1. Welcome! Are you interested in tortoises? If so, we invite you to join our community! Our community is the #1 place for tortoise keepers to talk online. Once you join you'll be able to post messages, upload pictures of your tortoise and enclosure, and discuss any tortoise topic with other tortoise keepers. Get started today!

Why not to keep 2 tortoises together - a lesson learned the hard way

Discussion in 'Russian tortoises' started by biochemnerd808, Jun 8, 2014.

  1. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2012
    Messages:
    1,239
    Likes Received:
    573
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    SW WA
    This is a copy/paste of an article I wrote on my blog last year. I've seen several new keepers ask the question of whether they should get a 'friend' for their tortoise, and so rather than keeping on linking to my blog (which feels kinda self-promoting, which is not my intent), I am creating a thread on the TFO that has the article. @Tom and others have been saying this for a long time - this is nothing new, I've just added fun pictures. :)

    Today I would like to write about an important lesson that I learned the hard way a few years ago: it is not a good idea to keep 2 tortoises together (yes, there are exceptions).

    When tortoise owners ask me if I think they should get a second tortoise, I tell them: only if they plan to get a second enclosure. Then I advise them to spend the money on spoiling their 1 tortoise first: build a big outdoor enclosure, enlarge the indoor enclosure, upgrade the lighting. Put some money into savings for emergency vet care (you'll need it at some point during your tortoise's 80 or so years of life!).
    [​IMG]
    ...."But she's so.... lonely!"

    Believe me, I've been there. Humans seek companionship, as do many other mammals. We like to project our own feelings onto our pets, and so, we assume that our tortoise would be happier with a 'friend.' Please know that I am not judging you for wanting to get another tortoise. Getting a little 'friend' for a tortoise can be so tempting. The truth is: (except for a few species like redfoot torts, aldabras, or pancake torts), most tortoises are loners in the wild. They roam several acres, and only occasionally encounter other tortoises. If a tortoise encounters another, they will fight, mate, or both. Then they wander apart again (or one is chased away by the other).

    [​IMG]

    If you are thinking of getting your pet tortoise a 'buddy' then I hope you read my story first, and put some serious thought into your decision after reading about my experience. Keeping 2 tortoises together (especially of the testudo species) is NOT a cake walk.

    [​IMG]
    In reality, it will look like this... *BITE!* ... a lot of the time.

    If you get a male and a female, after much biting and bullying, there will be plenty of mating too. More than there would ever be in nature. Enough mating to kill the female.

    [​IMG]

    If the female can't get away from the male, he will seek her out again and again (more than in nature, since there she CAN get away). My friend rescued a tortoise female earlier this year whose vent was terribly infected and torn and chafed and ripped from all the mating. It took her a long time to heal.

    [​IMG]
    The infected, oozing, puss-filled tail of my friend's rescued female that was mated too much.
    (I'm posting a small picture just so it's not too gross)


    Here is how I learned my lesson:

    I started out with one female Russian tortoise, Timmy. After I had her for a few years, I decided I'd like to get a second tortoise. A few knowledgeable people on the tortoise forums advised against this. They warned me that tortoises, especially the testudo species (to which Russian tortoises belong) are very territorial. They told me that the tortoises would compete for food, for the basking spot, for space. They told me that they would bite and ram, and one would become stressed, hurt, and might die.

    [​IMG]
    "Timmy needs a friend. My tortoises will be different and won't fight."

    For some reason, I was convinced that 'my' tortoises would be different. I set up a my enclosure with lots of site barriers. I soon adopted a little male, Roz. For the first 18 or so months, everything went well. There were NO signs of aggression, both tortoises ate together, basked together, slept together. Yay! My tortoises were the exception!

    [​IMG]
    Wait. What?! My male is biting my female?! Oh no!

    Then one day, Roz matured. Roz discovered that he was a rapist little man-tortoise with needs and urges. Roz discovered that he didn't like sharing his food. Roz discovered that he could boss Timmy around, in spite of being half her size. Roz became a big, mean, bossy, biting bully. Timmy lost scales on her legs, and even got a bite wound on her face once. Roz got to spend a lot of time in the time-out bin until I separated him permanently.

