Species group: Tortoises
Other common names: Argentine Tortoise; Southern Wood Tortoise
Scientific name: Geochelone chilensis
The Chaco Tortoise is named for their native habitat in the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay. The region is known as the largest dry forest in South America and is unique for its vastly diverse and numerous micro climates and habitats. The Chaco Tortoises are found in the drier scrublands and woodlands. Temperatures in these regions can drop into the 30’s F in the winter. They are listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List primarily due to harvesting for the pet trade as well as habitat destruction.
Appearance / health:
There can be some variation in shell color and shape among individual Chaco Tortoises, probably due to what region or population they originally came from in the wild. The age of the Chaco Tortoise will also affect coloring with older tortoises being darker. There is also some debate and disagreement among scientists as to the possibility that the varieties are due to the tortoises being different subspecies. Their somewhat flattened carapace is a solid brown color with darker lines outlining each scute. The plastron is lighter in color.
AVERAGE ADULT WEIGHT: N/A
AVERAGE ADULT SIZE: 8-9 inches
Behavior / temperament:
Little is known about this tortoise due to its rarity in captivity.
Healthy Chaco Tortoises tend to do best in outdoor enclosures. Primary features that should be considered when designing their habitat are that they burrow and cannot tolerate dampness. For one or two tortoises the minimum size would be 16 square feet of floor space. Fencing (dig wire) should be buried at least 2 feet underground surrounding the turtle’s area. Sheltered areas can be provided by wooden boxes, small dog igloos, etc. There should be one area that is heated by a heat lamp. Your tortoise will appreciate rocks and logs to climb on or under and will help prevent their nails from over growing. A great benefit of housing outdoors is that you can plant their foods for natural grazing.
TEMPERATURE/HUMIDITY: They require a basking spot kept around 90° F and day time ambient temperatures of 68-82° F.
HIBERNATION / ESTIVATION: In the wild they naturally hibernate in shallow burrows when temperatures drop below 50° F. However due to their sensitive nature in captivity it is best to hibernate these tortoises indoors. Provide them with a place to burrow (a box or tub lined with bark) for hibernation. Don’t forget to check on your pet during this time!
HEALTH CONCERNS: Chaco Tortoises should not be kept with other species; they easily succumb to the viruses and other disease that other species may carry. Other common health problems are usually related to poor diet or an improper living environment. Diets high in protein such as dog or cat foot will cause pyramiding and/or bladder stones. Pyramiding is the overgrowth of carapace scutes. In environments where there is high humidity they can suffer from shell or skin conditions and respiratory infections. They also tend to suffer from overgrown beaks.
Their natural wild diet consist mostly broad leafy plants, flowers, succulents, and fallen fruits that are found in their native region. These foods are high in fiber and calcium and low in protein. As a pet healthy diet for your Chaco Tortoise you can easily provide for their nutritional needs by planting a garden or buying leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables at the store. The majority of their diet (80%) should include fresh grasses and mixed greens that are high in calcium such as kale, clover, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and flowers. The other 20% of their diet can include fruits and vegetables such as carrots, squashes, green beans, and papaya. They should be given a reptile vitamin supplement once or twice a week. Fresh water must be available at all times.
In the wild Chaco Tortoises lay 1-6 eggs that may not hatch for up to a year or more later. In captivity they tend to hatch within 2-3 months.