After doing some research on tortoises as pets, you might be considering the leopard species in particular. But considering tortoises can vary quite dramatically in size, it’s certainly a good idea to question what to expect. Besides, you need to know whether you have the space to accommodate them! With this in mind, here is what you need to know.
So, how big do leopard tortoises get? Leopard tortoises grow to about 16 inches (head to tail) on average, although they have been known to be as long as 28 inches. They vary in weight too, with an average of 29 lbs, with some getting as heavy as 55 lbs. Subspecies, gender, diet, and habitat are all factors that can largely influence their final size.
The truth is, there is a huge variety in this species.
And other tortoise species, for that matter.
Nonetheless, knowing how to properly care for a leopard tortoise is paramount to ensure it achieves its growth potential – whatever that may be.
So let us now delve deeper into their size, including the most important question of all; how much space do you need to own one!
What Age Is a Leopard Tortoise Fully Grown?
Leopard tortoises are considered fully grown when they reach sexual maturity. From the age of 12 to 15 years old, they are thought to be fully grown.
It can be easy to tell the age of a tortoise (up to a point) by looking at their scutes.
They’re the distinct plates that make up your tortoise’s shell.
Tortoises don’t grow scutes as they age. They stretch out so you can read the ridges between each separate plate to tell what age they are.
However, when leopard tortoises get past a certain age, these ridges fade away, making it near impossible to identify their age by scutes alone.
When leopard tortoise eggs are laid, they’re only about 1 to 1.5 inches long. So, it makes sense that a new hatchling will be a similar size.
During their first few years of life, they go through incredibly fast growth spurts, which do eventually slow down immensely.
Juvenile leopard tortoises can grow up to an inch in a matter of months.
But then they will reach an age when this slows, and it’ll be hard to see more than an inch growth in 12 to 18 months.
Factors That Can Influence Growth Rate And Full Size
Factors that influence leopard tortoise growth rate include their diet, subspecies, gender, and UV exposure.
In fact, there are a whole host of factors that can affect your tortoise’s growth rate, such as stress, overcrowding, overhandling, and genetics.
Providing your tortoise with the correct diet and enough water is one of the key factors to getting them to their full-size potential.
Leopard tortoises are herbivores and are from climates abundant in plants and succulents.
80% of their dietary intake needs to be plants, leafy greens, and weeds. The rest can be made up of tortoise-approved feed and the rare treats of fruit.
Provide them with plenty of timothy hay and grass to graze on, with fresh water every day.
Their portion sizes should be roughly the same size as their shell.
Vegetables such as collard greens, watercress, and carrots can be given in small amounts every day on their hay.
Treats such as fruit should only be given in tiny amounts once every few weeks as the high sugar content will upset their digestive system.
If your tortoise has a calcium deficiency, supplementing their diet with calcium-rich foods is vital for maximum growth.
Foods like cuttlefish bones (found in the bird section) promote good beak health as well as provide extra calcium to their diet.
How big your leopard tortoise will grow depends on where they originate from.
For example, the Giant South African leopard subspecies (Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis) can grow up to 24 inches, although they average 14-18 inches.
Leopard tortoises from Ethiopia and Somalia can grow up to 30 inches.
Knowing which subspecies your tortoise is from will influence how much space they’ll need to reach their size potential.
Females tend to be bigger in size than males, but, again, it depends on the subspecies you’re choosing from. With some, they are similarly sized, and, with other subspecies, the male is bigger.
To help distinguish gender, males have a concave plastron (belly) and larger tails.
As leopard tortoises are native to sunny climates, mimicking this sun exposure in their enclosure is crucial.
Leopard tortoises absorb the sun’s ultraviolet rays and vitamin D. They need this vitamin D, like humans, to stay in good health and maintain strong, healthy bones.
This is especially important during their growth spurts to achieve their full growth potential.
Without this exposure, leopard tortoises are extremely vulnerable to developing metabolic bone disease (MBD).
Without UV light, the ratio of phosphorous to calcium within their bodies is unbalanced and results in MBD.