    Watch this video of Roz bobbing his head at Timmy (which is territorial behavior), and then circling her and biting her:


    In the wild, this is 'normal' courting behavior. However, in the wild, the female can get away! In captivity, while both tortoises were kept in the same enclosure, Roz wanted to mate with Timmy 15+ times each day. He spent his spare time bullying her away from the food or the basking spot. Timmy started to become withdrawn, and wanted to hide and sleep all the time. I separated the two, and she started eating again, thank goodness.

    Now, the 'easy' solution would have been to re-home Roz. This, however, was not an option for me. I had made a commitment to care for him, and did not want to break this commitment. The 'harder' solution was to a) separate my male, b) build a larger enclosure, and c) get a little harem of female tortoises for him. It took me nearly a year to find females, since in the pet trade, most tortoises are male. I finally got Mila and Jill, and then Lady.

    [​IMG]

    I know that some people will advise that two female tortoises will get along fine. I disagree: one will always be the underdog. At least for testudo species, if you want to keep multiple females together, you should get 3 or more. This way they are less likely to fight, and the bullying will be divided a little among them.
    During the Summer, the tortoises happily (and peacefully) lived outside in the large tortoise garden I built them. They will be divided over several indoor tortoise tables for the winter.

    [​IMG]
    They spread out over the entire tortoise garden, except to eat.

    IF you decide you want more than 1 tortoise, please avoid keeping 2 males together, or 1 male and 1 female. Either 3 females (with LOTS of space) or 1 male and 3+ females might work... but even then, you may find yourself needing a degree in tortoise diplomatics!

    IF you decide to keep multiple tortoises, please remember that the enclosure size must adjust accordingly for multiple tortoises! If the absolute minimum size for 1 tortoise is 2'x4', then each additional tortoise will need at least that much more space. As always, larger is better when it comes to tortoise enclosures!
  2. wellington

    wellington Well-Known Member Moderator 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2011
    Messages:
    35,975
    Likes Received:
    12,177
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Chicago, Illinois, USA
    (These ads do not appear for registered members.)
    Thank you for posting this. Sure hope everyone will learn from your experience. As hard as it is to resist getting that friend for your torts, please learn from above, to do what best for your tort, not for yourself.
    Alex Z, Danyail, striker and 4 others like this.
  3. bouaboua

    bouaboua Well-Known Member TFO Supporter Platinum Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2013
    Messages:
    11,566
    Likes Received:
    7,231
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    San Jose CA
    Thank you for your post. it is a lessen learned.

    Thanks! !! !
    Alex Z likes this.
  4. leigti

    leigti Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2013
    Messages:
    6,991
    Likes Received:
    5,063
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    southeast Washington
    A few months after I got my Russian tortoise I thought I should get him "a friend". I just didn't realize that tortoises don't want a friend. I am so glad that I did research on this forum and got the right advice. I have done exactly what you suggested and spoiled my one Tortoise, huge outdoor enclosure large indoor enclosure etc. I do wish that other people would take the advice given and not get another Tortoise or at least separate the two that they have. But some people definitely have to learn the hard way at the expense of the animal. I guess that's just human nature for some people unfortunately.
  5. Dizisdalife

    Dizisdalife Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2010
    Messages:
    1,725
    Likes Received:
    431
    Trophy Points:
    83
    Location (City and/or State):
    San Diego, CA
    Thanks for the story. Well written and I love the photos.
    gingerbee and biochemnerd808 like this.
  6. StarSapphire22

    StarSapphire22 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2013
    Messages:
    2,688
    Likes Received:
    1,279
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Fargo, ND
    What a great post. Exactly right, and well written. Mods, let's sticky this thing!
  7. karlie and kevin

    karlie and kevin New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 6, 2014
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Cornwall
    Great post and so true. It was like watching my past all over again lol. I did the whole oh he wants a friend and how wrong was I!! But 2 yrs on and huge lessons learnt with 2 Russians whom I wouldn't change for the world but whom live totally separate now. It's nice to be able and willing to give a second or even third a home but it has to be done separately and not for the he needs a friend reason but for the reason of he needs a good home as so many do.
    biochemnerd808 likes this.
  8. Flipper

    Flipper Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 27, 2014
    Messages:
    715
    Likes Received:
    268
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location (City and/or State):
    MO, USA
    :eek: Good to know! Lesson learned! Thanks for posting! :D

    Poor Timmy :<3:
    biochemnerd808 likes this.
  9. kanalomele

    kanalomele Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2012
    Messages:
    1,471
    Likes Received:
    29
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location (City and/or State):
    East Bay area
    Always a great read, and an important lesson.
  10. LeighBear_

