What Do Baby Desert Tortoises Eat? Facts and Complete Diet

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Baby desert tortoises are born in the late summer or early fall. They hatch from eggs buried in the sand by their mothers. The baby tortoises are about the size of a fifty-cent piece and weigh only a few ounces. Their shells are soft, and their bodies are covered with a thin layer of yellowish-brown skin. So, what do baby desert tortoises eat? I will discuss it more later.

The young tortoises spend their first few years of life in burrows that they dig themselves. These burrows help them to stay cool in the hot desert sun and protect them from predators. As they grow older, desert tortoises spend more time above ground, basking in the sun and grazing on plants. By reaching adulthood, they may only be active above ground during the year’s cooler months. These baby tortoises have a lot of energy and are very playful.

Desert tortoises can live to be over eighty years old in the wild, but their lifespan is shorter in captivity. Baby desert tortoises are a threatened species, and collecting or possessing them without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is illegal.

What Do Baby Desert Tortoises Eat?

Baby desert tortoises are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Their diet mostly consists of grasses and other vegetation, such as cacti and wildflowers. They also enjoy insects, snails, and even carrion (dead animals). As they grow older, their diet shifts to focus more on the vegetation side.

It’s important to note that desert tortoises should never be fed lettuce or other vegetables from the grocery store as these can cause health problems. Feeding them anything other than what experts recommend can harm their delicate digestive system and the tortoise. Here are some foods that baby desert tortoises can eat:

what do baby desert tortoises eat?
Baby desert tortoise often eat Mallows.


Baby desert tortoises eat plants because they are omnivores. This means that they can eat both plants and animals. Their diet mostly consists of vegetation, such as grasses and other plants. They also like to eat insects, snails, and even dead animals.


Desert tortoises like to eat mallows because they are good plants. Mallows are soft and have a lot of water in them, which is something that baby tortoises need to stay healthy.


Baby desert tortoises begin to eat wildflowers at around five months old and continue to do so throughout their lives. These colorful blooms provide important nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, and protein that supplement their diet. Baby desert tortoises have even been observed targeting specific wildflowers for particular nutrients, selectively grazing on blossoms with high calcium content before moving on to others with higher protein levels.


Baby desert tortoises feed on beetles and grasshoppers, but they also enjoy a variety of flies, caterpillars, and ants. When foraging for insects, baby desert tortoises will often use their strong front legs to dig and turn over rocks or debris in search of food. Baby desert tortoises can digest the exoskeletons of their insect prey and extract the necessary nutrients from their bodies. Though insects may not seem like a substantial source of nutrition, they provide enough energy for baby desert tortoises to grow and develop until they reach adulthood.


Baby desert tortoises also eat snails, which are a type of mollusk. These small creatures are an important source of calcium for baby tortoises and other essential nutrients such as phosphorus and magnesium. Snails are also a good source of moisture, which is important for baby tortoises living in desert environments.


Carrion is the flesh of dead animals, and baby desert tortoises will sometimes eat it. While this may seem gross, it’s a natural part of their diet. Baby desert tortoises consume carrion for the same reasons they eat insects—to get the necessary nutrients and energy needed to grow and develop.

When caring for baby desert tortoises, it’s important to provide them with a balanced mix of natural plants and insects. Providing them with too much animal protein can cause kidney issues in the future. As always, it’s best to consult with an experienced exotic pet veterinarian before attempting to care for a desert tortoise.

How Often Do You Feed A Baby Desert Tortoise?

A baby desert tortoise should be fed every other day, with a portion roughly the size of the turtle’s head. As they grow older and larger, they can handle larger portion sizes and may only need to be fed every three days. It’s important to ensure that the diet consists mainly of dark leafy greens, such as collard greens and mustard greens, along with small amounts of vegetables and fruits like carrots or apples.

Desert tortoises also require a calcium supplement to maintain healthy shells. This can be provided by placing a cuttlebone or calcium block in their enclosure to nibble on as needed. In general, feeding a baby desert tortoise can vary based on its growth rate and appetite, but sticking to a regular schedule while offering diverse, nutritious foods will ensure they stay happy and healthy.

what do baby desert tortoises eat?
Two baby desert tortoise passing by.

What Should You Not Feed A Desert Tortoise?

While desert tortoises may seem like they can eat almost anything, it’s important to remember that their diet in the wild consists mainly of plants like cactus pads and flowers. It’s best to stick to this natural diet when caring for your tortoise as a pet. What should you avoid feeding them? First and foremost, never give a desert tortoise animal products or by-products such as meat, eggs, or dairy.

These are not a part of their natural diet and can cause digestive issues. It’s also important to steer clear of feeding them anything from your garden or yard without first consulting with a veterinarian or expert, as many common plants can be toxic to tortoises. And finally, stay away from feeding them human foods such as fruits and vegetables, as these can cause imbalances in their diets.

However, occasionally treated leafy greens like collard or mustard are fine in moderation. Overall, it’s best to stick closely to the desert tortoise’s natural diet and avoid potential risks by steering clear of these foods.

What Eats Baby Desert Tortoises?

Baby desert tortoises face many predators, including birds, coyotes, foxes, and even feral cats and dogs introduced by humans. However, the main predator for young tortoises is a familiar one: the common raven. These scavengers can crush the fragile shells of baby tortoises with their strong beaks, often taking advantage of hatchlings just emerging from their nests.

Other creatures, including badgers and fire ants, may also attack or eat tortoise eggs. Predation is one of the primary threats facing desert tortoise populations in the wild, leading conservation efforts to focus on protecting nesting sites and young tortoises from these predators. While it may be unpleasant to think about, understanding what eats baby desert tortoises can help us better protect this vulnerable species. 

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, baby desert tortoises require special care and attention to ensure they grow healthy and strong. Their diet should consist mainly of dark leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits, with a calcium supplement for their shells. It’s important to avoid feeding them anything from your yard or garden without consulting with an expert first, as many common plants can be toxic to tortoises. And finally, remember that baby desert tortoises face many predators in the wild. Understanding what eats them can help us better protect this vulnerable species. Thank you for reading!

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What Do Field Mice Eat?

What Do Yellowfin Tuna Eat? 6 Foods They Like

What Do Milk Snakes Eat?

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