Redfoot Tortoise Pyramiding

If you have a captive bred hatchling or purchased a sub-adult Redfoot it’s a virtual certainty it either has or will have some level of  Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding as it ages.

Redfoot Tortoise pyramidingWhy is it wild caught adults have perfectly smooth carapaces?

And why is just about every captive bred Redfoot tortoise within a few years develops a rising carapace called stacking or pyramiding?

There are four factors that explain Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding:

  • Their diet
  • Enclosure humidity level
  • Temperature in the enclosure
  • The enclosure size

Let’s go into each one to understand why they play such a critical role in Redfoot tortoise pyramiding.

Redfoot Tortoise Pyramiding and Diet

Redfoot tortoises and their close relative the Yellowfoot tortoise share one important characteristic – they both spend the majority of their lives in dense tropical forests.

So much so, the Yellowfoot can spend it’s entire lifetime never seeing an open area such as a savannah.

Understanding this important characteristic of both tortoises helps to explain why they both need a 60% fruit, 30-35% greens, 5-10% animal protein diet in order to thrive in captivity.

Here’s my overview of their Redfoot tortoise diet requirements.

Edible greens, high in calcium, simply do not exist in the tropical forest Redfoot habitats of southern Central America and Northern South America because there is no significant geological limestone under-lament to support high calcium plant life.

So, if you feed your Redfoot tortoise a diet designed for a Russian, Greek or Hermann’s, you’re scaling up this factor that causes Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding.

The calcium and protein needs of your Redfoot tortoise are met in the wild through carrion, bugs, mushrooms, and mammal feces – all common items in a tropical forest. Carrion contains Vitamin D3, which all tortoises need for calcium synthesis, and many mushroom varieties contain Vitamin D2, which they can convert to D3 for calcium synthesis.

So, having a 60% fruit and 5-10% animal protein mix for their diet follows their wild diet as much as is possible. If you’re currently feeding them a 70-80% green’s diet, it’s time to make the change for your Redfoot’s health and smoother carapace.

Humidity and Redfoot Tortoises

Anyone who has ever visited southern Florida or any of the Hawaiian islands (Kauai and the Eastern side of the Big Island in particular) can feel the high level of humidity. These two areas of the United States are the closest to the native humidity levels your Redfoot tortoise would experience on a day to day basis in its natural habitat.

Humidity or lack thereof is the second important factor in pyramiding. Your Redfoot tortoise, no matter how far removed it might be from its wild caught ancestors, can’t overcome it’s biological design for a high humidity environment.

If you’re unable to maintain a consistent 60-90% humidity (75-90% is best) for both an indoor and outdoor enclosure you’re significantly contributing to a future pyramiding issue for your Redfoot tortoise.

Redfoot’s, and all forest tortoise species, don’t have the long captive history of Greek’s dating back to the 1960’s and 1970’s, so most tortoise enthusiasts haven’t caught up to their very different husbandry requirements.

If you’re still researching tortoises and the need to maintain that level of humidity is going to be hard, skip getting a Redfoot or any forest species.

Consistent Temperatures and the Redfoot Tortoise

In the dense tropical forests wild Redfoot tortoises live in there are only two seasons – wet and dry. The temperature range in their native habitats will go from 65-70 on cold days in the dry season, to 85-90 during the wet season.

What that means for you is a range of 70-90 year round for both indoor and outdoor pens.

83-88 seems to be the sweet spot for daytime temps and 70-75 for nighttime temps for my Redfoots.

This requirement isn’t hard to meet regardless of where you live, but it’s still factor number three when it comes to Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding.

So, in order to reduce the probability of Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding we need a diet that closely matches the percentages of what they eat in the wild, a high humidity level year round, and a consistent 70-90 degree temperature year round.

Okay, what’s left?

Enclosure Size and Redfoot Tortoises

If there’s one thing all tortoises do, it’s move around – a lot. Your Redfoot tortoise is not a coach potato, it’s designed to walk around and do a lot of it. They rest when they’ve had enough to eat and when they need to sleep.

The opportunity for your Redfoot tortoise to walk around a spacious enclosure, whether indoor or outdoor, is the final piece of the Redfoot Tortoise pyramiding puzzle.