    LeighBear_ New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    12
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Thank you so much for posting this information. I have a horse field tortoise who is just about to turn 1 year old and was considering getting another so it wasn't lonely. I felt that doing it now would be better as it is still young- instead of it being older and being more territorial etc. After reading your post about your own experience it has opened my eyes and I don't think I will bother getting another any time soon. I may consider in the future to get another - but doing what you said and having separate enclosures. How did your tortoises react etc once you separated them? Do you think it would be OK if I was to have them in separate enclosures but let them out together for a little while every other day? Just to bond but not live together.

    Thanks!
  11. leigti

    leigti Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 2, 2013
    Messages:
    6,991
    Likes Received:
    5,063
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    southeast Washington
    I don't think that tortoises bond. I would watch them carefully when they are out together to make sure that Bullying does not happen.
  12. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2010
    Messages:
    42,427
    Likes Received:
    20,392
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Southern California

    Unless you are attempting to breed them, no good purpose is served by letting them have contact every other day.
    johnsonnboswell and LeighBear_ like this.
  13. Kathy Coles

    Kathy Coles Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2012
    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    88
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Location (City and/or State):
    North Carolina
    Boy + Girl = sex. Question, are you ready for eggs and everything that entails??
  14. naturalman91

    naturalman91 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2014
    Messages:
    2,011
    Likes Received:
    751
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    Medford Oregon
    great read thanks for posting it was awesome to see the video of the head bobbing it will work to show people in the future what it looks like
    biochemnerd808 likes this.
  15. RainsOn

    RainsOn Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2014
    Messages:
    219
    Likes Received:
    102
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Location (City and/or State):
    NW OK
    I love the pics and the video - the little one is the bully. LOL
  16. LeighBear_

    LeighBear_ New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2014
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    12
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    Ok thank you, I just wanted some opinions on it as I was considering getting another before reading this thread. I just thought my tort was lonely as it always goes and cuddles into the little tortoise ornament I have as decoration for the table, didn't realise they were so vicious to one another haha.

    George just wants cuddles! :tort:
    image.jpg
    Alex Z, PJay, KaitlinKeefe_ and 3 others like this.
  17. biochemnerd808

    biochemnerd808 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2012
    Messages:
    1,239
    Likes Received:
    573
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location (City and/or State):
    SW WA
    @LeighBear_ ,George is very handsome! My guess is that putting his head over his shell is actually his way of saying: "Hey, pretend tortoise! I'm your boss!"
  18. ethereal1

    ethereal1 Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2012
    Messages:
    121
    Likes Received:
    10
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Yeah I have two males, I never had the intent of keeping them "together", so I was prepared for them not getting along, which... they would I think if one wasn't so aggressive, Marshal is bigger and older but he is very mild and well behaved, whereas Thor... he is the perfect example of a tortoise in the wild lol He chases, bullies, bites, rams, and hauls *** over the grounds protecting his territory!

    I never let him get to actually ram or bite the other tortoise, but in any situation where they are in the same vicinity, like a special outdoors fun day I have to stay with them and watch them like hawks, mostly just Thor, he would hunt Marshal to the ends of the Earth if I let him I think, he even tried to ram ME once when I was keeping him from Marshal hahaha.

    Its no joke though, in all seriousness, GREAT post!

    And just wanted to say George with that ornament is entirely way too cute lol
  19. Ashley99

    Ashley99 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2014
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location (City and/or State):
    Keyworth United Kingdom
    Thanks for posting this as I was going to get another tortoise for my other one to keep it company.
  20. Oscar_Smith

    Oscar_Smith Member

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2014
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    17
    Trophy Points:
    8
    If only I would've read this 2 years ago :oops:
    Lucypup likes this.
Similar Threads: keep tortoises
Forum Title Date
Russian tortoises Looking for people who keep their Russian tortoises outside year round Aug 28, 2014
Russian tortoises Keeping Russian tortoises outside in the Pacific Northwest Jul 7, 2014
Russian tortoises My lesson, learned the hard way: Do not keep 2 tortoises together. Sep 16, 2013
Russian tortoises Keeping Russian Tortoises outdoors in So Cal Oct 8, 2012
Russian tortoises Keeping Humidity High? Sep 3, 2018

Share This Page