|Note: The following food choices are meant for a wide variety of tortoise species. The specific foods you use should be based on your species. Remember- variety is important for most species!
Grocery store or garden options
– Good choices, use as the main bulk
- Collard, turnip, rape, and mustard greens
- Kale, cabbage, kohl rabi, chard
- Endive, Escarole, green-leaf, red-leaf lettuces
- Red or curly lettuces
- Arugula, rocket, ‘corn salad’, ‘lamb’s lettuce’
- Parsley, watercress
- Carrot or radish tops
- Cactus pads
- Edible flowers
- Fresh leafy spices- basil, etc.
– OK choices, use sparingly for variety
- Iceberg, Romaine, Boston, bibb, and butter lettuce
- Peas, bean pods
- Carrot (chopped or lightly cooked)
- Zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower
- Yams, sweet potatoes (shredded or lightly cooked)
– Good choices, use freely
- Papaya, figs, mango, kiwifruit, pomegranate and other ‘tropical‘ fruits
- Melon, all kinds, including horned melon
- Cactus fruit
- Bell peppers, any color
- Corn, especially on the cob
- Squash, pumpkin
– OK choices, use sparingly
- Blueberry, blackberry, mulberry
- Apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot
- Banana, grapes
- Naval oranges
- Eggs, lightly cooked or boiled
- Canned, moist, or dry low-fat cat or dog foods
- Chicken or other poultry
- Beef heart, other organ meats
- Tuna, mackerel, sardine, herring, anchovy- fresh, frozen, or packed in water
- Shrimp, shellfish, mock krab
Bad food choices. For one reason or another, we should avoid the following foods…
- Hot peppers (too hot, they usually avoid these)
- Most citrus fruits- other than occasional naval oranges (while some acid is fine, too much causes problems)
- Fatty, salty, or sugary foods
- Processed foods in general, unless meant for tortoises
- Dairy products- milk, cheese, etc.
- Bakery goods- other than occasional bread to treat protozoans, etc.
- Tofu, soybeans
- Olives, avocados, artichokes (Fatty, and avocados are dangerous for birds, so MAY have some risk for reptiles)
- Root vegetables, such as beets, potatoes, etc.- other than occasional yams, sweet potatoes, and carrots
Yard or garden foods
(Important: Avoid areas that may have been sprayed or treated with hazardous chemicals!)
- Any garden version of a grocery store food
- Dandelions, chicory, plantain (the yard plant)
- Purslane, clover, alfalfa, Timothy or other hay
- Grape leaves
- Mulberry and other fruit tree leaves, flowers, fruits
- Leaves from ‘forest trees’ other than Oak
- Mallow, rose, hibiscus, and pansy leaves
- Flowers from any edible flower- rose, pansy, violet, dandelion, etc.
- Cactus pads, fruits or flowers
- Mushrooms, fungi
- More edible plant lists can be found in the HELPFUL LINKS section, as can lists of dangerous plants.
- Worms, snails, slugs, millipedes, insect larvae, ‘bugs’
Pet or feed store foods
- Prepared tortoise chows, especially Mazuri Tortoise Diet, Zoo Med Natural Grassland Tortoise Food,, or Zoo Med Natural Forest Tortoise Food.
- Freeze-dried plants, cactus, fruits or insects
- Fresh, dried, cubed, or pelleted hay
- Live or frozen baby or young mice and rats
- Live or freeze-dried worms, slugs, snails, crickets, ‘Superworms’ or other invertebrates
- Feeder fish
- Canned, moist, or dry cat or dog foods (low fat)
Saving produce for later
With their small appetites, it can be tough to use all of our fresh foods in time. Here are several links to keeping them longer in the fridge, drying, or freezing common tortoise foods. I’ve tried lots of methods, but my favorite is to simply buy stuff that we use as well and just plain use it up in salads, etc. it also helps to buy some of the stuff from in-store salad bars so you can limit the amounts while getting a wide selection.
- Food network- Storing fruits and vegetables. A basic primer to several simple methods for a variety of produce.
- 3 months Preparation- Preparing produce. Saving celery, lettuce, and cabbage in foil. I personally know the celery version works.
- Green Grocery- How to store vegetables and fruit without plastic. Nice guide to storing lots of stuff without lots of disposable plastic bags.
- Kitchn.com- The bathtowel method. Works and is simple.
- Not Just Recipes- Storing greens. A basic and effective method.
- Note also that there are commercial products that claim to help, although I have not found them to be any better than the above.
- Note also that most greens can also be either frozen or dried, but they will loose nutrients in the process.
Links to edible tortoise plants
Dangerous plants for animals
Please note that many of the plants on ‘dangerous plant lists’ get listed because they are known to be dangerous to humans, cats, dogs, birds, horses, cattle, etc. Many of them are not actually proven to be dangerous to reptiles or tortoises specifically.
Plants known or strongly suspected as dangerous to tortoises include:
Note: this list should not be considered the last word on the subject. Lots of other things on the above linked lists may be dangerous as well, but just have not been documented by a vet or researcher.
- Heaths, azaleas, laurel, rhododendron- known toxic to iguanas.
- Yews and ground hemlock- dangerous with no known antidote. Oddly, the small red berries are not toxic but the seeds inside are deadly.
- Lilies (Easter, tiger, day, Japanese, etc.)- known toxic to cats, not known if dangerous to reptiles. Some people have reported tortoises eating some lilies with no apparent effects.
- Fruit seeds, like apple and cherry- but only if the animal breaks or chews the seeds- tortoises do not so probably not a danger, but the seeds are easy to remove, so why not?
- Avocado- known dangerous to many pets, but wild iguanas have been observed eating it. Considered dangerous in order to be ‘better safe than sorry’.
- Castor beans- like fruit seeds, but toxins are far more powerful.
- Cycad or sago palms- unknown toxicity in reptiles, but very dangerous toxins. No antidote.
- Holly, mistletoe, and poinsettia- not as dangerous as some other plants on the list, but to be avoided.
- Oleander, foxglove, and lily of the valley- all contain glycosides, a powerful toxin that affects the heart.
- Ivys (English, Irish, grape, Atlantic, etc.)- mildly toxic, but unknown if they affect tortoises. Some tortoises have been observed eating some kinds of ivy with no apparent effects.
- Plants with nicotine, especially tobacco and tobacco products, and marijuana
- Oak- all parts of the tree, leaves, and seeds are known to be fatally toxic to tortoises. There are many cases of oaks growing in tortoise pens with no apparent problems so the tortoises may avoid this naturally.
Revised 3-4-2013 (C) Mark Adkins