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

The Tortoise Tree

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Yes, there're exceptions a few species like red foots, aldabras etc... can be kept together I read on the article. Mine is a red foot tortoise & I learn a smaller one would follow a larger of the same species around & can tolerate each other more than other breeds, you might be very lucky to have a pair that gets along well possibly because they're siblings & both females being the case. I'm reluctant to get another for my tort as a companion because he/she is only a yearling & sex undetermined, I don't want to risk the chance of having both males would be a nightmare scenario.
and that is why I have a redfoots and pancakes!
 

thenadamgoes

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I'm new to this forum but I have a question regarding keeping two tortoises together.

I have two California Desert Tortoises and they are about 5 years old. They live together in a large pin in the backyard, and they've dug out a burrow that they use together.

One is male, and the other, I'm 90% sure is also male. The reason I know one is male is because I picked him up out of his burrow and his penis was out (it was quite a shock, and thought it was something else at first).

So I was going to separate them by splitting the pin. But...they don't seem to mind each other. I honestly don't think they even realize the other isn't a rock. They're completely indifferent, and they've been that way their entire lives.

Is it really necessary to split them up? Should I wait until I see them fighting? Like I mentioned, the one had his penis out...so I assume they are sexually mature...and maybe trying to mate...so it's probably just a matter of time. But right now, they basically just ignore each other.
 

BrookeB

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I'm new to this forum but I have a question regarding keeping two tortoises together.

I have two California Desert Tortoises and they are about 5 years old. They live together in a large pin in the backyard, and they've dug out a burrow that they use together.

One is male, and the other, I'm 90% sure is also male. The reason I know one is male is because I picked him up out of his burrow and his penis was out (it was quite a shock, and thought it was something else at first).

So I was going to separate them by splitting the pin. But...they don't seem to mind each other. I honestly don't think they even realize the other isn't a rock. They're completely indifferent, and they've been that way their entire lives.

Is it really necessary to split them up? Should I wait until I see them fighting? Like I mentioned, the one had his penis out...so I assume they are sexually mature...and maybe trying to mate...so it's probably just a matter of time. But right now, they basically just ignore each other.
Don’t wait.. tortoises don’t speak the same language as we do. You may not be able to tell that one is getting bullied until you find it flipped over in its enclosure. And if you have a female the other tortoise will overbreed her which can cause a whole list of other issues. On top of that you may be unknowingly stunting or starving one of your babies(I know they aren’t hatchlings but all tortoises are our babies). Tortoise bullying can be very subtle. The only real way you should ever keep tortoises together is if you have an extremely large enclosure (whether it’s inside or out) it has to be twice the size of a enclosure for one at the very minimum. For example if the minimum size enclosure is a 4ft by 4ft for one tortoise then a two tortoise Enclosure should be no smaller than a 8ft by 8ft. This is just an example. They should have a whole lot of breaks in sight and multiple feed and water sites.. But honestly the main issue I see is you shouldn’t keep in pairs, only 1 or groups of 3 or more. The reason I say 3 or more is because then the bullying gets spread out and not focused on the bullied vs Bullier. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to keep them together unless you are positive on sex especially with a California Desert tortoise because I believe you are not allowed to breed them. I’m not sure if there is a punishment but I would still be cautious. I’m definitely not an expert but I’ve read about tortoises on this forum for the past 8 to 10 years (not sure exactly how long ). Like a whole lot of information though lol.. hopefully one of the professionals will come and explain things better.. who knows maybe I’m totally wrong.. maybe @Yvonne G or @Tom or @Gijoux can better explain. I know there are a lot more people to tag but I honestly can’t tag everyone then I’d just be annoying.
 

Tom

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I'm new to this forum but I have a question regarding keeping two tortoises together.

I have two California Desert Tortoises and they are about 5 years old. They live together in a large pin in the backyard, and they've dug out a burrow that they use together.

One is male, and the other, I'm 90% sure is also male. The reason I know one is male is because I picked him up out of his burrow and his penis was out (it was quite a shock, and thought it was something else at first).

So I was going to separate them by splitting the pin. But...they don't seem to mind each other. I honestly don't think they even realize the other isn't a rock. They're completely indifferent, and they've been that way their entire lives.

Is it really necessary to split them up? Should I wait until I see them fighting? Like I mentioned, the one had his penis out...so I assume they are sexually mature...and maybe trying to mate...so it's probably just a matter of time. But right now, they basically just ignore each other.
They are solitary animals and do not enjoy the company of others. Keeping them as a pair creates chronic stress that tales a toll over time.

Read this for an easy way to separate them:
 

thenadamgoes

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Thank you both for the responses! I'm fairly certain they are both male because they have a concave plastron.

So I went ahead and separated the pin. It's fairly large as you can see in the picture.
IMG_2171.jpeg
It's about 40ft long and about 20ft wide at the widest point. I split it in a way where they both have about the same amount of room.

It seems I made a mistake in not separating them earlier. But I really didn't feel like they needed it.

Before I split it, I had several different feeding areas and water areas. I even dug them out two water proof burrows...they used them for a few months and then just dug a one big one that they both use now. But like I said, they really seem to just ignore each other.

So anyway, that's my new issue, I've moved one over but he doesn't have a burrow now. I built another one for them facing the same direction as the one they dug...but he refuses to use it. He prefers to just sleep under a bush. I'm gonna try planting some plants around it to hide it, cause they seem to prefer that. But we will see.

