Care instructions for the European Tortoise

Pasningsvejledning for Europæisk Landskildpadde

Care instructions, keeping and breeding etc. are basically the same for all the European tortoise species such as the BROAD-SIDED tortoise (Testudo marginata) and the RUSSIAN tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldi) even though it geographically does not belong to the European species.

This care guide for European land turtles has been written in collaboration with Jan Lehmann from who has more than 40 years of experience with keeping, breeding, joys, sorrows, observations in captivity and nature with land turtles. Jan Lehmann has, among other things, also worked together with Copenhagen Zoo.

We have also used information from the Nordic Herpetological Association ( ) for this care guide. The care instructions contain general information about the care of an animal species/animal group. Further information can be found in the library or on the above and other websites. The professional content of the care guide was approved by the Council regarding the keeping of special animals on 5 January 2014 in accordance with the executive order on commercial trade in animals.

But remember even though this care guide is based on information from the Nordic Herpetological Association, our training as animal keepers and with the feedback and information that people like Jan Lehmann have spent a lifetime acquiring. Doesn't mean it's the only way to keep land turtles, we strongly encourage people to do their own research and use common sense. But don't blindly trust everything you read from all the many "experts" on the internet today and like mine. take a Pet dealer, Veterinarian with trained staff or someone like Jan Lehmann along for advice.

Some facts about the animal species

There are approx. 50 different species of tortoises, but in this guide we will focus on Greek tortoises, which are common in the Danish trade, but there are also several species where keeping and breeding etc. are largely the same - such as:

European tortoises ( Testudo )
Greek ( Eurotestudo hermannianni / Eurotestdo boettgeri )
Russian ( Eurotestudo horsfieldii )
Broad-sided tortoise ( Eurotestudo marginata)

Appearance & size

Greek tortoises are a beautiful tortoise and it can vary quite a lot in color and pattern. Therefore, you also find quite a few different versions of it, from olive green, olive brown, yellow, black brown and often with black markings on its shield.

The Greek tortoise can grow up to 20–25 cm in carapace size, stick measure from carapace to tail carapace, but around 15–20 cm. is more normal. Females are often larger than males.

Greek length approx. 15-20 cm (depending on gender)
Russian long approx. 15-25 cm (depending on gender)
Wide brim length approx. 28-30 cm (depending on gender)

Life expectancy of a land turtle

Yes, one of the important reasons why you should always think extra carefully before acquiring land turtles is that they live longer in captivity than in the wild. A farmed tortoise, kept correctly and in good conditions, should easily live to be over 60-80 years old. It is also not unusual to hear about turtles that have lived over 100 years. (The record is 124 years in captivity).

Recommended size and layout of facility or cage

land turtle spaa coconut bottom layer We recommend COCONUT as a base layer, as it is easy to hold and always available Find it here

First, it is important to say that a turtle must have space. An adult European tortoise should have an area of ​​min. 1 square meter and must NOT live on the floor, as the floor will always be where you find the most drafts and dust, which is one of its worst enemies. A turtle must live in a "box", aquarium or best of all a terrarium.

The bottom layer in the terrarium should not be sawdust or shavings, as this creates a lot of dust and can damage the turtle's airways. Coarse wood chips, or aquarium gravel or stones in the size 3-4 mm and up, depending on the turtle can be used, but the ideal substrate for a European land turtle is 1/3 wood chips, 1/3 gravel and 1/3 Humus.

We would not recommend soil, it belongs outside in nature and can take in various things that you don't want your tortoise to walk around in and it can be difficult to hold, so we therefore recommend a mixture as mentioned in the text before - will also be link to it on our webshop at the bottom of this page.

As with all animals, you must be able to keep it clean, and therefore we recommend a terrarium made of a suitable material such as glass, wood or plastic. and remember a suitable size for 2 adult Greek tortoises, it must have min. 1 square meter, so that a terrarium has a size and layout that gives your land turtles the opportunity to display as natural a behavior as possible.

If several turtles are kept, it is recommended that the area be increased by 1/3 for each additional adult turtle.

The terrarium can be furnished with plants, cork and tree roots, in addition there must be hiding places available and the plant must be kept slightly moist. Fresh water and a sepia shell/lime block must always be available. Faeces must be removed regularly. It is desirable that a land turtle has the opportunity to stay outdoors during the summer period. Here you must be aware that there is both sun and shade in the cage throughout the day.

