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Greek Tortoise Care Guide

Last Updated - June 8, 2022

If you consider getting a reptile but want something relatively easy to care for with an affable and easy-going temperament, a greek tortoise might be for you. Greek tortoises aren't like sneaks or lizards that you have to worry about escaping all the time, nor do you have to feed them any strange or gross live or freeze-dried creatures like mice or blood worms.

Greek tortoises are relatively easy to care for, though they require some forethought to ensure they thrive.

About Greek Tortoises

Before we dive into the specifics of caring for a greek tortoise, let's find out a little more about them, where they come from, what they look like, and what kind of temperament they have.

The Name and Origins of the Greek Tortoise

Contrary to what you might think, the greek tortoise does not originate in Greece. Rather, Greek tortoises (or testudo graeca) got their name from their patterned shells that resemble greek mosaics.

Greek tortoises originate from all over Southern Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. There are several subspecies of the greek tortoise, including the North African greek tortoise, the Libyan greek tortoise, and the Tunisian greek tortoise.

Interestingly, they do not prefer any particular climate or terrain over another. A greek tortoise inhabits forests, plains, and mountainsides alike in the wild. The only preference they seem to have is that the climate is mostly arid.

Over the last decades, many Greek tortoises for sale in the United States are Ibera Greek Tortoise and Golden Greek Tortoise. But remember, some tortoises resembled one another, and the "Golden Greek" and "Black Greek" aren't always Greek tortoises as the name was titled based on the tortoise color.

Coloring and Size

Greek tortoise shells (or carapaces) vary from tan to yellow in color, with the individual plates (scutes) sporting shades of dark brown or black. Greek tortoise size depends on subspecies. They will grow between 5 to 8 inches big, though some can grow to be as large as 10 inches. They are beautiful, relatively small tortoises, making them easy and interesting pets.

Gender Identification

There are a few main points to look to when identifying female versus male. Males are generally smaller with a longer tail than females, and females are taper to a point evenly, and the cloacal opening is farther from the base of the tail. When mature, some females can be twice the size of the male. The underside of male greek tortoises is more curved, and females are flat. The rear portion of a male's carapace is wider, and the female is long.

Life Expectancy 

One of the main considerations when it comes to considering getting a greek tortoise is its life expectancy. This is because greek tortoises can live up to 50 years or more in captivity, meaning they may very well outlive their owner. Because of this, if you get a greek tortoise, you are signing up for the rest of its very long life. They are definitely a commitment.

Temperament

Part of why greek tortoises are so popular is because of their easy-going and mellow temperament. They are mellow and amiable creatures, and once they are comfortable and trusting of their owners, they can become quite social.

Outdoor Space 

Ideally, you will have your greek tortoise at least partially outdoors. Whether this is full-time or just part of the time, there are a few other considerations to make when creating their outdoor space.

For one, you will need to ensure that the enclosure is covered with a mesh so that no wild animals or birds can reach your pet. You will also need to ensure that the walls of the enclosure are set at least six inches below the surface to prevent your tortoise from digging an escape.

The minimum space requirement for one or a pair of greek tortoises is 3x6 feet, though more space is always better. The exterior walls should rise at least 18 inches.

Housing Greek Tortoises Indoors

During warmer months of the year, Greek Tortoises are best kept outdoors, but they should spend indoors during cooler months.

Many tortoise owners prefer using a tortoise pen, a plastic storage tub, or a wooden enclosure to house their Greek tortoise. Unlike other reptile species, greek tortoises will not thrive in a glass tank. They require more space, and because there is much less worry about them escaping, many owners opt for a large shallow plastic tub or a wooden enclosure to allow for more space to roam.

Lighting

Greek tortoises require temperatures of 75-90˚F and no lower than 65˚F at night. When housing greek tortoises indoors, be sure to install a light above one of the indoor tortoise enclosure creates a perfect basking area. You should use a heating light in one corner of the cage and create heat of about 80-100˚F in that one corner. This will allow your pet to warm itself while still being able to retreat to cooler spaces if it wants.

