Culinary Delights Tortoise Style
- feeding star tortoises -
Burmese Star tortoise eating dandelions
Indian vs Burmese
Indian / Sri Lankan (Geochelone elegans) and Burmese Star (Geochelone platynota) tortoises have comparable care and dietary requirements.
Animal products -- NOT
In the wild, Star tortoises are mostly herbivorous, but may occasionally eat some animal matter as well. That said, a 100% vegetarian diet is recommended for captive Stars. Do not feed animal products. For example, no dog or cat food.
Fruits & vegetables -- max 5-10%, if any
Avoid giving too many sweet foods, like fruit, to your Star tortoise. They are "junk food" for herbivorous tortoises and may possibly cause colic, protozoan parasite "blooming" (increase in numbers), and other problems if fed in excess. Many Star tortoise keepers feed no fruit at all. Give less than 10% of the total diet, if any.
Grasses, weeds, succulents, & flowers -- 90% +
In general, at least 90% of a Star tortoise's diet should consist of grasses, weeds, and other fiber rich green stuff. Mixed grasses, dark greens, weeds, coarse leaves, and succulents should make the bulk of Star tortoises' diet. Stars tend to like broadleaf weeds better than grasses.
A diverse diet is most important. Offer as large variety of food items as possible. Rotate or mix foods.
- Grasses - bermuda, bluegrass, fescue, kikuyu, timothy
- Weeds - clover, chickweed, dandelion, mallow, plantain
- Leaves - grape, mulberry, strawberry
- Succulents - opuntia cactus, sedum
- Flowers - hibiscus, petunia, pansy, nasturtium, rose petals
- Market foods - endive, escarole, radicchio, baby greens, dandelions, squashes (sparingly)
Ideally, do not feed grocery store greens exclusively. Use them as secondary foods only. Choose organic produce if possible. Mix grocery store greens with dried salad hay or dried weeds to up the fiber content.
Most sedums are considered safe for tortoises to eat, but do avoid feeding Sedum acre. It's said to be toxic. Here's a link to sedum photos [offsite].
Burmese Star tortoise hatchling consuming dandelions
Salad style hay consists of dried grasses that have been cut into small pieces. Salad hay is sold as plain hay or as hay mixed with other dried plants and flowers (herbal salad hay). Dried grasses and other plants are a good source for additional fiber.
You can feed salad hay alone or sprinkle it on top of weeds or grocery store greens. Star tortoises will eat salad hay better when it's mixed with more palatable plants.
You can always keep a plate of chopped salad hay in the enclosure. This way, tortoises can nibble on it at will if they feel hungry. Salad hay also replicates what's available in the nature during the dry season.
Tip: Ideally, grasses should be offered as natural graze outside or in a dried form. According to Simon Girling, BVMS CertZooMed MRCVS (Pet Owner's Guide to the Tortoise 2002), cut grass should not be fed as it can ferment quickly and cause colic.
Chopped herbal salad hay mixed with dandelions and radicchio. Small hay pieces blend in and stick to the wet greens. Great for reluctant hay eaters.
My favorite pellets: plain Timothy hay, Zoo Med Grassland, and Mazuri LS tortoise diet. I soak all of them briefly before feeding. I often mix soaked timothy pellets or chopped salad hay with the commercial tortoise foods.
Hay cubes & pellets
Hay cubes are made from dried and cut grasses that have been compressed into small blocks or pellets. They can be mixed with other foods to increase the fiber content. Also good food to feed during a simulated hot or dry season.
For example, timothy hay cubes are a good choice for tortoises. Stars can be picky eaters though and may not eat any kind of hay cubes if other foods are available.
Hay cubes and pellets can be soaked briefly before feeding to soften them. You can find them in the rabbit and guinea pig sections of pet stores.
Most tortoises seem to have a taste for cactus. My Star tortoises like it, too. :O)
For human culinary purposes, Opuntia ficus-indica cactus (aka Nopal, Indian Fig Opuntia, Mission Cactus, Prickly Pear) is used most often. Nopal is native to Mexico, but missionaries planted it around most missions in early California. Thus, the common name Mission Cactus.
The spineless variety has tiny, nearly invisible barbed hairs called glochids which dig into skin easily. I wear thick kitchen gloves when handling spineless cactus pads. I scrub the pads with a brush under running water to remove most of the glochids. If you do get glochids on your fingers, they will tickle, burn, and hurt. You can try to remove glochids from your skin with duct tape, melted candle wax, glue, tweezers, or scrubbing with a nail brush.
Recently planted spineless Opuntia cacti protected by a steel cage. It allows the young cacti to grow without being eaten by tortoises. The cage is made from ziptied 14"x14" storage cube panels secured to the ground with garden stakes.
Grow your own
Ideally, grow your own weeds. Weirdly though, dandelions can be difficult to grow when you want them! :O)
I haven't had good luck with bought dandelion seeds, either from stores of private growers. For me, growing dandelions from local seeds works best. I collect the fluff balls (seeds) and then just throw them into my tortoise pens.
I also buy edible wild flower seeds, often by the pound. I plant them the same way. I sprinkle the seeds into my tortoise pens and water. Sometimes I spread a bit of organic garden soil on top. Super easy!
Babies and youngsters can be fed twice a day. Give the main meal in the morning during their first active period and a smaller snack in the afternoon during their second active time. Feeding tortoises AM and PM simulates their natural eating pattern in the wild.
Adult tortoises can be fed every day as well, or you can skip 1-2 days a week. On those skip days, you can leave out some salad hay or hay pellets for them to snack on if desired. If Stars aren't truly hungry, they probably won't touch them, but at least you have a piece of mind that you are not "starving" them. :O)
Do not overfeed rich foods, for example, high protein and high fat pellets. Aim to provide a diet high in fiber, low in protein, and low in fat.
- The Tortoise Table - UK website, listing of safe and not-safe to feed plants, with photos, for tortoises
- California Poison Control System - US website, a 121 page pdf file listing toxic and non-toxic plants by common and scientific names, for humans with notes on animals, revised and completed Apr 2009