Special care needs, including special requirements for temperature conditions and access to water

The animals must have vitamin, calcium and mineral supplements adapted to diurnal reptiles. The terrarium must meet the turtle's need to alternate between a living temperature of 20-40 °C during the day and ordinary room temperature at night. Since the turtle is a cold-blooded animal, it needs heat to digest its food. Use a heat bulb and a thermostat to regulate the temperature. Tortoises need UV light when kept indoors. Land turtles should have a hibernation period during the winter half year.

Land turtles must always have access to fresh water, which must be a large flat bowl that they can stand in, as water baths help them get rid of their faeces, so it is important that you keep an eye on whether the water is clean.

What does a land turtle eat?

what does a tortoise eat

Food for land turtles is also a very important issue, since the turtles are fed incorrectly, which can happen very easily and happened a lot during the 80-90s when many land turtles lived on icebergs and other "buying green", i.e. green you buy in a supermarket and They can't, there isn't enough or the wrong nutrition for land turtles in this and therefore it will be a necessity to have a good land turtle ready mix from your pet store like this one, so that you can then mix with a little scallion if you don't have one garden or access to a lot of weeds that you can feed summer and winter.

Soaked Pre Alpin mixed with greens, here there are scallions.
Image borrowed from

Incorrect feeding can mean they become incurably ill, have a deformed or soft shell and in the worst case can lead to death.

As with other animals, you have to try to imitate what they eat in the wild, and when it comes to land turtles, this is almost 100% possible when it comes to land turtles, if you ask Jan Lehmann there, then part of the "weeds" are plants he has seen land turtles eat in Southern Europe, very difficult to grow here at home, he has tried several times without much success, with the exception of Donkey cucumber, Ecballium elaterium. According to Jan Lehmann, this plant should grow well in Denmark if it gets a little shelter/protection in the winter.

All European tortoises are 100% vegetarian, and in nature they only get a plant diet which is very high in fiber and low in protein/nutrients.

Although they may sound super healthy and could never think of buying some Friday candy, it doesn't quite fit either, because they really appreciate fruit, but like Friday candy, fruit contains a lot of sugar and is not natural food for them and can in large quantities can be very harmful to health - if you want to give fruit, you must do so very limited and remember it is not necessary, as this is not something they will encounter much of in nature.

Do your best to ensure that the feed is as varied as possible - almost anything green can be used. Good fodder is, for example, dandelions, cabbage, clover and other common weeds.

In addition, there is a special food for land turtles consisting of dried weed plants that can be used, but you should only use it as a supplement to everything else.

Bad food items are, for example, animal products (dog/cat food), very watery vegetables and fruit.

A little tip from Jan Lehmann :

"I also use leaves and flowers from Hawaiian flowers (Hibiscus), cacti, succulents. However, you shouldn't just buy a Hawaiian plant and immediately feed the turtles. Almost all plants you buy are sprayed with leaf gloss, because they have to look nice. This leaf shine is not healthy to eat and you have to wait a few months before using them for feed.

If you have a garden, you can buy Hawaii or rose plants which can be left outside all year round in Denmark. I myself have a few of these and in the summer I use a lot of the flowers for food, even when they have faded, turtles think they are delicious. Besides, the magazines are also a hit."

Jan Lehmann also says about food over the winter: NOTHING, because there are the turtles in WINTERHI

But as he himself writes on his site, not all land turtles go into winter dens and the North African species such as Testudo graeca terrestris, T. graeca marokkensis, Testudo kleinmanni and tropical species will actually die if they entered winter dens.

But fortunately there is also a solution to this.... the best thing is to do as Jan Lehmann, although it is probably a big mouthful for many, "Self-grown" weeds from the garden, forest or meadow are clearly the best. Jan Lehmann picks quite uncritically himself, all the weeds he can find (His own words) incl. bird grass, strawberry plants, blackberry leaves, beech leaves, misc. species of grass and dry it so that you can store it for winter use - here you just have to pay attention and make sure you do it right, possibly read more at where you can also send Jan Lehmann an email from.

But otherwise you can also find feed for your turtle at a pet dealer with a good selection - link will be at the bottom of this page.

However, you must be aware that feed with too much protein increases growth too quickly and causes malgrowth in the shield. Therefore, animal and other protein-rich feed must be completely avoided, as it can cause a lot of unnecessary secondary diseases, such as kidney and gout diseases, as well as problems with obesity and a bad liver. The turtles are designed to eat food that has a high calcium content and little phosphorus.

Land turtles have a long intestinal system and often it can take 1 week or 2 before it comes out the other end, usually in solid form. In between, one can wonder how a large sausage, a land turtle can perform in terms of delivery.

At the same time, vitamins and minerals are important and something you should give them, so you are sure they get what they need - sprinkle a vitamin mixture especially for land turtles over the food approx. 2-4 times a week.. You will also be able to find a link to vitamins at the bottom of this page.

