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Marginated Tortoise Care Sheet

By Peter Watson

The Marginated tortoise (Testudo Marginata) is the largest of the Mediterranean tortoises. Adults can attain a length of 35cm and 5kg in weight. They are long bodied with very flared rear marginal scutes, this adds to the elegant appearance of this species. Adults have an almost entirely black carapace with a yellow highlights. They exhibit characteristic dark brown triangular shaped markings in pairs along the edge of the plastron. This species is notoriously difficult to sex even as adults.

Marginateds have a relatively small range in the wild. They are found in Greece, from the Peloponnesus to Mount Olympus. They are also found in isolated zones of the Balkans, Italy and north-eastern Sardinia.

When purchasing a Marginated tortoise it is advisable to seek a UK breeder to ensure a healthy animals. From past experience it has been found that many Marginated tortoises sold in pet shops are imported from Europe and can bring with them many problems. If your tortoise is an import it is advisable to have a faecal sample checked for internal parasites as a precaution. Marginated tortoises require an article 10 certificate, which should be supplied with the tortoise at the time of sale.

Indoor Housing

The first consideration when planning any enclosure be it indoors or outdoors is size. Marginated tortoises attain a fairly large size and so this should be taken into account when designing housing. Indoors they require a large table top setup, which should include heat and UV lighting. There are currently two ways to provide this:

•A UV tube and a heat lamp. Although it at first seems cheaper to go with this option it can work out to be very expensive. Typically a UV tube will cost around £20 and a starter around £15. After 6 months the tubes will need to be replaced as the UV, over this period will become depleted, hence making the tube useless. There is an advantage to this however in that the UV and heat are controlled separately and so one could be turned off without the other having to be as well.
•A combined UV/heat lamp. The initial expense with this option may seem a lot, but long term it will work out a lot cheaper. These bulbs last between two and three years and cost around £50. Compared to the life of the tube and replacement costs, then the combined will prove more beneficial.It is inevitably down to personal preference which method you use. I personally opt for a mix of the two depending on the size of the enclosure and how many animals are housed in the area. Whichever method of heating/lighting you use you should be aiming for 28-30C beneath the heat source during the day, with a cooler area away from the basking spot at around 20C.

Marginateds do not require a humid setup unlike species such as Redfoots and so substrate should be chosen accordingly. Personally I use a combination of Play sand and topsoil (40% sand/60% soil) and Aubiose (available from any good equestrian store). This combination works well for me.

An interesting enclosure is also very important for a tortoise. Logs, rocks and broken plant pots can be used to make the enclosure more exciting for the tortoise and give it something to explore. If you place items in the enclosure in such a way that the tortoise is unable to see around them it provides added stimulation. Despite popular belief tortoises do drink from water bowls and so one should be provided with clean, fresh water at all times. A hiding place should also be provided within the enclosure to give the tortoise somewhere to retreat to.

Outdoor Housing

It cannot be argued that unfiltered natural sunlight is better than any artificial form of lighting, that is why Marginated tortoises should be kept out side as often as possible. In the UK they can be maintained outdoors from May to September 24/7. This period can be extended if a heated shelter is provided within the enclosure in the form of a greenhouse, cold frame or shed.

Planting is an important part of any Marginated tortoises enclosure. Not only do plants provide lots of natural cover, but they allow the tortoises to graze naturally just as they would in the wild. Some ideal plants to use in an outdoor enclosure for Marginateds are Lavender, Hostas, Hebes, Pansies and Petunias. Edible weeds can also be allowed to grow in the enclosure.

Plants are not the only important thing to include in a Marginated tortoises enclosure, hard landscaping plays an important role too. Within my enclosures I use small rockeries, logs, border edging and broken pots to create areas of interest for the tortoises to explore. Not only do these items act as enrichment for the tortoises, but they also act as sight barriers, meaning the tortoises have to walk around the object to see what is on the other side of it, this gives them added interest in an enclosure.

As previously mentioned a greenhouse, cold frame or shed can be used in an enclosure as a shelter, but smaller hides should also be included to make the tortoise feel secure. A simple hide can be made using a flat rock placed over two small blocks, creating a gap in the middle for the tortoise to go in. You can also use terracotta pots half buried in the ground although many find that plants are the favourite hiding places of most tortoises.


In the wild Testudo Marginata have a very varied diet, consuming many different weeds and wild flowers everyday. It is fairly easy to replicate such a diet in a captive situation with a little research into edible weeds and plants (The Shelled Warriors edible weed section is a good place to start). Some weeds and flowers which can be included in a Marginated tortoises diet are: Dandelion, Bitter cress, Sow Thistle, Vetch, Clover, Dead nettle, Plantain Evening primrose, Hibiscus, Lavatera and Pansies. This is only a brief summary, there are many other weeds and flowers that can be included, as previously mentioned a little research to familiarise yourself with the various edible plants is all that is needed to create a healthy balanced diet. Marginated tortoises are well known for being partial to snails. I have observed them actively hunting for snails when outdoors. I never supplemented the diet by feeding them snails, but if they chose to find them I allow them to eat them.

In the Marginated tortoises natural range UVB levels are a lot higher than they are in the UK, for this reason it is advisable to add a D3 supplement such as Nutrabol daily to a Marginated tortoises food. I also advise giving your Marginated tortoise constant access to calcium in the form of limestone flour, either in a bowl in its powdered form or mixed with water to form a block. I also provide cuttlefish in my enclosures, although this is not as readily taken as limestone flour.