Tortoises are one of the main groups of reptiles that we share our planet with. Best known for the large shell that they can retract into, these little scaly guys are a group of non-marine scaly animals with various sizes, shapes, colors, and lifestyles.
Don’t believe us? Then check out this list of 20 different species that live on Earth right now!
Starting our big list with something small, we have the Speckled tortoise, also known as the Speckled Cape tortoise.
This reptile is the smallest known species of tortoise in the world. The species usually only grows between 2 and a half to three and a half inches, with the largest examples only reaching 4 inches long, if that!
The speckled tortoises are found throughout much of South Africa, from the Western Cape down to the Eastern Cape and Northern KwaZulu-Natal. They live mainly along rivers or in marshland areas where there is plenty of food available for them.
They can be found anywhere from sea level up to an altitude of 1,200 m above sea level.
In the wild, they feed mostly on grasses and roots, but when kept in captivity they eat vegetables and grains.
They have been known to eat meat on very rare occasions, but will almost always avoid it when other food sources are possible, which suggests that they do not enjoy eating it unless necessary for survival.
Their lifespan varies depending on their diet and environment, but they can average around 50 years old when kept in captivity and well-nourished.
A few people keep these reptiles as pets, although most of them end up being released back into the wild again after a while due to the amount of care needed to maintain them.
A good habitat for this species includes sandy soil and lots of vegetation such as bushes and trees. They need to have access to water, especially during the hot summer months.
The speckled turtle has brown stripes across its body and face, and white dots on its head and legs. These markings help it blend in with its surroundings, making it harder for predators to see.
Also known as Kleimann’s Tortoise, the Egyptian Tortoise is a species that lives in several North African countries, such as Libya, Israel, and, of course, Egypt!
It is one of the smallest tortoise species in North Africa, growing to lengths of about 4 to 6 inches, with some very rare specimens reaching sizes of almost 8 inches.
This is a very long-living tortoise species. While 50 years is a pretty common age for many species to reach in captivity, this type of tortoise can live up to 70 years in the wild, and well over a hundred in captivity!
These reptiles live in sandy desert habitats, feeding mostly on plants and seeds. However, when living in captivity they will eat anything that is given to them, including meat, fish, and even insects.
When they’re young, they like to hide under large rocks or fallen logs, and then wait until nightfall before emerging to forage for food. When older, their more developed shell protects them from most forms of predation, allowing them to forage longer for food.
Don’t expect to be able to own one as a pet, though. They are one of the most critically endangered species in Africa, thanks mainly to the almost complete destruction of their natural environment.
Within just a few generations, their numbers have plummeted from over 50,000 to less than 10,000. As such, conservation and environmental policies protecting its home are critical to its continued survival.
One of the most common tortoise species to keep as a pet, Greek tortoises, whilst originally being found in the Greek peninsula and Southeast Europe and North Africa, are now found all across the world.
They are easily identifiable by their size, with females typically measuring between 3 and 5 inches long. Males are much smaller, measuring only 2 – 3 inches.
Although they are sometimes referred to as ‘brick colored’, Greek tortoises usually have golden brown or dark brown color to their scales and shell.
They are very similar in color to Hermann’s Tortoise, meaning these two species are often mistaken for one another.
The best way to tell them apart is by looking at the spurs of the tortoise: Greek tortoises will have pretty big and noticeable spurs around their thighs, whereas Hermann’s species will not.
Like other tortoises, Greek tortoises need a lot of space to move around. This means that they need a terrarium that’s at least 20 cubic feet in volume. If you don’t have enough room, you may want to reconsider owning this tortoise.
As they grow larger, Greek tortoises start to develop their shells, which protect them from predators.
The average lifespan of a Greek tortoise is one of the longest amongst the reptile family of animals, as it can easily live well over 100 years.
Ages of 125 years have been well documented, and some people have claimed to know of or own tortoises that have lived for over 200 years!
A native of Southern Europe, the Marginated tortoise is found across many Mediterranean countries, from Spain to Italy, to the Balkans.
Measuring anywhere between 6 and 14 inches long, males tend to be much smaller than females. The majority of male tortoises measure around 7 inches, while female tortoises typically range from 12 to 14 inches.
Their diet consists primarily of grasses and leaves, although they are quite fond of fruit and vegetables too.