Social needs of land turtles

The animals are social, and several animals should be kept together. Two males must never be kept in the same terrarium/facility.

Propagation, brood care and eventual neutralization

Tortoises become sexually mature around 8 to 12 years of age. The act of mating begins with the male chasing the female and pounding his shield into hers, at the same time nibbling the female's legs to make her stop. After successful mating, eggs will be laid 1 to 2 times mainly in the months of May and June. The female must have the opportunity to bury her eggs in a mixture of sand and unfertilized sphagnum that is slightly moist. The children are approx. 5 cm when they hatch. The parents provide no brood care, as the young can fend for themselves from the time they hatch.

Typical signs of illness and reduced well-being

The eyes must be clear, dry and must not be swollen or inflamed. There should be no mucus or other discharge from the nose, and breathing should be almost silent. The shield must be hard and must not have shield fungus or rot. The turtle's beak must not be too long. The stool must be firm.

Typical signs of illness can be seen as refusal to eat, runny and foul-smelling faeces, and the turtle appearing limp and inactive. If the turtle loses weight and becomes inactive, this may be a sign of unhappiness and/or an attack by parasites, which is why it is important to find out the reasons for this. Evaluate the care and feeding of the animal. In addition, a veterinarian should be contacted to have a stool sample examined for parasites.

If several animals are kept together, the sick animal must be isolated. If parasites are suspected, all animals should be examined, as the risk of infection between animals is high.


All species of land turtles are currently covered by the Washington Convention or CITES. The European species of land turtles are together with e.g. Galapagos and Aldabra tortoises within the EU are on the Council Regulation's Annex A, which corresponds to the international CITES list I. Outside the EU, the European species are on CITES list II.

The Washington Convention aims to protect endangered animal and plant species by controlling international trade.

Denmark acceded to the convention on 24 October 1977 and today 130 countries around the world have acceded to it. The Danish Nature Agency handles the administration of the convention in Denmark.

More than 3,100 animal species and 35,000 plant species are covered by the Washington Convention. New species are constantly being added, as more and more animal and plant species are threatened with extinction due to collection for the pet market, souvenir production, etc. The animal and plant species are listed in the following three lists. In parentheses, I have mentioned the category of protection that applies within the EU - that is

Council regulation.
List I (Appendix A) is the highly threatened species.
List II (Annex B) and are the threatened species.
List III (Appendix C) are species that are locally threatened.

The rules cover live and dead individuals as well as parts and products of the species covered by the Washington Convention.

It is prohibited to import, export and commercially exploit animal and plant species covered by Annex A.

Import and export of animal and plant species covered by Annexes B and C require the issuance of a CITES import permit on the basis of a CITES export permit from the exporting country.

Within the EU, special rules also apply regarding import, sale, exhibition, documentation requirements, etc

Further information about the Washington Convention or CITES can be obtained from ref. to the Ministry of the Environment & Food

The Environmental Protection Agency
Tolderlundsvej 5
5000 Odense C
Tel. 72 54 40 00 (weekdays 09.00-12.00)

If you want to do more, you can find more information at the Danish Environmental Protection Agency

Or you can go directly here:
Search for a species
See list of species covered by the EU's CITES Council Regulation Annexes A, B, C and D

What do I need to keep land turtles (Shopping list)?

1. A terrarium of min. 1 square meter
Here, as I said, you can make something yourself or look at our selection in our store in Skovlunde (Bybjergvej 6a, 2740 Skovlunde) or you can call us.

2. Bottom layer
As I said, we recommend coconut mulch, but you can also use coarse wood chips, or aquarium gravel or stones in the size 3-4 mm and up, the important thing is that it is dust-free and can hold a little moisture. You can find coconut mulch here: Coconut mulch

3. Fodder
All the weeds you can find and good complete feed like the ones you find here: click here and see the selection

4. Sepia shells
Let them always have access to Sepia shells which you will find here: Sepia shells

5. Food bowl and water bowl
You can see a selection of food bowls and water bowls here

6. Light & heating lamp
It is important that you have light with UVB, especially if it does not go in the garden. See lights with UV here and heat lamps here

7. Vitamins & Minerals
Remember vitamins and minerals 2-4 times a week - like this: Diafarm vitamin powder for birds and reptiles

8. Cave / Caves
You must remember to make a cave or several for them so they can hide.

Thank you for reading and if you want to read more about Tortoises, I recommend you visit , , Nordic Herpetological Association :-)

Yours sincerely
Jacob N. Masters

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published