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The Reign of the Redfoot by Richard Bartlett on 2022-01-24 01:00:00


A cherry-head red-footed tortoise from Southeast Brazil.

As far back as I can remember (well, maybe not quite that far- LOL) Red-footed Tortoises, Chelonoidis carbonaria, have been available in the American pet trade. But although all have been readily identifiable as redfoots, not all have been exactly the same. The first I recall with any assurance of accuracy were imported from Colombia I don’t remember any “cherryheads” from this northern South American country, but when viewed from above all that I saw were reminiscent of a dumbbell—somewhat expanded at both ends but noticeably narrower in the middle. A few from Bolivia were brighter in color, seemingly larger than the Colombians when adult, had brighter facial pattern, but retained the dumbbell shape. Oh, the red on the legs was brighter too. And in fact some were what have become now known as cherryheads. But the “real” cherryheads came from Brazil. On this most redfoot enthusiasts seemed to agree. Then a few arrived from Paraguay and while some were a bit lacking in color, others were red-headed (and footed) knockouts. And now there are “Clown-faced” red foots from Venezuela. Oh, and occasional examples from various Caribbean Islands.

Genetic definitions: Not species, not subspecies, merely seen as slightly differing populations:

Northeastern variant: Head and legs light orange to red. Carapace black. Plastrons are mostly pale yellow. Range includes Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and northern Brazil.
Northwestern variant: They are similar to the above but their carapace varies from grey to brown. Their yellow plastron bears a dark central figure. They are found in southeast Panama and Colombia.
Northern variant: These are similar but smaller than the above. Range includes Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Southern variant: can be identified by range, this being Paraguay, and northern Argentina.
Eastern variant: Plastron are mostly mottled with dark pigment. Heads and legs vary from yellow to the eagerly sought cherry-heads. Range includes east to southeastern Brazil.

Take your pick. The choice is often yours.
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