Fun Leopard Tortoise Facts For Kids | Kidadl


Fun Leopard Tortoise Facts For Kids

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The leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis) is native to South Africa, Somalia, and Ethiopia. It is the fourth largest tortoise species in the world and gets its name from the leopard like spots on its shell. The leopard tortoise is also the second largest tortoise species found in Africa, with only the African spurred tortoise being larger. Wild leopard tortoise males and females tend to live in semi-arid savannah regions or in grassland habitat.  These herbivorous animals graze on grass, succulents, thistles, and other high fiber foods. You will be able to see the leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis at altitudes in the range from sea level to 2,900 meters (9,500 ft).

The head and limbs of leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) usually have a uniform color of brown, tan, or yellow. The dome shaped shell of the leopard tortoise has almost vertical sides. It has spots, stripes, dashes, and attractive black blotches that create the look of leopard spots on the shell. These markings turn brown or grey in the adult leopard tortoise.    

Read on to know more about leopard tortoises. For more interesting facts about animals, you can check out our articles on the Aldabra giant tortoise and Olive Ridley sea turtle.

Fun Leopard Tortoise Facts For Kids

What do they prey on?

High fiber diet of grass, succulents, pumpkins, beans

What do they eat?


Average litter size?

5-30 eggs

How much do they weigh?

29-40 lb

How long are they?

10-18 in

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

Fourth largest species of tortoise, high domed carapace, attractive markings

Skin Type


What were their main threats?

Habitat Loss, Poaching, Pet Trade, Hunting

What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them?

Grasslands, Savanna Regions


East And South Africa









Leopard Tortoise Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a leopard tortoise?

The leopard tortoise is the fourth largest tortoise species in the world and second largest in Africa. The scientific name for leopard tortoises is Stigmochelys pardalis.

What class of animal does a leopard tortoise belong to?

The leopard tortoise belongs to the Reptilia class in the animal kingdom. It belongs to the Testudinidae family and Stigmochelys genus.

How many leopard tortoises are there in the world?

It is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the leopard tortoise population in the world because although many still live in the wild, the international pet trade has resulted in the breeding of these animals in captivity for indoor as well as outdoor home environments. The east African country of Tanzania has the largest population of about 6000 leopard tortoises. There are still no population estimates for this species.

Adult leopard tortoises can also be found in several zoos in the United States, including: the Maryland Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Alexandria Zoo, Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden, Living Desert Zoo, and Saginaw Children's Zoo. Outside the United States, leopard tortoises can be found at Auckland Zoo (New Zealand), Welsh Mountain Zoo (UK), and Twycross Zoo (UK).  

Where does a leopard tortoise live?

Leopard tortoises live in the grasslands and Savanna regions of eastern and southern Africa. Their habitat extends from South Sudan and Somalia to South Africa and Namibia. Leopard tortoises occupy grasslands, brush lands, thorn scrub, and semi-arid regions. The altitude range where you'll find leopard tortoises extends from the sea level to 2,900 meters (9,500 ft).  

While this is where you would naturally find wild leopard tortoises, the pet trade has resulted in many leopard tortoises living as pets in outdoor or indoor home environments. Leopard tortoises are also bred in captivity at the zoo or through other breeding programs.  

What is a leopard tortoise's habitat?

The natural leopard tortoise habitat consists of the semi-arid savannah regions of East and South Africa. They don't usually occupy the humid forest regions of Central Africa. Hot temperatures are necessary for this species and they don't do well in cold temperatures. A warm leopard tortoise habitat that has low lying vegetation is ideal for this tortoise.

Day time temperatures between 80 °F and 90 °F and night time temperatures of above 65 °F are needed for those raised in captivity. A basking spot that exposes them to a temperature of 95 °F is ideal. This tortoise also requires direct sunlight and 40% -60% of relative humidity during the day.        

Who do leopard tortoises live with?

Leopard tortoises are solitary animals, usually grazing by themselves with little communication with  their species. While social hierarchies within this species are usually absent, they become established during the mating season when males try to win over mates by competing with other tortoises.  

How long does a leopard tortoise live?

The average leopard tortoise lifespan is between the range of 80-100 years in the wild. Even captive leopard tortoises have a long life span and can live for up to 75 years. It is important to consider their long life span before making a decision about raising them as pets.

How do they reproduce?

The mating season for this tortoise is between May and October. Males usually get aggressive and compete with other males to mate with a female tortoise. Male tortoises usually make grunting vocalizations when they're mating. After mating, female tortoises lay eggs in holes that they dig in the ground. Females can lay anywhere between five and seven clutches annually. In each clutch, females will lay eggs in the numbers between five and 30 eggs. Hatchlings typically emerge after nine to 12 months using their 'egg tooth' to chip away at the shell of eggs. Hatchlings may be male or female depending on the temperature of the surrounding environment. If the temperature is above 86 °F, more female leopard tortoises will emerge from the eggs than males.

Hatchlings lead an active, independent life from the moment they're born and have strong black and yellow patterns over their body. These prominent colors and patterns tend to fade to gray or brown as leopard tortoises mature. The leopard tortoise growth rate is 2-4 inches each year, with the animals acquiring sexual maturity after 12 to 15 years of age.        

