Marginated tortoises are one of the most commonly kept species of pet tortoise in the world so there is a lot of knowledge about their care requirements. Despite their abundance in captivity and the research surrounding them, there is still so much we can learn about caring for our shelled friends. Read on for everything you need to know about marginated tortoises.
Marginated Tortoise Fact File
As we mentioned before, there is a lot of information out there about this beautiful species of tortoise so here we have gathered everything we can about their life in the wild.
The marginated tortoise scientific name is Testudo marginata, and it does not have any other common names. However there are several subspecies that are often described such as the Greek marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata marginata) and the Sardinian marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata sarda).
Marginated tortoises can live for more than 20 years but often much longer with the right care.
Marginated tortoises grow up to 40cm in size and are the largest species of Mediterranean tortoise. Males generally grow larger than females and can weigh up to 5kg. Their name comes from the shape of the marginal scutes that flare out and form a skirt shape at the end of their shell. This flaring is more pronounced in males, whereas females are usually broader in shape. This also becomes more prominent as the tortoises grow with age.
Their beautifully marked shells are most commonly dark in colour with a few yellow or pearly white highlights throughout.
On the plastron, they often have 2 chevron-shaped marks on either side, similar to that you may see on Egyptian tortoises.
The marginated tortoise lives in Southern European countries such as Greece, Italy, and Albania. They can be seen in various habitats from rocky hillsides to meadows, woodlands, and scrub land.
Thanks to the cooler climates in which they inhabit, marginated tortoises are often much more active during the day when compared to other tortoise species and you will rarely find them hiding in the shade. Due to their darker coloured, they absorb a lot more heat which allows them to warm up sufficiently, even when the temperature is lower.
Adult marginated tortoises are often described as “energetic” breeders and do not need any help when it comes to copulation.
Males are known to be aggressive towards other males which is normal with most tortoise species, with peak mating season being just after they come out of hibernation in the months of April-June. Males can also be aggressive towards females during courtship and can be seen cornering a female, biting at her front legs and ramming into her with his shell. He will circle her until he can mount her and will make several long, loud, grunts during the process.
A gravid female will lay their eggs usually around 6-8 weeks after successful copulation but can even carry the eggs until the next season if she does not find a suitable nest site.
They will usually lay 2 or 3 clutches throughout the season with each clutch containing 3-12 eggs. When she is ready to lay her eggs, she will push around in shrubs and grass until she finds an appropriate nesting site. Here, she will dig a nesting chamber, deposit the eggs and then cover the nest. Females do not provide any post-hatchling care and baby marginated tortoises are completely self-sufficient once they emerge from the nest.
Despite being classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, the marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) is listed in CITES Appendix II and it is illegal to collect, trade or kill any individuals. They have a diverse habitat and can survive in various locations across their range therefore they are not as severely threatened as some of the less adaptable species of tortoise such as the Hermann’s tortoise.
Their numbers are most commonly affected by agricultural processes where they are killed by machinery and pesticide or herbicide sprays. They are also very commonly taken from the wild for the illegal pet trade, however, their trading is not as detrimental to their population.
Keeping a Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata) as a Pet
As one of the most common species of pet tortoise, there is lots of information about how to look after marginated tortoises and how to keep them healthy. Tortoises can often outlive their owners so it’s even more important that we give them everything they need to live long and happy lives!
Most tortoise experts suggest a minimum size of 2-feet by 4-feet for a single tortoise and to increase it if you choose to get more than one. As always, we will always recommend giving as much space as you possibly can, especially if you house them outside. While marginated tortoises are relatively hardy and they can survive in cooler climates, outside areas will still require additional heat and UV light sources, as well as an insulated inside area such as a shed or a greenhouse. These tortoises are very active when compared to other species and so will do well with lots of space!
Although baby tortoises and young tortoises obviously do not require as much square footage, we always suggest skipping smaller enclosures for the sake of a baby tortoise and instead buying the maximum size so that you don’t have to upgrade as they grow. Most tortoise enclosures are designed to last for many years so will be perfect as a long-term investment.
Marginated tortoises are not known to dig burrows, however, all tortoises will do a bit of digging to cool off and help regulate their temperature, therefore it’s important that the base of their enclosure is secure and slight digging will not enable escape or affect the integrity of the enclosure.
Although the size is very important in creating the perfect environment for your marginated tortoise, what you fill it with is also vital! Whether you choose a tortoise table, or you prefer outdoor housing for your tortoises, here is how to create the perfect setup.
The best substrate for marginated tortoises consists of a natural soil that can be mixed with coir or coconut. Natural dirt often contains chemicals which can be dangerous for your tortoise therefore look for something that is organic and toxin-free.
You can also place a couple of centimetres of cypress mulch on the top of the soil mix to help maintain the humidity of the enclosure. Cypress mulch retains moisture which is great for helping your tortoise regulate their temperature, however, be sure that your tortoise also has places to dry off. Baby tortoises, especially, like to burrow into the substrate so be prepared to provide enough for them to exhibit this behaviour.
Whether you have younger tortoises or adult tortoises, they all need ample UVB lighting to be able to grow and maintain healthy bones and a healthy shell. In their wild habitat, they would have around 12 hours of sunlight therefore we recommend trying to replicate this in their enclosures. Install a timer so that you don’t have to remember to turn it on or off, and so you don’t have to wake up early to do so, either!
Not only will the correct lighting regulate their circadian rhythm, making them more active and encouraging them to perform natural behaviours, but it will also reduce the risk of metabolic bone disease which can occur when they don’t absorb enough calcium.
