Malti Explains Redfooted Tortoises: The Shell

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A lovely aerial view of Malti’s developing top shell, or carapace, with its dark coal-like base color and glowing bright centers.

Scientists trying to describe what a red footed tortoise shell looks like often use terms such as “loaf shaped,” “bumpy” and “blotchy colored.”

It is no mystery why scientists aren’t in demand to write for beauty magazines.

To add (um) fuel to that particular (er) fire, the red footed tortoise’s formal scientific name, Geochelone carbonaria, translates to mean “coal-like.”


Here, it does help to realize that when the scientists were coming up with the redfoot’s formal name, they were attempting to say “dark coal with glowing patches” in just two words. But still, it’s pretty clear why most people today just call them “redfoots.”

The red footed tortoise’s shell will be shaped differently depending on whether the tortoise is a girl or a boy. For instance, Malti’s shell will be more round and even – a bit more circle-like – in maturity than a boy red footed tortoise’s mature shell will be.

Boy redfoots’ shells look more oval. And if you turn a boy red footed tortoise over, you will see a big dent in the underside, or plastron. Lady redfooted tortoises don’t have this dent – their plastrons stay smooth and flat.

But more on that later. For now, just remember….

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Published by Shannon Cutts

Animal sensitive and intuitive with Animal Love Languages. Parrot, tortoise and box turtle mama. Dachshund auntie.

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