This condition causes soft, weak bones and causes deformities in their limbs, and massively inhibits their growth potential. It can even be fatal if left untreated for too long.
To help prevent MBD, regularly check that the UV lamps are always in working order.
How Much Space Does A Leopard Tortoise Need?
Leopard tortoises need more space than other tortoise species. If you’re unable to safely keep them outdoors due to climate or other issues, they’ll need an indoor pen of at least 10×10 ft with walls at least 2 ft high.
Leopard tortoises need heat to thrive, so if you live in a cold climate and/or have a very draughty house, you might want to reconsider this species.
They have no tolerance for cold and need heat all year round. They also need plenty of sunlight or UV exposure, so an outdoor enclosure would be ideal.
If you’re planning on keeping your leopard tortoise outside, you should essentially try to provide as much space as you can, although a minimum of 80 ft² is advised.
Although you will need to make sure to keep it fenced well against predators. Even a friendly dog will be interpreted as a predator to the tortoise.
Try to mimic their natural habitat by providing plenty of grasses and hay for them to be able to graze.
And keep a shallow bowl of fresh water for your tortoise to hydrate with.
Leopard tortoises like to burrow and dig, so placing the outdoor pen over bare ground is ideal for maintaining their natural environment.
Create a basking area by placing a flat rock at one end of the pen where the sun shines the longest. Tortoises, like humans, absorb vitamin D from the sun to help maintain good health and bones.
You may not have the space or the right climate to keep your leopard tortoise outside. Keeping your pet inside will require more effort to maintain their good health.
As mentioned, they need an area of at least ten by 10 ft with walls of 2 ft.
Ideally, a small spare room in a warm part of the house would work. Use grasses, hay, or other organic substrates to line the enclosure floor.
Because they are being kept indoors, they won’t have natural sunlight and heat to stay warm and healthy, so the enclosure needs to have reptile heat lamps.
These include basking lamps and possibly ceramic heaters.
Daytime temperatures need to be between 80-90°F, and nighttime temperatures shouldn’t go below 65°F. Tortoises cannot tolerate cold conditions.
Providing a basking area with a lamp that can reach 95°F will help combat that.
Tortoises don’t like high humidity and need between 40-60% during the day and up to 80% at night.
A humidity gauge or hygrometer will help you keep the enclosure’s humidity in check. To help increase nighttime humidity, you can mist the substrate or provide a humid hide box/cave.
With a humid hide box/cave, line it with moist peat moss or ground coconut husk so your tortoise can comfortably lie on it.
This added moisture will help them grow a smooth shell and prevent pyramiding. This is especially important when they are going through rapid growth spurts.
It is important to note that leopard tortoises are extremely vulnerable to getting respiratory infections. This is especially true for tortoises that are kept indoors in an enclosure that is too humid.
Improperly monitored humidity and temperature levels will cause your tortoise’s respiratory tract to become inflamed and hinder growth.
When the tract is inflamed, they might spit/cough out discharge to try to clear the infection.
Shell rot is a nasty condition that can affect leopard tortoises. This condition is caused by a fungal infection and can result in a dry, flaky shell that gives off a foul odor.
If this is left untreated, not only will it cause physical damage to the shell, but it can invade the tortoise’s internal organs.
To help prevent your leopard tortoise from contracting any of these conditions and affecting their health and growth, it’s vital to keep their pen clean.
Ideally, their pen needs to be cleaned and disinfected once a month (regardless of dealing with an indoor or outdoor enclosure).
And for their substrate indoors to be changed regularly too.
Leopard tortoises are an excellent choice of species.
They are the fourth largest species of tortoises in the world, but they are docile and happy to own.
Although they grow quite large and they require a lot of space, once you have their needs met, they’ll certainly reward you the satisfaction of watching them thrive in your care.
And if you are still on the fence about other tortoise species and their sizes, be sure to check out my other tortoise size guides below:
- How Big Do Russian Tortoises Get?
- How Big Do Red Foot Tortoises Get?
- How Big Do Sulcata Tortoises Get?
- How Big Do Hermann Tortoises Get?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.