Red-footed tortoises make excellent pets: they are known to be curious, individual, and brave! But if you are considering one, you will want to know how long you can expect for them to reside in your care. Here is everything you’ll need to know.
So, how long do red-footed tortoises live? Red-footed tortoises typically live for 20 to 40 years in the wild instead of 30 to 50 years (on average) in captivity. These tortoises require many things to thrive, but when you get it right, and they are healthy and happy, some have been known to reach the ripe old age of 90!
Of course, there are a lot of factors that will contribute to their lifespan.
Some of them a keeper can control, others not so much.
That’s why the lifespan of a red-foot differs greatly depending on whether they are wild or kept in captivity.
Nevertheless, let us look closely at what influences their longevity before moving on to what a keeper can do to ensure they live for as long as possible.
Life Expectancy for Wild vs. Pet Red-Footed Tortoises
The life expectancy of wild vs. pet red-footed tortoises can differ by 10 years or more. A wild red-footed tortoise can expect to live for 20 to 40 years. Pet red-footed tortoises in captivity can enjoy a much longer life, provided they’re in a well-suited environment and are receiving the right care.
Domestic tortoises can live for 30 to 50 years on average, and even for as long as 90 years in some cases.
There are several reasons why wild red-footed tortoises usually have a shorter lifespan.
Other Animals (Predators)
When tortoises are in their babyhood stage (less than 6 months old), their shells will be soft and, therefore, easier to crush by another hungry animal.
Some juvenile tortoises also get taken away by predators if they haven’t been able to find a place to burrow and hide.
Some animals who typically go after young tortoises are:
- Falcons (and other birds of prey)
- Ring-tailed coatis
- Tegu lizards
Note that dogs and cats are on this list, so if you have other pets in your home, you’re going to need to keep an eye on them and look out for your tortoise!
Once the shell of a red-footed tortoise has hardened, there are only two predators they need to watch out for:
- Human beings
Jaguars have such powerful jaws that they can crunch through a tough carapace of an adult tortoise!
But these are wild cats of course, and once we take this species from its native homeland, that risk goes out the window!
But then there is always us humans…
Wild red-footed tortoises can become injured or die from adverse weather conditions and, in particular, natural catastrophes.
Several events can have a dramatic impact on the life expectancy of wild tortoises, such as:
- Fires (wildfires, forest fires)
- Sudden weather changes (particularly harsh cold conditions, as red-footed tortoises don’t hibernate)
- Littering (tortoises can eat discarded food waste that isn’t meant for them, leading to health problems)
Of course, pet tortoises are protected from these types of problems.
They don’t experience food shortages because of weather or other types of devastation – they get room service every day.
Or at least, they should!
Tortoises will naturally eat a variety of foods in the wild and will be drawn to eat what’s best for them at any given time.
The caveat, though, is that healthy food needs to be available – and if it isn’t, a wild tortoise will eat the next best thing.
Their lifespan is then impacted, as tortoises need a range of nutrients to thrive.
Your tort relies on you to provide a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, which you can do when you know what a healthy red-footed tortoise needs (see below).
Factors Affecting Red-Footed Tortoise Life Expectancy
The factors affecting the life expectancy of your red-footed tortoise are the suitability of their habitat, the quality of their diet, and whether they receive regular check-ups at a suitable vet.
The best thing for your tortoise to thrive is to replicate its natural habitat as much as possible.
Wild red-footed tortoises come from dry and wet forested areas (rainforests as well as dry forests), as well as the savanna and grasslands.
They are found all over South America and in the Caribbean (in Barbados and Trinidad).
These reptiles prefer forested, humid habitats with dry flooring.
In terms of a quality diet, they thrive on a mixture of leaves, grasses, flowers, fungi, and some fruit.
In the wild, red-footed tortoises also eat some animal protein such as slugs, snails, and even carrion (which you won’t need to source for your friend, thankfully! See below for our recommendations).
What Do Red-Footed Tortoises Need to Survive?
To survive, red-footed tortoises need the proper diet, as well as plenty of water.
Red-footed tortoises come from the more humid parts of the world, so they need more water than other species.
If your tortoise is a baby or a young tortoise (under 6 months old), know that these tortoises tend to dry out faster than older tortoises.
You can help them stay healthy by soaking them daily in warm, shallow water for 8 to 12 minutes.
Soaking helps your tort stay fully hydrated, and the water helps keep them clean and free from potentially harmful bacteria, which could cause health problems later.
Older red-footed tortoises can enjoy a soak once or twice a week, for 15 to 30 minutes.
You may not have to do this yourself: adult tortoises tend to know when they need hydration, and many will go and sit in their water dishes themselves.
Just make sure the water is clean, as tortoises will often defecate while they drink!