I'd really like him to have a burrow ready to go for the winter.
 

willee638

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and that is why I have a redfoots and pancakes!
I guess all these experience keepers are right, I myself sometimes tempted to get my red foot tortoise a companion but I observed my single tort doesn't interact with me much if at all. All types of tortoises seems to be very solitary & I think they don't care to play with each other, I believe they get together only to breed & eat where food is found at the same location.
 

thenadamgoes

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I guess that's one reason I never separated them before. They interact with us a lot. Especially one of them. If I'm outside he is always hanging out with me, follows me around, and will lay down next to me. I'm sure he just associates me with food, but I think I just thought they enjoyed the company more than they do.

Since I've separated them, I still feel bad. It's been very hot so one doesn't come out of their burrow much. And the other is still trying to find a way back to their first burrow.
 

willee638

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I guess that's one reason I never separated them before. They interact with us a lot. Especially one of them. If I'm outside he is always hanging out with me, follows me around, and will lay down next to me. I'm sure he just associates me with food, but I think I just thought they enjoyed the company more than they do.

Since I've separated them, I still feel bad. It's been very hot so one doesn't come out of their burrow much. And the other is still trying to find a way back to their first burrow.
Yes, I totally understand how we always want our pets to be happy & healthy. But I guess some animals just don't socialize with each other, they only think others as competition for food & nesting place. Since they can't speak to us we humans can only guess their behaviors, it wouldn't be good when they start bulling each other by biting & flipping one another upside down.
 

Mollythetortoise

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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!).

...."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).



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.


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.



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.


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.


"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!


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.



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.


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!

Hello! I’m new here and I have a 4 year old Russian tortoise named Molly. I am planning to build a big tortoise table soon. If when I build the table do you think it would be ok if I got another female Russian to go in with her?
 

willee638

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I'm of the same thought of getting a companion for my yearling red foot tortoise believed to be a female, I have a small but suitable for at least one tortoise enclosure but will expand the enclosure when another arrives. At 4 years of age I would believe your tort gets to spend much more time roaming out of the table, even my tort at over one year old can't wait to get away from her enclosure to explore around the house & often gets taken outdoors to grass fields several times weekly. I heard tortoises are very territorial so they need to avoid one another for long periods to avoid stress.
 

Fred's human

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Hello Tortoise lovers,
I joined this group hoping to find my 30 year old Bell's tortoise a mate. So glad I signed on and am benefitting from your experiences.
I inherited Fred about eight years ago. The person I got him from had rescued Fred about 18 years before, from a bad little boy in a park hitting him with a stick and drowning him in a lake. She has no idea how the boy gained possession of Fred but couldn't keep him anymore and begged me to take him.
In the summer he is fine, I have a large playpen out on my deck with a shelter and his romantic interest - a large stuffed grey elephant - with whom he is involved with, a lot ( I thought that was normal).
However, I am very concerned about the changing season. In the cold weather I have a terrarium for him but over the last few winters he has become depressed. I was really worried that he was losing so much weight and wouldn't eat. He only eats when hand/force fed - I keep putting in in front of his face and not letting him get around it.
I have changed his lights, moved his terrarium so he can look out a window but I really can't get a bigger one for him.
I think I may have to let him go. Any suggestions?
 

zovick

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Hello Tortoise lovers,
I joined this group hoping to find my 30 year old Bell's tortoise a mate. So glad I signed on and am benefitting from your experiences.
I inherited Fred about eight years ago. The person I got him from had rescued Fred about 18 years before, from a bad little boy in a park hitting him with a stick and drowning him in a lake. She has no idea how the boy gained possession of Fred but couldn't keep him anymore and begged me to take him.
In the summer he is fine, I have a large playpen out on my deck with a shelter and his romantic interest - a large stuffed grey elephant - with whom he is involved with, a lot ( I thought that was normal).
However, I am very concerned about the changing season. In the cold weather I have a terrarium for him but over the last few winters he has become depressed. I was really worried that he was losing so much weight and wouldn't eat. He only eats when hand/force fed - I keep putting in in front of his face and not letting him get around it.
I have changed his lights, moved his terrarium so he can look out a window but I really can't get a bigger one for him.
I think I may have to let him go. Any suggestions?
If you no longer want the tortoise, there are others in MA who might want it.
@saleena.lewis might be interested or know someone who is.
 

willee638

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Your tortoise's full history is unknow to you & it could be over 30 years old well pass his/her first mature age of breeding, tortoises don't need another tort as a friend to live a healthy full life. If you find a mate for him/her it would only be for breeding purposes & not for companionship, I too have only one tortoise & she's very healthy, eating & growing fast. You need to take it outdoors often under natural sun lights in green grassy fields 3-4 times per week, when my tort refuses food I feed her something completely different from her usual foods. I notice tortoises doesn't like to be kept indoor for long periods, but maybe because of your cold climate in the winter months & kept indoors made it depressed.
 

crimson_lotus

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Hello Tortoise lovers,
I joined this group hoping to find my 30 year old Bell's tortoise a mate. So glad I signed on and am benefitting from your experiences.
I inherited Fred about eight years ago. The person I got him from had rescued Fred about 18 years before, from a bad little boy in a park hitting him with a stick and drowning him in a lake. She has no idea how the boy gained possession of Fred but couldn't keep him anymore and begged me to take him.
In the summer he is fine, I have a large playpen out on my deck with a shelter and his romantic interest - a large stuffed grey elephant - with whom he is involved with, a lot ( I thought that was normal).
However, I am very concerned about the changing season. In the cold weather I have a terrarium for him but over the last few winters he has become depressed. I was really worried that he was losing so much weight and wouldn't eat. He only eats when hand/force fed - I keep putting in in front of his face and not letting him get around it.
I have changed his lights, moved his terrarium so he can look out a window but I really can't get a bigger one for him.
I think I may have to let him go. Any suggestions?
I suggest making your own thread, get some feedback on your enclosure (pics, temp, etc) and see if it can be improved
 
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