Small Tortoises

Unless you know a fair bit about tortoises, you might not realize just how many different species there are. They might all look pretty similar. But they have some important differences.

If you want a tortoise but don’t have much space, then there are some small tortoises that you can bring into your home. The important thing about these small tortoises is that they will stay small. (So you won’t have a repeat of the “micro” pig fiasco of previous years).


The most important thing to consider about buying a tortoise as a pet is legality.

Some species and subspecies of tortoises are protected under laws that prevent the sale of exotic animals. This is partly due to them not thriving well in captivity. But also because some species and subspecies of tortoises are endangered. 

For example, the Indian Star tortoise is often touted as a great pet. But it is actually illegal to sell them. So, always take this into consideration. Not only because you don’t want to be breaking any laws.

But also because it will be harmful for the tortoise to live in your home. No matter how well you think you can take care of it, it’s not worth the risk.

So, here’s our guide to small tortoises that make the best (legal) pets.

Facts about Greek Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 125 years (although some have been recorded as living to 200 years old).

Average Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches

Scientific Name: Testudo Graeca

Family: Testudinidae

Subspecies:

  • T. g. Armeniaca (Amenia)
  • T. g. Buxtoni (Caspian Sea)
  • T. g. Cyrenaica (Libya)
  • T. g. Floweri (Jordan)
  • T. g. Graeca (North Africa and South Spain)
  • T. g. Ibera (Turkey)
  • T. g. Marokkensis (North Morocco)
  • T. g. Nabeulensis (Tunisia)
  • T. g. Soussensis (South Morocco)
  • T. g. Terrestris (Israel/Lebanon)
  • T. g. Whitei (Algeria)
  • T. g. Zarudnyi (Iran/Azerbaijan)

Characteristics: 

  • Oblong-rectangular shell
  • Widely stretched spinal plates
  • Large symmetrical markings on top of the head
  • Large scales on the front legs
  • Spurs on each thigh

Care Guidance for Greek Tortoises:

Diet: Weeds, dried herbs

Environmental Temperature: 85°H/75°L

Baking Spot Temperature: 95°F to 100°F

Greek tortoises are ideal if you want a truly tiny tortoise. Adult Greek tortoises rarely grow bigger than 8 inches. As with most pet turtles, Greek tortoises are relatively easy to care for. They primarily live on a diet of weeds. But also enjoy dried herbs and other greenery. 

Unlike some other small tortoises, Greek tortoises can be legally kept as pets in the US. Although Greek tortoises aren’t native to the US, they are not considered to be exotic pets and so are not a protected species. 

Greek tortoises are docile and easy-going pets that generally won’t cause you any trouble. They are easy to care for and will be very happy if kept in the right environment.

Greek tortoises are native to southern Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia. Male Greek tortoises should be kept in a separate space from any female tortoises that you have as they are prone to harassing them. 

One of the most important factors to consider when caring for a Greek tortoise is its lifespan. Greek tortoises can live between 50 to 125 years, if not even longer.

So there’s a good chance that you will have to leave your tortoise to someone else if they outlive you. Although there are animal centers that will take care of tortoises. It’s a good idea to consider whether or not your children or grandchildren will take your tortoise.

2. Hermann’s Tortoise

Facts about Hermann Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 50 years

Average Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches

Scientific Name: Testudo Hermanni

Family: Testudinidae

Subspecies: 

  • T. h. Hermanni (Western)
  • T. h. Boettgeri (Eastern)

Characteristics: 

  • Tall rounded shell
  • Colored dark brown, olive green, or black
  • Accents of yellow
  • Unique scutes
  • Two dark bands on the underside
  • All feet have five claws
  • Males have longer tails with a large spur
  • Females are generally larger than males

Care Guidance for Hermann Tortoises:

Diet: Weeds, dried herb

Environmental Temperature: 85°H/75°L

Baking Spot Temperature: 95°F to 100°F

Hermann tortoises are very active creatures. They enjoy digging and running around (although, this will of course not be very quickly).

Hermann tortoises are also very easy to care for which makes them a great pet for a family. They will be fun for your children but won’t require a huge amount of work to care for them.

That said, their enjoyment of running and digging will require you to keep an eye on them. They should also have quite a bit of space. If you have a backyard, it would be a good idea to create a space for a Hermann tortoise.

Hermann tortoises also need to be well-hydrated and require regular bathing. So an outdoor space with a small, shallow pool will be the best environment for a Hermann tortoise. Male Hermann tortoises should be housed away from female tortoises as they will regularly harass them. 

Like many tortoises, Hermann tortoises only require a diet of weeds and herbs. But they also enjoy lettuce and other leafy greens.

3. Red-Footed Tortoise

Facts about Red-Footed Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 50+ years

Average Adult Size: 11 to 13 inches

Scientific Name: Chelonoidis carbonarius

Family: Testudinoidea

Subspecies: None currently identified

Characteristics:

  • Red spots on feet and legs
  • Yellow patch in the middle of each scute
  • Dark shell and limbs, in contrast to colored spots

Care Guidance for Red-Footed Tortoises:

Diet: Leaves, fruits, flowers, fungi, grasses

Environmental Temperature: 85°F to 90°F

Red-footed tortoises, despite their colorful exterior, are actually quite shy and reserved creatures. They enjoy spending time hidden or burrowed away somewhere.

They are mild-natured and docile but they do not enjoy being handled. So this isn’t a tortoise that enjoys being out and about and around people.

But, they are still active and enjoy digging and burrowing. They feel most safe and secure when hidden away, as they would normally burrow to hide from predators in the wild. 

As with most other pet tortoises, red-footed tortoises are relatively easy to care for. They do tend to compete with other males over females. But they are generally social creatures who will share food and enjoy being in groups.

