15 Pet Tortoise Species Great For Beginners

For some people a tortoise can make a wonderful pet. These lifelong companions are surprisingly intelligent and many owners love their sociable personalities.

Caring for a tortoise can be exciting and rewarding.

For beginners there are a lot of important husbandry and care tips to learn. Each species has its own traits and needs. This means some tortoise breeds are easier for beginners to keep than others.

Keep reading to learn about the 15 best pet tortoise species. We also share which ones are excellent for beginners.

Best Pet Tortoises Species

Pet Tortoise Feature

Tortoises are not one of the first animals that people think of when discussing pets. But science has proven how amazing their personalities really are.

They are a unique group of reptiles and make excellent pets.

In total there are nearly 50 different breeds of tortoise in the wild. Around 20 of these breeds can be kept as a pet. There may not be as many species to choose from as snakes, but each one of these tortoises can bring excitement and companionship into your life.

Each tortoise has its own traits and needs.

One of the main differences amongst these reptiles is size. The largest tortoise that can legally be kept as a pet is the Aldabra. Aldabras can weigh up to 550 pounds and be four feet in length.

The smallest tortoise species that is commonly kept as a pet is the Egyptian tortoise. They max out at five inches long and weigh just 400 grams!

Another important difference is their diet. Many tortoises eat only vegetables, leafy greens and grass to get their nutrients. Some species like the elongated tortoise are omnivorous and require a combination of plants and animal protein.

Below is a table of the 15 best species for beginners ranked by their ease of care compared to other species. We also share some of their unique attributes and then discuss each species in detail…

Rank Species Care Cost Size Lifespan
1 Russian Easy $150 to $400 5 to 10 inches 35 to 50 years
2 Greek Easy $250 to $500 5 to 10 inches 80 to 120 years
3 Hermann’s Easy $200 to $350 6 to 11 inches 30 to 75 years
4 Red-Footed Easy $150 to $850 12 to 16 inches 40 to 60 years
5 African Pancake Easy $450 to $950 6 to 7 inches 25 to 35 years
6 Leopard Moderate $200 to $400 10 to 18 inches 50 to 100 years
7 Egyptian Moderate $800 to $1,500 5 to 7 inches 70 to 100 years
8 Marginated Moderate $200 to $450 12 to 14 inches 100 to 140 years
9 Elongated Moderate $200 to $400 12 to 14 inches 40 to 50 years
10 Burmese Mountain Moderate $500 to $1,000 20 to 24 inches 30 to 60 years
11 Yellow-Footed Slightly Difficult $200 to $450 16 to 28 inches 50 to 60 years
12 Indian Star Slightly Difficult $600 to $1,500 7 to 12 inches 35 to 55 years
13 African Sulcata Difficult $100 to $300 20 to 30 inches 70 to 100 years
14 Chaco Difficult $750 to $1,500 6 to 10 inches 20 to 50 years
15 Aldabra Giant Very Difficult $3,000 to $10,000 36 to 48 inches 100 to 200 years

1. Russian Tortoise (Agrionemys Horsfieldii)

Best tortoise for beginners

Russian Tortoise

The Russian tortoise is one of the most popular pet tortoise species for several reasons. These reptiles are great because their care is low maintenance and they tend to be very curious and active.

Russian tortoises are best for first-time owners who have little to no experience in caring for tortoises. They are fascinating to watch as they forage for food and explore their enclosure. They are also an ideal size for beginners who do not want the responsibility of caring for and feeding a large tortoise.

This species measures 5 to 10 inches long and has a domed shell covered in olive or black markings outlined by a light tan background. An interesting fact about their appearance is the claws they have on their feet are used for digging and climbing.

These reptiles can be housed inside or outside, depending on where you live.

For those who live in areas where it stays relatively warm year-round, housing them outdoors is a great idea. Outside temperatures should range from 70°F to 80°F throughout the day with lows of 65°F and highs of 90°F.

If your garden does not have an ideal climate keeping them inside is also an option.

For small tortoises an indoor enclosure that measures at least 4×4 feet will work. The enclosure’s temperatures should closely mimic the outdoor ones with the use of heating lamps and basking lights.

Russian tortoises have a very diverse diet of vegetables or root vegetables. It is best to stay away from any meats, fruits or grain. Plants that are low in nutrients like iceberg lettuce should also be avoided.

