ISSN 2398-2985  

Red-footed tortoise


Vetstream Ltd

Synonym(s): Chelonoidis carbonarius


Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia. 
  • Phylum: Chordata. 
  • Class: Reptilia. 
  • Order: Testudines. 
  • Family: Testudinidae. 
  • Genus: Chelonoidis
  • Species: carbonarius. 

Distribution and habitat

  • Native to northern South America, their natural habitat ranges from savannah to forest edges around the Amazon basin. 
  • They can be found in Panama, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, Guiana, the Andes, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. 
  • They are also found on several Caribbean islands, where they may have been brought over by humans. 
  • They are not evenly distributed within their range. 
  • The preferred general temperature averages around 30°C/86°F, with high humidity and high rainfall, seeking thermoregulation.

Species status

  • Eggs, hatchlings and young tortoises are often food for many predators. 
  • ​Main threats are jaguars and humans; other predators include Tegu lizards Argentine black and white tegu, ring-tailed coatis and mongooses. 
  • Population density ranges from locally common to very few due to habitat destruction, over-collection for food and the pet trade.

Life span

  • Dependant on many factors but can live over 50 years. 
  • ​Those kept in captivity tend to live longer in conditions that mimic their natural habitat.


  • Omnivorous however mainly herbivores with a diet based on a wide range of plants, fruit when available, grasses, flowers, fungi and invertebrates Chelonia nutrition
  • Exact diet is dependent on the seasonal availability of plants across the range of habitats. 
  • The bulk of their diet will consist of dark leafy greens, vegetables and fruits. 
  • Other food sources include roots, shoots and leaves.
  • Small amounts of animal proteins need to be offered weekly, this can be in the form of insects.  They require calcium, so supplementation may be required.


  • Separated by anatomy and geography. 
  • Research into the DNA of these species has identified five genotypes. 
  • In these groups it was found there were blatant differences between ones found on the north and ones found on the south of the Amazon basin.  
    • Northern: These are identified by shell shape as well as the colour of the head and limbs. 
    • Southern: These are either larger or smaller than the northern variation. Their plastron shape differs from that of the nothern, they also possess a scute/spur on the elbows of the fore limbs. 

Northeastern variant 

  • The holotype (upon which the species is based). 
  • Orange to red head and limbs. 
  • Pale yellow plastrons. 
  • Found in the regions such as ‘Guinea Shield’: Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Guiana and northern Brazil. 

Northwestern variant 

  • Similar to Northeastern (holotype). 
  • ​Grey or, dark brown carapace. 
  • Pale plastrons also have central dark areas. 
  • Head and limb colors tend to be pale yellow to orange. 
  • Slightly smaller than holotype. 
  • Found in southwest panama and Colombia. 

Northern variant 

  • Similar to Northeastern (holotype). 
  • Head and limb colors almost the same as the Northwestern variant, however can occasionally be red. 
  • Smaller than holotype. 
  • From Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. 

Southern variant 

  • Carapace colors are generally very dark brown, with highlights of mild gray or white in-between the scutes. 
  • Plastrons are generally dark featuring a symmetrical mottled pattern. 
  • Generally larger than the Northeastern (holotype). 
  • Males are smaller than females.
  • From ‘Gran Chaco’; Bolivia, Paraguay and northern Argentina. 

Eastern variant 

  • Feature a light grey or off-white carapace between the scutes. 
  • ​Plastrons are generally dark again featuring a symmetrical mottled pattern. 
  • Generally smaller than the Northeastern (holotype). 
  • Head and limb colors are either yellowish or red. 
  • Found in southeast Brazil. 
  • The red-headed type of this variant is often called a ‘Cherry-head’ in the pet trade Cherry head tortoise


  • Mate all year round, however usually nest in June and September Chelonia reproduction
  • Courtship noises and scents are used to attract other tortoises to ‘courting sites’. 
  • Males will make a 'cluck' sound and head bob.
  • The male that is not flipped on his back during a pre-mating wrestle will win the female to mate.
  • 2-15 eggs are generally included in each clutch. 
  • Females may lay multiple clutches near each other. 
  • The incubation period is 115-150 days. 

As pets

  • Popular as pets worldwide due to being relatively inexpensive and have interesting personalities; especially popular in the USA. 
  • Should be housed outdoors when conditions allow. 
  • Indoor housing must be secure and waterproof to allow for high humidity conditions. 
  • Adequate space should be provided, as well as the correct temperature and conditions. UVA/UVB lights are generally a required feature for its enclosure. 
  • They should be allowed to forage outdoors whenever possible. 
  • Diet should be kept as similar as possible to its wild diet.

Biological Data

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Further Reading


Refereed papers

Other sources of information


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