Red-Footed Tortoise

Red-Footed Tortoise

Red-leg tortoise, Savanna tortoise, Jabuti, Marrocoy

Chelonoidis carbonaria
Population size
Life Span
50 yrs
8 km/h
27 kg
30-35 cm

Red-footed tortoises are tortoises of medium-size that live in Central and South America. They have a bumpy, concave shell, which is usually black, gray or brown, and their skin color is mostly black. Young tortoises feature small distinct areas of yellow or tan surrounding or covering the bumps. They may have bright red marks on their head. Their legs and tail often show patches of yellow, orange or red.


Red-footed tortoises have a broad range to the east of the Andes from eastern Columbia across the Guianas, south through eastern Brazil as far as Rio de Janeiro, and westwards to Paraguay, Bolivia and northern Argentina, and including Panama and western Columbia and the island of Trinidad. Recently they have been introduced to further islands in the Caribbean. This species occurs in rainforests, temperate forests, dry thorny forests, and savanna areas. They favor heavily forested, humid habitats, avoiding muddy areas due to the difficulty of burrowing in these habitats. They are less commonly found in forest clearings that have mangoes, palms and other vegetation.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Red-footed tortoises will "gaze follow" members of their own species, which means looking in the same direction as other tortoises in the immediate area. These animals are diurnal and seem to avoid moving far. Most tortoise species are inactive for much of their day, and red-footed tortoises typically spend more than 50% of their daylight hours resting. After a large meal they may rest even longer, commonly for five to ten days. They seek shelter where there is protection from predators as well as thermoregulation. Shelters are often communal, occupied by as many tortoises as will fill the space. These tortoises make a series of clucks, similar to those made by domestic chickens. The sounds are mainly produced by males at the time of courting or mating. Juveniles also cluck or chirp regularly while foraging. They will pause in their foraging and bob their head as they produce the sound. Not much more is known about the communication or perception of this species.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

A Red-footed tortoise is primarily herbivorous but will also eat small quantities of animal matter, including carrion. They also eat live or dead plants or fruits, fungi, flowers, soil, sand, and animals that move slowly, such as worms, snails and insects they are able to catch.

Mating Habits

Year-round, peak: April-May
117-158 days
at birth
5-15 eggs

These animals are polygynous, and males make sounds and calls along with distinct motions of their throat that are for attracting potential mates and warding off competitors. Males fight for mates, bobbing their heads up and down and then wrestling. If he flips the rival onto his back, he gains the opportunity to mate with the female. Courtship peaks during April and May, though breeding occurs throughout the year. Females dig their nest in leaf litter, laying a clutch of between 5 and 15 eggs. An individual may lay several clutches during the nesting season. Incubating the eggs is not part of her role, so she must hide them well to avoid predators. Incubation is for 117 to 158 days. The hatchlings dig themselves out of the nest, being immediately independent. Red-footed tortoises typically are sexually mature when they are 200 to 250 mm long, usually at about 5 years of age.


Population threats

The biggest threat to Red-footed tortoises being overhunted by humans. In much of their range, thousands are eaten by people, and in many South American cities they are considered a delicacy. In underdeveloped areas, native peoples consume their eggs as a primary source of protein. They are also threatened by habitat loss and other human activity, including drainage of wetlands for housing, agriculture, logging and road construction. Tortoises and turtles are particularly vulnerable, as humans often develop land next to rivers, lakes and seas where these species lay their eggs. Furthermore, the demands of the pet trade impacts populations so much that in the wild they may become extinct.

Population number

No estimate of population size is available for this species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has not evaluated them.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Red-footed tortoises when resting barely move, and they will allow leaf litter to gather on them. Termites have even built tunnels on top of the carapaces of Red-footed tortoises at rest.
  • As with many reptiles, Red-footed tortoise eggs are temperature gender dependent. Temperatures above 88° Fahrenheit (31° C) during incubation result in females and temperatures below 82° Fahrenheit (28° C) produce males. Temperatures between these ranges will produce a mix of genders.
  • In Brazil this tortoise is known as ‘jabuti’ and in Venezuela as ‘morrocoy.’
  • Catholics in Latin America eat the meat of Red-footed turtles during Lent (holy week), when eating other types of meat in prohibited. They consider tortoises to be "fish".
  • When the weather is cool, the metabolism of tortoises slows down considerably, enabling them to survive on very little food. For example, when the temperature is in the sixties, a mature individual can go for nearly a month on one banana.


1. Red-Footed Tortoise Wikipedia article -

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