Do tortoises play?

zolasmum

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Welcome - what you are describing is very interesting, and I can't help thinking that it's possible that play behaviours in reptiles often get overlooked, because we humans assume they haven't the ability to play.I think that physically a tortoise is rather limited in what it can do - but having watched Zola many times tugging at the hem of my trousers, then releasing it to watch it spring back , over and over - what else can I call it but playing ! And it is a game he invented for himself !
Angie
 

TammyJ

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I've definitely seen what I would categorize as play in some reptiles I've worked with: I give my blue-tongue skink supervised access to a small water fountain (from five below) for enrichment and she obviously enjoys splashing around beyond just getting clean, biting at the moving water with her mouth. I even caught her doing a barrel roll under the water stream. My friend's leopard gecko pushes around a ball in his tank sometimes, and pretend-hunts it, wiggling his tail like a cat at play. He knows he can't eat it, he's had the same ping pong ball for years. Mostly I've seen carnivorous or omnivorous reptile engage on the more obvious play behaviors, but I don't see why a tortoise wouldn't engage in simply movement play, or even social sparring like many other herbivorous animals.
They do things we humans interpret as "play" because we don't have another explanation, or at least, not a pleasing one.
 

Lyn W

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When painting our deck, the furniture was moved onto the grass and our big sully immediately took to moving the chairs all over the place--looks like tort-play to me!
They were invading his space so he wanted them out. My tort tries to push anything out of his room that isn't usually there - including me!
 

cemeterytoad

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They do things we humans interpret as "play" because we don't have another explanation, or at least, not a pleasing one.
It sounds like I conceptualize "play" a bit differently than you do in this context :)
My definition of "play" for an animal is quite loose, but at its most basic form I think of "play" as "a behavior an animal does for pleasure" which is inclusive of many behaviors since animals tend to derive pleasure from practicing their natural behaviors, or learning new skills, etc.
For many dogs, chasing a toy (a miming or practice of the life skill of hunting) is definitely playing; for horses running can be a form of play. Since reptiles are capable of pleasure, I would surmise that they are as a whole capable of play.
 

Warren

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It sounds like I conceptualize "play" a bit differently than you do in this context :)
My definition of "play" for an animal is quite loose, but at its most basic form I think of "play" as "a behavior an animal does for pleasure" which is inclusive of many behaviors since animals tend to derive pleasure from practicing their natural behaviors, or learning new skills, etc.
For many dogs, chasing a toy (a miming or practice of the life skill of hunting) is definitely playing; for horses running can be a form of play. Since reptiles are capable of pleasure, I would surmise that they are as a whole capable of play.
When I take Sammy for a walk, Something I take a soft rubber ball. The ball is about 8" in size " Red " in color, he will ram it as he walks and goes after it again and again. I understand he don't like it and just trying to get it out of his space, but he looks like he's playing kick ball. The kids in the neighborhood love to see him with his ball, I don't take his ball all the time because I don't want to stress him out to much.
 

TammyJ

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It sounds like I conceptualize "play" a bit differently than you do in this context :)
My definition of "play" for an animal is quite loose, but at its most basic form I think of "play" as "a behavior an animal does for pleasure" which is inclusive of many behaviors since animals tend to derive pleasure from practicing their natural behaviors, or learning new skills, etc.
For many dogs, chasing a toy (a miming or practice of the life skill of hunting) is definitely playing; for horses running can be a form of play. Since reptiles are capable of pleasure, I would surmise that they are as a whole capable of play.
Horses and dogs are mammals like us, as are dolphins, rats, monkeys. They certainly play. I do not think that reptiles brains are developed in the same way as ours is, therefore, they do not PLAY. We play with them. That's really my opinion. This should now be in the Debate forum! Lol. By the way I don't think reptiles feel "pleasure" as we do either, although they may have a spontaneous physical reaction to something we do, which we think is pleasure, like a tortoise rocking when his back is scratched or rubbed. Instead of pleasure, they may feel security, comfort, satiation.
 

cemeterytoad

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Horses and dogs are mammals like us, as are dolphins, rats, monkeys. They certainly play. I do not think that reptiles brains are developed in the same way as ours is, therefore, they do not PLAY. We play with them. That's really my opinion. This should now be in the Debate forum! Lol. By the way I don't think reptiles feel "pleasure" as we do either, although they may have a spontaneous physical reaction to something we do, which we think is pleasure, like a tortoise rocking when his back is scratched or rubbed. Instead of pleasure, they may feel security, comfort, satiation.
Horses and dogs are mammals like us, as are dolphins, rats, monkeys. They certainly play. I do not think that reptiles brains are developed in the same way as ours is, therefore, they do not PLAY. We play with them. That's really my opinion. This should now be in the Debate forum! Lol. By the way I don't think reptiles feel "pleasure" as we do either, although they may have a spontaneous physical reaction to something we do, which we think is pleasure, like a tortoise rocking when his back is scratched or rubbed. Instead of pleasure, they may feel security, comfort, satiation.
I did a quick search on google scholar with "reptile + play" as my keywords and unsurprisingly, there is definitely a debate amongst animal behavior researchers on whether or not non-avian reptiles exhibit play behavior, so I guess I know what I'll be reading this afternoon.
I have seen a lot of scientific evidence in support of reptiles feeling pleasure- the chemical pathways are different than mammals, i.e. they don't produce oxytocin, but non-avian reptiles do have pleasure centers in their brains.
 

