Saturday, February 20, 2010

"What do I feed my Greek Tortoise?" Part 2

I have been frequenting a great site that I found a little while back called There is some pretty good generic information on there that is helpful to any beginner keeper of chelonians. The page that I really like, however, is the Tortoise Blog. This site is pretty well-known so a lot of people get on and ask all sorts of questions. Honestly, many of the questions that I have read would be better posed to a veterinarian than to whomever happens to read and respond to a posting (and that's what I usually tell these folks--"Take your tortoise to a veterinarian").
Yesterday I came across a post from D who has a [beautiful] Golden Greek Tortoise. She asked three very good questions:

1.Is my tortoise getting fed properly?
2.Do I need to trim his nails and how?
3.Is shell flaking normal and should I use calcium supplement again?

Realizing that I haven't addressed the food issue for a while I will answer D's first question in this posting (her other questions I answered on the blog).
You mentioned that you might try feeding him spinach because some blogs said that it was okay while other listed it as a calcium inhibitor. Firstly, props for trying to research what your Greek Tortoise needs and being willing to do what it takes to take care of him. Secondly, don't give him spinach. The sources that have told me to not feed them spinach have, without exception, been more scholarly than those that deemed spinach to be safe. Here is a link to the best site that I have found so far on what to feed Mediterranean Tortoises (to which group Greek Tortoises belong). You will have to scroll down a bit to see the "Mediterranean Tortoises" section, but you will be pleased to find that it is the most extensive on the page.

Basically, a diet high in weeds and edible flowers is going to offer the variety of foods and nutrients that they both need and desire. Fruits are sparse in their natural habitat and should therefore be offered very sparingly (I don't feed Hector and Phoebe fruit more than once a month or so, and even then it will just be a bite or two) as they often cause diarrhea and can potentially cause more serious health problems. Dandelion greens and edible flowers form a large part of their diet during the winter when it's hard to come by a large variety of other weeds.
Here in the US, Whole Foods has been an excellent shopping location for Hector and Phoebe as they carry a large bundle of Dandelion Green and also small packages of edible flowers for only a few dollars each. We have learned that Hector and Phoebe don't really like rose petals too much (though they will each them a little less grudgingly one petal at a time by hand) but they love snap dragons and pansies. So, we bought some little seed packets, sowed some seeds in a planter, and now we have some sprouts. Hopefully within several weeks we will have something resembling flower buds starting to form (but I'm not a gardener, so we'll see what happens).
Occasionally we will feed Hector and Phoebe some regular lettuce or some tomato or squash. We'll even give them some oatmeal sometimes, but this is always either raw oats or just boiled in water. They never eat oatmeal from a package or with any kind of flavoring or sweetener on it--only raw or cooked in plain water. But we have even strayed away from this because they would not find oats in the wild (but it sure did make Delilah look funny when she ate it).
Well, D, I hope that I have answered your question about whether you're feeding your Greek Tortoise what he needs. Feel free to reply with any additional questions.


  1. I want to get a greek tortise, but my mom says I have to learn about them first, soooo this REALLY helped!!!!!!

  2. I want one too. I've begged and begged and done a whole bunch of power points about them. This will realy help.

  3. i have a greek tortoise and i have been feeding her Bibb lettuce, and she loves it. i was just wondering if that would be in there natrual habitat.

