The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis [Geochelone] carbonaria) is found throughout much of northern South America. It inhabits savannas and dry forests and, to some degree, humid forests. Sizes vary widely depending on geographic location. Although many adults average around 14 inches straight carapace length, one reaching nearly 20 inches has been recorded. There are also dwarf geographic variants, some of which sports red or orange heads.
Red-footed tortoises exhibit a diversity of size and color depending on their geographic location. Unrelated specimens are preferable but not mandatory.
Adult red-footed tortoises display sexual dimorphism. In general, males are slightly larger than females, possess a significantly concave plastron and have a noticeably larger tail.
Although a single pair of red-footed tortoises can achieve reproduction, chances of success greatly increase with a breeding group. Maintaining at least two red-foot males, which can engage in competition, is believed to help in successful reproduction, so a minimum of two pairs is recommended.
Occasionally, a male gets in a female’s face and head-bobs. Red-foot males tend to have a fast side-to-side jerk, but yellow-foot males have more of a long sideways sweep. Males tend to follow females around until they can position them correctly for mating. The bottom of the male’s shell is concave, which allows for a snug fit over the top of the female’s shell.
Red-foot males make an unusual noise during mating. It is a loud clucking sound almost like that of a chicken. Yellow-foot males also vocalize, but it is a much mellower version of the red-foots cluck.
Red-footed tortoises dig huge nesting holes. A foothold on either side is established; they’ll place one foot on one while they scoop out the dirt with the other foot. Then they’ll switch feet, scooping with the other one. The nest is often large enough for a substantial portion of the rear of a female’s shell to drop into. She will dig beneath herself as far as her rear feet will reach, so when she begins to lay her eggs she can push the eggs forward to allow room for others.
Once the hole is complete, the female redfoot will begin dropping the eggs, repositioning them as they are laid. During the egg-laying, she will be in a “trance,” staring straight ahead.
According to Reptile Magazine, because red-footed tortoises and yellow-footed tortoises are capable of producing eggs at any time during the year, a nesting area or chamber should always be available. A restless female wandering around the enclosure looking for a nesting site is the most obvious sign that eggs are on the way.
Most females seem to nest in the evening and prefer areas with moist substrate. Sometimes they dig a hole and walk away from the nest without depositing eggs. Fill this test hole back in, and the female will most likely nest in that area in the next day or so. Red-footed and yellow-footed tortoise nests appear to be shallower than other species’ nests. Occasionally eggs are barely covered. Females can produce several clutches a year. Clutch sizes vary from one to 13 eggs, but three to eight is average.
Before digging up the eggs, set your incubator to maintain a temperature between 84 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Purchase a digital minimum-maximum thermometer with a probe, which you should place in the incubator next to the eggs, so you can monitor the temperature. Just like with other tortoise species, the temperature of incubation determines the sex of the animal. Temperatures in the middle produce a mix of the sexes.
Male = Low Temp
Females = High Temp
When your incubator is set, prepare the tortoise egg container. Fill it halfway with moist vermiculite. Use equal weights of vermiculite and water to obtain the optimum moisture content. Carefully dig up the eggs, and be sure not to rotate or flip them because this can suffocate the embryo. Use a soft lead pencil to mark the date and an “X” on the top to help you remember the correct orientation. Bury tortoise eggs slightly in the vermiculite.
Having a lid on the tortoise egg container is not necessary if you can keep humidity in the incubator between 70 and 80 percent. You can accomplish this by occasionally misting the vermiculite, and keeping a deli cup of water and/or a moist sponge in the incubator. Open the incubator daily to give the eggs fresh air. Incubation times vary for both red-footed tortoises and yellow-footed tortoises, but 120 to 190 days is typical, and 145 days is average.
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