A UVB lamp will also be necessary if your greek tortoise will live mostly indoors. These lights should envelop the whole cage and should follow a day/night schedule of being on and off. These lights ensure that your tortoise receives adequate vitamin D to keep its bones healthy.

Humidity

Greek tortoises thrive in humidity levels between 40 to 60%. It would help if you used a hygrometer to track the humidity of your tortoise's cage. You can mist the habitat's substrate to raise humidity and keep a water bowl full in the cage.

If you have babies on hand, keeping baby Greek tortoises well hydrated and with sufficient humidity levels will help them thrive.

Greek Tortoise Substrate

There are a number of acceptable substrates you can use in your tortoise's habitat—mulch, aspen shavings, cypress mulch, and a play sand/dirt mixture. 

Decor

The decor is fine to use so long as you consider that your greek tortoise will eat most greenery and may attempt to use anything else to escape. Only use eatable plants and keep any other items away from exterior walls. Greek tortoises prefer to have at least one hide box to provide shade, shelter, and safety. 

Cleaning

To remove waste and food, you should spot clean your tortoise enclosure at least once a day. The water should be changed at least once a day as they will defecate in their water, so keeping it clean is essential to keep your tortoises healthy. The entire enclosure should be scrubbed with a reptile-safe cleaner at least once a week. 

Feeding

Greek tortoises are herbivores and will eat a variety of greens and veggies. You can provide leafy greens such as collard greens, endive, fresh parsley, lettuce, wild strawberry, and dandelion greens. You can provide some veggies, too, zucchini, broccoli, and shredded carrots.

Chopped-up Timothy hay is also a good choice for fiber and keeps your tortoise's beak in shape. Fruit should be given sparingly because of their sugar content, but you can use strawberries, raspberries, and apples. 

Another greek tortoise food to consider is quality commercial food pellets, which can ensure that your pet receives all the needed nutrients and help Greek tortoises maintain good health. Calcium powder supplements may also be used to ensure strong bone growth. Food that we recommend includes Mazuri tortoise diet or Zoo Med Natural Grassland Tortoise food.

Greek Tortoise Water And Feeding Dish

Feed your tortoise from a plate or construct a "tortoise table" so that he doesn't accidentally eat any substrate and clean up any uneaten food before it spoils.

A shallow water dish should be available at all times, low enough for your tortoise to walk in to drink, clean, or relieve itself. Therefore, water should be changed daily and provide fresh water.

Greek Tortoise Handling And Temperament

Most greek tortoises are mellow and sweet creatures, provided you respect their space. Unless absolutely necessary, do not attempt to touch, lift, carry, or handle your tortoise.

When you have to move your tortoise, pick them up very gently and move them very slowly to not overly stress them. The only time a greek tortoise might bite you is when it is being lifted, so keep this in mind and handle it carefully. 

Breeding

Greek tortoise mating typically takes place in April and May. Male Greek tortoises will exhibit "shell ramming" to females to coax them into breeding. Once the female submits to the male, he will mount her and begins copulation. While mating, male Greek tortoise will stick their tongue out and make a high-pitched noise.

The Female will start egg laying in June, and she will dig a 4 to 7-inch-long nesting chamber and deposit three to six eggs. She will then cover them and leave them to hatch on their ow. After about 55 to 70 days, baby tortoises will hatch.

In closing

Greek tortoises make sweet, easy pets, though they do require some planning and forethought and a commitment to them for their whole lives. You should always make sure to buy from a reputable breeder. Healthy baby greek tortoises will have clear eyes, firm, properly shaped carapaces, and will eat and move normally. 

When cared for properly, greek tortoises will live long, happy lives. They are not overly prone to ideas, but be sure to regularly take them in for regular checkups with an exotics vet to ensure optimal health or whenever their behavior or appearance changes. 

Owning a greek tortoise is not hard, though a bit time-consuming at first, but they are a rewarding and easy-going pet once you get the hang of it. Their peaceful attitude and beautiful appearance will give you many years of joy and companionship. 

lara grisko the pet staff

About the Author

Lara Girsko

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.

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