The Truth About Why Tortoises Climb Their Habitat Walls

TortoisesOpens in a new tab. often display behaviors that, to us, might seem a bit bizarre. However, to them these behaviors are perfectly normal. Such behavior involves pacing up and down the enclosure, or even trying to climb the walls of the enclosure. There are those that believe this is caused by an increase in testosterone at certain times of the year while others think it is borne out of boredom or frustration.

The species of tortoise you have might also play a role; Russian tortoises, for example, are notorious for trying to climb walls.

Sexual Behavior and Mating Season

During the mating season, tortoisesOpens in a new tab. can exhibit behaviors that are different from their usual routine. This is particularly true for males who may become more restless and active, displaying behaviors like pacing and climbing. This is all part of their natural mating behavior, with such physical activities serving as an outlet for their increased levels of testosterone.

The mating season typically varies based on the tortoise species and their native environment, but it often coincides with warmer months when tortoises are generally more active. During this time, it’s not unusual for a male tortoise to climb the enclosure walls, essentially signaling a desire to search for a potential mate. It’s their way of exhibiting a kind of wanderlust, a natural drive to roam around and find a partner.

In captivity, this kind of behavior might be interpreted as a sign of discomfort or distress, but it’s actually a perfectly normal part of tortoise life. It’s crucial to remember this when caring for your pet and to consider how seasonal changes, especially the mating season, might affect your tortoise’s behavior. If your tortoise is frequently attempting to climb its enclosure walls during the mating season, this is likely a manifestation of its natural instincts, not a sign of dissatisfaction with its environment.

How to Manage During Mating Season

To help manage this behavior, consider providing your tortoise with more opportunities for stimulation and exercise during this time. Creating a larger, enriching environment that mimics their natural habitat can help channel this restless energy more positively. Similarly, if you own a male and female pair, ensuring that they have enough space for comfortable interaction during this time is also crucial. However, remember to closely monitor them, as overly aggressive mating behavior can potentially lead to stress or injury.

Understanding the mating behavior of tortoises, and accommodating their natural instincts as much as possible, can make this period more comfortable for them and less concerning for you. Remember, each tortoise is unique, so it’s important to be observant, patient, and adaptable as a tortoise owner.

Is Your Enclosure Too Small?

Sometimes a lack of space can cause a tortoise to feel frustrated and want to ‘escape.’ If your indoor enclosure is too small, your tortoise might be trying to climb walls to escape. If your tortoise is quite small, then an 8ft x 4ft enclosure should be sufficient. It is important that the side walls are at least twelve inches higher than the height of your tortoise when it is standing tall on its hind legs. However, larger tortoises Opens in a new tab.will obviously require larger enclosures.

Another thing to think about is the setup of the enclosure. If your tortoise trying to climb the walls is driving you nuts, consider changing things up in the enclosure. Take the tortoise out and move items about so that the enclosure looks slightly different when you return your tortoise to it. This might just be enough to keep the animal occupied for a period of time and hence reduce the climbing.

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Impact of Nutrition on Tortoise Behavior

Have you ever noticed how your own mood can change when you’re hungry or after consuming certain foods? Tortoises are no different. Their behavior can, in fact, be significantly influenced by their diet. If a tortoise isn’t receiving the correct nutrition, it might engage in unusual actions such as trying to climb the walls of its enclosure. A well-balanced and varied diet, tailored to the species, is key to maintaining optimal health and regular behavior in tortoises.

Undernourishment and Its Effects

Undernourishment can often lead to drastic changes in tortoise behavior. For instance, an undernourished tortoise might become restless or irritable, and in some cases, even start to climb the walls of its enclosure. This is because it’s searching for more sustenance, driven by an instinct to survive. While this behavior might be disconcerting for the tortoise owner, it’s important to understand that it’s a cry for help from the animal.

The Right Nutritional Balance

Different species of tortoises require different types of diets. Herbivorous species, for example, require a diet rich in fibrous plant material. Other species might also require a certain amount of animal protein. Providing your tortoise with the right type of food is not enough, though. You need to ensure that the diet is also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, D3, and calcium, which are vital for shell and bone health.

This is why it’s crucial to be knowledgeable about the specific dietary needs of your tortoise species. So, next time your tortoise starts to exhibit unusual behaviors, consider checking their diet. Sometimes, a simple adjustment can make a world of difference to their behavior.

Is Your Enclosure Made of Glass?

New tortoise owners often assume that their pet will love a glass, open-topped enclosure; in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Tortoises get confused by glass as they simply do not understand it. If they can see out, they will want to get out. It is better to have a wooden enclosure for a tortoise as this reduces the confusion and will help to make it feel more secure.

Signs of Stress in Tortoises

Just like any other pet, tortoises can also experience stress, which could manifest in a variety of behaviors. It’s imperative to recognize these signs early, as prolonged stress could adversely affect their health and overall wellbeing.

Abnormal Eating Habits

One of the common indicators of stress in tortoises is changes in their eating habits. You might notice your tortoise eating less or refusing to eat at all. Some might binge on food, which is equally worrisome. A sudden and significant change in weight could also be a sign of stress.