  4. Unfortunately, the term "Greek Tortoise" can be used rather loosely. There are many different species of Chelonians that share the common name of Greek Tortoise. My tortoises are Testudo graeca ibera and come from the mountains of Morocco. Another species can be found in the hill country of Turkey but it is still a Greek Tortoise even though it would be much less melanistic and would have a different diet.
    My point is this--Unless you know the region that your species of Greek Tortoise originally came from there is no way of knowing what her natural diet should be. Even if you know where she came from it could be very hard to know what she would have eaten there and even harder to actually feed her those foods.
    I have done a lot of research (as much as I can from the other side of the world, anyway) to find out what my tortoises would have eaten in the mountains of Morocco. But I still don't know exactly. I try very hard to give them a varied diet. I am growing a couple of different varieties of lettuce in my garden along with tomatoes, bell peppers and squash. They love all of these foods and they need to have a variety of food just like we do. If you only give your tortoise one type of food (even if it's a good food like lettuce) then she will eventually develop problems, just like you or I would.
    I think that we're too accustomed to pets like dogs and cats that just eat their dog or cat food and that's all they need. I'm not a veterinarian or a dietitian (if a professional from either of these fields reads this post please, correct me if I'm way off-track) but I'm guessing that if there were as many people keeping turtles and tortoises as keep dogs and cats then pet food manufacturers would come up with a similar food for our chelonians in order to take advantage of this market niche.
    In the mean time, feed your sweet little greek tortoise as much of a variety of food as you can find/afford. Generally speaking, they need foods that are high in calcium (like dandelions, but make sure that they haven't been sprayed with weed-killer) and low in protein (spinach is an example of a food that is high in protein) as a high-protein diet can cause some real problems with vegetarians like Greek Tortoises.
    I hope that this has helped!

  5. I have 2 young Greek tortoises, they are only 7 and they are adorable. I have both of them in a very large breeding size tank. they are loved and spoiled by my family. My male is constantly banging into my female. I understand he is at the age of wanting to mate with her, and she wants nothing to do with him. She keeps backing up and flipping him over onto his back. I have heard that it is dangerous for a turtle or tortoise to be on there back for to long. Summer is over and we have all gone back to school and or work, the "too long" is a bit vague for me. Can you please give me some educated information on this so my boys do not worry about their pets all day?

    1. Great question, Tanya.
      When I first read your post I had to chuckle for two reasons. First, Hector has been trying to get romantic with Phoebe for two summers now but Phoebe is about as disinterested as a girl can be. So I think I know what your tortoises' relationship is like because mine have a similar love-hate thing going on. Second, I thought that was very creative of your female to simply back-up and put the male on his back! Phoebe just sits down and after a while walks away.
      Now to your question:
      I have also heard the same warning, "It's dangerous for turtles and tortoises to be on their back for too long." I never got any concrete answer either, but I can offer you my experience and hopefully that will give you and your family some solace.
      Our first Greek Tortoise, Sampsom, was super-strong and an amazing climber. My wife and I had him while in college and we constructed a simple tortoise table (which I realize now was quite undersized) that sat atop a card table in our apartment. A few times after coming home from classes he was missing from his tortoise table, but after scouring the apartment we found him sleeping in a corner! We thought it was amazing that he was okay after falling about four feet onto the carpet! We learned from this that tortoise shells are super-tough, but it's still dangerous, so eventually we figured-out how to make his home escape-proof.
      However, a couple of times when he got out he landed in such a way that he couldn't get off of his back. The first time this happened my first thought was that he was dead because when I saw him from the doorway he was just lying there with his limbs hanging-out and not moving at all! I ran over and yelled his name at which his eyes shot open and he jerked a little as if he had been startled. I picked him up, put him in his home, fed him, and he acted totally normally the rest of the day.
      There have been a few other instances with our other Greek Tortoises when we have returned home to find one on his back, each time with a similar reaction: The tortoise almost seemed to say, "Oh, thanks--my neck was starting to get sore in that position." But they never seemed to react in a, "HOLY COW I HAVE BEEN LIKE THIS FOR HOURS AND I DON'T THINK I'LL EVER BE THE SAME BECAUSE I HAD NIGHTMARES OF ANIMALS COMING TO EAT ME IN MY HELPLESS STATE!" kind of way.
      I know I'm taking quite a bit of liberty in interpreting the "facial expressions" of an animal that that lacks the ability to make a facial expression, but my point is that they have always been just fine.
      There are a few reasons why I think this idea is propagated among turtle and tortoise keepers:
      --If a tortoise is kept in an outdoor enclosure then being flipped leaves him susceptible to predators.
      --If a tortoise is kept in an outdoor enclosure and there is some kind of netting, gating or other protection from predators there is still the danger of overheating/dehydration from being exposed to the sun for too long when flipped.
      --If a tortoise is kept in an indoor enclosure then he will (or at least should) have a heat lamp and the danger of overheating/dehydration still exists is he flips under or near the heat lamp.

