Most tortoises such as the Grazing and Mediterranean tortoises are herbivores while the Rainforest or Tropical tortoises tend to be omnivores. However, they all need a lot of fiber in their diet for proper digestion of food, gut motility, and generation of energy. In our local zoo, there are some grasses growing in the tortoises’ enclosures that they feed on. In this article, I share the research I did to find out which grasses are safe for tortoises to consume and the benefits.
Table of Contents
Can tortoises eat Grass?
Tortoises can eat grass, Experts recommend that high fiber grass should make up a high percentage of a tortoise daily diet. The kind of grass that is safe for tortoises enclosure includes barley, carex, cat grass, couch grass, fescue grass, Fountaingrass, oat grass, pampas grass, Kikuyu grass, timothy, and wheatgrass.
The daily diet of a tortoise should contain high fiber and calcium levels, and low protein, grass is one of the food items that is loaded with high fiber, hay is another food item that is loaded with fiber. Together, these food items will ensure your tortoise has enough fiber in its diet.
Be careful not to feed the seeds of these grasses to tortoises as they are high in protein that can cause a faster growth rate in juvenile tortoises and end causing shell deformities.
Fruits, greens, weeds, flowering plants, and vegetables should also be part of your tortoises’ diet. You can also feed tortoises high-quality commercially made pellets such as these pellets from Amazon as part of the tortoise diet.
When feeding fruits you should always consider the species of your tortoises since only the Rainforest tortoises should eat fruits freely.
For the Grazing and Mediterranean Tortoises, experts recommend either avoiding fruits or feeding them moderately.
This because these tortoises do not encounter fruits in their natural environment which makes it hard for their digestive track to cope with the high sugar levels of fruits.
However, fruits can be save when fed moderately.
Vegetables and salads should also be fed moderately since they are mineral deficient [example calcium] and also contains calcium absorption limiting compounds such as oxalic acid, phytic acids, phosphorus, goitrogens, and so on.
Read on to learn more about grasses that are safe for tortoises to eat.
Does a tortoise need Grass?
Yes, tortoises need grass, especially Grazing and Mediterranean tortoises. The grass is a good source of fiber, carbohydrates, and fats when fermented and serves as a good source of energy for these tortoises. Grazing or desert and Mediterranean tortoises will gladly accept grasses compared to rainforest tortoises.
Which Tortoises should eat Grass?
There are three categories of tortoises namely The Grazing or Desert tortoises, Rainforest tortoises, and the Mediterranean tortoises.
Each category of tortoise has a slightly different diet from the other but generally, they all need high fiber content in their diet.
Before we take a deeper look into which tortoises should have grass in their diet, let’s take a look into which category each tortoise falls into.
The Rainforest Tortoises
|Rainforest Tortoises||Preferred Diet|
|Red-footed tortoises||70% weeds, flowering plants, and other greens|
|Yellow footed tortoises [Geochelone denticulata]||30% Fruits and a small amount of animal protein|
|Burmese Brown Tortoises|
|Kinixys homeana (Home’s Hingeback tortoise|
The Mediterranean Tortoises
|Mediterranean Tortoises||Preferred Diets|
|Greek Tortoises, Spur Thighed (Testudo Graeca)||100% variety of weeds and flowering plants |
Examples: hibiscus leaves and flowers and Mulberry leaves
|Hermanns tortoise (Testudo Hermanni)||Limit or avoid: Fruits, vegetables, and salads|
|Marginated Tortoise (Testudo Marginata) and the|
|Russian / Horsefield (Testudo Horsefieldi)|
|Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kleinmanni)|
The Grazing/Desert Tortoises
|Grazing Tortoises||Preferred diets|
|African Sulcata Tortoises||70% mixed grass and Hay|
|Leopard Tortoises||20-30% flowering plants, succulents and weeds.|
|Indian Tortoises||Limit or Avoid: Fruits, vegetables, and salads|
The Grazing or desert tortoises are the category of tortoises that will easily accept grass in their diet, since, in their natural environment they are grazers.
In the wild, the Grazers tortoises eat different types of grasses and succulent plants which makes up a large part of their diet.
The diet of the Mediterranean tortoises in their natural habitat is composed of succulent and herbaceous vegetation such as flowers, leaves, grasses, and berries though rarely.
However, based on Tortoise Trust, Mediterranean tortoises such as the Russian tortoises are very good grazers and need a diet high in fiber.
The rainforest tortoises may also accept grasses to some degree but should not be fed an all-grass diet. In the wild, these tortoises encounter fruits as they forage.
Unlike the grazing and Mediterranean tortoises, the rainforest digestive system is equipped to digest high sugars of fruits.
They, therefore, need fruits in their diet, additionally, rainforest tortoises can also eat some animal protein since they come across dead animals on the forest floor and consume them.
However, this should be done in moderation if at all to avoid providing them with excess protein that will lead to abnormal shell growth.
Tropical or Rainforest tortoises such Yellowfoot and Redfoot, Hingeback, and some Mediterranean tortoises digestive system is not well equipped to digest the silica in the grass.
These tortoises may accept grass or none at all, however for the tortoises well adapted to eating grasses in their natural environment grass is a great source of fiber.
For instance for the African Spurred and Leopard tortoises, mixed grasses can make up about 70-75% of their diet.
Benefits of Tortoises Eating Grass
The main benefit of grass to tortoises is providing fiber that is converted to carbohydrates that serves as a good source of energy for the tortoises.
As stated earlier a tortoises health diet should be composed of high fiber, high calcium and low protein.