  • Lifespan: 35 to 50 years.
  • Size: 5 to 10 inches.
  • Appearance: Olive and tan domed shell.
  • Enclosure: Outdoors or indoor 16 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Vegetable diet and minimal handling.

2. Greek Tortoise (Testudo Graeca)

Curious small tortoise

Greek Tortoise

Greek tortoises are also known as spur-thighed tortoises and make a great beginner species. They are slightly more interactive than Russians, but need a larger enclosure. Either of the Greek or Russian species are great, it just depends on your preference and what care you are able to provide.

This species is known for being incredibly curious and social. Some individuals will even walk up to anyone holding food. Beginners should know despite their curiosity they do not like to be handled. The only time it is acceptable to handle them is when you need to move them from their enclosure.

These small tortoises measure 5 to 10 inches in size and can also be housed either inside or outside. It depends on your local climate.

A wooden enclosure that spans 4 feet by 5 feet and provides hideouts is the ideal living space. This tortoise is very active and loves to roam around. Their pen should be as natural as possible and have lots of space for exploring. This large enclosure tends to be a bigger responsibility for first-time owners, but their more interactive personalities can make it worth it.

Greek tortoises do amazingly well as pets. In the wild they may only live until their 30s, but those who are cared for under the best conditions have been recorded to live to more than 100 years old.

Their curiosity and personality makes them great for beginners, but it is important to understand they are a long-term commitment.

  • Lifespan: 80 to 120 years.
  • Size: 5 to 10 inches.
  • Appearance: Range from yellow to black shell.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor preferred with 20 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Vegetable and fruit diet.

3. Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo Hermanni)

Colorful burrowing species

Hermann’s Tortoise

The Hermann’s tortoise is a southern European small tortoise. These tortoises are relatively low-maintenance and fun to care for.

There are two subspecies of this breed:

  1. The eastern subspecies is larger and has a shorter dome.
  2. The western variant is much more vibrantly colored.

If you do not mind the size difference either subspecies can be a great pet. For owners looking for a colorful tortoise they should consider the western variant.

These tortoises are very good at digging and enjoying burrowing into the ground. Owners have to ensure that their enclosure is able to stop them from escaping.

For outdoor enclosures having a fence or border that extends about two feet underground will reduce the chances of your tortoise escaping. For indoor enclosures it is much easier as you can provide a few inches of substrate for burrowing.

These reptiles are almost entirely herbivorous and should be fed a diet of leafy greens, root vegetables, grasses, and herbs. Fruits should be avoided but certain ones like apples and tomatoes can be fed as treats. They can occasionally be fed worms that are covered in supplements.

A beginner who does not mind a tortoise that can burrow may enjoy owning a Hermann’s tortoise. These tortoises have a very easy diet and can be very colorful. Just make sure you are able to provide a barrier to stop them escaping!

  • Lifespan: 30 to 75 years.
  • Size: 6 to 11 inches.
  • Appearance: Yellow domed-shell with large black marks.
  • Enclosure: Outdoors preferred 16 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Minimal handling.

4. Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis Carbonaria)

Active tortoise with many colors

Red-Footed Tortoise

The red-footed tortoise is a breed that has grown very popular over the last 30 years. This tortoise has become so common that there are several variations including the popular cherry-head morph (bright red markings on their face) and the albino morph (pale shell and legs).

Red-footed tortoises get their name from the red markings along their legs and feet. In some cases these markings extend to the neck and throughout the shell.

RELATED: Top 500 Most Popular Turtle Names

One thing that makes them great pets is that they are very active during the day. Watching them scatter around their enclosure is something many owners enjoy.

Despite being larger than some of the other pet tortoises, they are relatively easy to care for.

These tortoises have a unique diet compared to the herbivorous species that topped this list. Red-footed tortoises are omnivores. Most of their diet is leafy greens and vegetables, however they also eat fruits and insects. If you are not comfortable with handling insects this may not be the tortoise for you.

  • Lifespan: 40 to 60 years.
  • Size: 12 to 16 inches.
  • Appearance: Black shell with red or yellow markings.
  • Enclosure: Outdoors or indoors 24 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Do well in groups.

5. African Pancake Tortoise (Malacochersus Tornieri)

World’s fastest tortoise

African Pancake Tortoise

The African pancake tortoise is one of the most unique species in the world due to its flat thin shell, speed and agility. If you are looking for an active and fast tortoise this may be the one for you.

