The Red-footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) is a tortoise native to the tropical forests of South America (Guyana, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and some of the Caribbean islands).
The species has a dark carapace with yellow blurs in the middle of the scutes and on the border of the carapace. Although there might be many variations in colour, all Red-footed Tortoises have red or orange scales visible on their limbs, as well as their heads and tails. In some individuals, the carapace becomes indented on both sides giving them the illusion of having an hourglass waist. The males are usually slightly bigger than the females, with approximately 30,5cm in males and 29cm in females. They are sexually mature at a smaller size than this. Male Red-foots have a concave plastron, and their carapace is flatter than the females’ and the “hourglass” figure is much more developed in males than in females. Furthermore, the males tail is larger and wider than the females. No subspecies has been described so far, but due to the fact that the species’ range of distribution is wide, there is many different variants in size and colour.
The Red-footed Tortoise is often found in altered habitats in Panama, such as farmland. Many Red-footed Tortoises are found in the coastal area of San Blas, where an intensive clearing has taken place in order to establish groves of palm trees, mango- and cocoa-plantations and other types of farming. These plantations create good conditions for tortoises, due to the low amount of brushwood.
Red-footed Tortoises move preferably in bushes and low trees, were they find protection. They can often be seen holding out patiently underneath fruit trees, waiting for mature fruits to fall down. Their favourite fruit species are “Taperebá” and “Genipapo”, but they also feed on wild flowers. The Red-footed Tortoise is commonly found in the relatively dry grassland and forest areas of French Guayana, but the species also occurs in the humid forest and mountainous habitat of Kouro.
Within the species, there might be specific differences in behaviour, for example with regards to general activity, bathing, drinking water, resting, but also with regards to cloacal temperature.
The mating ritual of Red-footed Tortoises involves some very distinctive head movements on the part of the male. He begins by standing side-by-side with another tortoise and moving his head suddenly to one side, then returning it to the middle, in a series of sideways jerking motions. If the second tortoise is a male, he will respond with similar head movements, and some characteristic pushing and shoving may then ensue. If, however, the second tortoise is a female, she will not move her head in response. The male will move around to sniff at her tail, to confirm what he already suspects, before mating begins. Experiments have shown that in order for mating to proceed, not only do the movements of the head have to be precise, but also the coloration of the head has to be correct. Another characteristic of their breeding behaviour is that the male makes a clucking sound during courtship and mating, which sound like a hen. In the wild, the Red-footed Tortoise lays clutches of 5 to 15 eggs between July and September, which are generally buried in a nest in the ground. After 120 days incubation, the young tortoises hatch.
The forest habitat provides the Red-foot with an abundance of fallen fruits such as wild plum. It also eats wild mushrooms, vines, grasses, succulents and carrion, and is attracted to yellow and red flowers. In captivity, Red-foots can be fed mixed vegetables, green leafy vegetables (salad, cabbage etc.) and fruits. As a supplement, egg-shells can be fed as a source of calcium. This tortoise species drinks lots of fresh water. It does not support low temperatures.
Red-footed Tortoises, Chelonoidis carbonaria
How are they? Tortoises with a body length of 51cm. Their carapace is dark, with yellow blurs in the middle of the scutes and on the border of the carapace. The carapace becomes indented on both sides, giving them the illusion of having an “hourglass” waist.
How to differentiate males and females? Male Red-foots have a concave plastron, their carapace is flatter than the females’ and the “hourglass” figure is much more developed in males than in females. Furthermore, the male’s tail is larger and wider than the females. In general, males are bigger than females.
How is the species geographically distributed? South America: Guayana, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and some Caribbean islands.
Where do they live? In altered habitats of Panama, such as farmland.
What do they feed on? Fruits, mushrooms, leaves and carrion.