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Leopard Tortoise – Habitat, Care, Diet, Facts

A Leopard Tortoise looks awkwardly similar to a leopard. No kidding! Did you even see this thing’s carapace? It has the same patterns as a leopard. This tortoise comes from South Africa, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and it’s one of the biggest ones in the world.

If you’re planning on getting one as a pet, you should keep reading. I’ve got some important things to tell you about the Leopard Tortoise. In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about this tortoise!

Appearance

How big do leopard tortoises grow? How to identify a leopard tortoise?

A regular Leopard Tortoise reaches 46cm in length and about 18kg in weight. With its high and domed carapace, this tortoise may have pyramid-shaped scutes.

The leopard markings on the carapace make this tortoise an impressive one indeed. In the wild, these tortoises aren’t too inconspicuous, though. When prey approaches, they prefer hiding in their hard shells.

This tortoise is a very beautiful specimen that would do wonders for your home. Getting one as a pet for its looks is a great idea. Though, there are many more things to consider, such as housing and diet requirements, behavior, lifespan, and more.

It’s not only a beautiful tortoise but a very needy one, as well. If it becomes very sick or if its shell cracks, all that beauty disappears instantly, though.

Behavior

Are leopard tortoises aggressive or peaceful? Do leopard tortoises bite or attack you?

Think of any regular tortoise and you get the Leopard Tortoise in a nutshell. These creatures are very slow, non-aggressive, and quiet. If something irks or bothers them, they’ll retreat in their shells.

When something scary happens or a predator arrives in their vicinity, they retreat in their shells. Despite this fearful attitude, the Leopard Tortoise is good-natured and friendly, and it doesn’t bite.

However, it’s not a fan of constant or even frequent fondling and handling. Handling it too much will make it cower in its shell. The Leopard Tortoise doesn’t know how to climb either. So, it’ll be easier to construct a nest for it.

As for burrowing, it doesn’t do that all that much either. Instead, it prefers sitting in the sun and absorbing that sweet vitamin D. You can have more than one Leopard Tortoise at once because they won’t become aggressive with one another.

Though, in the wild, male Leopard Tortoises are very aggressive among themselves. When females appear and it’s the mating season, males will almost tear each other apart to get the female’s attention. In captivity, though, things change.

Leopard Tortoise males will get along just fine. They’ll eat and bask in the sun all day long because why not? When it’s mating season, scuffles may occur but nothing too serious.

Lifespan

How long do leopard tortoises usually live?

Most tortoises live up to 100 years and potentially more. This Leopard Tortoise can easily live over 50-100 years if you take care of it properly. With the right diet, housing conditions, and treatment, it may even outlive you.

So, you’d better prepare for this event if you suddenly become unable to care for it. A Leopard Tortoise has complex needs that you need to account for. A longer lifespan means being more responsible for it!

General Care & Housing

How to care for leopard tortoises and what are their temperature, humidity, light and enclosure requirements?

First off, Leopard Tortoises don’t do well in a cold environment. In fact, it’s most often deadly for them, if the temperatures are especially low. So, I wouldn’t recommend getting a Leopard Tortoise if you live in a cold climate.

You’ll need to build a warm and comfortable enclosure where the temperature remains the same all year-round. Build the enclosure in a place with lots of hiding spots, as well. This helps them remain active and offers a sense of security.

Don’t forget to build a fence around the enclosure so the tortoise feels safe and secure. Most importantly, make sure that other pets (even cats and dogs) don’t come across the tortoise. I foresee an untimely scare or even death for the tortoise.

It’ll become so scared that it won’t come out of its shell for a few good hours. There should also be a patch of barren ground in the pen, so the tortoise can burrow dig there.

– Temperature

Leopard Tortoises need a basking spot with constant access to the sun. The temperature here should reach 95F. Vitamin D is a vital element in this tortoise’s diet, after all.

During the daytime, a Leopard Tortoise needs a constant temperature of about 80 – 90 °F, with the nighttime temperature above 65F. Damp conditions are extremely dangerous for this tortoise. Coldness is also very harmful to its health.

Keeping this tortoise indoors is a bit more complicated due to its size. Though, if you have a warmer place that you don’t use, consider building the enclosure there. The basking spot could be a ceramic heat emitter or e reptile heat bulb. Include a temperature gradient, as well.

– Humidity

Like all tortoises, the Leopard species needs a humid environment. During the day, a humidity of around 40-60% is just fine. During the night, however, you’ll need to mist the substrate until the humidity reaches 70-80%.

I recommend using a hygrometer to verify the humidity at all times. If it’s too damp and humid during the day, your tortoise may become ill. Not enough humidity leads to dehydration and sickness, as well.