These tortoises are best suited for owners who enjoy their uniqueness and do not mind their unique care needs. African pancakes naturally live in areas with rocky hills and dry savannahs. They need a 40-gallon enclosure with tall walls and many hiding spots to copy their wild habitat.

Whether they are kept indoors or outdoors, their enclosure should have plenty of rock crevices and a soft substrate for burrowing beneath the surface.

African pancakes have a very interesting method of defending themselves against predators. Instead of using their shell as a defense, they will evade their predators by rushing to the nearest rock crevice or burrow.

If you have room for an enclosure that has plenty of space for roaming and hideouts, you may be able to provide great care for a pancake tortoise.

African pancake tortoises are grazing herbivores. They should be fed fresh leafy greens, grass and herbs. Their diet can also be supplemented with a commercial diet once or twice a week and a few fruits once a month. You should also supplement their diet with calcium and vitamins.

  • Lifespan: 25 to 35 years.
  • Size: 6 to 7 inches.
  • Appearance: Shades of brown and yellow.
  • Enclosure: 40+ gallon terrarium.
  • Husbandry: Minimal handling.

6. Leopard Tortoise (Stigmochelys Pardalis)

Gentle giant species

Leopard Tortoise

Leopard tortoises are originally found throughout the savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. They became popular pets in the 1990s and are well-known tortoises. In 2000 the United States made the importation of wild leopard tortoises illegal because wild individuals can be carriers of heartwater disease.

Heartwater disease can be fatal to livestock, but luckily it is not found in captive breeds. If you want a leopard tortoise make sure that the breeder is reliable and trusted.

Leopard tortoises are very shy and relatively docile towards people and other species. They are very relaxed, but are not as entertaining as some others in this list. These tortoises are also known for not burrowing or climbing. Instead they graze and feed on grass and other leafy greens.

They should be fed a varied diet of grass, leafy greens and herbs.

Leopard tortoises can be left to feed on lawn grass as long as it has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. This diet should be supplemented with hay and leafy greens every day as well as calcium and vitamin supplementation less frequently.

  • Lifespan: 50 to 100 years.
  • Size: 10 to 18 inches.
  • Appearance: Yellow shell with complex, dark patterns.
  • Enclosure: Outdoors.
  • Husbandry: Very shy and docile.

7. Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo Kleinmanni)

Mini Species

Egyptian Tortoise

The Egyptian is a small tortoise species that measures 5 to 7 inches long. These tortoises are one of the smallest in the world and can come in a variety of colors including yellow, golden brown and ivory. They are most known for the unique pyramid-shaped markings on their underbelly.

Their tiny size has led to them becoming extremely popular. However, it has also led to them becoming critically endangered because of overharvesting. Egypt has now made it illegal to export these tortoises from their natural habitat.

If you want to buy an Egyptian tortoise, it is extremely important that you make sure they were bred in captivity. If you are not sure of its origin do not buy it!

These tortoises do make great pets for children as they are very docile and small, although they should not be handled.

They have a very strict diet that should be followed to ensure that they remain healthy. They are almost entirely herbivores and should be fed a diet of leafy greens like dandelion greens, kale, and arugula that are low in oxalates. Do not fed them spinach or parsley.

Unfortunately they are prone to several diseases in captivity such as respiratory diseases, metabolic bone disease and kidney issues.

If you are not willing to provide a good setup and strict diet then you should reconsider owning an Egyptian tortoise.

  • Lifespan: 70 to 100 years.
  • Size: 5 to 7 inches.
  • Appearance: Light brown and yellow with two black marks on the bottom of their shell.
  • Enclosure: Indoors or outdoors with 10 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Strict diet.

8. Marginated Tortoise (Testudo Marginata)

Largest European species

Marginated Tortoise

The Marginated is the largest of the European tortoises measuring between 12 to 14 inches and weighing 7 to 12 pounds. These tortoises are very unique compared to other breeds because of the design of their shell. The back of their shell extends into what looks like a skirt.

Marginated tortoises are very docile and make great pets for beginners with older children. They rarely get aggressive and are very friendly.

Like most European species these tortoises can hibernate in the winter. If a tortoise is hibernated without being in good health or with proper care, it could lead to serious medical concerns. Because of this, only keepers with a good knowledge of hibernation should consider adopting this type of tortoise.

Other than hibernation they are easy to care for because of their simple diet and ability to live indoors or outdoors.

  • Lifespan: 100 to 140 years.
  • Size: 12 to 14 inches.
  • Appearance: Black and yellow shell.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor.
  • Husbandry: Herbivorous diet.

9. Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo Elongata)

Long thin tortoise

Elongated Tortoise

The Elongated tortoise is originally from southeast Asia and parts of India. Their name perfectly describes their unique appearance. Their shell is much longer than it is wider. They also tend to have flatter shells that can range in color from yellow to tan or brown.

Elongated tortoises are not very popular with beginners because there is not a lot of information available on their care.

Many experienced keepers find these reptiles simple to care for, apart from their diet. Elongated tortoises are omnivorous. This means that they eat both vegetables and animals. Their main diet consists of vegetables and fruits like melons and apples.

However, they also require a high-protein meal at least twice a week. You should feed them either crickets, thawed mice, or snails.

Elongated tortoises are best suited for keepers who are committed to understanding how to properly care for them. They can be a big commitment with a lifespan upwards of 50 years.

  • Lifespan: 40 to 50 years.
  • Size: 12 to 14 inches.
  • Appearance: Tan shell with black markings.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor or indoor 48 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Minimal handling.

10. Burmese Mountain Tortoise (Manouria Emys)

World’s fourth-largest species

Burmese Mountain

The Burmese mountain tortoise, also known as the Asian giant, is the fourth largest tortoise in the world. These tortoises can grow up to two feet long, weigh as much as 80 pounds and can be a big responsibility for any owner.

As well as their impressive size these tortoises have very thick protective scales along their legs and a very tall domed shell.

Burmese mountain tortoises can be very expensive because of their increasing scarcity in the wild. Their price can run from $500 to over $1,000. Many Asian countries have banned removing them from the wild because they have become critically endangered.

Despite their giant size and need for a large outdoor enclosure, their husbandry is not any more challenging than other tortoise species.

Burmese mountains are omnivorous. They can be fed a combination of mostly dark leafy greens and a small variety of high-protein foods like lean chicken, thawed mice and insects. They should also be given calcium and Vitamin D3 supplements.

They are best suited for keepers who are capable of handling a large tortoise. If you can overcome their large size their husbandry is not all that difficult.

  • Lifespan: 30 to 60 years.
  • Size: 20 to 24 inches.
  • Appearance: Black, brown, or tan.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor with over 150 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Omnivorous diet.

11. Yellow-Footed Tortoise (Geochelone Denticulata)

The talkative tortoise

Yellow-Footed Tortoise

The yellow-footed tortoise is named for the yellow and orange scales on their front legs, neck and head. They are a long species with some individuals reaching 2.5 feet, but they do not grow to be giant and weigh around 35 pounds.

These tortoises are very closely related to the red-footed tortoise, but they are not as suitable for beginners. Yellow-footed species in general are known to be shy with humans and males have been known to be aggressive with other tortoises.

One unique trait about the yellow-footed is their verbal communication. Despite being shy and needing lots of hiding spots, they occasionally try to speak to their owner. They will make a noise that can only be explained as a baby cooing with a low raspy voice.

If you are a first-time owner do not be alarmed by this raspy noise. The chances are this means they are comfortable communicating with you! Despite communicating occasionally these tortoises should not be handled as they are shy. Handling should be kept to a minimum to avoid stressing them out.

These tortoises are great for owners who want an independent species. To keep them healthy, you should give them a large 32 foot square enclosure and feed them a wide variety of non-citrus fruit and leafy greens.

  • Lifespan: 50 to 60 years.
  • Size: 16 to 28 inches.
  • Appearance: Yellow or orange scales on legs.
  • Enclosure: Indoor or outdoor over 32 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Difficult.

12. Indian Star Tortoise (Geochelone Elegans)

Most beautiful tortoise

Indian Star

The Indian star is one of the most popular pet tortoise breeds because of its beautiful and unique patterns. These tortoises have raised scutes along their shells that are bright yellow. Going down the scutes are stripes of yellow lines making a pattern that looks like a miniature cartoon star.

This unique appearance makes them very popular.

Even though these tortoises do not do well with other pets and handling, they do very well with others of their kind.

Their small size and social behavior makes it easier to care for multiple tortoises in one enclosure. Groups of Indian stars are usually kept together in outdoor enclosures with plenty of hideouts.

Indian stars rank 12th on our list because of how expensive it is to purchase one. An initial purchase of over $1,000 can be very discouraging to beginner owners who do not yet have experience. This price only increases when you take into consideration that these tortoises are great when kept in a group.