In the wild, they prefer to stay away from human activity, but in captivity, they will happily take part in activities like egg-laying and breeding without much fear, once they have acclimatized to human presence.
As with most tortoises, the best place to keep a marginated tortoise is outdoors, where they can get plenty of sunlight and find some nice, dry areas to rest.
Because of the large size of the Marginated tortoise, it requires a fairly large terrarium. A good-sized terrarium should give your tortoise plenty of room to roam around and enjoy itself.
One of the most popular tortoises in zoos around the world, the Leopard tortoise is native to the African Savannah.
Known best for the mottled pattern of browns, yellows, and black that cover its shell and carapace, it’s small wonder where this tortoise gets its name — its shell looks eerily similar to tiger leopard fur.
Measuring between 12 and 16 inches, females are slightly bigger than males, who typically measure around 11 inches. Females lay eggs every year, so a healthy pair of Leopard tortoises can produce up to 25 babies each year.
Their diet consists mostly of fruits and vegetables, though they also eat insects, grubs, worms, and even small rodents. They do not need a high calcium diet, so foods rich in iron and vitamin C are ideal.
In captivity, they thrive if given lots of vegetation to climb on and explore. Since they are diurnal, they must have access to natural light during the day, otherwise, they won’t come out to feed, or otherwise have the energy to go about their daily activities.
The Leopard tortoise is also known for being highly active and curious, so if you decide to purchase this tortoise, expect to see lots of movement in it. It is also an excellent digger, so make sure to provide it with ample amounts of soil and rocks to explore.
Native to Russia, Siberia and Mongolia, and many other regions of Central Asia, the Russian tortoise has become very popular as a pet due to its amazing longevity.
Some individuals have been reported to live for more than 50 years, making them lifelong companions if you choose to keep one as a pet.
Much like the Marginated tortoise (see above), the Russian tortoise prefers to spend most of its time in an indoor environment. Unlike the Marginated tortoise, however, the Russian tortoise tends to be a little less active and doesn’t require as much space.
Males grow to be around 10 inches, while females tend to be a bit larger and usually reach lengths of 15 inches. The diet of these tortoises is largely composed of fruits, veggies, and insects.
As long-lived animals, their health and overall well-being become increasingly important as they age.
If you intend to keep one as a long-term pet, make sure that you regularly monitor their weight and condition, because as they get older, they may experience some physical problems such as arthritis, which can cause pain and discomfort.
For a flatter variety of tortoises, we have the Pancake tortoise from sub-Saharan Africa. As the name implies, this funny-looking little reptile has a very flat shell for a tortoise, almost looking like it has been flattened, as the name suggests, like a pancake!
In this regard, the shell almost looks more like those that you would find on a sea turtle, rather than a tortoise, or even a freshwater turtle. Only, rather than living in the water, this shelled animal makes its home in the semi-arid lands in and around Kenya and Tanzania. That’s quite a change!
Like all tortoises, the Pancake tortoise is omnivorous and feeds primarily on grasses, but they will also consume some fruit and plants.
Being mainly herbivorous animals, they don’t need many forms of calcium supplementation, but they do require a good supply of greens to keep themselves healthy, plus plenty of vegetation to climb on.
The red-footed turtle is perfect for people who love turtles and want to start keeping them as pets. With its playful attitude and high energy (for a turtle at least), lack of shyness, and the interesting reddish markings on its head, it is not hard to see why!
The red-footed tortoise is native to North America, but today is found throughout the world. They are typically terrestrial creatures, preferring to stay close to streams and ponds where they can easily obtain food.
Their diet consists mostly of plant matter, as well as fruit and vegetables, and even some grasses and grains too.
Like all tortoises, they thrive best when kept in a large enclosure where they can roam freely and enjoy access to sun, shade, fresh air, and other reptiles. A large enclosure with lots of room to move around will allow them to live longer and healthier lives.
Indian Star Tortoise
Indian Star Tortoises are another tortoise species with a pretty unique appearance.
The patterns that adorned the carapace of these guys’ shells look a lot like a starfish, with the pattern on each scute connecting to create a beautiful design of light browns and blacks all across this tortoise’s shell.
And instead of being green, they are brownish-yellow. But despite their strange appearance, they are great pets and can become relatively tame if provided with the right conditions.
This particular type of tortoise was first discovered by Western explorers in India, and then later exported to Europe. Today, they can be found in several different parts of Asia, including across China, Japan, and South Korea.
