Animal Information

The Yellow-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulatus) Care and Information

The Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulatus), also known as the Brazilian giant tortoise, is a species of tortoise in the family Testudinidae and is closely related to the red-footed tortoise (C. carbonaria).

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

These tortoises are found in deep, humid rain forest areas of southern Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Brazil, and Bolivia. They spend a great deal of time in and around water and in the leaves and undergrowth of moist tropical forests.

Originally, Karl Linnaeus assigned all turtles and tortoises to the genus Testudo and identified this species as Testudo denticulata in 1766 with testudo meaning turtle, and denticulata meaning “tooth-like”, referring to the jagged or serrated edges of the shell.

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Soon the term Testudo was only being used for tortoises as opposed to all chelonians, with tortoises defined by completely terrestrial behaviors, heavy shells, and elephant-like limbs with nails but no visible toes.

The species got several other names, as well, for several reasons such as difficulty in distinguishing it from the red-footed, confusion over locations, researchers thinking they had discovered a new species in collections or in the field, etc.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

With an average length of 15.75 inches, The largest known specimen is 37 inches long. Yellow-footed tortoises are the sixth-largest species of tortoise. After the Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea), Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra), African spurred tortoise, the leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis), and Asian forest tortoise.

The shell is thick and heavy with dark brown with patches of yellow. The limbs and head are brown with some orange scales and markings. Its skin is black with yellow markings on the head and lower jaw. You will find some scales on the limbs and tail are bright yellow. The head is relatively small and longer than wide.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

The upper jaw has three tooth-like points. There are large black eyes with a tympanum behind each eye. The skin of the head and limbs is black with yellow to orange scales on top and around the eye and ear.

The forelimbs have five claws, are long and slightly flattened. They are covered with fine, dark scales and slightly overlapping  larger scales on the front in the same color as the head.

The forelimbs have five claws

The hind limbs are elephant-like with four claws and are covered in small scales colored like the forelimbs. The tail varies in length by gender and has a row of colored scales on the sides.

The yellow-footed tortoise is also called the yellow-foot or yellow-legged tortoise, the Brazilian giant tortoise, or South American forest tortoise, as well as local names such as morrocoywoyamou or wayamo, or some variation of jabuta.

Red-Foot Tortoises in the upper area. The lower is a Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

Many of the local names are shared with the similar red-footed tortoise. There is some disagreement as to which habitat is the preferred type for yellow-footed tortoises.

Some people feel they prefer grasslands and dry forest areas, and that rain-forest habitat is most likely limited.

Others suggest humid forest is the preferred habitat. Regardless, they are found in drier forest areas, grasslands, and the savanna, or rainforest belts adjoining more open habitats. The red-footed tortoise shares some of its range with the yellow-footed tortoise.

Housing Yellow-Footed Tortoises…

When housing a Yellow-Footed Tortoise indoors, you can use an enclosure that is about 8’x4’ for an adult. Provide your pet with a dish that is filled with fresh, clean water at all times. This dish should be shallow so that your tortoise will not drown, but it should be big enough that he can soak in it. Click to read Why Soaking Tortoises Is Important ~ Crazy Critters Inc.

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When it comes to a substrate, mix peat moss and sand and then add a top layer of cypress mulch in order to trap moisture.

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There should be a heat lamp in one area of your Yellow-Footed Tortoise’s enclosure so that he can bask, and the temperature should be around 90°F in this basking area.

Also, include a UV light and a cooler area complete with a damp hiding place that is located away from the basking area.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

These animals are shy, so it is a good idea to provide a variety of hiding places for security and comfort.

They can use everything from piles of grass clippings or hay, to big banana leaves and pieces of cork bark as shelter.

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If you are planning on housing your Yellow-Footed Tortoise outside when the weather is warm, just make sure that the enclosure is properly secured so that he will not be able to escape and so he will be protected from predators.

These enclosures should have plenty of plants, such as ferns and low bushes, to block out the sunlight and provide your pet with a place to retreat to when he doesn’t want to be in the sun.

Click to read Housing Tortoises Using Tortoise Tables and Yards.

Yellow-foot Tortoises are omnivores. The wild tortoises will find a diet of grasses, foliage, fallen fruit, carrion, plants, bones, mushrooms, excrement, and slow-moving invertebrates such as snails, worms, and others they are able to capture.

You can feed your pet a mix of greens, vegetables, and fruits, as well as flowers, each day or every other day. Good options include collard greens, mustard greens, watercress, escarole, kale, romaine, squash, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, mango, melon, kiwi, papaya, cantaloupe, and hibiscus. Click to read What Is The Best Diet For My African Sulcata Tortoise?