Make sure the water dish is large enough that your tortoise can climb in comfortably: the container also needs to be sturdy so that it doesn’t tip over.
Red-footed tortoises are eager eaters, but you need to feed them a species-appropriate diet.
Feed your Red-Foot primarily dark leafy greens and broadleaf weeds.
Here are some weeds your friend will love:
- Common plantain
And there are many more!
You can also offer various chopped veggies, such as:
- Pumpkin, zucchini, and other squashes
- Romaine lettuce (not iceberg, which has no nutritional value)
- Greens (turnip, mustard, collard)
Red foot tortoises also love tropical fruits that are native to their natural habitat.
Offer small pieces of papaya, mango, berries, melon, or banana as occasional treats.
Only offer bananas very occasionally, as they are higher in sugar than other fruits.
How To Tell If Your Red-Footed Tortoise Is Getting Old
If you don’t know your tortoise’s date of birth, you can’t tell precisely how old they are, but there are things to look out for that give you a rough idea and can mean they are getting old.
The older the tortoise, the more worn their shell (bumps and ridges smooth out over time).
Older tortoises also have more rings on their scutes (the shapes on the top of their shell).
Some people count the rings as a very rough estimate of their pet’s age, but this is only a guess.
Scute rings develop during periods of feast and famine, so it isn’t always a case of one ring per year.
Rings are just part of the overall picture, along with some other factors (see below).
You might notice that your tortoise isn’t as active as it used to be.
This could be a sign of old age, or it could be a health problem, so take your friend to the vet if you’re unsure.
Many tortoises will naturally eat less food as they age since they need fewer nutrients when they’re less active.
Other animals will eat the same amounts, but they’ll prefer leafy greens rather than starchier veggies that they used to love. They may stop eating fruit.
Whatever the case, go with what your tort wants.
However, if you notice a very sudden change in diet, a vet visit is a good idea.
How To Ensure a Red-Footed Tortoise Reaches Their Life Expectancy
To ensure that your tortoise enjoys the best and most extended life possible, make sure you provide a suitable habitat, as well as the highest-quality food.
The Best Habitat
The best habitat for a red-footed tortoise will include as many elements as possible from their native environment.
These animals come from humid forests.
They need 60 to 85% humidity and ambient temperatures that don’t go below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hatchlings need a slightly warmer atmosphere, with temperatures staying above 70 degrees.
Both adults and hatchlings thrive in temperatures that don’t go above 95 degrees.
If your pet’s habitat is outside (ideal if you live in a warm climate), make sure that it stays humid and is escape-proof.
The walls need to be high, with a roof that is sturdy enough to keep away predators.
Include a weatherproof shelter, as well as some hiding spots (logs or large rocks work well).
If you need to increase the humidity, you can put a sprinkler or a mister in the enclosure.
This is a must for an indoor enclosure (as well as a UVB lamp and a basking area).
If your enclosure is indoors, use plexiglass or another material that isn’t see-through.
You don’t want your tort to long for whatever they can see outside!
Provide a substrate using a mix of play sand and cypress mulch, with a large bit of moss (peat or sphagnum).
This is the kind of one you should look to buy from Amazon.
Make sure there’s plenty of room for your pet to explore.
It needs to be suitable to accommodate their size, first and foremost.
These animals are also used to roaming and grazing, so your red-footed tortoise will need a space that’s at least 6 feet by 6 feet, but bigger is better.
You can offer your pet plenty of opportunities for exploring and grazing by employing edible landscaping with tortoise-friendly plants.
Red-footed tortoises are curious animals and they are used to foraging for themselves, so you’ll be saving on food bills while providing your friend with plenty of enrichment!
As with any food that you feed your tortoise, do your best to provide food free from pesticides (organic is preferred).
If you have a yard, avoid using pesticides so that you can benefit from the free food of homegrown tasty weeds and flowers.
If your tort has left some food behind, remove it within a few hours.
You don’t want spoiled food in the enclosure, as it attracts bacteria and pests.
To ensure your tortoise shell stays healthy, you want to sprinkle a calcium supplement powder over their food once a week.
The correct calcium levels are crucial to avoid bone disease, malformations in the shell, and other problems.
If you aren’t sure if your friend is getting enough calcium, check with your vet or a reptile specialist.
Red foot tortoises are generally considered to be medium-lived.
Nevertheless, compared to other pets, they do live a long time.
So, if you are on the fence as to whether to get one as a pet, do think long and hard.
This should not be a spontaneous decision.
Chances are, it will not just be you looking after them, and you will likely need to rely on your family at some point.
Besides, life and circumstances change, and you need to ensure this reptile can get the care and attention it deserves. For its entire life!
And then there’s the cost of ownership, but that’s a topic for another time.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.