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What is a Leopard Tortoise?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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A leopard tortoise is a turtle species native to Africa and is one of the largest types from that region. These sizable tortoises have attractive markings that change as they age, and they can live up to 100 years in the wild. They need a dry, very warm environment to thrive, their diet is composed exclusively of plants, and some people keep them as pets. They can be high maintenance pets that require a large amount of room for their habitat and can not tolerate cold temperatures.

The species known as a leopard tortoise has two subspecies with the scientific names Stigmochelys pardalis pardalis and Stigmochelys pardalis babcocki. The latter is more common as a pet, is typically lighter colored, and seldom grows as large as S. p. pardalis. The size of the adult leopard tortoise can range from 10 to 18 inches (25.4 to 45.7 cm) long. It is the second largest of the tortoises found in Africa, behind the African spurred tortoise.

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The markings on the leopard tortoise are vivid when they are born and fade as they age. Each shell segment, known as a scute, has a pattern of rings and spots in contrasting shaded of brown, but older tortoises only have a faintly marked appearance. This may be due to the shell wearing away with age, since the leopard tortoise typically lives between 50 to 100 years in the wild. They also have thick legs with the ones in the front have a paddle like shape that helps them swim; they also have mouths that resemble beaks. Like most tortoises and turtles, the leopard tortoise is are able to withdraw its head and legs into its shell when threatened.

In the wild, the leopard tortoise is found in many areas throughout Africa and needs a dry climate with consistently high temperatures to thrive. It is an herbivore, meaning it eats only plants, and its diet consists of grasses, cacti, and other vegetation. When leopard tortoises are kept as pets, they need a lot of space; the recommended outdoor habitat size is 10 feet long by 10 feet wide (3 m by 3 m) of open grassy space surrounded by a low wall. In areas where the temperature drops below 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius) at night and 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius) during the day, they need to be brought inside, and may be kept in a plastic pool or similar enclosure. They need plenty of food, water, and daily exposure to natural sunlight or UVB light to remain healthy.

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