Desert Tortoise food guidelines from the Department of Fish and Game

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Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA

These new feeding guidelines, generated by the last 15 years of Desert Tortoise Diet research, are provided to replace outdated feeding guidelines.
A desert tortoise should be allowed to forage and graze on a variety of naturally growing plants to facilitate exercise, muscle development, and beak and nail growth control.
In the wild a desert tortoise may consume up to 150 types of plants in a season, with preferences (per habitat environment) for 7 to 15 plants.
For captive desert tortoises, the basic diet should be 80-90 percent grasses and forbs (weeds) and the only fruit they should be given is the tuna (apple) from opuntia (prickly pear) cactus. Below you will find lists of food plants that can be easily grown to provide a balanced diet; also a short list of acceptable greens that may be purchased to supplement their diet should you be unable to grow a large enough variety of foods, however-- there is no replacement for a natural diet.

Bermuda Mediterranean
Orchard Desert Indian Wheat (narrow leaf plantago)
Mexican Feather Grass Arizona Cottontop
Curly mesquite Desert Galetta and Needle Grass
Indian Rice Grass Fescue, St. Augustine

Desert Dandelion Dandelion Chickpea
Common (Cheese) Mallow Apricot Globemallow Desert Chia
Desert Plantain Herons Beak Owls Clover
Desert Thistle Sage Sowthistle Shepherds Purse
Cassia (Senna) Redstem Storks Bill Fremont’s Pincussion
Brown Eyed Primrose Evening Primrose Mojave Spurge
Rock Hibiscus Hibiscus Flowers Trailing 4 o’clock
Sweet Alyssum Goldfields Nasturtiums
Plains Coreopsis Desert Marigold California Poppy
Tidy Tips Mojave Copeopsis Mulberry Leaves
Rose petals Grape leaves Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilarus)
Acceptable greens – Chicory, collards, dandelion, endive, kale, turnip (would have to be supplemented with dried or ground up Bermuda , Orchard or Timothy grass hays, and are not as nutritious as natural graze items listed above).

Supplementation with calcium is required, cuttlebone with the hard backing removed is ideal as it facilitates beak health and allows the tortoise to self regulate calcium ingestion. If a tortoise has to be kept indoors due to health or other reasons, it is recommended that calcium with Vitamin D3 by used on all foods, however, do not use the Vitamin D3 if housed outdoors. Desert Tortoises NEED to live outdoors in sunshine with shade.
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