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There is a common misconception that tortoises are animals that rarely move about or, that when they do, move like sloths. This is not always the case; in fact, some tortoises are extremely active and spend hours each day roaming about their enclosures. So what is normal behavior for a tortoise? And should you be worried if your tortoise appears to be overly active?
Movement of a Healthy Tortoise
It is important to note that tortoises like to be warm, but they cannot regulate their body temperature as they are cold-blooded creatures. Ideally, your tortoise’s enclosure should have a temperature gradient whereby one side is warmer than the other. This allows your pet to move between the different temperatures when it becomes too hot or too cool. You can achieve this gradient with special heat lamps. If you’re interested, Amazon sells a great range. Click here to take a look (opens in a new tab).
Contrary to popular belief, tortoises can move quite quickly when warm enough. In fact, these creatures can move between three and five miles per hour if necessary (although they do not normally move at these speeds though).
A healthy tortoise will walk about with its bottom shell off the ground. As it moves about its enclosure it will move objects that are in its way and may even try to squeeze through gaps. You might even notice it digs and scratches around its enclosure. Rest assured though that this is all completely normal behavior.
Is Pacing Normal?
You might also notice that your tortoise paces back and forth; this is also completely normal. In the wild, tortoises can walk for miles, so it is in their nature to walk about. In a small enclosure, they have little option but to pace up and down to replicate this ‘walking for miles. Tortoises tend to pace more when kept in small enclosures made from glass, so bear this in mind.
Nevertheless, glass walls and floors are not the ideal choice when it comes to tortoise enclosures as the creatures cannot understand why they cannot get to where they want to go because of this ‘invisible-to-them barrier.’ They can see through the glass but cannot get past it, which can lead to frustrated pacing. Nonetheless, even tortoises kept in non-glass enclosures will pace back and forth from time to time.
A New Enclosure?
If you have recently moved your tortoise to a new enclosure, do not be surprised if it seems overly active. It is not uncommon for tortoises to roam around a new enclosure exploring as it tries to get used to its new surroundings.
An overly active tortoise is not usually anything to worry about provided yours is not showing any signs of ill-health. However, if you are worried about your tortoise for whatever reason, I strongly recommend calling a vet for advice.
- Featured Image (Radiated Tortoise): Charles James Sharp – CC BY-SA 4.0
- Gopher Tortoise: Andrea Westmoreland – CC BY-SA 2.0
- Red-Footed Tortoise: Bjoertvedt – CC BY-SA 3.0
- African Spurred Tortoise: Melissa Mitchell – CC BY-SA 3.0