Malti Explains Redfooted Tortoises: Opportunistic Feeding

Malti is a plate-cleaner, pure and simple. But when delicious crispy freeze-dried mealworms are on the menu, I have to watch her to make sure she doesn’t eat the plate too!

When I first brought Malti home, the breeder reassured me that she was “eating voraciously” and that this was a sign of good health in hatchling tortoises.

Later, as I began to (er) devour books about redfoot tortoise care, I learned that the red footed tortoise is what breeders and biologists like to call an “opportunistic feeder.”

This basically means that they are always ready to eat. If they are hungry, they are keen to eat. If they are not hungry, they are equally keen to eat.

The “opportunistic” part of this phrase indicates that in the wild, these torts can and often do encounter “feast or famine” type food supplies. Sometimes, food is so plentiful. When this is the case, clearly it is there to be eaten!

But then when food is scarce, these tortoises can still live and stay relatively healthy by accessing the fat reserves left over from times of plenty (this is a particularly valuable asset for turtles and tortoises that hibernate, although Malti’s species is not one of those).

In captivity, however, this “feast or famine” system sometimes doesn’t work quite so smoothly. As a red footed tortoise who has been bred and raised specifically to keep company with a person as a pet, Malti never misses a meal. I make sure of that.

So she doesn’t really need to feed “opportunistically” anymore, since the next meal is always right around the corner.

But her DNA doesn’t know that. Her ancient tortoise survival instinct has programmed her to do two things: first, always forage for edibles, and second, always eat any edibles she finds.

So it falls to me to manage her portion sizes as well as the overall ratio of nutrients on the daily menu so she still fits inside her shell!

And remember….

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