Star Tortoise Garden @
Star Tortoise Garden @

Feeding Star Tortoises

Culinary delights tortoise style

Feeding tortoises and watching them devour their meals is one of most enjoyable aspects about keeping them as pets. They eat with such joy and exuberance. Fun to watch.

Ideally, grow your own tortoise edible plants and garden weeds. Weirdly though, dandelions can be difficult to grow when you want them! :0) I haven't had good luck with bought dandelion seeds, either from stores of private growers. For me, growing dandelions from local seeds works better. I collect the fluff balls (seeds) and then just throw them into my tortoise pens. If I'm lucky, something will grow.

I also buy edible wild flower seeds, often by the pound. I am a lazy gardener with no green thumbs, so I just sprinkle the seeds into my tortoise pens and water. Sometimes I spread a bit of organic garden soil on top. Super easy, but my success is so and so.

Animal products - not

Indian / Sri Lankan star (Geochelone elegans) and Burmese star (Geochelone platynota) tortoises have comparable care and dietary requirements. 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 food or cat food.

Fruits & veggies - 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 - min 90%

In general, at least 90% of star tortoises’ diet should consist of grasses, weeds, and other high-fiber green stuff. Mixed grasses, dark greens, garden weeds, coarse leaves, and succulents should make the bulk of star tortoises' diet. A diverse diet is most important. Offer as large variety of food items as possible. Rotate or mix foods.

Food examples:

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].

hibiscus plant is a tortoise favorite

Cactus pads and Hibiscus plant leaves & flowers (above) are well loved by all of my tortoises.

tortoise pen with edible plants

Tortoise pen planted with safe, edible plants. It probably won't take very long until most of them are consumed by the tortoises. The small patio table with legs cut shorter helps shade the water dish from the hot sun.

Salad hay

Salad style hay consists of dried grasses that have been cut into small pieces. Salad hay is sold as plain hay and as hay mixed with other dried plants and flowers (herbal salad hay). Dried grasses and other dried plants are a good source for additional fiber.

You can feed salad hay alone or sprinkle it on top of weeds, grocery store greens, or prepared tortoise diets. Baby star tortoises will eat salad hay better when it's mixed with more palatable plants.

You can keep a plate of chopped salad hay in the enclosure at all times. 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.

salad hay mixed with greens

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.

opuntia cactus plant

Opuntia cactus is a well-liked tortoise food. Healthy, too. Notice the little flower pots for starting new cacti from pads.

Hay cubes & pellets

Hay cubes are made from dried and cut grasses that have been compressed into small blocks, cubes, or pellets. They can be mixed with other foods to increase their fiber content. They are also good to feed during a simulated hot or dry season. To soften the pellets, soak them before feeding.

You can find hay pellets in feed stores or in the rabbit and guinea pig sections of pet stores. For example, timothy hay and orchard hay pellets are a good choice for tortoises. Although star tortoises are usually good eaters, they may be a bit picky and may not eat hay cubes if other foods are available.


Most tortoises seem to have a taste for cacti. My star tortoises love them, too. :0)

For human culinary purposes and tortoise feed, Opuntia ficus-indica cactus is used most often. It is also known under names of nopal, Indian fig opuntia, mission cactus, and prickly pear. Nopal is native to Mexico, but missionaries planted it around most missions in early California. Thus, the common name mission cactus.

The spineless opuntia varieties have no large spines, but they have tiny, nearly invisible barbed hairs called glochids which dig into skin easily. I use tongs or wear thick kitchen gloves when handling spineless cactus pads. For little babies, 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

tortoise pen with edible plants

One of my Burmese star tortoise outdoor pens planted with edible and tortoise safe plants.

Feeding frequency

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. :0)

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.

Check the poop

Checking your tortoise’s poop regularly allows you to keep track of his health status. Fresh tortoise feces should be dark in color and firm in texture. If your tortoise's poop is constantly lighter green and loose, he may have internal parasites or he may be eating an incorrect diet. The higher the coarse fiber content in the food, the more undigested plant pieces can be seen in the waste matter.

If you'd like to see a photo of dung that one of my Burmese stars pooped, click here. :O) The hay fibers are clearly visible in those sun-dried droppings.

Web links

To Top