Tortoises have a hard outer shell to protect them from predators but the skin on the legs, head and belly of the tortoise is quite soft so the tortoise is able to retract it's limbs into it's shell to protect itself. The tortoise's shell can range in size from a few centimetres to a couple of metres, depending on the species of tortoise.
Most species of tortoise have a herbivorous diet eating grasses, weeds, flowers, leafy greens and fruits.Tortoises generally have a lifespan similar to the lifespan of humans although some species of tortoise, like the giant tortoise, have known to be over 150 years old.
There are many different species of tortoise around the world that vary in size, colour and diet. Most species of tortoise however are diurnal but in places where it is very hot throughout the day, tortoises will often venture out to find food in the cooler dawn and dusk periods.
Female tortoises dig burrows, known as nesting burrows, in which the female tortoise lays her eggs. The female tortoise can lay between one and thirty eggs at a time but the number is generally around 10 and only a handful of the babies tend to survive as tortoise babies are very vulnerable to attack by all kinds of predators.
Once the female tortoise has laid her eggs she leaves the nesting burrow. The eggs hatch between 2 and 4 months later and the baby tortoises are able to start venturing out in search of food when they are about a week old. The size of the baby tortoise and the egg, depends on the size of the mother tortoise.
Today, a number of tortoise species (mainly the smaller species of tortoise) are kept as household pets. The pet tortoise ideally prefers to live in the garden or part of a vegetable patch where there is lots of food for the tortoise to eat. Pet tortoises should have a diet similar to what it would be if the tortoise was in the wild and should not be fed other foods such as cat or dog food.
Most species of tortoise, but not all, hibernate during the colder winter months particularly those species of tortoise in the Northern Hemisphere. Tortoises must have an empty stomach before they hibernate and therefore tend to go through a period of starvation beforehand. Tortoises come out of hibernation when the weather begins to get warmer again.