Unusual Activity Levels

Is your tortoise more active than usual, or maybe lethargic and showing a lack of energy? These extremes could be signs of stress. Regularly pacing, digging, or climbing the enclosure walls might be your tortoise trying to communicate discomfort or distress.

Changes in Shell, Skin, or Eyes

Physical changes can also be a telltale sign of stress. A tortoise under stress might have a shell that’s duller than usual. Their skin might seem dry or flaky, and their eyes could be swollen or look sunken. Any abnormal physical appearances warrant closer attention.

Altered Sleeping Patterns

Tortoises tend to have fairly regular sleeping habits. If your tortoise is sleeping more or less than usual or at unusual times, it could be an indication of stress.

While these signs are not definitive proof of stress, they’re often a good indication that something isn’t right. Observing your tortoise and noting any changes in their behavior, eating habits, and physical appearance is crucial. If you do notice any signs of stress, it’s advisable to consult with a vet or a tortoise care expert to ensure the well-being of your beloved pet.

Stimulating Your Tortoise’s Mind

Tortoises, while not traditionally seen as high-energy pets, are remarkably intelligent and inquisitive creatures. They require mental stimulation just as much as any other animal, and providing this can significantly reduce unusual behaviors such as wall-climbing. Therefore, understanding the enrichment activities that appeal to your tortoise is paramount.

Engaging Their Curiosity with Habitat Enrichment

Creating a diverse and interesting environment within your tortoise’s habitat can be an excellent form of mental stimulation. You can do this by regularly changing the layout of their enclosure, adding in new and different items that offer a range of tactile experiences. Think of incorporating elements like smooth rocks, bark, and other natural items that the tortoise can explore and interact with. Remember, variation is key, and periodic changes to their surroundings can keep them curious and engaged.

Interactive Feeding: Hide-and-Seek with Food

One highly effective method of stimulating a tortoise’s mind is through their food. Rather than simply placing food in a dish, consider scattering or hiding it around their enclosure. This mimics the foraging behavior tortoises would engage in in the wild and can provide an excellent mental exercise. The ‘hunt’ for food also has the added benefit of encouraging physical activity.

Toys and Physical Activities

Believe it or not, tortoises can enjoy playing with toys too. Balls, particularly those made of natural materials, can offer an interesting diversion for your pet. Gentle nudging and pushing the ball around their enclosure can keep them active and entertained. Additionally, if the enclosure space permits, small ramps or uneven surfaces can encourage exploration and exercise, providing both physical and mental stimulation.

A New Environment?

Another thing to consider with all the weird behavior is that your tortoise is just trying to get used to its space. If this is a new pet, then it is likely in an unfamiliar environment. Your tortoise may be trying to climb the walls in order to ‘escape’ to the home it already knows. You might find that within a week or two it will be used to its new surroundings and will stop trying to get out.

Common Health Issues That Could Trigger Strange Behavior

The health of a tortoise plays a critical role in their behavior. When a tortoise is feeling unwell or suffering from an ailment, they may exhibit unusual behaviors as a way to cope or signal discomfort. One such behavior could be trying to climb the walls of their enclosure.

Metabolic Bone Disease

A common health issue in captive tortoises is Metabolic Bone DiseaseOpens in a new tab. (MBD). This condition, often caused by inadequate UVB light exposure or improper diet, leads to weak and deformed shells and bones. A tortoise suffering from MBD may exhibit odd behaviors like frequent hiding or, in our case of interest, attempting to climb walls. If you notice soft spots on your tortoise’s shell or a decrease in their usual activity, it could be a sign of MBD.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are also a common affliction among tortoises. These infections can cause discomfort and breathing difficulties, potentially leading to restlessness and unusual behaviors like wall-climbing. Symptoms include wheezing or gasping for breath, nasal discharge, and lethargy. If your tortoise exhibits any of these signs, it’s important to seek immediate veterinary help.

Parasitic Infections

Internal parasites, like worms, can make a tortoise feel uncomfortable and act strangely. These pests may also cause changes in appetite and weight loss, leading to weak and stressed tortoises. Such stress can lead to unusual behaviors such as wall-climbing. Regular fecal examinations can help detect any parasitic infestations early on.

Understanding these health issues can help you quickly identify and address any potential problems that may be causing your tortoise to act out of character. Maintaining a proper diet, regular vet checks, and an appropriate habitat setup can go a long way towards preventing such health issues and ensuring a happy and healthy tortoise.

Expert Tips for Handling Wall-Climbing Behavior

Climbing walls could signal that your tortoise is stressed, uncomfortable, or just inquisitive. The situation can be managed, and there are several expert-endorsed strategies to help curb this behavior.

Provide Appropriate Enclosure Size

Firstly, it’s essential to provide a suitable environment for your tortoise. If you notice your tortoise climbing frequently, it may be an indication that your enclosure isn’t big enough. Ideally, the enclosure size should allow your tortoise to move around freely and explore different spaces. This not only allows them to exercise but also satisfies their curiosity, reducing the need to climb.

