Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises

Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoise
Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoise. Getty Images/FernandoPodolski

Cherry head red-footed tortoises are considered a smaller variant of the larger ​red-footed tortoise and are closely related to the yellow-footed tortoise.​ Since they're technically the same type of tortoise as the red-footed tortoise, cherry heads have the same Latin name of Geochelone carbonaria and almost identical care requirements. They grow to be less than 12 inches long and can live up to 50 years in captivity—possibly longer in the wild.

Breed Overview

Scientific Name: Geochelone carbonaria

Common Name: Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises

Adult Size: Less than 12 inches long

Life Expectancy: Up to 50 years in captivity—possibly longer in the wild.

About Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises

Some people believe cherry heads were intentionally bred to be small versions of red-footed tortoises, but they're actually native to Brazil. They're often found along rivers and close to the edge of forests.

Red-footed tortoises are very popular pet tortoises and therefore have become vulnerable to extinction in the wild due to people catching them and selling them as pets. You should never purchase a wild-caught tortoise; instead, seek out captive-bred cherry heads if you're looking to adopt one as a pet.

Feeding Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises

In the wild, cherry head red-footed tortoises are omnivores and eat a wider range of foods than many other species of tortoises. It's very important not to feed them a lot of animal protein, as one very small serving of moistened low-fat cat food or lean meat every other week is enough.

A variety of fresh, dark, leafy greens such as dandelion greens, endive, mustard greens, and escarole (monitor the calcium to phosphorous ratios of these greens), plus vegetables and fruits (these tortoises tolerate fruit better than many other species), should also be fed. A calcium and vitamin D3 supplement should be given a few times a week as well.

Housing Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises Outdoors

This species is native to tropical areas and prefers a humid climate. A sturdy, escape-proof enclosure can be provided outdoors and a sprinkler or mister can be used to increase the humidity, if needed. A muddy wallow is a necessary feature as well as a pan of clean water for wading. An area densely planted with vegetation provides a cool retreat and a natural habitat.

A doghouse-type shelter can be used for adult cherry head red-footed tortoises and the enclosure should be heated if nighttime temperatures drop below 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius). They can safely live in daytime temperatures that reach up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (32-35 degrees Celsius).

The walls of the enclosure should be about a foot high and also go a few inches below the ground to prevent your cherry head red-footed tortoise from digging and escaping. Many people add netting or wire to the tops of the enclosures if they are worried about predators such as raccoons or dogs.

Housing Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises Indoors

If you choose to house your cherry head red-footed tortoise inside, then you'll need a large enclosure—roughly one that is three feet by five feet or larger. Cypress bark as a substrate helps retain humidity, although paper will also work and is easy to clean. Cypress bark is preferred as it's very similar to the tortoise's natural habitat.

A UVA/UVB light is necessary for an indoor enclosure since your tortoise isn't regularly exposed to unfiltered sunlight and the enclosure should be heated using special heat bulbs. Just like other red-footed tortoises, a basking spot of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) should be provided with the day time thermal gradient getting no lower than about 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (27-32 degrees Celsius). Nighttime temperatures can drop to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) but if the enclosure gets any cooler than that you will be putting your tortoise at risk for developing a respiratory infection and/or hypothermia.

A pan of water should be provided at all times for your red-footed tortoise to walk into and the enclosure should be kept humid. A hide should be placed at the cool end of the enclosure for a sheltered retreat for your tortoise.

Hibernation

This species of tortoise does not hibernate but they may start to slow down during the colder months. Do not be alarmed if your cherry head is less active in the wintertime.