Without going into a long, anatomical explanation as to how, I’ll just say that walking around is critical to having the synthesized calcium being implanted in their arm, leg, and associated bones used for locomotion vs. their carapace.

I’ve written enough about the size and type of enclosures they need and you can find these articles on this blog or on my YouTube channel.

That being said, the larger, more well planted an enclosure is a must so your Redfoot tortoise can move around for 6+ hours a day and explore their habitat.

Here’s a post on Redfoot tortoise enclosures.

In closing, get their diet, humidity, temperature, and enclosure size correct because these four items influence Redfoot tortoise pyramiding.

Posted in Redfoot Care | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Redfoot Tortoise Intelligence is Proven

I came across this article featuring Redfoot Tortoise intelligence the other day and it plays in to my preaching to everyone about having a large, well planted pen – but for reasons that may not be obvious – until now.

Redfoot Intelligence







Redfoot’s are a very intelligent animal and the researchers discovered this quickly when setting up the touch screen testing.

Redfoot tortoise

A large, well planted pen affords you the opportunity to see Redfoot tortoise intelligence in action while enriching their life in captivity.  And if you have a dog, as we do- three in fact, I can tell you our Redfoot’s demonstrate a far greater ability to locate various items than our dogs.

It partially explains why they come to associate various colored items as food, things like strawberries, hibiscus flowers, etc.

Smarter than a do


Lastly, the articles final comment is one I can’t stress enough.  Tortoises are not dumb animals who are happy to sit and do nothing in a 20 gallon fish tank.  You have to provide them a large “enriched” enclosure so they can use their native Redfoot tortoise intelligence and capabilities in order to live a long, healthy life.

Redfoot Tortoise intelligence




Read the whole article.


Posted in Tortoises In The News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Baby Redfoot Tortoises

There’s nothing cuter than baby or sub-adult Redfoot tortoises and the video below is proof.

These are our currently available 18-24 month olds all cleaned up (and how to do it right) and looking pretty.


Posted in Currently Available Redfoot's | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Should I Get a Tortoise

I spend about an hour a week on Yahoo Answers trying to answer questions related to Redfoot tortoises and other species as part of my continuing effort to educate people on these animals and their unique needs as pets.

One of the most common questions I see week in and week out  is, “Should I get a Tortoise?”

It’s a good question, so here is what you need to ask yourself in order to answer it.

  • Have I done at least 10-15 hours of research on the Redfoot or a specific species of tortoise so I have a strong understanding of where they live in the wild and their requirements to live a healthy life?
  • Can I afford the cost of either building or buying large enough indoor and outdoor enclosures where I can re-create their wild environment, which means the lighting, temperature, and humidity they need to be healthy?
  • Am I prepared for what it takes financially and emotionally to have them as a pet for 20, 30, or 50 years or more?
  • If I buy a wild caught tortoise do I have enough money to pay for the inevitable costly vet bills when it gets sick in order to get it back to being healthy?

If you answer “No” to any of these questions, you’re not ready to have a tortoise as a pet.

I say you aren’t ready because outside of the Australian Moloch, there is no animal more closely tied to its environment than a tortoise.  If you can’t closely replicate their natural environment and food requirements, they will get sick and die.

They are not adaptable to different environments like a dog or cat.   They can’t eat processed food their entire life and thrive and live a normal healthy life like a dog or cat.

They are opportunistic feeders in the wild, so they’ll eat almost anything and in their native environments “anything” is almost always good for them.  However, because they’ll eat almost anything too many people feed them all manner of junk like peas, beans, hamburger, etc.  A tortoise doesn’t know those items will ultimately be fatal for them because they don’t ever come across them in the wild.

After spending over 40 years with these magnificence animals a couple of things are abundantly clear.

When you understand the unique environment your tortoise comes from, which includes the lighting throughout the year, their food and humidity requirements, and you replicate them as much as you can – they are almost bullet-proof.

They go on and on and on and on their daily routine without so much as a hiccup.

For Redfoot’s that means, 75-90 degrees year round, 70-90% humidity year round, indoor and outdoor pens large enough to allow them plenty of exercise, and well planted enclosures with only 25-30% of the pen in sunlight.  Add in a 60% fruit, 35% greens, 5% animal protein diet as well as 24/7 access to large bowls of fresh water deep enough for them to drink from and soak in and you’ll have a bullet-proof pet.