With a water bowl and enough humidity in the enclosure substrate, a Leopard Tortoise won’t have any problems. During the night, make sure to mist the substrate for extra humidity. Those extra sunny days will make the tortoise hide away in its enclosure and look for a humid environment, though Leopard Tortoises are very resistant to the sun.

– Cage Size

The tortoise enclosure should be at least 10 feet by 10 feet. The walls should be at least 2 feet high so the tortoise can’t reach the top even when on its hind legs. As I said before, the basking spot and the digging area are a crucial addition to the enclosure.

But a pan of shallow water is also a necessity. The tortoise likes drinking water from time to time, but make sure it doesn’t get stuck in the water pan.

– Lighting

Tortoises need sunlight like we need oxygen. Leopard Tortoises are especially starved for sunlight. In an outdoor enclosure, this isn’t a problem. The basking spot offers full access to the sun. But in an indoor enclosure, you need a UVB light with full-spectrum ultraviolet light.

The light needs to shine directly on the tortoise for 10-12 hours per day. A basking light is also necessary to warm up a portion of the ground, so the tortoise can warm itself up.

Food & Nutrition

What do leopard tortoises eat? How to feed your pet leopard tortoise for a long and healthy life?

Tortoises are herbivores, for the most part. They will graze on grass all day long, and they enjoy it. A Leopard Tortoise’s natural habitat has alfalfa around it, so be sure to provide some to the tortoise from time to time.

Both its diet and hydration need proper maintenance because the Leopard Tortoise is a needy animal. It has an immense appetite and it also needs quite a lot of water for hydration.

– Feeding

A healthy Leopard Tortoise needs lots of leafy greens and high-fiber grasses. These account for approximately 50-80% of a tortoise’s diet. During warm weather, tortoises love grazing on outdoor grass but make sure the grass contains no pesticides.

Hay and timothy grass are the favorite food of a Leopard Tortoise, no less. You can also feed your tortoise with watercress, dandelion, collard greens, carrots, and a lot of timothy hay. Do it at the same time of day, every day.

I recommend feeding the tortoise a quantity of food equal to the size of its shell. It should eat all this food in 15-30 minutes. You also shouldn’t feed it greens rich in oxalates, such as spinach, beet greens, or Swiss chard.

They’ll make it harder for the tortoise to absorb the calcium from its food. And calcium is crucial to a healthy tortoise. If you keep the tortoise indoors, you’ll also need to offer it calcium and vitamin D3 supplements to account for the lack of natural sunlight.

– Hydration

Hydration is very simple for a Leopard Tortoise. Place a shallow pan of water in the enclosure and fill it with clean water daily. Make sure the pan is not too deep so the tortoise doesn’t get stuck in it.

The tortoise will drink water when it needs additional hydration. Though, it should get sufficient water from the juicy greens. If you have baby tortoises to care for, soak them in warm, shallow water once or twice per week. Afterward, replace the water because they may defecate in the old one.

Breeding

Can you breed leopard tortoises in captivity? How to make these tortoises reproduce?

In captivity, Leopard Tortoises aren’t aggressive and multiple specimens can get along with each other. During the mating season (September to April), males may get into scuffles for an opportunity to lie with a female.

The competitors ram one another and the winner gets to submit the female. After the initial chase and the submission, the coupling takes place.

The female then looks for a sunny and not-too-damp spot to dig a hole and lay her eggs. A big enough tortoise female can even lay up to 24 eggs in one go.

After she’s done, she covers up the hole with earth, then she pats it with her hind feet, only to stamp on the soil with her shell. In 8-15 months, the baby tortoises will hatch and they don’t need any help from their parents.

5 Interesting Facts

  • A wild leopard tortoise eats a lot of plant matter, but also old hyena feces. They may also gnaw on bones for extra calcium. This helps the shell remain in perfect condition and also helps with eggshell production.
  • The female tortoise’s plastron (base of the shell) is flat, while the male plastron is more concave.
  • With Leopard Tortoises, the number of ridges on the scutes can reflect the tortoise’s age. The scutes grow with every passing season.
  • Leopard Tortoises are the only living tortoises that can lift their heads and swim. They don’t have a nuchal shield (the scute around the neck, meant for protection), and this offers them the two advantages we mentioned before.
  • Never touch or pick up a Leopard Tortoise during winter. Out of fear, the tortoise may eject its water and urine. To restore this moisture, the tortoise has to cover a lot of ground, and it may often die due to dehydration.

Conclusion

A Leopard Tortoise has complex needs, even more so than other tortoise species. I don’t recommend getting this as your first tortoise pet. Instead, get something smaller and with fewer requirements like a Red-Footed Tortoise.

Despite this, once you know what you’re doing, a Leopard Tortoise can prove to be an excellent pet. Its patterned shell looks gorgeous, especially in adulthood when the scutes are fully developed.

Tortoises - Updated: July 22, 2021
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.

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