Tortoises kept in captivity should only be fed once a day for 5 days of the week, and it is best to give them their food in the morning. The tortoise will then graze on their food throughout the day.
Equally as important as the living conditions of your tortoise is its diet. In addition to providing quality food, you should also know the best time of day to feed your tortoise, and how frequently you should feed it. Ideally, you should aim to replicate the manner in which the tortoise feeds in the wild, but how exactly do you do this?
Below, you’ll find out about the way tortoises feed in the wild and how you can go about replicating wild feeding.
How Do Tortoises Feed in the Wild?
In the wild, tortoises have to forage for their own food. They must feed several times during the day, whilst they roam around their surroundings, nibbling at food as they go.
For instance, in the spring and summer months tortoises wake in the morning and warm up in the sun before they can become active and start searching for food. While foraging, they eat various leaves and flowers. In the middle of the day, the sun may be too strong for them, so they return to sheltered areas and spend their time there until later in the afternoon. They then start feeding again in the evening.
However, in the middle of summer, the weather gets very hot and there is little to no food to eat when the vegetation dies off or dries out. As such, tortoises may end up digging themselves a burrow to hibernate, or more accurately ‘aestivate’ for a while.
Later, at the end of summer and into autumn, tortoises start eating less. The quantity of food they eat throughout the day gets smaller and smaller, and by the time winter comes, they stop eating altogether.
After their gut empties over the course of several weeks, tortoises will dig themselves underground and hibernate until the cold season is ever. This usually lasts from November/December until the middle of March.
When spring begins, the tortoise will awaken and start feeding again.
All wild tortoises are to some degree omnivorous, and don’t strictly stick to eating plants and leaves. Of course, nutritional needs vary from one species to another, but overall, tortoises will not limit themselves to plants in nature. Other things that tortoises eat in small quantities include worms, some insects, slugs, and carrion.
How to Replicate Feeding in the Wild?
As we now know, wild tortoises feed several times throughout the day, in small amounts. So, when a tortoise is kept as a pet, you have to replicate the way it feeds in the wild for it to feel comfortable.
It is best to only provide food for your tortoise once a day, preferably in the morning. This way, they can feed themselves on that food as the day passes.
In terms of the amount of food you should give, this should be roughly equivalent to the size of the tortoise’s shell.
Although you should feed them once a day, you should only do this 5 days a week. The other two days are known as starve days, and you can implement them in any order you wish. Doing this will allow the digestive system of the tortoise – which is very slow – to catch up. Thus, mimicking the summer self-starvation period that the tortoise would otherwise need.
As for the diet itself, you should make sure you offer everything in moderation. To put it simply, you should offer every type of food in moderation, so you do not end up feeding the tortoise too much of the same thing. Giving it the same food all the time may lead to nutritional deficiencies and possibly toxic amounts of certain substances.
For example, as much as tortoises love fruits and their sweetness, their digestive system is not made to handle sugars in large quantities. Fruits contain a lot of sugar, which is why you should limit the amounts you give to your pet.
There are some species – like Red and Yellow-footed tortoises – that are able to tolerate fruit better than others. So, in their case, you may add fruit as a small part of their diet.
Incidentally Red and Yellow foot tortoises also benefit from slightly more protein in their diet, therefore you can feed them the occasional worm or dead mouse, whilst other species typically do not benefit from much animal protein.
Likewise salad leaves are often suitable foods for different species of tortoises but should not be offered regularly. Rather they should only supplement other types of foods. Vegetables will also work, but again, they should only be offered in limited amounts.
Furthermore, it’s worth researching what tortoises eat in the wild. You should ensure you look up this information based on what species your tortoise is. Each breed has specific nutritional needs, and they may eat differently in the wild.
Advantages of Having an Outdoor Enclosure that Allows Tortoises to “Graze”
Even if you prefer to keep your tortoise indoors most of the time, there are major benefits to setting up an outdoor enclosure. It is an important part of a tortoise’s life to be able to enjoy the natural environment. Having a space of its own outdoors will give your tortoise the possibility to graze on plants that you may or may not have planted. The tortoise will also get the benefit of natural sunlight that is required for vitamin D synthesis.
Still, in doing so, you should make sure you put the enclosure in a place with no poisonous plants nearby, and you will need to remove any that grow. Whilst for the most part tortoises steer clear of toxic plants, you cannot rely on their judgement entirely.
The Bottom Line
Knowing when and how many times you should feed your tortoise are key things in keeping them healthy and happy. The more you are able to replicate their life in the wild, the better. Make sure you always feed them in the morning and that you give them the right food in moderation. And whenever possible, set up a safe outdoor enclosure so your beloved pet can graze freely.