4. Kleinmann’s Tortoise

Facts about Egyptian Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 70 to 100 years

Average Adult Size: 4 to 5 inches

Scientific Name: Testudo kleinmanni

Family: Testudinidae

Subspecies: None (currently).

Characteristics:

  • Short neck
  • Retractable head
  • High domed plastron
  • Colored plastron (usually white, pale gold, pink, yellow, or dark brown)
  • Yellow carapace, head, and limbs (although this can range from ivory-yellow to a yellow-brown)
  • Two dark triangles on each abdominal scute
  • Dark-edged scute

Care Guidance for Egyptian Tortoises:

Diet: Leafy greens and other vegetation

Baking Spot Temperature: 90°F

Egyptian tortoises, also known as Kleinnman’s tortoises, are some very tiny creatures. If you want a truly tiny tortoise that will be easy to care for, then a 5-inch Egyptian tortoise is ideal.

Female Egyptian tortoises are generally bigger than their male counterparts. But they will still reach little more than 400g in weight. Males usually reach around 100g. Male Egyptian tortoises are also usually slimmer and have longer tails.

The smuggling of Egyptian tortoises is quite a problem. So, if you choose an Egyptian tortoise as a pet, make 100% sure that you buy them from a reputable breeder. 

Egyptian tortoises thrive best in dry environments. They do not do well in humid conditions. This is because the natural habitat of an Egyptian tortoise is dry woodlands or deserts. 

5. Pancake Tortoise

Facts about Pancake Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 30 years

Average Adult Size: 6 to 7 inches

Scientific Name: Malacochersus tornieri

Family: Testudinidae 

Subspecies: None currently found

Characteristics:

  • Flat shell
  • Thin body
  • Pale yellow-brown shell
  • Yellow-brown head and limbs

Care Guidance for Pancake Tortoises:

Diet: Leafy greens, vegetation, weeds, and grasses

Environmental Temperature: 90°H/75°L

Baking Spot Temperature: 100°F

These tortoises are just as sweet and cute as their name suggests. For a small tortoise, they are a medium size. But they have very thin and flat shells (hence their name).

The scientific name for these tortoises refers to the scientist who discovered them, Gustav Tornier. But the name “Pancake tortoise” is just as appropriate. Although they generally reach around 7 to 8 inches in length, they usually don’t become much taller than an inch. 

In the wild, pancake tortoises live in very dry environments. They are native to Tanzania and Kenya. And they live in areas with very little standing water. So they do not like a humid environment.

Depending on where you live, pancake tortoises can be housed either indoors or outdoors. If you live somewhere hot and dry, or if that’s the general weather in the summer, then they will enjoy an outdoor enclosure. But, if you live somewhere cold or have difficult winters, then they should be kept indoors. Or at least brought indoors when the weather changes. 

Like most land tortoises, pancake tortoises live off a diet of leafy greens, various vegetation, and grasses. They are very agile and quick creatures, partly due to their size and weight. Pancake tortoises are very lightweight creatures. Their shells are especially lightweight, so make sure to handle them delicately.

If you choose to buy a pancake tortoise, then you must be very careful of whom you buy them from. Although they are bred in captivity and are doing relatively well, they are an endangered species.

Depending on where you live, the import and sale of pancake tortoises might not be illegal. But in 1981, Kenya banned the export of pancake tortoises without the written permission of the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

Tanzania also restricts the exportation of pancake tortoises. But, of course, there are still legal ways of buying a pancake tortoise. Just make sure to double-check the legitimacy of the breeder.

6. Russian Tortoise

Facts about Russian Tortoises

Average Lifespan: 50 years

Average Adult Size: 6 to 8 inches

Scientific Name: Agrionemys horsfieldii/Testudo horsfieldii

Family: Testudinidae

Subspecies:

  • T. h. horsfieldii
  • T. h. Kazachstania
  • T. h. rustamova 

Characteristics:

  • Females slightly larger than males
  • Broad, rounded carapace
  • Dorsoventrally flattened
  • Green-brown shell 
  • Yellow lines between scutes
  • Yellow-brown body

Care Guidance for Russian Tortoises:

Diet: Combination of leafy greens and weeds

Environmental Temperature: 85°H/75°L

Baking Spot Temperature: 90°F to 100°F

Russian tortoises can live well in most environments. They can thrive in even the most extreme conditions. So they can be kept either indoors or outdoors or both. If the weather and temperature where you live allow it, your tortoise should spend time both indoors and outdoors. 

Wherever you house your Russian tortoise, make sure that they have an enclosure that is big enough. Although these tortoises are all small, they all still need space to roam around and feel free. So, make sure their enclosures are a terrarium of at least 20 gallons. Or an enclosure or cage of around 4ft by 4ft.

Russian tortoises are very easy pets to care for. They can be housed in lots of different environments and, like most other land tortoises, only require a diet of greenery and vegetation. But, also like many other land tortoises, they do not enjoy being handled. They are not antisocial creatures but will generally keep to themselves. 

Conclusion

So, there you have a great range of small tortoises to choose from. The most important thing to remember when choosing a tortoise is to be careful who you buy from.

Tortoises have been exploited since they were first discovered. Many are still endangered or threatened today. And, even though you might care for them incredibly well, buying a tortoise from someone who is not legitimate further funds this exploitation.

Another important thing to remember is that few tortoises enjoy being handled or played with. So your tortoise will likely spend a lot of time alone.

That said, tortoises still make wonderful companions and are the perfect pet if you want some company but still enjoy your peace and quiet.

Tortoises don’t require a huge amount of care. But we have included pretty much everything you need to know to give your small tortoise a happy life.

Dorothy Razo
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