Names for Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises
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.
Life Span of Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises
Cherry head red-footed tortoises live up to 50 years in captivity and possibly even longer.
They are definitely a long-term commitment like many other types of tortoises.
Size of Cherry Head Red-Footed Tortoises
Adult cherry head red-footed tortoises are typically under 12 inches in length.
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. This smaller variation of Geochelone carbonaria is an Eastern variant that has a red head and has therefore been titled the cherry head red-footed tortoise in the pet trade. They are 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. Captive bred cherry heads are available so you should never purchase a wild-caught tortoise.
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 is 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 used a few times a week on the food 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 retreat into.
This species of tortoise does not hibernate but they may start to slow down during the colder months so do not be alarmed if your cherry head is less active in the winter time.