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.
Why 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.
Are there any good commercial diets or supplements for red foots?