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of leopard tortoises at present falls under the category of Least Concern as per the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Despite this status however, they do face threats from several human activities. Habitat loss resulting from clearance of agricultural land is one such threat. Poaching and hunting of leopard tortoises for food and creation of artistic ornaments are other threats that the species faces. The pet trade has also resulted in many of these animals being taken from the wild and bred in captivity.  

Leopard Tortoise Fun Facts

What do leopard tortoises look like?

The upper portion of their shell is called the carapace

The upper portion of their shell is called the carapace and the lower portion is the plastron. Sexual dimorphism is evident in the appearance of plastrons in this species. Males have a concave plastron while females usually have a flat one. Males also have a thicker and longer tail with a 'V' shaped notch at the tail opening while the notch of female tortoises is 'U' shaped.

There are alternating black and yellow patterns on the carapace, which are more evident in youngsters and begin to fade to gray or brown as leopard tortoises age. The shell has panels of scales or patchwork called scutes. The colors and patterns on their shell aids in camouflaging them in their natural habitat.

They also have toenails that help them climb on concrete, wood, and rough stone surfaces. Their strong, round legs and stumpy feet help them walk on land while their claw like scales aid burrowing. They tend to store water in an anal sac during dry, winter months which keeps them hydrated and helps them moisten the ground so that females can dig nests to lay their eggs more easily.

How cute are they?

The South African leopard tortoise may be big, but that doesn't make it any less cute to look at. If you're the kind of person who finds tortoises cute, you will surely find a male or female leopard tortoise cute, especially if you have the opportunity to interact with one as a pet.  

How do they communicate?

Male leopard tortoises make grunting vocalizations when mating. They retract their head and feet into the shell with a hissing noise when they sense danger and want to protect themselves. This sound is created as air is squeezed out from the lungs. Another technique they use against predators is simply emptying their bowels and stored water onto predators. This is another good reason not to just randomly pick up a leopard tortoise when you see one. They navigate their environments by sensing vibrations and search out food with the help of their strong sense of smell.

How big is a leopard tortoise?

The leopard tortoise size can measure between 10- 18 inches in length. Some exceptionally large ones can reach up to 28 inches in length. Leopard tortoises grow at the rate of two to four inches every year. Their growth rate is however, affected by the temperature of their surrounding environment as well as their diet. With such an impressive average size, it's no wonder that they are the fourth largest species of tortoise in the world.    

How fast can a leopard tortoise run?

A leopard tortoise is an extremely slow animal, travelling at a maximum speed of 1 km/hour. The reason leopard tortoises can afford to be so slow is that they are herbivorous animals. Their diet consists of plants which are stationary. Therefore, leopard tortoises do not need to hunt their food like other animals do. The protective shell of males and females of this species also means that they don't have to run away from predators. Leopard tortoises can just retreat into their shell in case they sense danger around.  

How much does a leopard tortoise weigh?

These animals tend to weigh between 29 - 40 lb. Some exceptionally large ones can weigh up to 88 lb.  This larger size weighs roughly the same as a large dog.  

What are their male and female names of the species?

There is no separate name for a male and a female leopard tortoise. Males and females of the species are commonly referred to as leopard tortoise, with their scientific name being Stigmochelys pardalis.  

What would you call a baby leopard tortoise?

Baby males and females of the leopard tortoise species are referred to as hatchlings because they hatch out of the eggs laid by leopard tortoise females.

What do they eat?

The leopard tortoise diet comprises high fiber grass and greens. In the wild, this includes succulents, thistles, grass. Hyena feces and bones are sometimes make up leopard tortoise food to give them their calcium intake which aids development of their bones and the shell.

Those raised as pets can feed on pesticide free grass, collard greens, and carrots. You must avoid giving them greens with high oxalate content such as spinach or beet greens. For indoor leopard tortoise care, you will also need a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. Their diet should also contain sufficient amounts of water, so make sure they have access to a clean water dish containing filtered water every day.  

Are they dangerous?

While leopard tortoises aren't usually aggressive (except with other males when mating in the wild), people can get sick from them. They don't usually bite people, but may end up doing so if they mistake a finger for food. You need to take this into consideration if you're contemplating leopard tortoise care at home. They can carry salmonella and expose people to dangerous bacteria. In 2000, the United States banned the import of these animals due to many ending up with heartwater disease after being infected by a tick carried by these animals.

Would they make a good pet?

While they're not exactly exciting pets, leopard tortoises do make good pets, if you've got the resources to provide them the environment they need. They're high maintenance and require a large living space, warm temperatures, a nutritious diet, and have some extra needs in comparison to other tortoises. If you don't think you can meet these needs, they're not for you. However, if you're prepared to go the extra mile with leopard tortoise care, they can make great pets.  

Did you know...

Geochelone pardalis was the scientific name of this species earlier. Their lack of a nuchal shield (protective scute just above the neck) makes it easy for them to raise their heads and swim, unlike other members of their family.  They can comfortably swim across lakes and rivers because of this characteristic with the help of their thick legs and buoyant bodies.

How often should you feed a leopard tortoise?

When it comes to the food or water leopard tortoises need, you need to make sure they're eating within the right range. On average, they should be fed the same quantity as the size of their shell. You should feed them once a day at around the same time within a span of 15-30 minutes. Feed them five days of the week with the two days not feeding, implemented any time you see fit or as otherwise recommended by the vet. They should also have access to clean water at all times.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles including African spurred tortoise, or green anole.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our leopard tortoise coloring pages.

Written By
Team Kidadl

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

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