Make sure you provide a UVB bulb and replace it every 6 months to ensure they are getting everything that they need. Even if they are housed outdoors, we still recommend providing supplemental lighting, especially during the winter months.
Tortoises need heat from external sources to be able to maintain their body temperature to be able to perform normal bodily functions including moving, digesting, and breeding.
Although wild specimens are used to lower temperatures when compared to other tortoises, marginated tortoises still need a specific temperature range to be able to thrive. Don’t let the temperature drop below 15C at night, and keep the ambient temperature around 25-30C during the day. They should have proper temperature gradients which include a higher temperature under a basking light, and a lower temperature on the other end of their enclosure where they can go to cool off and rest.
With the right temperature probe or thermometer, you can easily monitor the actual temperature of various areas of your tortoise’s enclosure to ensure they are within the correct limits.
If your tortoise is in an outdoor enclosure then we recommend moving them inside during the colder months as marginated tortoises cannot tolerate the nearing freezing temperatures that are common throughout the UK winters.
Marginated tortoises (Testudo marginata) are not used to a humid environment therefore it is important to manage properly it to avoid health complications. As we mentioned earlier, a great way of managing the humidity within your marginated tortoise enclosure is by using cypress mulch which you can spray with water regularly and is a great way of safely creating some humidity for your tortoise. If your tortoise is constantly damp, without anywhere to dry off, it can cause shell rot or respiratory infections which can often be fatal.
We recommend kitting out your marginated tortoise enclosure with lots of furnishings to help them explore. As such inquisitive and active tortoises, they will easily get bored if their enclosure is bare. Include flat rocks for them to climb over, desert-type plants to mimic their natural habitat, and clump grasses together to create natural hiding spots. You should also include wooden boxes or half log hides for them to hide away in and rest.
Be sure to place all the furnishings strategically so as not to create any tight hiding spaces where your marginated tortoise could get stuck and stressed out. It’s important to check on and monitor your tortoise to ensure they are not stuck in a corner, upside down, or eating too much of their decorations!
Shallow water dishes are a perfect addition to any tortoise enclosure and marginated tortoises are no exception. Make sure you provide fresh water each day and disinfect their water bowl regularly to prevent a build up of bacteria. You will see them climbing in and out to bathe and drink throughout the day, and so they may drag substrate in, too, which could require more regular cleaning.
Marginated tortoises are known to hibernate over winter when the temperature drops too low however many tortoise keepers will avoid this by keeping their indoor temperature consistent all year round. This way, their bodies will not naturally start the process of hibernation and you can enjoy them throughout every season.
Alternatively, if you do decide to support the brumation process, hibernating tortoises will require hide boxes and the correct conditions. They will typically burrow deep into the soil so be sure to catch them before this happens, especially if they are in an outdoor enclosure!
The diet of the marginated tortoise should consist of leafy greens, weeds, flowers, and minimal fruit and veg. It is important to give them as much of a variety as possible:
- Dandelion leaves and flowers
- Plaintain leaves
- Honeysuckle flowers
- Evening primrose
- Prickly pear cactus
Marginated tortoises are strictly vegetarians so they should never be offered meat of any kind; a diet high in protein could eventually lead to kidney failure which is fatal.
You can offer fruits such as strawberries on rare occasions as a special treat but anything high in sugar should be avoided more than once or twice a week.
You can find most weeds, grasses, and flowers in your gardens but it is important that you positively identify them before feeding them to your shelled friend. Although many plants may look the same, some may be toxic to different animals so always be sure before you add them to your tortoise’s daily food. If you are unsure, it is best to err on the side of caution and not feed it at all.
Due to their low-humidity natural environment, they can develop shell rot if their enclosure is too humid and they cannot dry off fully. Watch out for white spots, changes in colour on the shell and skin, or soft patches on the shell, and check in with your vet if you are ever concerned.
As with most tortoises, captive-bred marginated tortoises are also susceptible to metabolic bone disease and respiratory infections if not kept in the correct conditions. Be sure to provide the correct substrate, light, and heat so that most health complications can be avoided.
Juvenile marginated tortoises can be offered supplements to encourage healthy growth while adult tortoises are often given supplements, too, in the instance they are not receiving a balanced diet. Chat with your veterinarian to be sure you are providing all of the vitamins and minerals your marginated tortoise needs. As we mentioned previously, avoid a diet high in protein as this can lead to health issues such as kidney failure which can be difficult to diagnose and hard to treat.
If you house more than one tortoise, and both males and females, you may need to separate males from the females to give them a break as they can often cause injury if left alone. This is especially the case during mating season where you can also expect seasonal fighting amongst males.
Despite this, they are very friendly with their owners and will soon become used to your presence, often coming out to see you when they hear you nearby. They are very active during the day so we are sure you will get lots of joy from watching them explore their enclosure. However, most tortoises do not like to be handled, and marginated tortoises are no exception. Keep handling to a minimum and they will be more likely to build positive interactions with you and your family.
Buying a Marginated Tortoise (Testudo marginata)
The tortoise protection group has a list of verified breeders that you should consider when purchasing a marginated tortoise. As a CITES II listed species, you should always ask to see the appropriate documentation and request copies if not given your own.
With that in mind, as tortoises will often outlive their owners, or sometimes people simply underestimate how long they can live for, there are always many tortoises available for adoption and available to a loving home.
The marginated tortoise (Testudo marginata) is relatively easy to care for and is known to be a hardy species of tortoise, however, this doesn’t mean you should neglect their needs! We hope that this simple guide is helpful in caring for your marginated tortoise and ensuring a long, healthy and happy life.
If you have any tips then let us know, we’d love to hear from you.