In addition to being a common pet, they are used as a symbol in Chinese culture and art and are often featured in traditional ceremonies.
But like many other tortoises, these guys can live up to 40 years or so, depending on the size of their enclosure and how much care they receive from their owners.
So if you’re thinking about getting one, make sure you know what your local laws say regarding owning exotic pets before making any plans.
A very popular choice among pet owners, the Hermanns’ tortoise is known for his big, round body shape, and the way he walks – rolling over onto his back, spreading out his limbs, and then rolling himself upright again.
This reptile has been bred for decades as a low-maintenance pet.
They have relatively long legs for turtles, which means they can travel quite far while walking slowly along the ground. They tend to be active during daytime hours, but come nighttime they will curl up into a ball and go to sleep for the night.
As a result, they need plenty of space to roam, and should ideally be able to have access to some sort of outside area where they can get sunlight and fresh air.
African Spur-Thighed Tortoise
Another favorite pet among American families, the African Spur-thighed Tortoise is considered to be the most social of the tortoise species. These guys love to hang out together and have a tendency to form groups to protect themselves.
They also like to eat small insects such as crickets and mealworms, and may even hunt small lizards and frogs to supplement their diets.
As one of the biggest species of tortoises that are often kept as pets, these tortoises are best known, as their name suggests, for the large spurs that adorn the legs of this large species.
These guys are fairly docile and don’t usually pose much of a threat to people or other animals. They do however require a large enclosure – preferably with plenty of vegetation in it – and plenty of activity to keep them entertained.
If not given enough stimulation, they may become bored and depressed.
North America, whilst well-known for its many fresh and saltwater species of turtles and terrapins, has surprisingly few tortoise species. The Gopher tortoise is one of those illustrious few, making its home in the Southeast corner of the United States.
As their name suggests, this species of turtle loves to dig deep and extensive burrows. These are vital to the ecosystem they live in, as it allows small animals to avoid predation, and provides shelter in the event of local forest fires.
Like all reptiles, this guy needs to be housed in a cool environment with lots of humidity, because without proper conditions, he could develop respiratory issues.
They also require a lot of water, which helps them regulate their internal temperature. When they drink, they use their tongue to scoop up water from ponds and streams, and they store the liquid in their stomachs until they need to use it.
The Hingeback Tortoise is relatively common throughout Central and West Africa, though there has recently been concern about the decline of this species due to poaching.
In addition to hunting for food, poachers are now targeting this species of reptiles for sale on the black market, where they are sold as decorative items.
In captivity, these guys can be very friendly, but if they aren’t provided with sufficient space and an adequate diet, they will eventually lose interest in living with you. As a result, they tend to wander off into the wild, and may never return.
This species of tortoises are native to eastern Asia and are commonly referred to as Chinese Terrapins.
This means that they were first discovered by Europeans during the 14th century when European explorers began trading with China again for resources and goods.
Because of this, they are sometimes called ‘Tea Turtles’, although this isn’t a true reference to the animal’s origins.
These guys are generally quite shy, preferring to hide away in dark areas of their enclosures. Like other tortoise species, these guys are omnivores, so they enjoy eating both soft-bodied invertebrates and fruit.
In captivity, they should be fed several times per day, and they should be given access to a variety of foods including insects, fruits, vegetables, and even some meaty meals.
The desert tortoise makes its home in deserts around North and South America and is known for being the longest terrestrial reptile in existence.
When they’re not asleep, these guys prefer to bask in the sun or the shade, using their shells like solar panels to collect heat from the rays of the sun. They’ll often bury themselves completely underground during winter, emerging just before spring arrives.
You might think your tortoise would appreciate a bit more room than that, but unfortunately, these guys don’t have a natural nesting instinct. It’s important to provide them with plenty of space, especially when they become sexually mature.
If allowed to roam freely into their surroundings, they may leave the confines of their enclosure, and risk becoming lost in the wilderness.
Burmese Star Tortoise
These incredible tortoises are natives of the country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, hence the name. This is a critically endangered species of tortoises, with very few surviving out in the wild today.
They’re also fairly common in the illegal animal trade, meaning that they are a common victim of poaching, either as pets, for their eggs, or for consumption.
Star tortoises have long necks, and large heads, and they use their noses to locate potential mates. They also have small eyes, and big mouths and they eat primarily vegetation such as grasses and weeds.
