Feeding Your Tortoise
What Do Tortoises Eat?
A captive Hermann's tortoise should have a diet that consists of weeds, edible plants, flowers and succulants. Variety is key, so try to include as many different plants as possible. In the wild a tortoise will roam a large distance nibbling on a variety of plants along the way. These plants would be naturally high in fibre and calcium, but low in protein. There is a very good web site that has a comprehensive list of what a tortoise can and cannot eat along with photographs of the plants at www.thetortoisetable.co.uk. Below I'm going to list a few of the edible weeds and flowers that are commonly found in gardens - but do beware of picking from outside of your own home unless you can be certain that weed killers and pesticides have not been used. There are also numerous websites where you can buy tortoise friendly seeds to grow in pots or in your own garden or tortoise enclosure - making feeding your tortoise safe and very inexpensive indeed.
What Tortoises Should Not Eat
The Hermanns tortoise is a herbivore so does not eat meat which has a high protein content. Fruits and vegetables also do not form part of a tortoise's natural diet and can upset their digestive systems. Commercially produced pellets should not be given as these are too high in protein.
How Much Should Your Tortoise Eat?
The answer to this is that there is no answer because there are too many variables to be so specific! A tortoise's feeding pattern is dependant on the amount of heat and light it receives. Not enough heat and light and your tortoise's activity will slow down and they may stop feeding. A slow weight gain and healthy tortoise is what you should be aiming for, so carefully monitor your tortoise's weight and adjust the amount of heat and light to either increase feeding or reduce as necessary. In the wild tortoises won't alway eat every day as at times food can become very scarce. However, for many captive tortoises there is a tendancy to be over fed by their keepers, probably because we feel they should eat plenty every day. This overfeeding can lead to rapid growth which in turn can cause bone and other problems so should be avoided.
In a Mediterranean tortoise's natural habitat the plants that they graze on are naturally high in calcium and other trace elements gained from the soil where they live. However, in the UK we don't really have high enough calcium levels in the soil for our plants to provide a sufficient amount in a tortoise's diet, so a supplement needs to be given. In addition, levels of vitamin D3 made internally by a tortoise after basking in the sun would be higher in the Mediterranean due to the higher levels of UVB light there. Vitamin D3 is essential as it is needed by tortoises to enable them to absorb the calcium which is needed for good bone and shell growth. So for captive tortoises vitamin D3 will also need to be supplemented. We use a supplement called Nutrobal which contains calcium, D3 and other trace elements needed. Depending on the age and sex of your tortoise its calcium requirements will be different. Juveniles and egg laying females will require higher levels than adult males. Limestone flour (calcium carbonate) is another good source of calcium and can be sprinkled over food. Cuttlefish bones are often given as a source of calcium. In reality the calcium from this source is hard to metabolise, but they are useful in helping keep the tortoises beak trimmed.
Water should always be available for your tortoise in both their outdoor and indoor enclosure. Place the water in a shallow dish large enough that they can sit in. You may never see your tortoise drink but they can absorb water through their cloaca to help keep them hydrated. For this reason it is also essential that you bath your tortoise on a regular basis (see General Care). Some tortoises often prefer to drink their warm bath water and others prefer rain water to tap water.
Safe Foods For Hermann's Tortoise
Smooth sow thistle
Prickly sow thistle
Unsafe foods for Hermann's Tortoises
Cat or dog food
Commercially produced 'tortoise pellets'
Plants grown from bulbs e.g daffodils, crocuses
Fruit / vegetables / legumes