Golden Greek Tortoises
- captive care -
Beautiful Golden Greek tortoises showing their "glowing" shells in the sunshine.
What is a Golden Greek?
Any yellowish colored Greek tortoise (Testudo graeca) can be called a Golden Greek tortoise regardless of its origin or subspecies, but most Golden Greeks are thought to be part of the Middle Eastern Greek tortoise group.
In captivity, Golden Greek tortoises from various, unknown locations have been bred with each other. This complicates their identification and care in captivity. Some Golden Greeks are hardier, while others are more sensitive. You will have to observe your Goldens to find out what conditions, especially temperature and humidity levels, they tolerate and like best.
Goldens as pets
I think Indian Stars are some of the most beautiful tortoises in the world and Burmese Stars can have great personalities in addition to their good looks, but my Golden Greek tortoises have captured my heart. They are such adorable, spunky mini tortoises!
Goldens’ shells may not as ornate as those of Star tortoises, but their shells seem to shine and glow outdoors in the sunshine or indoors under UV lights! Lovely. Little golden gems!
Captive bred and long term captive Golden Greeks are quite robust as pets and can tolerate a reasonable range of temperatures. They are rather easy keepers, as far as tortoises go, and generally do well in captivity. As adults, they are easy to breed when well cared for, and their babies are extremely cute! :O)
On the other hand, newly imported Golden Greeks can be "delicate" and often need extra care and "pampering" at first. They can carry heavy parasite loads and/or be riddled with infections that need veterinary treatment. However, once acclimated to captive conditions, they will thrive if kept appropriately. This acclimation can take 1-2 years, or longer.
Temperamental and unpredictable fresh imports are not recommended for inexperienced tortoise keepers. However, captive bred Goldens are a great choice for new tortoise hobbyist who have done proper research on their care (like one should do for any species). Captive bred Goldens are fairly easy to find and their prices are reasonable.
- for food examples, see the Star tortoise diet page
- recommendations vary
- see the Star tortoise supplements page
- always provide a drinking water dish
- use a very shallow dish for hatchlings (pic)
- give 10-20 min soaks (baths) in warm, shallow water
- tiny hatchlings should be bathed daily to ensure adequate water intake
- soak adults at least 1-2 times a month to help with hydration
- see the feeding dishes page
- open top with good ventilation for adults
- babies can be kept warmer and more humid
- the substrate should be deep enough to allow burrowing
- provide both dry and slightly moist burrowing areas
- MINIMUM size for a TEMPORARY (e.g. nights, bad weather) indoor enclosure for 1 tortoise is around 5x2 ft (60"x24", 152x61 cm)
- the BIGGER the enclosure, the BETTER as Goldens can be quite active
- see the Star tortoise indoor housing page
The deeper model Waterland tubs have enough depth for my Golden Greeks to nest indoors during bad winter weather, if needed. Waterland turtle tubs are my favorite indoor enclosures for small tortoises. They are waterproof and very easy to clean. I fill them with finely ground coconut coir, coir/chip mix, or soil/coir mix.
Caution! The higher ramp of the water tub models can be slippery and difficult for tortoises to climb up. Especially if the soil level is low. You can place a bathtub mat, or something similar, on the ramp to give better grab for tortoise nails.
Note: The small, bright light on top left of the wire shelf is NOT a reptile UVB light, but an electric fly trapper.
As soon as the babies pip (crack a hole in the egg), I move them into a warm nursery incubator. This one's a still air Hovabator. I allow the babies to hatch as fast or as slow as they want to. I do NOT remove babies from the eggs, but let them do it by themselves.
I place the eggs / babies into a small food storage box with a damp paper towel as the substrate. I may add some food, calcium, and a very shallow water bottle cap as the water dish.
Babies stay in the nursery for 1-7 days depending on how fast they hatch and how their belly buttons look. Most of my Golden Greek babies hatch with flat bellies and are ready for their baby enclosures.
A simple, open topped indoor setup for fresh Golden Greek hatchlings. My baby Golden Greeks love to dig into the warm, slightly damp sphagnum moss. This helps prevent dehydration and lets their shells grow smoothly. Because they spend so much time in this humid microclimate, Golden Greek babies are sooo much easier to grow smooth (no pyramiding) than Star tortoises! Golden babies are a joy to raise! :0)
Instead of sphagnum moss, you could also use coconut coir or plain soil, but they are much messier and harder to keep away from the food. The food side of the tub is cooler and dry, and the substrate side is warmer and slightly damp. Using paper towels in the eating area helps prevent any accidental ingestion of substrate.
Here's another way I hang lights for the baby tubs. Instead of placing lamps on a separate wire shelf, I hang them up with carabiners. Adding or removing carabiners allows me to easily adjust the lamp height as needed.
A wire shelf ledge secures the back of the tub and a bungee cord the front. Warm and damp sphagnum moss allows burrowing hatchlings to stay warm and humid. They stay well hydrated and grow with smooth shells.
Here are the little ones. Golden Greek babies are tiny. My Goldens only weigh 6-13 g at hatching.
If you use open top, low sided tubs for Greek babies, you can cut the tub lid into a "rim lid" to prevent escapes from climbing. Baby Greeks are agile and can climb over each other, cage, furniture, substrate heaps, etc, to reach the top of the walls.
