Tortoises are calm, fun and entertaining pets.
It is estimated that over 350,000 households keep different tortoise species in the U.S.
This reptile is a slow land dweller that is often confused with turtles because of their similar appearance. However turtles mostly live in water whereas every tortoise breed lives on land.
Deciding to bring this pet into your life is a big commitment.
Different tortoises need different levels of care; some are far easier for beginners than others!
In this article we share the best tortoise breeds for beginners and how you can pick the best one…
Table of Contents
10. Egyptian Tortoise
The Egyptian Tortoise roams the deserts of Egypt, Libya, and parts of Israel.
One of the smallest tortoise breeds known to man, only growing to be about 5 inches long, they are critically endangered in the wild. To protect the endangered wild population they should only be purchased through authorized breeders.
The Egyptian Tortoise makes a suitable pet for someone that does not have as much space to house larger tortoises.
Similar to the Pancake (featured below), this small tortoise only needs a 4 square feet tortoise table for their enclosure.
Unlike most breeds, this tortoise does better indoors where you have better control of the humidity and temperature – They are used to the hot, dry environment of Egyptian deserts.
They should have UVB light, a UVA basking light, an average tank temperature of between 75℉-85℉,and 20%-30% humidity.
With proper husbandry, they can live for 70-100 years. However, due to their limited availability they are more expensive than other tortoises in this list costing at least $1000.
|Size: 5 inches long|
|Lifespan: 70 to 100 years|
9. Marginated Tortoise
The Marginated Tortoise is native to Greece and is named after their unique flared rear marginal scutes.
This species is the largest European breed reaching 12-14 inches long.
Marginated Tortoises like to dig and spend lots of time outside whenever possible, especially when it is warm and sunny. It is best to house them outside if you have the space.
Their enclosure should be at least 16 square feet and should be kept at an overall temperature of around 80℉. They should have a UVB light, a 90℉-95℉ basking spot, and humidity between 50%-70%.
These tortoises do better when they are well hydrated and have a varied diet of weeds, leaves, and flowers.
Like many tortoises, they live for 35 to 50 years old.
When taken care of correctly they are very docile and friendly and typically cost $200-$500.
|Size: 12-14 inches long|
|Lifespan: 35 to 50 years|
8. Pancake Tortoise
The Pancake Tortoise is found in sub-Saharan Africa and is famous for its flat, sea turtle-like shell (most tortoises have high rounded shells).
Their flat shells do not provide much protection from predators, so they avoid them with speed and flexibility. Their speed makes them a very fun pet tortoise!
A small species, usually growing to 7 inches long, they do not need much space.
They are happy to be housed in a 40-gallon aquarium (or 4-square foot turtle table), provided it has a basking spot, UVB light, 70℉-75℉ temperature gradient, and a 60%-75% humidity.
Their enclosure should have a screen-top or high walls as they can climb very well for a tortoise.
Like many breeds in this list, Pancake Tortoises eat leafy greens and grasses and have fairly easy-care requirements.
They are not as popular as others in this list because their export is heavily monitored and they do not always breed readily in captivity.
Because of their export restrictions they can cost $400-$600.
|Size: 7 inches long|
|Lifespan: 30 years|
7. Leopard Tortoise
The Leopard Tortoise is the second-largest species native to Africa and the fourth largest tortoise in the world. They are 17 inches long and weigh up to 40 pounds.
Because of their large-size, they must be kept in an outdoor enclosure at least 80 square feet. If they are to be housed indoors, they can take up a whole room.
They need an average enclosure temperature of 80-90°F, and they do not tolerate moist conditions.
Their enclosure can be high-maintenance to set up initially, however, the upkeep becomes easy with practice.
This tortoise usually comes in shades of black, yellow, and brown and has a unique blotchy-pattern on their shell.
Leopard Tortoises are herbivorous, but their diet differs from other tortoises, because they eat forbs (e.g. seeds, grains, and nuts) rather than greens and grasses. In the wild, they spread these seeds over their home territory, which helps to grow plants.
The Leopard Tortoise’s temperament is very beginner-level as they are slow, docile, and don’t dig. They can live past 50 years old and usually cost $200-$300.
|Size: 17 inches long|
|Lifespan: 50+ years|
6. Red-Footed Tortoise
The Red-Footed Tortoise is the first species on this list native to South America and several Caribbean islands. As their name suggests, they often have red legs. However, their tail and head can be red too – earning them the nickname “cherry head”.
This is a medium-sized tortoise, growing no longer than 14 inches long.
The Red-Footed Tortoise is relatively inexpensive and has a curious nature making them very suitable for beginners.
They should have a 50 square feet enclosure with temperatures of 80℉ year-round. They should also be provided with UVB light and humidity levels should be kept between 70% to 80%.
What makes them different from other tortoise breeds is that they are not entirely herbivorous.
Most of their diet consists of the leafy greens and fruits that so many tortoises enjoy, but the Red-Footed also enjoys insects or small mice.
Their curious personalities and ease-of-care make them great beginner tortoises.
They can live for more than 50 years and typically cost $150-$400 depending on their age.
|Size: 14 inches long|
|Lifespan: 50 years|
5. Hermann’s Tortoise
The Hermann’s Tortoise is from the Mediterranean Basin and is a small tortoise measuring 8 inches in length.
These tortoises are unique for their single, horn-like claw found at the tips of their tails.