Fruits, greens, flowers, weeds, and vegetables will provide the vitamins the tortoises need for proper growth and development and for boosting their immunity.
However, their fiber content is very poor and they cannot be relied upon to provide the fiber needed by tortoises in their diet.
Hay such as alfalfa among other hays serve as a good source of fiber for tortoises. Various tortoises safe grasses are also an excellent source of hay for the grazing tortoises.
Experts recommend that these food items should make up a high percentage of the tortoise diets, they should be offered in the morning for the tortoise to eat the whole day while combined with other food items such as fruits, vegetables, weeds, flowers and pellets.
Most tortoises are herbivorous reptiles, which include most tortoises such as the Mediterranean and Grazing tortoises they obtain their energy from carbohydrates and proteins. Herbivorous turtles can also obtain energy from fats after the fermentation of fiber.
While for omnivorous reptiles such as the Forest tortoises and Box turtles obtain their energy from carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
When tortoises consume grass, the fiber content of grass which increases as the grass ages is digested in the hindgut through a process called fermentation.
Fermentation is driven by microbes in the tortoises hindgut that produces carbohydrates and fats that serve as sources of energy.
The fermentation process is slow which is also dependant on the length of the fiber ingested.
Grass can also provide a small amount of vitamins, and proteins. Though grasses high in fiber should be avoided, high protein especially among young turtles or tortoises lead in faster growth rate that leads to shell deformaties.
Fiber is also important to aid in gut mobility and prevent constipation in tortoises. However, according to this source, feeding fiber excessively can lead to bloating and inadequate absorption of calories.
The same source recommends that tortoises diet should have a fiber content of not less than 12% of the dry matter. Extensive and conclusive research on the optimal fiber requirements is however not available.
There are commercially made tortoise pellets that are made with high fiber grasses and hays that can also contribute to providing tortoises with the daily fiber requirements.
How do you feed Grass to tortoises?
You can either let tortoises forage for grasses in your backyard as long as you have established the grass is safe for tortoises. Alternatively you can plant tortoises safe grass in their enclosure and let them enjoy it on their own.
However, it is important to note that tortoises do not have teeth to cut through the grass. They instead have a beak that enables them to hold and pull the grass materials. In the wild old tortoises have been observed to show a preference for old grass materials.
This behavior was believed to be influenced by the fact that old plant materials have a high fiber content compared to young plant materials.
This might also be case in the captive tortoises when left to graze on their own.
What kind of grass can tortoises eat?
Acceptable types of grasses that safe for tortoises to eat includes
- barley grass
- carex grass
- cat grass
- Kikuyu grass
- Buffalo Grass
- couch grass
- Darnel Rye grass
- Dallas grass
- fescue grass
- oat grass
- pampas grass
- timothy grass
Can you grow grass in a tortoise enclosure?
You can also grow grass and other ornamental plants in your tortoise enclosure. These will provide the tortoises with enough fiber throughout the day and also provide them with places to hind especially when the sun is hot incase your tortoise is in an open enclosure.
Grasses and other ornamental plants safe for tortoises enclosure include barley, carex, cat grass, couch grass, fescue grass, Fountaingrass, oat grass, pampas grass, timothy, and wheatgrass. Ornamental plants safe for tortoises enclosure include Boston Fern, Boston Fern [feed moderately].
Is lawn grass good for tortoises?
Lawn grass is totally safe for tortoise to eat moderately as long as it is not chemically treated. You can let your tortoise loam in your lawn once in a while as it munches on the grass especially in overgrown areas.
However, you should not expect tortoises to mawn your lawn since they do not exhaust one spot fully before they move to the next grass. Weeds such as clovers that grow among the lawn grass are also a delicacy to the grazing tortoises.
Is Lemongrass safe for tortoise?
Tortoises can also eat lemongrass moderately, when mixed with other tortoises safe grasses, lemongrass can serve as a good source of fiber for the tortoise.
Can tortoises eat cat grass?
Tortoises can eat cat grass safely without any side effects, just make sure te cat grass is not chemically treated. However, you should not feed tortoises cat grass seeds since they have a high protein above the recommended tortoises minimum protein requirements.
Do tortoises like walking on grass?
Tortoises will enjoy eating and walking on grass, However, we do not recommend installing artificial grass in a tortoise enclosure since they are made of plastic that tortoises can ingest by accident and harm themselves. However, tortoises can walk on artificial grass without any harm.
Tortoises like burrowing, so incase your grass is grown on soft soils do not be surprised when you them uprooting and burrowing in the grass.
best grass for desert tortoise
The best grasses for desert tortoises include barley, carex, cat grass, couch grass, fescue grass, Fountaingrass, oat grass, pampas grass, timothy, and wheatgrass. You can either plant these grasses in a desert tortoises enclosure or plant elsewhere and be feeding your desert tortoises.
The tortoise should have a high fiber and calcium, low protein diet on daily basis for optimal growth and development. The grass is one of the food items that will ensure your tortoises have a good supply of fiber. While all tortoises need fiber, some tortoises such as Grazing and Mediterranean tortoises will accept grass without much effort as compared to the rainforest tortoises.
To make sure the grasses you are offering are of high-quality nutrition-wise you can buy these grasses seeds and grow the seeds in your garden or in the tortoise’s enclosure. You can have different enclosures where you move tortoises to feed on a daily basis. However, make sure these tortoises do not eat the seeds of these grasses especially the cat grass since they have a very high protein content that can lead to kidney failure, the faster growth rate in juvenile tortoises resulting in shell deformities.