Red footed tortoise

Chelonoidis carbonaria

At the Zoo

South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary

Fascinating Facts

  • Red footed tortoises are one of only three tortoise species native to mainland South America. As fruit eaters, they are important seed dispersers in their habitat.
  • The scientific name “carbonaria” is a reference to their black skin with red patches, similar to glowing coals.
  • Juveniles are preyed upon by foxes, coatis, dogs, cats, skunks, lizards, rats and birds of prey. Adults are preyed upon by jaguars and humans.

Physical Characteristics

Male red footed tortoises are slightly larger than females, at approximately 13.5 inches in length while females are approximately 11.5 inches in length. Coloration varies by geographic location, but in general their skin is mostly black with red marks on jaw, tail and legs. The carapace, or top shell, is blackish brownish with a light tan patch in the middle of each scute, or scale. The plastron, or bottom shell, is tan or yellow. They have an excellent sense of smell.

Red footed tortoises can live up to 50 years.


Red footed tortoises reside in dry forest, savanna, grasslands and tropical rainforest adjacent to open areas. The range of the red footed tortoise includes southern Central America through South America east of the Andes Mountains to northern Argentina, as well as several Caribbean islands.

They are omnivorous, feeding on plants, fruits, flowers, fungi, snails, worms, other slow-moving insects and occasionally carrion. They will also ingest sand, possibly to help break down food.

Social Behavior

Breeding occurs at the beginning of the rainy season. Males signal to one another with a series of head jerks and will battle each other for breeding rights, with the victor flipping the challenger. Males make clucking sounds during the mating process. Females excavate a nest in the leaf litter and deposit a clutch of 5 – 15 eggs. More than one clutch can be laid per season. Incubation lasts an average of 150 days and there is no parental care. Young are approximately 1.5 – 2 inches in length and weigh about an ounce at hatching. It takes about 5 years for a red footed tortoise to grow big enough to become sexually mature.

Status In The Wild

Red footed tortoises have not been assessed by IUCN.

Animals & Exhibits