They must be housed in an outdoor warm, environment, and should have at least 16 square feet of space. To best mimic the natural Mediterranean environment, the ideal temperature for their enclosure is 70℉-80℉, with UVB light and a basking spot.
Like the Pancake Tortoise, they need an enclosure with high walls, as they are very active and like to climb! Including hideouts, large rocks, nontoxic plants and décor in their enclosure and spreading food around the area will encourage them to be active and prevent boredom.
The Hermann’s Tortoise is docile and gentle with a great temperament for a beginner pet.
Similar to other breeds, they enjoy leafy greens (like dandelions and kale) and will occasionally eat fruit.
They are gentle and active tortoises who are great for any beginner.
The Hermann is known to live for more than 75 years and will cost $200-$800 depending on their age.
|Size: 8 inches in length|
|Lifespan: 75+ years|
4. Indian Star Tortoise
The Indian Star Tortoise is found throughout India and Sri Lanka. This breed is famous for the star-like pattern they are named after.
It is now illegal to export this tortoise because they are threatened in their native habitat.
Despite being very beginner friendly, their export status makes them the most expensive breed in this list. You should expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $4000. It is key to get your tortoise from a trusted, captive breeder.
Indian Star Tortoises are the same size as the Greek Tortoise, growing to 12 inches.
What makes this tortoise a great beginner pet is their adaptability to survive in different humidity levels; this is because India faces monsoons and dry periods each year.
They need a minimum 36-square foot enclosure and prefer being outside.
Unlike most tortoises in this list, they are very sociable with each other, so if you have enough space, you can have more than one.
They make a great beginner pet because of their general ease-of-care, and you can adopt more than one.
|Size: 12 inches long|
|Lifespan: 35 years|
3. Sulcata Tortoise
The Sulcata Tortoise, found in the Sahara Desert, is the largest tortoise in the world.
This giant tortoise can reach a whopping 30 inches in length and weigh over 100 pounds. Do not let their large size intimidate you, they still make a great beginner tortoise, just as long as they are not handled frequently!
As with the Russian Tortoise, the Sulcata likes burrowing and digging. They are also like most tortoises on this list as they readily eat grass, lettuce and leaves.
This is not a beginner reptile for someone who does not have lots of outdoor space.
They need an enclosure of 80 square feet, which is usually easier to provide outdoors. They also need to have a space and substrate where they can burrow and dig into, but not used to escape.
On average, the Sulcata lives for 50 years in captivity.
Despite their large enclosure requirement and burrowing behavior, they make great beginner pets because they are intelligent and like human interaction.
They cost between $50 and $200 and are readily available as captive-bred.
|Size: 30 inches in length|
|Lifespan: 50 years|
2. Russian Tortoise
The Russian Tortoise can be found anywhere from southeast Russia to the Middle East.
They are a very popular pet tortoise in the United States.
These tortoises can live for more than 40 years and prefer to live in warm outdoor enclosures. If they are housed indoors, they should be kept at room temperature and have a hot basking area, UVB light, and 30%-50% humidity.
This Tortoise is hardy and has an ability to adapt to different temperatures which makes them easy-to-care for beginners.
An enclosure of 8 square feet is suitable provided it is secure. These tortoises are burrowers and may try to dig at the corners of their enclosure. They have an ability to hibernate and dig underground when temperatures get too cold or hot (i.e. outside of the 60℉-90℉ range).
Beginners should always be aware of the temperatures in their enclosure.
They are similar in size to most species in this list reaching about 8-10 inches in length and cost $80-$200.
Like most breeds, Russian Tortoises prefer not to be handled.
|Size: 8-10 inches in length|
|Lifespan: 40+ years|
1. Greek Tortoise
The Greek Tortoise is widespread throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Like the Russian, they are one of the most popular pet tortoises and cost $200.
They are easy to identify because of their domed shell and golden to black color patterns.
The Greek Tortoise earned its alternate name, the Mediterranean Spur-Thighed Tortoise, from its characteristic “spurs” on either side of its tail.
Greek Tortoises do not grow more than 10 inches long and although they are small can live up to 50 years!
This species should spend as much time outside as possible because they enjoy soaking up the sun in a spacious enclosure. Any enclosure they are in should be 18 square feet or more This tortoise is terrestrial, so it does not climb and won’t require walls taller than its own body height.
Wether inside or outside, they should have an environment that is 75℉-90℉, a UVB light, hot basking area and 40%-60% humidity.
These tortoises are herbivores and will eat leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and other vegetables.
When properly cared for, the Greek Tortoise is friendly and easy to care for!
|Size: 10 inches long (many stop growing at 5 inches)|
|Lifespan: 125+ years|
Adopting a pet tortoise is a big commitment, many live for over 50 years. If there is a possibility that you cannot care for them for this long, consider getting a reptile that has a shorter lifespan.
Size should be one of the main considerations when choosing a tortoise breed. There are small, medium and large species which all require different size enclosures to roam and be happy:
|Tortoises by Size|
|Small Tortoises||Greek, Indian Star, Russian, Hermann, Egyptian and Pancake|
|Medium sized tortoises||Red-Footed and Marginated|
|Large Tortoises||Sulcata and Leopard|
Most beginner tortoise species are herbivorous.
Hatchlings are generally less expensive than adults, and most beginner tortoises range from $100 to $400 with the Indian Star, Egyptian and Pancake Tortoises considerably more expensive.
Do you have a tortoise at home already? Which one in our list is your favorite?
Let us know below.