Multiple tortoises

Meganolvt

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Hi all-
I've read many many threads here about why not to have tortoises in pairs, and I get it. My question is for all you people with groups: are there never these same problems when you have three or more? I don't quite understand why three is so much safer than two. I keep wondering if it really is the number or if it is that most of you seem to live in California or Florida, where the torts can live outside year round. If you had two torts living in a small box inside 1/2 the year, it makes more sense to me. But if you had two living outside with lots of space, does it work? (I live in Michigan, so it's not possible for me). i'm just wondering. Sometimes I watch my two pugs bully each other over food, toys, couch space, and I think maybe it's the same for two torts, but if the dogs lived outside in a big space instead of in the house, it would be a little different. One could get away. Couldn't it be the same for torts?
 

Yvonne G

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Yes, it makes quite a difference. Outside in a large well-planted yard and the tortoises can get out of each others' sight. You could probably get away with having a pair outside.
 

Tom

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Hi all-
I've read many many threads here about why not to have tortoises in pairs, and I get it. My question is for all you people with groups: are there never these same problems when you have three or more? I don't quite understand why three is so much safer than two. I keep wondering if it really is the number or if it is that most of you seem to live in California or Florida, where the torts can live outside year round. If you had two torts living in a small box inside 1/2 the year, it makes more sense to me. But if you had two living outside with lots of space, does it work? (I live in Michigan, so it's not possible for me). i'm just wondering. Sometimes I watch my two pugs bully each other over food, toys, couch space, and I think maybe it's the same for two torts, but if the dogs lived outside in a big space instead of in the house, it would be a little different. One could get away. Couldn't it be the same for torts?

I am a student of behavior. That has been my hobby and passion since a I was a very little boy, and its been my career since 1986. I've typed up many posts on this subject, but its much easier to explain in a conversation. There are just so many facets and intricate details to explain.

The short version is that, basically, pair dynamics are very different than group dynamics.

And to answer your question. Yes, there can be issues in groups too. Especially with russian tortoises. Even the females go on the war path sometimes. There are lots of generalities with each species, but exceptions do pop up. Most of the time female sulcatas are not combative, but I have one that is. Most of the time RFs get along well, but we had one member who we all told needed to separate her pair, and then she came back six weeks later and told us that one RF had bitten off the tail and most of the back leg of her other one. I have video of two 12" Galapagos juveniles trying to kill each other in a large outdoor pen that houses dozens of them.

I don't share the opinion that a pair in a large outdoor enclosure is okay. It is still very stressful and providing more places to run away and hide does not seem a good way to live to me. At one time I temporarily had a male and female sulcata living together, in a very large, 7000sq. foot, convoluted, multifaceted, outdoor enclosure, and he would spend ALL day marching around looking for her, while she would spend all day trying in vain to hide from him. She didn't eat, could not bask and it was VERY stressful for her despite the size of the enclosure and number of hiding places. Here is the best analogy I can come up with: Living locked in a small room with someone who hated me and wanted to kill me, would not be fun. Locking us in a fenced off football field would not make it any more pleasant, even though I could stay farther away from the homicidal maniac that hated me more of the time. I would still live in constant fear and be afraid to do ANYTHING that might draw the attention of the maniac my way. The stress of living in constant fear like that can hamper the immune system of any animal, make them eat, drink or bask less often, and generally lead to a miserable existence.
 

deadheadvet

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When dealing with youngsters, groups of 3 or more seem to thrive via competition of food. Also, they sleep together. I always find youngsters next to each other when asleep. When you have 2 and there is a dominant eater, the other will shy away from food and not do well. I personally have seen this with Burmese. Radiata it can go perfectly fine with very young pairs, and sometimes they should be separated. Best advice is to have a secondary set up on the ready in case it is obvious that one is thriving and the other isn't. Try keeping 19 together and watch the dynamics of a large group. Always nice to see everyone eating every day. Since I have sold off 11, the dynamics have not changed.
 

