Tortoises are generally mild-mannered reptiles, so if your pet suddenly starts trying to bite you, it can come as a bit of a shock. A question I often hear from new owners is ‘why is my tortoise biting me?’ This generally does not happen immediately and is often the result of hormones. Below I have listed some of the reasons why tortoises try to bite people.
Male tortoises in the wild will try to bite each other to assert their dominance. So, while a tortoise may not try to bite your fingers or toes when you first get it as a pet, once it reaches sexual maturity you might see a change in its behavior as it starts to gets frustrated without a female to mate with.
A tortoise might also bite in order to defend itself. So if for some reason it is viewing you as a threat, it might try to bite when you approach. When a tortoise moves to a new home, it can take some time for it to get used to its surroundings. It is best to avoid handling it too much in the first couple of weeks after a move as it gets to know its way around its new home.
While doing research on this topic, I found that many experienced tortoise owners have reported that their pets often mistake fingers for food. Those that have been handfed also associate fingers with feeding time and will hence snap when hungry.
Why is My Tortoise Aggressive?
Biting can be seen as an aggressive behavior by some newbie tortoise owners, but this is not always the case. As mentioned, hunger can often cause tortoises to bite as they might mistake fingers for food.
However, tortoises are quite territorial by nature and some do become aggressive in a bid to mark their territory and display their dominance. It is important not to allow your tortoise free reign in your home as it could reach a stage where it starts to see it as ‘its’ home rather than yours. You might then be mistaken as a trespasser in your tortoise’s territory, so it will try to defend itself from you by attacking and biting.
What To Do if a Tortoise Bites You?
A tortoise will rarely bite for no reason, so it is important to establish the cause of the biting if you want it to stop. If biting has occurred because your tortoise is new, it may be that it is stressed out due to the change in surroundings.
If this is the case, try to give it time to get used to its new environment. Only approach the enclosure to offer food and water for a couple of weeks. This should be long enough for the tortoise to get accustomed to its new space.
If your tortoise is biting you because it is mistaking your fingers or toes for food, it is best to avoid feeding it by hand or walking near to it without shoes on.
Once you have figured out the reason for the biting, you will be able to make adjustments to try to prevent this behavior from continuing.
If you have been bitten by your pet, it is important that you wash the area in soapy water. If the skin is broken, contact your doctor for advice. Your doctor will tell you if you need any additional treatment.
Tortoises may bite for various reasons including hunger, fear, and to display dominance. It is a good idea to work out what is causing the biting so that you can take steps to prevent this from happening going forward.
- Featured Image (Red-Footed Tortoise): Bjoertvedt – CC BY-SA 3.0
- Radiated Tortoise: Charles James Sharp – CC BY-SA 4.0