So when you ask yourself, “Should I Get a Tortoise”, answer those four questions and if you answer “yes” to all four, you’re ready for a tortoise.

If not, then either get yourself a pet that doesn’t require the cost and dedication of maintaining a tortoise or go back and do what’s necessary to say, “yes.”

Posted in Redfoot Care | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Feeding Redfoot Tortoises – Their Core Diet

Even though I have a full page on feeding your Redfoot tortoise, this video goes into more depth around their core diet and why you must be aware of oxalic acid and what it can do to your Redfoot.

Here’s a handy list of the best foods to feed your Redfoot tortoise by Calcium to Phosphorus ratio and the Oxalate level of the food item.

Calcium- Phosphorus and Oxalate food items

Posted in Redfoot Diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Redfoot Tortoise Intelligence

The article excerpt and links below is to an article that gives examples of Redfoot Tortoise intelligence and presents a perfect example of why it’s important to have large, well planted indoor and outdoor enclosures for your tortoise and have it designed to not look like the pen of a Russian or Greek.


For evidence of reptilian intelligence, one need look no further than the maze, a time-honored laboratory test. Anna Wilkinson, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lincoln in England, tested a female red-footed tortoise named Moses in the radial arm maze, which has eight spokes radiating out from a central platform. Moses’ task was to “solve” the maze as efficiently as possible: to snatch a piece of strawberry from the end of each arm without returning to one she had already visited.

“That requires quite a memory load because you have to remember where you’ve been,” Dr. Wilkinson said.

Moses managed admirably, performing significantly better than if she had been choosing arms at random. Further investigation revealed that she was not using smell to find the treats. Instead, she seemed to be using external landmarks to navigate, just as mammals do.

Things became even more interesting when Dr. Wilkinson hung a black curtain around the maze, depriving Moses of the rich environmental cues that had surrounded her. The tortoise adopted a new navigational strategy, exploring the maze systematically by entering whatever arm was directly adjacent to the one she had just left. This approach is “an enormously great” way of solving the task, Dr. Wilkinson said, and a strategy rarely seen in mammals….More at Coldblooded Does Not Mean Stupid – New York Times


All tortoises possess a highly developed localized intelligence and problem solving capability which helps them survive in their respective natural environments.

Redfoot’s spend the bulk of their lifetime in dense tropical rainforests which present all kinds of difficulty in getting around and finding food. Without this problem solving capability and their highly developed sense of smell surviving in this type of environment would be next to impossible.

All of this is why you must provide your Redfoot tortoise with large and well planted indoor and outdoor enclosures where they can utilize these skills to forage for food and get enough exercise.

Tortoises are not a pet you can stick in a glass aquarium on a substrate of old newspaper feed commercial food look at them a couple of times a day and expect them to survive, let alone thrive.

They need a stimulating environment in order to act as their DNA has wired them to and it’s up to you to either do the research to determine whether you can provide the type of environment they need to survive and thrive.

Posted in Tortoises In The News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Redfoot Tortoises and Commercial Food

The right diet for your Redfoot tortoise is actually easy to duplicate at home, but any visit to your local pet store makes it seem like companies have completely figured out everything a tortoise could need and put it in either a can or pellets.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. . and here’s why.

Most canned or pelleted foods developed for tortoises are grain based and were developed for shelf life and with a complete misunderstanding of tortoise anatomy.

There has been quite a bit of research lately on grain based diets in tortoises and that research shows a diet high in grains causes serious health issues, particularly around pyramiding.

Before I go into how this happens first answer this question.

How often in the wild does a Redfoot tortoise come across a field of wheat, alfalfa, or oats?

Exactly. . . . . .never.

So what would make someone think a diet based on the following items would be a solid base for a Redfoot or any tortoise for that matter?

  • Suncured Oat Hay
  • Suncured Timothy Hay
  • Soybean Hulls
  • Wheat Middlings
  • Suncured Alfalfa Meal
  • Dehulled Soybean Meal
  • Whole Ground Wheat

Those are the primary items of most pellet based tortoise foods.

