Chelonoidis denticulata



Scientific name: Chelonoidis denticulata

English names: South American Yellow-footed Tortoise, Brazilian Giant Tortoise

Spanish and local names: Morrocoy, Motelo

Residents at la Senda Verde: +10

Size: up to 82 cm

The largest of them all

There are two main land turtles throughout the amazon basin, the Yellow-foot and Red-Foot turtles. Yellow-foot turtles are considerably larger than their red-footed relatives and are the largest turtles that exist in South America. With the largest known specimen being 97 cm long, they are the world’s 6th largest turtle, after the Galapagos tortoise, the Aldabra tortoise, the African spurred tortoise, the leopard tortoise, and the Asian forest tortoise.

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Testudines
Family Testudinidae

Geochelone (1)


They are called yellow footed because of the color of the scales in their front limbs, which can be yellow or orange colour. The elongated carapace, or upper shell, is brown, with yellowish or orange tones in the centre of each scute. The well-developed shell on the underside of the tortoise, the plastron, is yellowish-brown, with darker colouring at the edges of the scutes. Thin, leathery, yellow to orange scales cover the head of the tortoise, and it has a slightly hooked upper jaw. Males of this species are generally larger than females, and can also be distinguished by their longer, thicker tails, more elongated carapace, and concave plastron. It is thought that the more elongated carapace of the male is better suited to moving through the dense understorey of the forest, while the shell of females is adapted to store eggs.

Habitat and Distribution

South American Yellow-Footed Tortoises occur in the entire amazon basin, in The Guyanas, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia. It also occurs in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. Some investigators believe these type of turtles prefer grasslands and swamps, while other believe they prefer forests. These type of turtles can swim, which allows them to cross large rivers and is believed to be the main reason they occupy such an extensive territory. They can be found in all types of habitats within the amazon basin.


Image taken from


Life and Behaviour

South American yellow-footed turtles are omnivorous. Their diet consists mostly of fresh fruits, which they consume more during the wet season because of their availability, and the rest of their diet is comprised of leaves, vines, roots, barks, insects, snails and the rotting flesh of animals such as deer, porcupines, snakes and armadillos. They also eat soil and pebbles and is believed they do so to help with their digestion, being that they swallow foods whole.

South American Yellow-footed turtles produce different type of sounds with which they communicate with each other. When they are going to mate the males will fight each other for the females, and the larger males tend to win, passing on their genes. This is the reason why male specimens are larger than female, contrary to water turtles where the males are smaller; in this case being smaller makes them more agile and facilitates them reaching the female, therefore passing on their genes.

Once the males finish fighting, the winning male will go on and mate with a female, a few bites on the legs first, and a good sniff on the tail second. Then he will mount the female, with the help of his concave plastron. The females will then lay up to twenty eggs in a nest.

South American Yellow-footed turtles are nomadic, meaning they travel around the forest and have no fixed home or territory.

Conservation and Threats

South American Yellow-Footed Turtles are very easy to capture by hunters because of their slow movement and are very much appreciated for their meat. They are also captured to be kept as pets. This along with the destruction of their habitat has led this species to be declared as threatened by the red list of IUCN.


View Conservation Assessment on this species


BIG GUYS- Yellow-Footed Turtles are the 6th largest turtle in the world and the largest turtle in mainland South America.


SEX TALK- When mating, male Yellow-Footed Turtles will engage in a head movement to determine if the other turtle is a male or female. If the other turtle does not respond the head movements, it means they are a female.


SEX BITES- Male Yellow-Footed turtles will normally bite the legs of the female before mounting her to mate.


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