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

mo.thetortoise

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Aug 29, 2020
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Texas
Hi. How do you maintain humidity and temperature levels in that very nice enclosure?
I mist it 3 times a day and have 4 heat lamps so it stays extra warm. She also has a thermal gradient so she can choose what temperature she wants to be in. My room (the room she is in) is also kept extra warm.
 

mo.thetortoise

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Aug 29, 2020
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Texas
Ok! I will get one as soon as I can! I just don’t understand how she could drowned in it but if you say so! I will try to go later today!
 

two.torts_Ari

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Kent
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!
So I have got two female Herman's, they have lived together with no issues for 13+ years but suddenly one has started ramming into the other one and becomes much more active and has stopped eating so she has been separated! Any ideas on what has caused this sudden behaviour change? Any info would be appreciated 🫶🫶
 

wellington

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So I have got two female Herman's, they have lived together with no issues for 13+ years but suddenly one has started ramming into the other one and becomes much more active and has stopped eating so she has been separated! Any ideas on what has caused this sudden behaviour change? Any info would be appreciated 🫶🫶
First they have lived under stress the last 13 years. Second, they have been bullying all along, you either didn't see it or didn't know what you were seeing. Third, the actions are getting more obvious likely due too the size of them is bigger so the aggression is going to be bigger. They are in too small of an enclosure for the size of them, so there is no getting away even if one tries or they have just matured enough to really show their discomfort of another tortoise being in their territory.
 
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Maggie3fan

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PacificNorthWest
First they have lived under stress the last 13 years. Second, they have been bullying all along, you either didn't see it or didn't know what you were seeing. Third, the actions are getting more obvious likely due too the size of them is bigger so the aggression is going to be bigger. They are in too small of an enclosure for the size of them, so there is no getting away even if one tries or they have just matured enough to really show their discomfort of another tortoise being in their territory.
not "loved" lived...lol
 
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Shad114!

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Joined
Mar 24, 2024
Messages
7
Location (City and/or State)
OH
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!
Great post!
 
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