Who’s up for a lesson on Egyptian Tortoises? These reptiles are some of the smallest tortoises in the world, and they come from Egypt and Libya. Though, they’re near-extinct in Egypt due to the destruction of their natural habitats. Adding in the illegal pet trade and the hunting, and the population of Egyptian Tortoises has been on the decline for some time.
Being a tortoise, this Egyptian reptile is a land-dweller. It only goes in the water to wash itself of all the accumulated dirt and dust. Otherwise, it prefers basking in the sun to warm itself up.
It makes for a great pet, given its small size and sociable behavior. I fully recommend getting one for your home. But that’s not why we’re here. Let’s go into a deep dive on Egyptian Tortoises!
Visually, an Egyptian Tortoise male reaches 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) in length, while females get to 4-5 inches (10-12 cm). Their carapaces can reach lengths of 5.5 inches (14.4cm), though.
The shell of an Egyptian Tortoise can be gray, ivory, golden, or a dull and pale yellow. On the sides of each scute, this tortoise has dark-brown marks, and with age, these spots will lighten up.
The carapace of an Egyptian Tortoise is high-domed, with plenty of scutes that protect the reptile’s softer body parts from predators. Interestingly enough, their shells are yellow because it acts as a camouflage in desert areas. Predators have a hard time seeing them because their shells meld in the environment.
A regular Egyptian Tortoise becomes very active during warm periods and retreats in its nest during very hot or very cold periods. During a harsh summer, you’ll only see them during the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t as strong.
As for the winter months, they’ll be most active during midday. Due to its small size, the Egyptian Tortoise doesn’t need a lot of time to become warm in the sun.
It’s not too sociable, though. Living in the desert, this tortoise has learned to be a loner and be wary of predators. In captivity, if you don’t handle it too often, it should learn to appreciate you, especially when you feed it. Tortoises are very good at sensing their surroundings based on sound vibrations. So, it’ll learn to recognize its owner after a few visits.
Tortoises, in general, live for a long time. Egyptian Tortoises will live between 70-100 years with the proper care. Its lifespan may shorten if you don’t take care of it and if it falls ill constantly, though.
To avoid this, make sure its nest is just the right temperature during its hibernation period. Moreover, its diet should consist of protein, leafy greens, seeds, fruits, with vitamin A and vitamin B3 being essential for optimal health.
If you don’t meet specific requirements and your tortoise is stressed, its lifespan may diminish. Also, avoid handling it too often because most tortoises don’t like it. They’re solitary animals who prefer being by themselves or with other members of their species.
Some time will have to pass before it stops seeing you as a danger. And even then, it won’t enjoy being caressed or fondled for too long.
General Care & Housing
To properly care for your Egyptian Tortoise, you need to ensure its housing conditions are top-notch. Compared to other tortoise species, this one isn’t too picky and won’t say no to colder temperatures, for instance. Life in the Egyptian desert has taught it a lot about sparse living conditions and arid environments.
Egyptian Tortoises are quite resistant to cold, so ambient temperatures should be around 63-75 °F (17-24 degrees Celsius) from October to April. The basking spot should be at around 84-90 °F (29-32 degrees Celsius). If the tortoise encounters higher temperatures, it’ll enter a period of lessened activity and it may start aestivating.
Like most tortoises, the Egyptian Tortoise doesn’t like too cold or too hot environments. It’ll react accordingly and seek shelter until the temperatures come back to normal. That’s why tortoises hibernate during winter when it’s freezing outside. They only come back when spring comes or when it gets warmer.
Because the Egyptian Tortoise is native to arid places, it doesn’t like humidity too much, especially dampness. Try to keep the humidity somewhere between 20-30%. You should also provide the tortoise with a bowl of shallow water that you’ll change regularly.
From time to time, the tortoise will want to wash and cool off. Taking a bath is still a nice activity for an Egyptian Tortoise, though it won’t do it too often.
– Cage Size
I recommend placing your Egyptian Tortoise outdoors, with an outdoor pen of about 8 square feet for a breeding pair. If you want to keep the offspring, add 2-4 square feet for every baby tortoise you want to keep.
The walls of the pen need to be opaque, with a height of at least 8 inches (20 cm). Lastly, make sure you add a thick substrate of about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) thik on the floor of the pen. Tortoises like to sink their plastron in the substrate, for added protection.
