Greek tortoises (Testudo graeca) are a group of 5-12” long tortoises native to northern Africa, southern Europe, and southeastern Asia, making their common name a misnomer. Their preferred habitat is generally grassland or scrub, but they can be found in forested areas as well.
Greek tortoises have a highly domed shell, boxy head, large eyes, and spur-like scales on their thighs. Patterning varies by subspecies, but most Greek tortoises are some variation of gold-brown and black. Females are generally larger than males.
Greek tortoises are fairly hardy as pets, but they have long lifespans, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into before bringing one home. With good care, they are capable of living well past 50 years!
Minimum enclosure size for Greek tortoises
The minimum acceptable enclosure size for a Greek tortoise is 12 sq feet of floor space. Since tortoises are poor climbers, floor space is the most important dimension to pay attention to. Because Greek tortoises prefer a drier habitat, they can do well in “tortoise table” style indoor enclosures as long as they have humid retreats. However, hatchlings should be kept in a terrarium until 3” long or so.
If your local climate allows, you can house your Greek tortoise outdoors. The pen should be as large as possible, dug at least 8” into the ground and at least 24” tall with capped corners to prevent escape.
Cohabitation (housing multiple animals in one enclosure) can work with Greek tortoises if they’re more or less raised together, but they can be housed singly as well.
Do Greek tortoises need UVB?
Yes, a moderate level of UVB lighting is required for Greek tortoises to maintain good health. The best UVB bulbs for Greek tortoises are:
- Arcadia T5 HO 12%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 10.0
When the bulb is mounted in a Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO Terrarium Hood fixture without mesh obstruction, it should be placed 6-8” above the top of the tortoise’s shell in the basking area. Bulbs mounted in the Arcadia ProT5 fixture can be placed further away: 17-18” above the tortoise’s shell.
Your UVB bulb and fixture should be roughly half the length of the tortoise’s enclosure, and left on for 14 hours/day during summer, and 10 hours/day during winter. However, if your tortoise is housed outdoors and has access to sunlight, you will not need a UVB lamp.
Since Greek tortoises need such large enclosures, indoor enclosures require more illumination than just a UVB bulb can provide. Use a 6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow light for this purpose.
Best temperature for Greek tortoises
Like other reptiles, Greek tortoises are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, Greek tortoises should have a basking temperature between 95-105°F. Ambient temperatures should be between 75-85°F. These temperatures should be measured with a digital probe thermometer.
Provide heat for your tortoise with at least two halogen flood heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area to evenly heat the tortoise’s entire body. Heat lamps should be at least 8” away from the top of your tortoise’s shell. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
If you are housing your Greek tortoise outdoors, supplementary heating is unnecessary unless night temperatures fall below 50°F. Nighttime heat sources should not produce light, and should only warm the area up to 55-60°F.
Best humidity levels for Greek tortoises
Adult Greek tortoises don’t need much in the way of humidity except for a designated humid area on the cool side. A hide box lined with moistened sphagnum moss works well for this purpose.
Hatchlings (up to 3” long) are more sensitive to dehydration, and should be maintained in a terrarium with ambient humidity levels between 65-70% on average. One of the best ways to increase humidity is to mix water directly into the substrate, but the substrate should only become damp, never soaking.
Humidity should be monitored via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.
Best substrate for Greek tortoises
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help maintain correct humidity levels and also provide something for your tortoise to dig in as desired. We recommend the a 50/50 mix of play sand and topsoil as substrate for Greek tortoises:
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a Greek tortoise enclosure
An empty terrarium makes for a bored tortoise, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- additional hiding places/burrows
- large hollow logs
- live, edible plants
- large, flat stones
The more stuff you add, the more functional your enclosure is likely to become! As an additional feature, you can shape the substrate into hills to create more environmental variety for your pet.
What to feed to a Greek tortoise
Greek tortoises are herbivores, which means that they need a high-fiber, plant-based diet to stay healthy. Variety is key to good nutrition, but most of your Greek tortoise’s diet should be an assortment of leaves and grasses, with occasional flowers. Avoid fruit.
Safe greens for Greek tortoises: cactus pads, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens + flowers, hibiscus leaves + flowers, nasturtium, alfalfa, clover, coreopsis, geranium, grape leaves, bluegrass, Bermuda grass, timothy grass, rye grass, fescue grass
Offer a variety of chopped greens daily.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your tortoise from developing a potential deficiency. We recommend Repashy Superveggie, lightly dusted on each meal. A little bit of Mazuri tortoise diet or Zoo Med Natural Grassland Tortoise Food also makes a nutritious addition.
For additional calcium, place a cuttlebone in the enclosure. Your tortoise will nibble on it as needed, getting dietary calcium as well as filing down its beak!
Of course, don’t forget a water bowl! Greek tortoises like to soak, so you will need a shallow “puddle” of water for them to soak and defecate in. Use a flower pot saucer or a reptile water bowl with a ramp. Keep the water clean and scrub the dishes weekly with a reptile-safe disinfectant, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your Greek tortoise
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. That being said, Greek tortoises generally tolerate human interaction pretty well! They tend to appreciate gentle scratches and hand-feeding rather than being held.
If you have to pick up your tortoise, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Keep handling time to a minimum.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!