xyhapu

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Here's an interesting excerpt from a Scientific American article:

We now know that, while reptiles often spend large amounts of time basking in the sun, they can still swim, run, jump, climb, dance, and glide with the best of them. Some reptiles even play! In 1996, Gordon Burghardt and colleagues performed the first official study of play behavior in a non-avian reptile. The study focused on Pigface, a Nile soft-shelled turtle living at the National Zoo at the time. The zookeepers were worried about Pigface, who was badly scratching himself in a form of self-mutilation, common in bored or stressed captive animals.

To help him, the zookeepers introduced enrichment objects into his enclosure to give him something to do. Burghardt’s group characterized Pigface’s interactions with the objects and created an energy budget to describe the turtle’s typical day. They found that Pigface did indeed play with his new “toys”, with his favorite game being a daily tug-of-war with his keepers over a garden hose. He also liked nosing a basketball around the enclosure, bouncing a hula-hoop through the water, and positioning the water hose so that it sprayed him in the face. This research was surprising at the time, as not only was it the first official record of a playful reptile (and a turtle, of all things!), but it also indicated that Pigface spent almost twice as much time playing than even young mammals typically do. Since then, researchers have discovered play behavior in other species, including other turtle species and crocodiles.


Whether or not play and the need to play in reptiles is exactly the same thing as in mammals, I think it is important to err on the side of caution and assume some type of play or stimulation is a requirement of reptile care. Of course, this does not mean you should throw a frisbee at a tortoise's face, or handle it excessively, which would only stress it out, but rather that you should carefully observe your animal and create an environment that facilitates the behaviors it seems to 'want' to do.

For example, I've noticed that one of my box turtles likes to chew on white-colored rocks in his outdoor enclosure. He'll sit there biting it, picking it up in his beak, dropping it, repeat for sometimes an hour on end, just sitting there out in the open. I won't pretend to understand what's going on inside his little turtle brain, but he clearly wants to perform this behavior. So I 'help' him out unobtrusively by putting one of those rocks in his indoor enclosure as well, while also keeping in mind his safety (making sure it's too large for him to swallow, keeping an eye on his beak so it doesn't wear down all the way, etc.)

Of course, when he's inside, he completely ignores it. C'est la vie!
 

cemeterytoad

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Here's an interesting excerpt from a Scientific American article:




Whether or not play and the need to play in reptiles is exactly the same thing as in mammals, I think it is important to err on the side of caution and assume some type of play or stimulation is a requirement of reptile care. Of course, this does not mean you should throw a frisbee at a tortoise's face, or handle it excessively, which would only stress it out, but rather that you should carefully observe your animal and create an environment that facilitates the behaviors it seems to 'want' to do.

For example, I've noticed that one of my box turtles likes to chew on white-colored rocks in his outdoor enclosure. He'll sit there biting it, picking it up in his beak, dropping it, repeat for sometimes an hour on end, just sitting there out in the open. I won't pretend to understand what's going on inside his little turtle brain, but he clearly wants to perform this behavior. So I 'help' him out unobtrusively by putting one of those rocks in his indoor enclosure as well, while also keeping in mind his safety (making sure it's too large for him to swallow, keeping an eye on his beak so it doesn't wear down all the way, etc.)

Of course, when he's inside, he completely ignores it. C'est la vie!
This exactly. I doubt we'll ever be able to see whether reptiles experience of any aspect of life is similar to our own, not truly, but we can at least study reptile neurology and behavior and try to understand from our own limited perspective. Figuring out proper husbandry as a keeper can mean walking a fine line between anthropomorphizing and being... under-compassionate toward our animals.
 

