Saturday, September 27, 2014

A reminder about tortoises bullying each other...

It is time to bring up the issue again of keeping two (or more) tortoises together.
When new keepers ask about getting another tortoise, long term keepers usually chime in to recommend against this.
The main reason for this is that either subtle or obvious bullying will result, and outright bloody fighting can occur that can lead to death.

This is an older pic... but it demonstrates well what I am talking about. Those three are not cuddling, even though their heads are resting on each other's shells. Those three are COMPETING FOR THE BEST BASKING SPOT.
Death can result from multiple tortoises being kept together, even when no active fighting is visible. Tortoises can be VERY sneaky. They will hog the best basking spot from their 'buddy' which results in the other tortoise not being able to reach proper body temperatures to digest their food. They will sit on the biggest part of the food pile, preventing the other tortoise from eating. They will intimidate through head bobbing, biting, and ramming. A bullied tortoise is often perceived as 'more shy' or 'not as active' - and can become so withdrawn that it stops eating and dies.
When keepers chime in to point out that their tortoises are the exception because they "like to cuddle" and that they "always eat together" - what they are observing is actually subtle, non-violent bullying.
Again, an older pic. These two are not having a relaxed lunch together. They are ravenously eating every weed they can grab, while hoggishly sitting on top of the weeds TO PREVENT THE OTHER FROM GETTING TO THEM.
Now, we humans love to put our anthropomorphic interpretation into the things our little reptilian friends do. We seek out companionship, and so our assumption is often that our tortoise wants to have a friend, too. Please don't let this happen at the expense of your tortoise.
As a keeper of 8 adult Russian tortoises (plus the babies that result), I know that I am not abiding by the '1-tortoise-rule' - HOWEVER, the tortoises spend the warm season in a LARGE outdoor area, with many different hides, holes and houses, many sight barriers, and plenty of room for a tortoise to escape from the others. When the tortoises are indoors, they are separated into different tables. 
This outdoor area looks large, but there is still sometimes conflict. We are working on an expansion!
If you look at the set-ups of other keepers who SUCCESSFULLY keep multiple tortoises, you will see that they have extensive outdoor space. An indoor set-up generally is NOT sufficient to keep multiple tortoises together in the long run.
Please don't feel attacked by this post if you already keep several together. There are quite a few options with you that don't require re-homing a tortoise: creating a large outdoor space, building a bunked set-up to separate the tortoises, etc. - there are a lot of options, even on a tight budget and without a ton of space!
For more information on this subject, please read the following blog post:

In the meantime... spoil your tortoise rotten, and work on improving (or creating) their outdoor space!


  1. I learn so much from your blog. Great post.

  2. Wow this was very informative. I’ve been taking care of 1 that showed up 5 years ago and he’s picking on a new one that just recently showed up ( I have an acre of land). I set up an area for them so the dogs wouldn’t hurt them but now that i have two in there, the bigger one has been trying to flip over the little one. And he actually did it but I saw what happened and set the little one back on legs very quickly after. Looks like I’ll have to build another seperate area for them. I’d let them loose but there is a busy road near by.


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