Hi, I've been wondering what kind of tortoise do you think would be best for me. I have been researching a lot about tortoises and I am very interested in getting one, I just don't know what kind to get. I live up in the north woods of Wisconsin, so I would need a tortoise that would be able to live indoors for a couple months. I am also planning on building an outside shelter for the tortoise. Do you have any ideas on what type of tortoise would be good for me?   Thanks

Hi Maecyn,

I'm not sure how much you actually know about tortoises, so I'll be pretty basic here and if you have more specific questions, just post back and ask.  The most common and easily obtainable tortoises in the US are sulcata, leopard, redfoot, and Testudo species such as Greek, Hermann's, and Russian (which are actually no longer considered a Testudo species, but you still see them listed that way sometimes).  You will need to have the tortoise indoors about six months out of the year--I live in Northern California and mine are inside that long, more or less, depending on weather.  So you'll need room to build an adequately-sized indoor enclosure.  Let's go through the species one by one"

1)  sulcata--Definitely not.  They aren't a beginner's tortoise, for one, and just aren't suited to keep in Northern climates.  They get very large (up to 200 lbs. and about 36"), very strong, and can be very destructive if not housed adequately.  Once they grow to a certain size, they have to be housed outdoors, and that means a strongly fenced enclosure with a large heated barn/shed.  They eat a lot, and they poop/pee like you wouldn't believe.  So rule them out.

2)  leopard--they don't get as big as sulcata (most I see are 18" or less, but they can get up to 24"), but still sizeable enough that I'd rule them out, too, unless you are prepared to build a fairly large indoor enclosure.  If you have a heated basement that could accomodate something bigger, then you could consider one, but for the amount of time they'd need to spend inside, I'd want something around 8' x 8' or 10' x 10'.  Leos can be fairly shy.

3)  redfoot--smaller than leopards, but can still get fairly big (12-14").  They are tropical, so require much more moisture than the other species I'm listing, and also an omnivorous diet.  Redfoots are often quite personable.

4)  Testudo species--they all stay fairly small, under about 9" at the largest.  This makes them ideal for locations where they have to be indoors for a significant amount of time.  They're hardy and healthy when set up and cared for properly, and all are fairly personable.  Of my Testudos, my Hermann's is the "friendliest."

For whatever you decide, buy captive bred from a private breeder or adopt from a rescue.  Don't buy from a pet store, and don't buy from online brokers or from anyone unless you are absolutely, 100% certain they're legit.  There are a LOT of unscrupulous sources out there, and quality really does matter.  I've been involved in tortoise groups for years, and whenever someone joins and has a problem with a hatchling, it's almost always because of where they got it.  Once you decide what you want, let me know and I can help you find one.  

I hope this helps.  If you have more questions, please let me know!


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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