Meganolvt

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Thanks @Tom. That all makes a lot of sense. You guys with groups must just have ones that get along. That's basically what i was wondering. I see some of the numbers of torts you all have and just wonder if you have problems.
 

Meganolvt

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@deadheadvet - i'm sticking with my one! Some day I hope to have the glorious groups that you all have, but I think I'll have to leave Michigan, which would be hard to do :)
 

Tom

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Thanks @Tom. That all makes a lot of sense. You guys with groups must just have ones that get along. That's basically what i was wondering. I see some of the numbers of torts you all have and just wonder if you have problems.

Herd management. I'm constantly observing and making adjustments to their housing. In most cases following the general rule of one mature male in a large enclosure with at least two or three females will avoid trouble. Not always, but most of the time, for most species. Groups of juveniles can get very tricky and I've had to make all sorts of moves and build lots of new enclosures due to males coming of age much sooner than females and needing to be separated both from the females and each other too. At one time I had 14 SA leopards. Nine were males and at year and a half I had to separate the boys from the girls. The boys had some minor pushing and shoving, but got along well for another year or so. At two and half years old the fighting got a lot more serious and all the boys had to be separated permanently into their own enclosures. Now, at 5.5 years old, the males all still live alone and the females have been living together and growing up in peace with no issues. At the end of the summer, I will introduce each male to a group of females and see how it all goes.
 

Randi

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I believe the reason groups are successful is because the aggression is dispersed and not targeted towards a single specimen. In pairs, one has to be the dominant one and it makes sure to let the submissive one know by taking control over food, space, etc. In groups, it is very hard to single out one to dominate, and especially one to dominate continuously. I know that in fish this applies - the aggressive species tend to do well in large groups as there are numerous offenders to contend with and makes it difficult for any to be singled out and killed. But, even a group cannot ensure that all will survive and thrive. Some end up killing off each other or just never get along, regardless of the group. There are always the exceptions.
 
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DPtortiose

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Lately I've been wondering if raising young tortoises (below two years) in herds has a strong effect on their behavior.

Several keepers here (The Netherlands/Germany) have reported abnormal or strange behavior in T. hermani/boettgeri when youngster where raised solitary. Included mating with all sorts of objects and ramming (tortoise shaped) rocks and shoes. Have other keepers ever noticed something similar in the same species or other species?

Abnormal behavior when not raised with members of the same species is quite normal in 'social' species. But I've not heard this in any reptilian species so far. Although tortoise are unusual 'social' to (small) degree; showing social learning and occasional helping each other out. But I'm a bit skeptical about the effects of raising a solitary animal.

While we are on the subject of groups dynamic; how are territories generally maintained and defended in a group? I'm not talking about the far end of the spectrum (ramming, biting etc.) but more the middle and lower end of the spectrum. How do they let other member of the same species know this is their territory? Do they mark spaces? Head bobbing? I can't seem to pin any good information down regarding this.
 

Tom

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Lately I've been wondering if raising young tortoises (below two years) in herds has a strong effect on their behavior.

Several keepers here (The Netherlands/Germany) have reported abnormal or strange behavior in T. hermani/boettgeri when youngster where raised solitary. Included mating with all sorts of objects and ramming (tortoise shaped) rocks and shoes. Have other keepers ever noticed something similar in the same species or other species?

Abnormal behavior when not raised with members of the same species is quite normal in 'social' species. But I've not heard this in any reptilian species so far. Although tortoise are unusual 'social' to (small) degree; showing social learning and occasional helping each other out. But I'm a bit skeptical about the effects of raising a solitary animal.

While we are on the subject of groups dynamic; how are territories generally maintained and defended in a group? I'm not talking about the far end of the spectrum (ramming, biting etc.) but more the middle and lower end of the spectrum. How do they let other member of the same species know this is their territory? Do they mark spaces? Head bobbing? I can't seem to pin any good information down regarding this.