Avoid giving this tortoise animal protein often. Instead, every three weeks or so, you can provide him with a commercial diet designed for tortoises. We suggest Mazuri Brand Tortoise Diet.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

The Yellow-Footed Tortoise is shy. They are considered nomadic in their movements.

So these animals will not like being handled. Often, they will end up retreating into their shells. However, some animals might be tame and outgoing, particularly if they were born and raised in captivity.

Breeding Yellow-Footed Tortoises…

Like most species, you can tell what sex a yellow-footed tortoise is by the tail length is a quick easy way to determine the sex. Male yellow-footed tortoises tails will be long and thick and will curve tightly against the back leg.

The Female Is On The Left The Male Is On The Right

Yellow-footed tortoises males, as adults, will have a strong concave stomach, where females will be flat on the bottom. Females will have a shorter distance between the tail tip and the “vent.  A females tail comes to an abrupt end, where males have a longer, thinner tail tip. This isn’t reliable at all until the tortoises are in the 4-5” range.

Yellow-Footed Tortoises are sexually mature at 8-10 years. They can mate year round.  Breeding is synchronized with the onset of the rainy season (from July to September) when a general increase in activity occurs.

Yellow-Footed Tortoise at Crazy Critters

Males identify each other by eliciting a characteristic head movement, a series of jerks away from and back to mid-position. Another male will make the same head movements. No head movement in response is the first indication that the other tortoise is a female.

Scientific experimentation and observation have also indicated head coloration has to be correct. The male will then sniff the cloacal region of the other tortoise. Copulation usually follows, though sometimes there is a period of biting at the legs.

During courtship and copulation, the male makes clucking sounds very much like those of a chicken, with a set pattern in pitches of the clucking sounds. Rival males will battle, attempting to overturn each other, but neither the males nor females will defend a territory.

After breeding, the female excavates a nest in leaf litter and lays a clutch of five to 15 eggs. During the nesting season, she might lay several clutches. She does not incubate the eggs, so they must be well-disguised to avoid predators.

Hatching Yellow-Bellly Tortoises…

The fruitfulness of a female generally depends on her size; the bigger they are, the more eggs they can produce. On average, a female will create about six to 16 eggs per year, although some female individuals may not reproduce each year.

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The elongated to spherical eggs are about 3–6 cm in diameter. The egg size will increase with the body size of the tortoise. An incubator soil is mixed using combinations of perlite, vermiculite, bark, etc.

The eggs have brittle shells and incubation lasts an average of 150 days, but can take as little as 105 days or as much as 202 days to hatch. As is the case with many reptiles, the eggs of red-footed tortoises are temperature sex-dependent.

Incubation periods with temperatures above 88° Fahrenheit result in the hatching of females. Incubation periods with temperatures below 82° Fahrenheit result in the hatching of males.

At incubation temperatures between these ranges, mixed sexes will hatch. Excessively high temperatures can cause lower hatch rates and deformed hatchlings.

After pipping, the neonate red-footed tortoise may remain in the egg for several days while absorbing most of its yolk sac, The young are completely self-sufficient at the time of hatching.

Conservation status

 Chelonoidis denticulata is an endangered species. The major populations located in South America are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Appendix II.

The yellow-footed tortoise is not currently endangered, however, if over-hunting and habitat loss continue, it will most likely make the list. Conservation efforts include the establishment and protection of wildlife reserves and national parks, where yellow-footed tortoises and other animals are protected from hunting.

In its range, the biggest threat to the survival of yellow-footed tortoises is over-hunting by man. Yellow-foots are collected in large numbers and shipped to many different South American cities to be sold as a delicacy. Another threat facing yellow-foot populations is the ever-present habitat loss and disturbance.

This species of tortoise is a popular pet. Exportation for the pet trade also has a negative effect on yellow-footed tortoises, although it is much less of a threat to their survival than either hunting or habitat loss. The natural history of the yellow-footed tortoise provides insight into two areas, the susceptibility of this species to over-hunting and habitat loss, and captive husbandry and reproduction.

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In ranges shared in Surinam, the red-footed tortoise has moved out of the forests into grasslands (created a result of slash and burn agriculture), while the yellow-footed tortoise has remained in the forest.

As with many species of turtles and tortoises, many yellow-footed tortoises end up as food items in local markets.

In some parts of Venezuela, the local people may set fire to entire hillsides so that they are able to harvest exposed (and presumably often roasted) tortoises.

Tortoises are considered “fish” by the Catholic Church and during holy week, red and yellow-foots are consumed in huge quantities.

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