      So, to sum-up, I don't think it's a really big deal if your tortoise is on his back while you're all away at school/work. The only slight danger might be in his flipping-over directly underneath the heat lamp right after everyone leaves and he's under it for 8 full hours. Even then he'll probably be okay, but you may want to consider making it hard for him to actually invert directly under the lamp.
      One idea:
      You might place a flat rock under the lamp that's thin enough for them to climb on top of when they want to bask but thick enough that if he flips over next to and he catches the edge of it with his claw that he will be able to pull on it to right himself without accidentally moving the rock out of reach in the process . This way he will not be able to flip-over directly underneath the lamp and if he inverts near it he will have a better chance of righting himself by using the edge of the rock.
      I hope that this has helped!

    3. I'm a sulcata tortoise, myself :) glad to join this site! Please "follow" my blog too :)

  6. my mom and dad said before I get a tortoise I to learn about them so I looked up your site and it helped me thank you

  7. I'm glad that I could help. Remember this, every tortoise is unique in his space requirements. I have seen tortoises that are perfectly content in a fairly small living enclosure but others the same size that are constantly trying to climb the walls to get out. But as they get bigger tortoises will always need more space. Russian Tortoises need to be able to dig, but Greek Tortoises love to climb, so keep that in mind as you try to figure out the best enclosure for your new tortoise.
    Have fun!

  8. I finally got a Greek tortoise on my 13th birthday but I'm not sure if it is male or female but I'm pretty sure its a Male, and his name is Izzy

  9. Omg Forrest, I have two russian's but as of tonight Im unsure and thinking the baby may be a greek. Can u help if I can get u a picture? Also, I was reading your response to the tortoise flipping over. Your caps had me laughing so hard that I had tears. Im trying to read it to someone and couldnt get through because I was dying, lol.... u are too funny.

  10. Does anyone still mod. this page?? I have a ton of questions and need help!!

  11. Hi it is not good for you tortise to be in its back to long as when they on there back it grushes there lungs and they can sufercate they can not breath if they are on there back and need putting the right way straight away

  12. My dog is in heat and the turtle chases her all over the yard. Poor girl...that turtle is fast!#

  13. My dog is in heat and the turtle chases her all over the yard. Poor girl...that turtle is fast!#

  14. I've had an adorable Greek tort for almost five years. He won't eat anything except lettuce and tomatoes. A friend sent me "mazuri" from abroad. (I live in Jordan and there is VERY little or NO CARE for animals/pets here). I tried once and time again to feed my tort some, uselessly. He just will NOT eat it, even after I left him without food (lettuce) for hours and hours, days on end! How can I get him to eat mazuri?

    Appreciate your help. Thank you.

  15. So, I've been dying to get a tortoise for ages, and my mom says to learn about them first. I was wondering if you had any information that would be necessary for owning one. Also, I live in Canada so I do know lots are illegal here. Would you know if a Greek tortoise would be legal?
    And which tortoises do you think would be cheapest? I don't have a job (I'm still living with my parents), other than babysitting, so it would be difficult to own a high maintenance and expensive to feed tortoise.

    1. Not to come across rude or anything as thats not my intention. My son has a greek tortoise and with it, habitat, supplies and food. I can say in the first week it was over 1200.00 and basically $30 a week in variety of foods plus suppliments on top of that. And to get ur first vet check up which should be done every 3-4 months until ur FULLY educated on them is $189.00 plus tax here