Red-foot tortoises are among the most popular and appropriate tortoises for beginning tortoise keepers. Stunningly attractive, their black shell contrasts with their yellow scute areola, bright red legs and yellow or red markings on their head. Being from multiple habitats, they are among the hardiest of species. As long as their requirements are met, Red-foots can be expected to give literally a lifetime of companionship. While they do get fairly large, one over 16 inches (40 cm) would be considered exceptional with most attaining a length of 14 inches (35 cm) or so. There is also a smaller "dwarf" variant called a Cherry-head that only attains a length of 10 - 12 inches (25 - 30 cm) as an adult.
Upon initial sighting, a Red-foot tortoise, Geochelone carbonaria, looks very similar to the closely related Yellow-foot tortoise, G. denticulata, with the primary distinction being the presence of yellow scales on the forelegs of the Yellow-foot and red scales on the forelegs of the Red-foot (thus the common names for each). However, of all of the differences between these two species, this is actually the most variable. While Red-foots may be more intensely colored, this is not a universal distinction; there are Yellow-foots that are very brightly patterned and comparatively drab Red-foots. While there are numerous morphometric differences between these two species, by far the easiest method of telling Red-foots and Yellow-foots apart is the differences in the scalation of their heads. Yellow-foots have elongated prefrontal scales and a fragmented frontal scale. Red-foots have shortened prefrontals and an intact frontal scale. The prefrontal and frontal scales are the scales at the tip of the nose. In addition to this obvious difference, female Red-foot tortoises are more elongated, looking much like a loaf of bread while older male Red-foots tend to develop an hourglass shape. Adult Yellow-foots of both sexes tend to be wider/ rounder and somewhat flatter in their overall shape.