Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises

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

Since they are 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 are considered a smaller variant of the larger ​red-footed tortoise and are closely related to the yellow-footed tortoise.​

Names: Cherry-headed tortoise; cherry head red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria)

Size: Less than 12 inches long

Lifespan: 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 red-footed tortoises but in fact they are 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 a vulnerable species for 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 are 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 a lot of animal protein though as one very small serving of moistened low fat cat food or lean meat (e.g. one ounce for a full grown cherry head red-footed tortoise) every other week is enough.

A variety of fresh, dark, leafy greens such as dandelion greens, endive, mustard greens, and escarole (but monitor the calcium to phosphorous ratios of these greens), vegetables, and fruits should also be fed (they also tolerate fruit better than many other species). 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 will be used as well as a pan of clean water for your tortoise to crawl into. 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 night time temperatures drop below 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 degrees Celsius). Daytime temperatures can safely 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 work and is easy to clean (cypress bark is similar to what they would have in the wild).

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 also 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). Night time 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 your tortoise to find a sheltered retreat.


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