Gillian M

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I've definitely seen what I would categorize as play in some reptiles I've worked with: I give my blue-tongue skink supervised access to a small water fountain (from five below) for enrichment and she obviously enjoys splashing around beyond just getting clean, biting at the moving water with her mouth. I even caught her doing a barrel roll under the water stream. My friend's leopard gecko pushes around a ball in his tank sometimes, and pretend-hunts it, wiggling his tail like a cat at play. He knows he can't eat it, he's had the same ping pong ball for years. Mostly I've seen carnivorous or omnivorous reptile engage on the more obvious play behaviors, but I don't see why a tortoise wouldn't engage in simply movement play, or even social sparring like many other herbivorous animals.
Interesting. I once placed a bouncing ball into my tort's enclosure, but he showed no interest whatsoever.
 

TammyJ

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Where I live here in Jamaica...people do NOT like reptiles, that is, the majority of our population by far, say, 95%. So if you want to try to change their minds about reptiles, try to convince them that reptiles play. I took a RES once to a school to show the kids how the turtle plays a great game of "flip back over." It was a huge hit with all the kids, and perhaps, made some of them see these creatures from another perspective rather than revulsion and horror as is usually the case, especially with snakes and lizards...!
(Of course, all the poor turtle was doing was trying to survive...)
 

Throckmortok

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You can't bore him. You can make him comfortable or uncomfortable by how you treat and keep him, that's all. He can bore you though if you were the kind of pet owner who soon got bored once the fun and newness wore off - sadly, that happens to many reptile pets because they don't "play". I don't think you are that kind of person.🙂
Ah, I’m totally obsessed with him! The other night he crawled up to the little window in his enclosure and I happened to be sitting right next to it. We just stared into each other’s eyes for about fifteen minutes before he slipped and busted his butt LOL. It was super sweet and intimate, sooooo in love. Can’t wait to spend forever with him 🥰
 

Throckmortok

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Where I live here in Jamaica...people do NOT like reptiles, that is, the majority of our population by far, say, 95%. So if you want to try to change their minds about reptiles, try to convince them that reptiles play. I took a RES once to a school to show the kids how the turtle plays a great game of "flip back over." It was a huge hit with all the kids, and perhaps, made some of them see these creatures from another perspective rather than revulsion and horror as is usually the case, especially with snakes and lizards...!
(Of course, all the poor turtle was doing was trying to survive...)
Oh god, that’s awful!!! Luckily I live in America and have quite a few reptile-obsessed buds LOL
 

Throckmortok

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I've definitely seen what I would categorize as play in some reptiles I've worked with: I give my blue-tongue skink supervised access to a small water fountain (from five below) for enrichment and she obviously enjoys splashing around beyond just getting clean, biting at the moving water with her mouth. I even caught her doing a barrel roll under the water stream. My friend's leopard gecko pushes around a ball in his tank sometimes, and pretend-hunts it, wiggling his tail like a cat at play. He knows he can't eat it, he's had the same ping pong ball for years. Mostly I've seen carnivorous or omnivorous reptile engage on the more obvious play behaviors, but I don't see why a tortoise wouldn't engage in simply movement play, or even social sparring like many other herbivorous animals.
That’s too cute!!!! I wanna get my buddy a water fountain now!!!!! You’re so evil to my poor wallet LOL I can’t wait…
 

zolasmum

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Here's an interesting excerpt from a Scientific American article:




Whether or not play and the need to play in reptiles is exactly the same thing as in mammals, I think it is important to err on the side of caution and assume some type of play or stimulation is a requirement of reptile care. Of course, this does not mean you should throw a frisbee at a tortoise's face, or handle it excessively, which would only stress it out, but rather that you should carefully observe your animal and create an environment that facilitates the behaviors it seems to 'want' to do.

For example, I've noticed that one of my box turtles likes to chew on white-colored rocks in his outdoor enclosure. He'll sit there biting it, picking it up in his beak, dropping it, repeat for sometimes an hour on end, just sitting there out in the open. I won't pretend to understand what's going on inside his little turtle brain, but he clearly wants to perform this behavior. So I 'help' him out unobtrusively by putting one of those rocks in his indoor enclosure as well, while also keeping in mind his safety (making sure it's too large for him to swallow, keeping an eye on his beak so it doesn't wear down all the way, etc.)

Of course, when he's inside, he completely ignores it. C'est la vie!
That is similar to my tortoise's repetitive behaviour - pulling on the hem of my slightly stretchy trousers with his beak, and letting it spring back again - he can keep doing this for a very long time, and clearly seems to enjoy it -I am usually the one who gives up the session first, but I will time him one day - it seems to go on for ages, and I am stuck in my chair, reluctant to disturb him !
Angie
 

Throckmortok

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That is similar to my tortoise's repetitive behaviour - pulling on the hem of my slightly stretchy trousers with his beak, and letting it spring back again - he can keep doing this for a very long time, and clearly seems to enjoy it -I am usually the one who gives up the session first, but I will time him one day - it seems to go on for ages, and I am stuck in my chair, reluctant to disturb him !
Angie
Wow!!!!!
 

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