To believe the consumption of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber in the above ingredients by your Redfoot tortoise would be processed the same way as the fruit, mushrooms, carrion, mammal feces, and local plant matter they consume shows just how little the companies behind these foods understand tortoise anatomy.

These grain based diets are typically high in omega 6 fatty acids which have shown to have a negative effect on their health, just as they do in humans.

Grains, and how the tortoise digestive system processes them, can also cause leaching of calcium from their bones.

Grains are also high in phytate, which among other things, binds with iron, zinc, manganese and calcium, and slows their absorption. Phytates aren’t issues when consumed in small quantities, but if you’re feeding your Redfoot a significant portion of grain based food items what starts as a small issue becomes a big one because like humans tortoises lack the enzyme phytase needed to break them down.

And in higher quantities Vitamin D absorption can become blocked and because forest tortoises don’t typically process Vitamin D via sunshine as do arid species like Greek’s and Russian’s, so this can have greater implications for Redfoot’s.

This interference with Vitamin D processing of calcium is one of the reasons for pyramiding in tortoises. There are other factors, like lack of exercise, too cold and too dry an enclosure, but never ignore diet as a critical piece of this problem.

When you stick with natural items like papayas, mangoes, figs, plums, raspberries, melons, mushrooms, turnip greens, dandelions, endive, escarole, collard greens, and other items with a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio you KNOW your Redfoot is getting a diet as close as possible to what consume in the wild.

So avoid commercial food because you’re now aware of the problems it can cause to your Redfoot tortoise and you wallet.

Here’s a handy list of the best foods to feed your Redfoot tortoise by Calcium to Phosphorus ratio and the Oxalate level of the food item.

Calcium- Phosphorus and Oxalate food items

Posted in Redfoot Diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Results Of The Right Redfoot Tortoise Diet

This will be a short, but important post on what you can expect your Redfoot tortoise to look like at various stages of its life by following the diet and husbandry I have used and suggest to you.

The diet of the Redfoot tortoise should be 60% fruit, 35% greens, and 5% animal protein.  This diet replicates as much as is possible in captivity their wild diet.

It’s what I’ve used for the 12+ years of my keeping Redfoot tortoises and the pictures below show you want yours should look like if you do the same.

This first picture is one of my hold back’s that hatched in late 2012 and at the time of this picture was roughly 7 month sold.  Notice the perfect carapace, no pyramiding in the least.

7 Month old Redfoot tortoise









This next picture is one the 2 year old Redfoot’s I recently sold to a family in Florida.

Again, you can see that 2 years into its life and almost 4 inches in length with no pyramiding.

2 year old Redfoot












Lastly, here is my 12+ year old female who was about the same size of the 7 month old when I purchased her and two others from a breeder in South Carolina. Today she is 12 inches long and weights in at 10 lbs.

She has very slight pyramiding (my male looks the same shell-wise) which is common because it is impossible to replicate the exact environment and diet in the wild, even if you live in southern Florida.

I also attribute it to the fact we live in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota which only allows us to have them outside 3-4 months a year where they can get normal exercise by wandering around our 1/4 acre fenced in backyard.

Female Redfoot Tortoise








The amount of exercise these tortoises get impacts the overall health of their carapace and plastron.

So, if you want your Redfoot tortoise to look very close to their wild cousins and be healthy to the point they never have any need to go to the vet, follow my diet and habitat suggestions and this is what yours will look like throughout their life.

Here’s a handy list of the best foods to feed your Redfoot tortoise by Calcium to Phosphorus ratio and the Oxalate level of the food item.

Calcium- Phosphorus and Oxalate food items

Posted in Redfoot Diet | Tagged | 2 Comments

Your Redfoot Tortoise Pens and Diet Is Probably Wrong

When it comes to the Redfoot tortoise one of the biggest mistakes people have come to believe is they live in open savannah areas in the wild. Most of this comes from a few observations by well known and reputable scientists.

I’m going to turn this thinking on its head by pointing out some basic, but critically important topographic and geologic Redfoot tortoise facts, that will help you create the right indoor and outdoor enclosures and diet so your Redfoot tortoise lives a long, healthy life.