These tortoises are herbivorous and mainly eat grass and vegetables. Some great options to feed them include timothy hay, ryegrass, kale, cactus leaves and dandelion greens.

  • Lifespan: 35 to 55 years.
  • Size: 7 to 12 inches.
  • Appearance: Star-patterned black and yellow shell.
  • Enclosure: 50-gallon terrarium .
  • Husbandry: Can be kept in groups.

13. African Sulcata Tortoise (Centrochelys Sulcata)

Giant burrowing breed

African Sulcata Tortoise

The African sulcata tortoise is also known as the African spurred. This species made our list because they have been known to form strong bonds with their owners, especially through feeding and bathing. These tortoises are very docile and extremely curious.

Unfortunately African sulcatas are the third-largest tortoise species in the world. They can weigh as much as 200 pounds which makes them difficult to transport, handle, bath and house. Handling should only be done when necessary and with care and caution.

African sulcatas are grazing herbivores. They should be fed a mix of vegetables and grass and plants grown around the enclosure. In their enclosure you can grow cactus pads, hibiscus, or mulberry depending on your region’s climate.

These tortoises can make amazing pets for owners that are prepared to care for them. Their need for large amounts of space can be an issue for many beginners. Another thing to consider is that they can build burrows as deep as 10 feet.

If given the proper care they will almost certainly outlive their owners, so it is important that you have a plan on how your tortoise will continue to receive the best care.

  • Lifespan: 70 to 100 years.
  • Size: 20 to 30 inches.
  • Appearance: Earthy colors like brown and yellow .
  • Enclosure: Outdoor with 120 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Difficult.

14. Chaco Tortoise (Testudo Chilensis)

Rare pet tortoise

Chaco Tortoise

The Chaco tortoise is one of rarest species. They are originally from Argentina and have slowly become more available throughout America and Europe.

Unfortunately very little is known about their proper care, but many owners practice husbandry used with other similar tortoises. One species that has been compared to their natural behavior is the North American gopher.

Because so little is known about them they only rank 14th on our list, but with some research a beginner can care for them. Their rarity also means they can be very expensive to buy ($750 to $1,500) which can discourage beginners.

What is known is that these tortoises are mainly herbivorous and eat a variety of grasses and vegetables. They should be fed leafy greens low in oxalates and fruits that are not citrus. According to Dr. Heinz Wermuth, who cared for this species in the 1960s, they love peaches and should be fed cuttlebones to help reduce beak growth.

  • Lifespan: 20 to 50 years.
  • Size: 6 to 10 inches.
  • Appearance: Yellow with black outlines on the shell.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor during warmer seasons 16 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Susceptible to disease.

15. Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys Gigantea)

Largest pet breed

Aldabra Giant

The Aldabra giant is the second largest tortoise in the world, only behind the Galapagos. They are the largest pet breed that can be legally kept as the Galapagos is under strict legal protection by Ecuador’s government.

Aldabras can weigh between 350 to 550 pounds and should only be kept by someone with experience caring for tortoises. Caring for an Aldabra giant is a serious commitment.

Not only is caring for an Aldabras a serious commitment, but it is also a life-long, generational one. These tortoises and can live for 200 years. They require a lot of food and husbandry throughout their life.

These tortoises are so big that they need huge outdoor enclosures, over 200 square feet. Many owners chose to have a pond built for their pet to drink, soak and swim in. These tortoises are usually great swimmers and enjoy being in ponds because they are native to islands in the Indian Oocean.

  • Lifespan: 100 to 200 years.
  • Size: 36 to 48 inches.
  • Appearance: large brown domed shell.
  • Enclosure: Outdoor with 200 foot square.
  • Husbandry: Very Difficult.

Summary

Tortoises are not the easiest pets to care for, reptiles like lizards are far easier for beginners. But a dedicated beginner can enjoy caring for some species without much worry.

Tortoises have an instinctual curiosity that makes them fun to watch and popular with first-time owners:

  • If you have a large open garden and live in warm climates the Leopard tortoise is a good choice.
  • Someone who lives in a region that gets cold and wants to care for a tortoise indoors may prefer a smaller pet like the Russian.
  • A keeper looking for an easy, but curious and social species should adopt a Greek Tortoise.

Regardless of which pet tortoise you want it is important to have an understanding of how you can provide the best care.

Let us know in the comments which tortoise you want to get.

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty.

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