Red footed tortoises have a shell on their back like all tortoises. Their shell colour can range from dark brown to black. At the centre of the scute is a reddish or yellow spot. At the base of the shell many individuals have a red or yellow edge. The underside of their shell (plastron) is coloured yellow.
Their body is elongated and the shell has a constriction in the middle that leads to them resembling an hourglass if viewed from above. Their smooth and narrow shell is an adaptation that allows them to move through the forest easier.
The scales which cover the rest of their body is black with spots of red and orange.
Males are typically larger than females. They measure up to 30.4cm (12in) long and weigh up to 12kg (26.5lbs).
The red footed tortoise is an omnivore. Most of their diet is made up of plant matter such as fruits, leaves, flowers, plants and fungi. This is supplemented with small amounts of carrion or insects.
On occasion they have been observed swallowing sand and it
is believed that this helps to assist with digestion of sand.
Food is primarily found using smell.
Over 50 years
— AD —
South and Central America is the native home of the red footed tortoise. Here they can be found from Panama down to Argentina. They also live on some Caribbean islands such as Trinidad and Barbados. Red footed tortoises have been introduced to some other Caribbean islands.
Red footed tortoises inhabit rainforests, dry forests, temperate forests, grassland and savanna. They struggle to survive in areas which have been cleared for cropping.
A red footed tortoise will lay her eggs between June and September though in captivity they will mate year round.
Males may mate with a number of females throughout their life. Males call across their territory with a noise that sounds like the clucking of a chicken. This is designed both to attract females and alert other males to keep away.
If another male does approach him they will face one another and head bob before wrestling in an attempt to flip the competitor on to his back. The winner gains mating rights with the females.
Following a successful mating the female will lay her eggs in a nest dug in the soil or leaf litter. Females expend large amounts of energy and minerals to create the egg shell. As such they will store fat and minerals prior to the breeding season.
Each clutch consists of 2-15 eggs which are almost spherical in shape. Once the female lays the eggs she will cover them with soil and leave them alone. Incubation takes 117-158 days with this variation occurring across their range. Once they hatch they receive no parental care from their parents.
The gender of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature within the nest.
Sexual maturity is tied to size occurring at between 200 and 250mm (7.9-9.8in) in length. This length is typically reached at 5 years old.
Most of their activity takes place during the day with a peak in activity after rains.
They rely on the sun for their energy. When temperatures drop so will their metabolism. They may be able to go a month with only one small piece of fruit during cold weather.
Their call sounds like the clucking of a chicken. It is primarily made by adult males during the breeding season and juveniles while they are feeding.
Predators and Threats
Adult red footed tortoises face predation from jaguars and humans.
Their main defense against predation is the large shell on their back which they retreat in to when threatened.
In South America this tortoise is seen as a delicacy and as such it is hunted in large numbers. Due to the way they retreat in to their shell when threatened they are easily caught increasing their danger. Habitat destruction will also affect their population.
The Latin name for these tortoises, ‘carbonaria’ is a reference to the way in which their skin resembles hot coals.
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