Greek Tortoises and Spur-Thighed Tortoises

Pet Tortoise Care

Portrait of a greek tortoise (testudo graeca).
Joan Vicent Cantó Roig/E+/Getty Images

Greek tortoises are commonly seen as pets. They, like any other pet tortoises, have specific husbandry requirements and can make very enjoyable pets.

Greek and Spur-thighed Tortoises

  • Name: Testudo graeca, Spur-thighed tortoise, Greek tortoise, not to be confused with the Hermann's tortoise which is a different species of Mediterranean tortoise
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years or more
  • Size: Up to 10 inches long

    Greek and Spur-thighed Tortoise Diet

    Tortoises are herbivores. Years ago tortoise owners would feed their pets canned cat and dog food to make them grow faster but it has since been discovered that a diet high in protein is harmful to tortoises. Therefore, a diet low in protein and high in fiber is much healthier than food meant for carnivores.

    A variety of dark, leafy greens such as collard greens, endive, fresh parsley, and dandelion greens should be the majority of your tortoise's diet. Timothy hay that is chopped up should be added for keeping your tortoise's beak trimmed and for the additional fiber. Small amounts of fruits such as chopped raspberries, strawberries, or apples may be added but should not make up more than 10% of the diet. Some tortoise owners choose to offer a small amount of gut-loaded crickets and mealworms but it is not necessary.

    Regular dusting with calcium powder on the veggies is recommended to make sure your tortoise is getting enough calcium as well.

    Tortoise Lighting

    Pet tortoises need two kinds of lighting - UVB lighting and lighting that emits heat. Under tank heaters don't do a good job at providing ambient heat, only keeping the bottom of the tank warm, therefore, heat lights are preferred, especially for the large enclosures that tortoises require.

    UVB lighting is needed for your tortoise to maintain strong bones and metabolize the calcium he is fed. Without UVB lighting your tortoise will develop metabolic bone disease and not grown properly.

    Heat lights must be provided to maintain a basking area at about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and allow the rest of the enclosure to stay above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The basking area can drop in temperature at night. For more information on types of tortoise lighting,​ check out the Turtle and Tortoise Lighting article.

    Tortoise Housing

    Greek tortoises stay fairly small but still need ample space to exercise. Many tortoise owners prefer using large plastic storage tubs instead of fish tanks since tortoises don't need the height the tanks offer, only the floor space of the storage tubs. They use clamp lights to provide the heat and fashion lids using roll window screening from home supply stores and wood frames. These are fairly inexpensive ways to offer large enclosures that are still easy to clean.

    Traditional, large fish tanks are also acceptable and are a turn-key option for new tortoise owners who don't want to get creative making their own custom enclosure and don't mind spending a little more money.

    In warm months outdoor areas should be provided to allow your tortoise some observed outside time. It is crucial you never leave your tortoise when he is outside. They are faster than one would think when running away, are very good at hiding, and can even be scooped up by raccoons, hawks, and other wildlife. If you build an outdoor enclosure it should have a screened top and be "dig-proof" since tortoises can burrow under simple barriers. Also, never put your tortoise outside in a glass tank. The glass and sunlight create an oven that cooks your tortoise.

    Reptile bedding such as reptile safe mulch, wood shavings, and other dirt mixtures are good for Greek tortoises. Just make sure the food they eat is offered on a plate or other surface so they aren't accidentally ingesting their bedding.

    A water bowl should be large enough and accessible for your tortoise to walk into and drink or defecate when needed.

    It also helps add humidity to the enclosure.

    Greek tortoises are fairly easy to care for if you have the proper setup. It is important to remember that these are long-term pets who may very well outlive you. Your tortoise should have few health problems if you provide the correct husbandry and get your annual check-ups with your exotics vet.