Environment Enrichment

Incorporating enrichment into your tortoise’s habitat can have a significant impact on curbing wall-climbing behavior. Simple changes like introducing safe climbing objects, such as ramps or basking platforms, can give your tortoise the thrill of climbing in a controlled manner. Adding new plants or hideaways can also stimulate their sense of exploration and keep them interested in their surroundings.

Dietary Adjustments

Believe it or not, diet could also play a role in your tortoise’s behavior. Ensure your tortoise is receiving a balanced and nutritious diet. Lack of certain nutrients or overfeeding can lead to restlessness or discomfort, prompting unusual behaviors such as wall climbing.

Regular Health Check-ups

Finally, regular health check-ups are crucial to ensure your tortoise is not displaying these behaviors due to an underlying health issue. If your tortoise’s wall-climbing behavior continues despite implementing these tips, it’s a good idea to consult a vet or a professional reptileOpens in a new tab. handler for advice.

Remember, every tortoise is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Being patient and attentive to your tortoise’s needs is the key to ensuring a comfortable and happy environment for them.

My Tortoise Keeps Trying to Climb the Walls – Conclusion

There could be a few reasons for your tortoise trying to climb the walls of its enclosure. This behavior is common among pet tortoises. It could be a part of their mating instinct and desire to explore. However, it’s crucial to ensure that the behavior is not due to an underlying health issue. Implementing mental and physical stimulation techniques, providing a diverse habitat, and giving your tortoise a balanced diet can greatly reduce unusual behaviors. If the behavior continues, it’s a good idea to consult with a vet or a tortoise care expert to ensure that your beloved pet remains comfortable and healthy.

Key Takeaways

  1. Climbing behavior in tortoises is a common phenomenon.
  2. Testosterone levels can impact the behavior of male tortoises.
  3. A diverse habitat and mental/physical stimulation techniques can reduce unusual behaviors.
  4. A tortoise exhibiting unusual behaviors may be a sign of underlying health issues, such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
  5. Regular health check-ups are crucial to ensure your tortoise’s well-being.
  6. Adjusting a tortoise’s diet can improve their behavior.
  7. Being attentive to your tortoise’s needs is key to ensuring their happiness.


Q: Why does my tortoise try to climb the walls of its enclosure?

A: There could be several reasons for this behavior. Your tortoise may be trying to escape due to stress, discomfort, lack of space, or simply out of curiosity. Some tortoises also attempt climbing during mating season due to increased hormones.

Q: Is wall-climbing behavior normal in tortoises?

A: While it’s not unusual for tortoises to try to explore their environment, constant attempts to climb walls could indicate that something is not right in their enclosure. It might mean that the enclosure is too small, or it’s not enriched enough, or it could be a sign of health issues.

Q: What does wall-climbing indicate about my tortoise’s health?

A: If your tortoise constantly tries to climb the walls of its enclosure, it might be experiencing stress or discomfort. However, it could also indicate a potential health problem. If you’ve made necessary changes to the environment and your tortoise continues this behavior, a vet check-up is recommended.

Q: Could wall-climbing be related to my tortoise’s diet?

A: Yes, an improper diet could lead to restlessness or discomfort in your tortoise, prompting behaviors like wall climbing. Ensure that your tortoise is getting a balanced and nutritious diet.

Q: Can the enclosure material affect my tortoise’s wall-climbing behavior?

A: Absolutely. Tortoises can get confused by glass enclosures, leading them to try to escape. A wooden enclosure may be a better option, as it can make your tortoise feel more secure.

Q: Can changing the layout of the enclosure discourage my tortoise from climbing the walls?

A: Yes, rearranging the enclosure can distract your tortoise and may reduce the desire to climb. Consider introducing new items or changing the locations of existing items to spark your tortoise’s interest.

Q: What kind of enrichment activities can I provide to deter wall climbing?

A: You can introduce safe climbing objects such as ramps or basking platforms, new plants, or hideaways into your tortoise’s enclosure. These elements can satisfy their curiosity and keep them interested in their surroundings.

Q: Should I be worried if my new tortoise is trying to climb the walls?

A: New pets often need time to adjust to their surroundings. Your tortoise may be trying to escape to the home it already knows. Within a week or two, your tortoise should start getting used to its new home and this behavior may decrease.

Q: Does the species of my tortoise affect wall-climbing behavior?

A: The species of your tortoise can influence its behavior. For instance, Russian tortoises are notorious for trying to climb walls. Understanding the specific behaviors of your tortoise’s species can help you provide the right environment.

Q: Can my tortoise injure itself by climbing the walls?

A: Yes, if the tortoise loses its grip and falls, it could potentially harm itself. It’s important to ensure that the enclosure is safe and suitable for your tortoise.

Q: How high should the walls of my tortoise’s enclosure be?

A: The side walls should be at least twelve inches higher than the height of your tortoise when it is standing tall on its hind legs. This can help prevent your tortoise from successfully climbing over the walls.

Q: Does wall-climbing behavior decrease as the tortoise ages?

A: Not necessarily. Wall-climbing behavior is more related to the conditions of the environment and the tortoise’s health than age.


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I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

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