Your post points out the huge deficit in tortoise behavioral studies in comparison to some other species. We are largely left with captive observations and the interpretations of individual keepers.

Wolfgang Wegehaupt's book might be of interest to you. He discusses the social lives and territories of wild western hermanni. I didn't agree with the whole book and his conclusions, but I found some of the info interesting.

Another obstacle to overcome here is that this discussion might vary wildly from species to species.
 

DPtortiose

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Your post points out the huge deficit in tortoise behavioral studies in comparison to some other species. We are largely left with captive observations and the interpretations of individual keepers.

I agree. Though anecdotal evidence is useful to a degree, it's not something I like to base of my care guidelines on.

Wolfgang Wegehaupt's book might be of interest to you. He discusses the social lives and territories of wild western hermanni. I didn't agree with the whole book and his conclusions, but I found some of the info interesting.

Another obstacle to overcome here is that this discussion might vary wildly from species to species.

This is the kind of information/references I was looking for, thank you. What was your main critique of the book?
 

Big Charlie

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Lately I've been wondering if raising young tortoises (below two years) in herds has a strong effect on their behavior.

Several keepers here (The Netherlands/Germany) have reported abnormal or strange behavior in T. hermani/boettgeri when youngster where raised solitary. Included mating with all sorts of objects and ramming (tortoise shaped) rocks and shoes. Have other keepers ever noticed something similar in the same species or other species?

Abnormal behavior when not raised with members of the same species is quite normal in 'social' species. But I've not heard this in any reptilian species so far. Although tortoise are unusual 'social' to (small) degree; showing social learning and occasional helping each other out. But I'm a bit skeptical about the effects of raising a solitary animal.

While we are on the subject of groups dynamic; how are territories generally maintained and defended in a group? I'm not talking about the far end of the spectrum (ramming, biting etc.) but more the middle and lower end of the spectrum. How do they let other member of the same species know this is their territory? Do they mark spaces? Head bobbing? I can't seem to pin any good information down regarding this.
Charlie (sulcata) was raised alone. He regularly attempts to mate with large rocks and soccer balls. I don't know how strange or abnormal this is.
 

tglazie

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I keep all of my marginated tortoises separately in large, planted enclosures. I have a large neutral grazing area where I often allow them to interact while I supervise. All interactions between my tortoises, whether it's to habituate them to the existence of others or for mating purposes, are supervised and refereed. I feel that males do best if they believe there is another male over the horizon while they maintain control over their own personal territory.

The only situation in which I've ever been able to keep tortoises in groups is with groups of hatchlings. Once these animals begin to come of age, they begin attacking one another.

T.G.
 

ZEROPILOT

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In my group of Redfoot that live outdoors I've had to watch them and remove certain members that for whatever reason could not live peacefully with the others, either due to bullying or sexual aggression, etc.
I now have four members. One docile male and four females. (All almost the identical sizes)
The magic isn't in the number. It's with the individual tortoises, too.
Redfoot are generally thought of as easy tempered, and they are. But it isn't as simple as just adding another tortoise in there.
I have a fairly large pen that they share. Even so, they all compete for the "best" sleeping houses or the best area of food and the best water pool on a hot afternoon. Etc.
I can't even imagine dealing with Russians on a large scale.
 

Grandpa Turtle 144

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@deadheadvet - i'm sticking with my one! Some day I hope to have the glorious groups that you all have, but I think I'll have to leave Michigan, which would be hard to do :)
I was born in Saginaw , MI . And I left 30 years ago for Phx , AZ . And I am very , very happy I did . And then I didn't Evan have torts . But I have plenty of them now .
 

Grandpa Turtle 144

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@deadheadvet - i'm sticking with my one! Some day I hope to have the glorious groups that you all have, but I think I'll have to leave Michigan, which would be hard to do :)
So when are you moving ? The house around the corner is for sale . Pack thoughts bags . And of corse bring the tort !
 

Meganolvt

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Despite the 700 inches of snow we have right now, I ♡ Michigan too much to leave!
 
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