I’m going to use my adult Redfoot’s and where their parents (mine are captive bred) are from as the example. The origin country of my adults is Guyana, a country on the northeastern coast of South America.

The Topography of The Redfoot Tortoise Native Environment

The overall topography of Guyana, as you can see from this graphic, is roughly 85% dense Tropical forest.

Guyana_Vegatation MapSavannah areas make up about 10-15% of the country.

So, with 85% of the country of Guyana covered in dense tropical forest where do you think 85% or more of all the wild Redfoot tortoises in Guyana live?

You got it – in dense tropical forest.
It’s much easier to observe those few tortoises who wander out into the 10-15% of the open areas looking for food than to find the multitude who stay in the dense forest, where getting around for people is more difficult and dangerous.

If you look at the topography of all the countries where the Redfoot tortoise is a native species, they all have 70+% of the country covered in dense tropical forest. Guyana is not an outlier.

Another important fact to consider is the narrow temperature band in all these countries where a 70-90 degree range over the year is typical, with a humidity range virtually the same at 70-90%.

These countries have two seasons – wet and dry.

Another important, and obvious, but overlooked fact is the color of the Redfoot carapace. It’s navy, dark brown or almost black. So, with a narrow temperature range and a very dark carapace what need would the Redfoot tortoise have to bask in the sun like a Russian or Greek?

The dark carapace would warm them up very quickly (because dark colors absorb heat) as well as overheat them just as quickly in bright sunshine.

All of the arid species of tortoises who live in areas with very little ground cover, lots of sunshine, and a wide temperature range have lighter colored carapaces. It’s because light colors reflect heat.

Redfoot tortoises live their entire life where the need to warm up to a “normal operating temperature” isn’t necessary because it doesn’t get cool enough to lower their internal temperature where it would impede normal operation.

These are Forest tortoises, like there close relative the Yellowfoot (who spend their entire life in the forest), not arid area tortoises.

Now, understanding this has implications to the housing you need to provide for your Redfoot tortoise, as well as their diet.

First, for indoor and outdoor Redfoot tortoise enclosures setting up a pen like one a Russian, Greek, or Hermann’s would thrive in (open, lots of sunshine, and a hide) is not what these tortoises need and is all too often what I see in YouTube videos and on Facebook pages.

In that type of setup keeping the temperature between 70 and 90 degrees let alone the humidity between 70 and 90% is extremely difficult unless you soak it down 5-6 times a day.

Your Redfoot enclosures, be they indoor or outdoor, should mimic their natural habitat and have 70-75% of the pen area covered in plants. Plastic ones work best for indoor pens because they don’t get eaten and you can find plenty of them at your local Goodwill for pennies on the dollar.

Here’s an excellent example of an outdoor enclosure for 1 year to 6 year old Redfoot’s.  It’s from a customer of ours in the greater San Antonio, Texas area.

Redfoot Tortoise Enclosure

One or two simple 20-40 watt LED bulb that puts out no heat and will last for years, along with one or two 100 watt heat emitters is perfect for a 4 foot by 8 foot indoor Redfoot enclosure.

The heat emitters help simulate the warmth of the forest were temperatures only fluctuate 5-10 degrees year round.

Cover the top of the pen with Plexiglas sheets supported by wood beams and you have a simple way to not only keep the temperature 70-90 degrees year round, but by misting once a day also keep the humidity at 60-80% as well.

That’s been my exact set-up for my now adult Redfoot’s for many years.

For outdoor pens large hosta plants work well for cover as most Redfoot’s won’t eat the leaves, even though they’re perfectly fine as a food item. Hibiscus plants are another perfect cover item in outdoor pens if you live in an area where they can live outside year round. Their leaves and flowers are also a fantastic tortoise food item.

The Redfoot Diet and the Geology of Their Native Habitat

A critical piece to understanding the diet of the Redfoot vs. Russian’s, Greek’s and Hermann’s is the underlying geologic structure of the Mediterranean (the natural environment of Russian’s, Greek’s and Hermann’s) which is a gigantic limestone bed. In all the areas where arid species of tortoises are native, limestone is the major mineral of the underlayment. This results in native plant species (the major dietary component of arid torts) having a very high calcium content and why tortoises in those areas developed and thrived in the first place.

