance or attract mates.
They eat fruits, flowers, fungi, small insects, and scavenged meals. Curiously, they can also climb and swim.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise enjoys eating ripe fruits such as mangoes and bananas. They are native to the Amazon Basin of South America, including the rainforests and savannas of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, and Venezuela.
This reptile has striking yellow-orange scales on its limbs, head, and tail, hence the name. Moreover, their shells can change from black to brown. They eat grasses, leaves, fruits, flowers, carrion, and small invertebrates.
Furthermore, these types of tortoises are social creatures that enjoy group hangouts, especially when food is involved. They mate during the rainy season; females lay 5 to 15 eggs. With proper care, they can live for up to 100 years.
Yellow-footed Tortoises also enjoy basking in the sun. When threatened, they secrete unpleasant smells to fend off intruders.
As its name suggests, the Pancake Tortoise can flatten its body and fit into tight crevices. This physical adaptation helps them evade predators and find shelter in uneven terrain.
The Pancake Tortoise has a slim and flexible shell, resembling a pancake, which enables it to move quickly in the rocky landscapes of East Africa.
This animal seeks refuge in crevices to survive the unforgiving African heat, which keeps them cool and safe from predators.
They are social creatures that live in small colonies, sharing their homes with other tortoises. When threatened, they can block the entrance to their crevices using their hind legs.
Sadly, the exotic pet trade and habitat loss have led to Pancake Tortoises being critically endangered4.
The Elongated Tortoise can retract its head and limbs entirely into its shell, which protects it from predators and allows it to fit into tight spaces.
This tortoise species is native to South and Southeast Asia. Its elongated domed shell makes it easy to identify in its habitat. Moreover, the light brown and yellow shells help them camouflage into their forest environments.
Following the monsoon season, the mating rituals of Elongated Tortoises begin. After mating, the female lays her clutch of 2 to 8 eggs. The incubation lasts approximately 100 days, after which the newborns are ready to explore the world.
Unfortunately, the IUCN has classified Elongated Tortoises as a Critically Endangered species5.
The Egyptian Tortoise is one of the smallest tortoise species in the world, typically measuring only 4 to 6 inches in length. Moreover, these animals are colorful; male shells have yellow, orange, and black patterns.
It lives on the arid coastlines of Egypt and Libya. Their light, sandy shells help them blend into their surroundings, making them almost invisible. Moreover, their flattened shells allow them to burrow more quickly into the sand, which is essential for escaping the intense desert sun.
Mainly, they eat desert plants that they come across, from tough grasses to wilted leaves and, occasionally, a desert flower in full bloom. To help them survive the empty deserts, they have adapted to eat insects and small invertebrates.
Unfortunately, habitat loss and pet trade led to the critically endangered status of Egyptian Tortoises3.
The Marginated Tortoise can climb rocks and low branches. If spotted in the wild, it is common to observe them demonstrating their climbing skills.
The Marginated Tortoise is the largest tortoise species in Europe; they live primarily in Greece, Albania, and the southern side of the Balkans. They roam around landscapes, including scrublands, woodlands, and scale hillsides.
Marginated Tortoises bask in the morning sun and forage for food in the late afternoons. They mainly eat leaves, flowers, dandelions, clovers, and lettuce. During the winter, they hibernate.
Curiously, it takes around 20 years for Marginated Tortoises to reach maturity, and they can live to be over 100 years old.
The Galapagos Tortoise can live for over 100 years; some individuals have reached 150. It has a smooth dome or a saddle-backed shell, weighing over 800 pounds. Moreover, its long neck and robust legs carry it from arid lowlands to humid highlands.
Additionally, this tortoise eats grasses, leaves, cacti, fruits, and lichens. Mating is a year-round affair, but they become more active during the warmer months. After mating, the females lay between 1 to 16 eggs and hide them in a protected underground chamber where they can develop safely for about four months.
These giant types of tortoises often embark on long treks between feeding and nesting grounds. Curiously, they emit unique vocalizations that resemble a cow's moo crossed with a lion's roar.
The Radiated Tortoise has a shell adorned with yellow lines that radiate from the center, suggesting sunrays, hence its name. Males are larger than females, with more pronounced tails.
During the mating season, this type of tortoise produces an unusual vocalization that is rare among tortoises. Unfortunately, habitat loss and the illegal pet trade have caused a sharp decline in their numbers.
Unfortunately, the IUCN has classified Radiated Tortoises as a Critically Endangered species2.
The Desert Tortoise can slow their metabolism and live without water for months, helping them survive the harsh Mojave and Sonoran deserts across the southwestern United States and Mexico.
Life in the desert has made this animal evolve a water storage system that enables it to survive prolonged periods of drought. For instance, it stores water in its bladder, which it draws on for sustenance, like a mini canteen.
In addition, Desert Tortoises carve out burrows deep into the ground to escape the extreme desert heat and cold. These burrows also welcome many other desert dwellers.
The Gopher Tortoise can dig burrows up to 40 feet long and 10 feet deep. Moreover, these burrows also shelter 350 other species, including snakes, frogs, and rabbits, making them keystone species.
This animal lives in the southeastern United States, particularly in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. And are the only land tortoise in the area. Moreover, they are "keystone species" due to their essential role in the ecosystem.
Furthermore, this final type of tortoise primarily eats grasses, fruits, and flowers, with the occasional mushroom. It reaches sexual maturity between ten to 20 years.
The Galápagos Tortoise is the world's largest species of tortoise, weighing over 800 pounds.
Tortoises can live in deserts, grasslands, forests, and even islands.
Most types of tortoises are omnivorous. They primarily eat grasses, leafy greens, fruits, and occasionally flowers. However, some species feed on carrion, insects, and small invertebrates.
While some types of tortoise species hibernate during colder months, not all tortoises do the same. Hibernation depends on their natural habitat and its climate.
Tortoises can live anywhere from 80 to 150 years, depending on the species!
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