A female Star Turtle can lay up to 200 eggs every year, though she typically does so between late fall and early spring. Unlike the other species here, these guys do require a significant amount of space, but once they’ve settled down, they’re usually pretty easy to care for.
Though they eat mostly vegetation, they also enjoy consuming insect larvae in some instances.
If you do end up owning one of these incredible creatures, it might be a good idea to supplement their diet with some insects or their larvae on occasion.
Their bright yellow coloration helps to attract attention on long treks through the forest but also serves to protect them from predators such as birds of prey. They eat leaves, shoots, and roots, but also relish insect larvae and small fish.
Because of their size, they require extensive care and special handling techniques.
This gorgeous turtle lives in Central and Southeast Asia and has been recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species.
In the wild, this species will live in swamps, marshes, or estuaries. They are capable of surviving in brackish water, and because they don’t need a constant supply of freshwater, they can thrive in regions where there isn’t a lot of rain.
They prefer to spend time basking in the sun, and their preferred habitat includes areas that get at least 4 hours per day of direct sunlight. They spend most of their life buried head-downward in the soil, eating plants and drinking dew.
As of 2010, only about 2,000 individuals remain in the wild, and they aren’t commonly kept as pets. These guys don’t hibernate, and they tend to be quite active throughout the day.
This species, like most other tortoise species, is classified as a herbivore, meaning that these guys will sometimes consume grasses, shrubbery, and vegetation, as well as fallen fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
As they get older, however, they will begin to consume softer plant matter, such as leaves and shoots, which are easier to digest.
Natives of the island of Madagascar, this particular animal enjoys spending its days basking in the sun.
Angonokas prefer to inhabit sandy environments, and often spend their days digging burrows into the sand. They typically dig two or three holes each day, which they’ll cover over again when night falls.
When they sense danger nearby, they’ll crawl back into their burrow, and close off their entrance with debris, sticks, or even stones to prevent further attacks. They eat mostly plants, but will occasionally snack on some insects and snails too.
Because of their rarity, the majority of the Angonoka Tortoises found in the wild now reside in zoos, aquariums, private collections, and botanical gardens around the world. Like the other species we’re featuring, many people mistakenly believe that these guys don’t require a lot of room.
It’s estimated that less than 400 of these beautiful animals remain in the wild today. There was a brief period when captive breeding programs were established, but those efforts have failed to help boost population numbers significantly so far.
Yellow Foot Tortoise
A medium-sized tortoise that makes its home in the country of Brazil, the Yellow Foot Tortoise is a classic example of this group of animals.
The males mature quickly, reaching sexual maturity after only eight years old, and can reproduce at a young age. Females usually mate before they reach 10 years old, producing between 3 and 8 eggs every year.
Many of them lay a single clutch of between 12 and 30 eggs, and once the eggs hatch, the mother will protect her offspring until they’re fully grown.
So how big is a Yellow Foot Tortoise? Well, depending on where you live, they range from 12 to 16 inches, with the females usually being recorded as being larger than the males.
They enjoy living in habitats that receive plenty of rainfall and prefer to bask in the heat of midday. But they also love swimming in natural bodies of water and will do so whenever possible.
It’s not uncommon for them to swim more miles on a given day than they would walk!
Unfortunately, the Yellow Foot Tortoise is threatened by deforestation, farming practices, hunting, habitat loss, poaching, invasive species, pollution, and climate change, all of which threaten populations in the wild.
Another native animal of Madagascar, the Radiated Tortoise is a medium-sized tortoise that was once widespread on the island but has since seen much of its home devastated, as well as being another victim of animal poaching.
This species prefers drier areas to live in and spends most of its time moving through rocky terrain searching for food and shelter. Unlike other species such as the Red Sea Turtle, they are unable to climb trees, and instead rely on their ability to run fast to avoid predators.
The radiated tortoise spends most of its time basking in the sun, although sometimes they will climb into the vegetation to avoid the heat.
Like many of the tortoises featured here, the Radiated Tortoise eats a variety of plant life, including grasses, shrubs, leaves, seeds, flowers, fruits, and even fungi on occasion.
So, there you have it! There is so much variety when it comes to turtles, and that should give anyone who wants one an idea of what’s out there. We hope you have found this article helpful, informative, and engaging!