The tortoise pictured above is not a fresh hatchling, but a small youngster I brought in temporarily due to bad weather. Tiny hatchlings are way, way smaller than him.
My favorite housing for hatchlings is an open tub placed on a table top and filled with slightly damp sphagnum moss. You could also partially cover the top to keep the tub warmer and more humid, but I have found it to be unnecessary for Greek babies.
I either fill the bottom with the moss and use a large, shallow tray for feeding (pic), or cover the feeding area with paper towels instead of moss. With table setups, I like to use LARGE deep dome fixtures hung from reptile lamp stands. With lamp stands, I can easily change the height of the bulbs to regulate the temperature.
This is how the Golden Greek babies like to spend their time when they are not eating. Dug into the warm, slightly damp sphagnum moss (3-6" deep). :O)
- bright lighting, UVB bulb
- see the Star tortoise lighting page
- ambient daytime temperature 75-85 °F (23.9-29.4 °C)
- basking spot 90-100+ °F (32.2-37.8+ °C)
- daytime temperature gradient from 75°F (23.9 °C) at cool end to 95/100+ °F (35/37.8+ °C) under the basking light
- night temperature above 60 °F (15.6 °C)
- these temperature numbers are just basic starting guidelines, NOT EXACT requirements; it all depends on your specific setup and circumstances
- keep Golden Greeks a bit warmer than northern Mediterranean Greeks, especially at night, unless you are sure yours is a more hardy one like a Golden Ibera Greek
- I do not use night heat for my Golden Greek babies, but they spend nights in the tortoise room that stays at 70 °F (21.1 °C) or above at all times
- In the past, I did observe that additional night heat (e.g. CHE) caused Golden babies to grow overly fast
- for more heating info, see the Star tortoise heating page
- humidity 40-60+ % for adults
- common recommendation is to keep Middle Eastern Golden Greek adults a bit dryer than northern Mediterranean Greeks
- babies benefit from higher humidity and should have slightly damp, warm substrate areas for burrowing to aid in hydration and smooth shell growth
- these humidity percentages are just a basic starting guideline, not an exact requirement; it all depends on your specific setup and circumstances
Substrate & microclimates
- plain soil, coconut coir, coconut husk chips, cypress mulch, soil/coconut coir mix, etc.
- babies like to dig into slightly damp, warm sphagnum moss, soil, or something similar
- provide an area with deeper substrate for burrowing
- keep the substrate mostly dry, but do provide a warm humid hide or a slightly damp burrowing area
- tend to like burrowing better than hides
- providing both dry and slightly damp substrate areas allows the tortoise to choose the conditions he needs
- do NOT keep Goldens on an exclusively damp substrate, they can be susceptible to shell rot if kept on an overly wet substrate with no place to dry off
- see the substrates page
- OUTDOORS IS BEST, weather permitting
- allow as much time as possible outdoors in the natural sun
- even babies can spend their days outdoors weather permitting, but always provide shady areas to prevent overheating
- outdoor enclosure for adults should be large, Golden Greeks can be quite energetic during their active periods and like to have space to run around
- best to bring indoors during rain and cold temperatures below 60-65 °F (15.6-18.3 °C), unless they have a warm and dry shelter they can retire to
- some keepers in Arizona, southern California, and other warm climates keep their Golden Greeks outdoors year round with or without additional heat depending on their tortoises' hardiness level
- outdoor enclosures must be well secured to prevent escaping, Goldens are excellent climbers and good diggers
- see the Star tortoise outdoor housing page
Greeks like to bury themselves into the soil under a brush or a clump of grass. Usually, just deep enough to cover the skin parts.
Adult Golden Greeks in their outdoor pen.
Golden Greek hatchlings in their outdoor pen. The upper level of flatter blocks forms a "lip" around the top. The pen is covered with a 1/4" hardware cloth frame / lid. Both sunny and shady areas are provided. I check on the babies frequently to see if any of them have fallen on their backs and cannot righten themselves. Staying like that in the sun can fry them up quickly. :O( For other hatchlings setups, see the outdoor housing page.
- said to be susceptible to respiratory problems if kept too cold, too humid, or on a too wet substrate
- can be prone to shellrot if kept too wet
- since Golden Greeks come from various habitat areas, their hardiness in captivity can differ
- some Golden Greeks cannot tolerate high humidity or cool temperatures, while others do quite well in cooler temperatures as long as the conditions are dry
- if wild caught import, take to a vet for fecal and blood tests
- most new imports need deworming for both worms and protozoa
- males can be fertile at around 4"-5"
- females can fertile at around 6"-7"
- breeding very young females is not recommended
- see photos of Golden Greek nesting, egg development, and hatchlings
- also see the incubators page
- Deer Fern Farm - caresheet, incl. Golden Greek tortoise, by Douglas Dix
- Reptile Channel - Breeding Golden Greek Tortoises, by Douglas Dix, 2009
- Tortoise Reserve - Health, husbandry, and captive breeding of Golden Greek Tortoises, by David S. Lee & Mike Lowe, 2007
- World Chelonian Trust - Golden Greek Tortoise, Testudo graeca terrestris / Testudo graeca floweri, by Darrell Senneke, 2003