Contrast that with the underlying geologic structure of southern Central America and northern South America, (the native range of the Redfoot tortoise), which has only small, discontinuous pockets of limestone in the underlayment.

Since the plant species and fruit trees of this area don’t have any significant calcium concentration, how do Redfoot’s get calcium?

They get it through their consumption of animal protein and mammal feces. Redfoot’s are omnivorous. They fill roughly the same ecological niche as the Eastern Box turtle of this country, so their respective diets have very similar components- insects, carrion, fruit, mushrooms, etc.

The Redfoot tortoise gets its calcium by consuming carrion, insects, and mammal feces. All three of those items have both calcium and vitamin D3. D3 is the mechanism that allows calcium to be processed by the body. They don’t process via sunshine on the skin, which is the mechanism used by arid tortoise species – and humans.

I have never had a UVB bulb for my now 12+ year old captive bred adult Redfoot’s and they are perfectly healthy with solid shells, have only the smallest bit of stacking, and have produced over 25 healthy, perfectly normal hatchlings the last three years.

You can see them below.

Female Redfoot Tortoise







Male Redfoot Tortoise








If what I’ve laid out above wasn’t true, they wouldn’t be as healthy as they are and certainly couldn’t produce healthy, normal hatchlings.

You can see all of the 2011 and 2012 hatchlings on the Currently Available page.

So, when you consider getting a Redfoot or have one and think the enclosure you have is the right one, consider the above and do your tortoise and yourself a favor by mimicking their natural environment and diet and enjoy a healthy, long term pet.

Posted in Redfoot Care | Tagged | 3 Comments

Young Redfoot Tortoises Video Of The RIGHT Pen

I see far too many people who’ve recently acquired a hatchling or yearling Redfoot tortoise with a pen or enclosure more suited to a Russian or Greek than Redfoot tortoises.

Redfoot tortoises come from a completely different natural environment than arid tort species and if that natural environment isn’t replicated successfully your Redfoot will end up with any number of health problems – and your wallet will be much lighter.

In the wild Redfoot Tortoises are forest dwellers and until they reach 6 inches in size they hide in the forest floor and spend very little time in open areas. At 6 inches they’ve outgrown all but one of their major predators – the Jaguar.

In captivity, until they reach 3 inches or so, you’re not going to have a very interactive tortoise. Until they reach 3-4 inches they have a very strong need for safety and safety to them means hiding under leaves or any material that completely covers them.

The pen or enclosure for a 3 month to 3 year old Redfoot should be dimly lit, warm, damp, and with 70% of the surface of the pen covered with plastic plants, an easily accessible water bowl, and materials that provide numerous hiding places.

One 40 watt bulb is fine for a 3 foot by 5 foot enclosed pen – and that’s exactly what I’ve used or years with no issue what so ever. Add in 2, 60-100 watt heat emitter bulbs and you’ll easily have a consistent 75-90 degree temperature year round.

A substrate of top soil with the surface covered in sphagnum moss, plastic plants, and various sight breaks sprayed down twice a day (or if you setup a misting system to automatically run 4-5 times a day) and you’ll have consistent 75-90% humidity.

That temperature and humidity range is what your Redfoot needs to be healthy and grow at a normal rate.

Redfoot tortoises don’t require a UVB bulb, which is a must for arid species. Their ability to process calcium comes from their omnivorous diet where they consume carrion, beetles, worms, and slugs, not from the vitamin D3 reaction with calcium that UVB rays does for arid species.

Butterworms are an excellent protein source for young Redfoot’s because they are high in calcium along with protein. You can purchase Butterworms from Carolina Pet Supply.

Below are some pictures of our hatchling to 2 year old enclosure. It’s 3 x 5 feet in size and enclosed with clear plexiglass.

Small ½ inch holes on the end pieces provide the necessary airflow through the pen.

The light is a 40 watt LED that puts out no heat. They’re $10 at Home Depot and will last for years.

FWIW, there are 19, 6 month to 2 year old Redfoot’s in this habitat right now. Can you find them all? :-)

Redfoot Tortoises Indoor Habitat-1

Indoor Redfoot Tortoise Enclosure-2

Indoor Redfoot Habitat-3

Posted in Redfoot Care | Tagged | 1 Comment