Egyptian Tortoises need a UVB light source running for about 10-12 hours per day, to a distance of 12-18 inches (30-46 cm) from the animal. The UVB light improves the activity and social behaviors of these tortoises, increasing their overall health over the long term.
Though, if you keep your Egyptian Tortoise outdoors, it should have full access to natural light, in which case you no longer need the artificial UVB light.
Artificial lighting comes into play during the winter season. Your tortoise won’t come outside for months on end, and it’ll need artificial lighting. Install a UVB-emitting light source, and make sure you keep it on for 10-12 hours per day. These conditions should provide your tortoise with everything it needs for a comfortable lifestyle.
Food & Nutrition
To grow healthily, an Egyptian Tortoise needs a steady and varied diet. You can’t just feed your tortoise meat and expect it to be fine. Fortunately, this tortoise isn’t a picky eater. You can feed it lots of things!
Your Egyptian Tortoise will eat grasses, broadleaf plants, plant blooms, saltwort and sea lavender, insects and carrion, and more. Though an omnivore, this tortoise should live on an herbivorous diet in captivity.
For an optimal diet, I recommend offering mixed greens, weed, with grass hay about four times per week. On other days, you should feed your tortoise with hibiscus leaves, flowers, mallow, or sea lavender leaves.
Let your tortoise graze on weed and grasses because they like that. Living in desert areas, Egyptian Tortoises have learned to value every meal because food is scarce in Egypt.
So, don’t go out of your way to feed it daily because it’ll ruin its life cycle. The food should contain a high level of carotenoids, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and leafy green vegetables.
Hydration is closely related to humidity, and we’ve talked about humidity before. Egyptian Tortoises don’t like a damp environment, so don’t go above 20-30% humidity in their nests.
A bowl of shallow water is enough for its needs, but make sure you change the water daily. Otherwise, your tortoise may run the risk of becoming ill or sick due to unsanitary conditions.
As bad luck would have it, I don’t know much about the mating behavior of Egyptian Tortoises. Not only me but the whole scientific community is left guessing regarding their mating rituals.
What I can tell you is that this tortoise is most likely polygynous (the male builds a harem of females). But the other way around may also be true, with one female for more than one male. This kinky and sexually depraved species is still quite good for a pet, though!
In the wild, Egyptian Tortoises start mating in March, though this changes when in captivity. Mating occurs in April, August, October, and November when captive. One noteworthy aspect of the Egyptian Tortoise’s mating ritual is the male’s loud call when mating. No other tortoise makes such a sound. Even scientists have likened it to a mourning dove’s call.
During the courtship period, the male tortoise will ram the female, and that’s all the details I’m going to offer. No one wants to know in detail how tortoises have sex, right?
After the ramming part, the two tortoises may chase one another because the female apparently wants to run away. Either way, they eventually come to an understanding and start digging a nest in the sandy earth. There, the female will lay 1-5 eggs.
The incubation period takes anywhere between 2.5-3 months. The hatchlings will eat only a little, instead preferring to cool off in the shade and watch the outside sun. Skip-forward 5 years in the hatchlings’ lifespan and they’re already adults ready to spread their genes forward.
5 Interesting Facts
- The Egyptian Tortoise is the second-smallest tortoise in the world, right after South Africa’s speckled padloper. With only 8-10cm in length and a weight of 100cm for males and 400cm for females, Egyptian Tortoises are really small. In this sense, they’re the perfect pets!
- Thanks to the pale-yellow color of its shell, an Egyptian Tortoise warms up very quickly when under direct sunlight.
- Egyptian Tortoises are under threat of extinction in Egypt due to illegal trade, hunting, and a systematic destruction of their natural habitats
- It takes about 400 Egyptian Tortoises to match a Galapagos tortoise in size
- Egyptian Tortoises come in multiple colors, including golden, pale-yellow, ivory, and dark brown. These pale colors are perfect camouflages when moving through the sandy and rocky terrain.
All in all, what else can I say that I haven’t already mentioned? The Egyptian Tortoise is a good pet, though its housing requirements are quite complex. It needs a specific temperature, a substrate to burrow into, enough humidity, and a stable diet. If you meet all these requirements, the Egyptian Tortoise will love you!