Why Do Tortoises Bob Their Heads? Expert Explains

Turtles are slow, but they have an advantage over many other animals because their shells provide protection. The shell is also a great tool for swimming through the water and as a place to lay eggs or rest on land. But what about when they aren’t in the water?

When turtles walk around on dry land, how do they protect themselves from predators? One way that tortoises avoid being eaten by predators is by bobbing their heads up and down as they walk. They’re not actually trying to dodge any attacks – instead, this motion may be used to detect vibrations in the ground that could indicate approaching danger.

It’s thought that these motions might be triggered by something like the sound of footsteps which alerts them so quickly that it gives them time to retreat to a safer place. Bobbing their heads up and down may give them a better idea of what is around them, too.

There are other possible reason for the head bobbing, though.

Tortoises are not social animals, and they don’t usually spend time being close to one another. However, you may have seen tortoises bobbing or banging their heads.  This is also a natural behaviour of tortoises before mating. You can say it is a mating call from a male tortoise to see if the female tortoise is ready or not.

The male tortoise also confirms that the other tortoise is a male or a female through this behaviour. If the other tortoise is a male, a fight begins between the two. If the other tortoise is female, she will respond to the male’s call, and they will mate.

Male tortoise also smells the cloacal region of female. A gravid female tortoise is the one carrying the egg inside the body. Smelling the cloacal region of females confirms the gravid female tortoise. The male tortoise also smells the pheromones coming out of the female tortoise, telling that she is ready to mate. 

There can be yet other reasons to bob/bang heads. Male tortoises can do it to mark their territory, bully smaller tortoises or tortoises of other breeds. It is unlikely that tortoises mate with the partner of the other breed. Tortoise can also express this behaviour to defend their food.

Bobbin/banging heads can start from any age. There is no specific age for your tortoise to express this behaviour.

Why Does My Tortoise Squeak?

If you are a tortoise owner, you may have experienced your tortoise squeaking or making a whistling sound. Well! You may feel this sound is interesting, but it is a sign of abnormality in the respiratory system. If somehow your tort gets an infection of the respiratory tract, the nasal discharge will emit out of the nostrils.

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Excessive nasal discharge can block the passage of air inside the nasal cavity. It will result in squeaking or whistling every time air passes through the nasal cavity. If you listen to your tort making a whistling sound, you should check her nostrils for nasal discharge. If you observe nasal discharge, immediately see your veterinarian.

There can also be other reasons for squeaking or whistling. Sometimes squeaking or whistling can be part of mating behaviour. It has been observed in several animals that males and females make different kinds of voices before and during the mating process.

Before mating, such voices are meant to attract and make the partner ready for mating. You can observe the same behaviour in your tort. Your tort may make a whistling sound as a part of the mating ritual. If you don’t observe any respiratory infection symptoms, then it is pretty much normal for your tort to make a squeak.

Why Does My Tortoise Keep Scratching?

Scratching is a behaviour that can be the result of stress. Your tortoise may feel the stress of a small enclosure because it gives the feeling of being trapped. Furthermore, your tort may scratch due to a lack of substrate.

Whatever the cause is, your tortoise scratch when it is upset or stressed. You should follow the guidelines to make your tortoise relax and prevent it from scratching.

Adequately Sized Cage

Your tortoise cage should be of adequate size. A small-sized cage gives the feeling of being trapped. Your tortoise gets stressed out of fear and may stop eating and pooping. If your tortoise stops eating, other health complications will follow. Therefore, it is advised to make an adequately sized cage for your tort.

Your tortoise cage should be of the size your tort can quickly move and do some exercise. A good cage must have three spacious regions of the temperature gradient.

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There should be one high-temperature area for basking, one area of cool temperature, and one of moderate temperature. So, if you design your cage keeping the temperature gradient in your mind, your tort’s cage will be adequately spacious.

Provide Adequate Substrate

Tortoise is burrowing animals, and they should be provided substrate to express their natural behaviour. Expression of natural behaviour is essential to maintain the health and wellbeing of your tort.

Tortoises get stressed if they don’t express their natural behaviour. Adequate substrate offers them an excellent option to dig and cover themselves under it.

Tortoise owners in Facebook groups also mention that lack of substrate can result in the scratching behaviour of your tort. Therefore, you should provide adequate substrate to your tortoise if you observe your tort scratching a lot.

Why Is My Tortoise Pacing?

Your tortoise may be pacing from being bored. Turtles and tortoises can’t handle living in an environment with no light cycle. Try putting your turtle in a spot with morning sunlight for 10 minutes, then to its preferred habitat for the rest of the day.

If you’re still concerned about your pet’s health, contact a veterinarian or animal care professional. They will be able to tell you if something is wrong or it is just a natural behavior of your pet.

Another reason for tortoises pacing can be stress. If you’ve just brought home a new tortoise, your pet might be experiencing mild stress from the move. Stress is one of the leading causes for pacing tortoises.

There are times when tortoises pace because they are sick and need medical attention, such as dehydration or parasites. If you notice any signs of illness or infection with your tortoise, it is best to visit a veterinarian to check on the cause of your tortoise’s pacing.

The expression of natural behaviour is essential for the health and wellbeing of your tort. If your tortoise cage is too small, it may cause your tort to pace. In wild conditions, the herbivore tortoise is habitual to walk long distances in search of food.

They need to walk inside the cage, too; therefore, you should provide as big an enclosure as possible. If your tortoise enclosure is large enough and you see your tort pacing, you should not bother because it is their natural pace. However, you should provide enough space for your tort to walk around.

Why Does My Tortoise Pee (Urinate) When I Pick Her Up?

Your tortoise is probably urinating due to being frightened or being held for a long time on its back. If you are preparing your tortoise for transportation, make sure that you hold an adult, healthy tortoise in the upright position or it will inevitably urinate from the excessive shaking and turning.

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Tortoises have evolved over time so they have fully functional kidneys. They just tend to take a long time to release all of what is inside of them as opposed to mammals with shorter intestines which burp food content after eating.

I already mentioned that tortoises are not social animals. They don’t like being in your hand, lap or cuddling on your bed. They immediately get scared when you pick them up. This can also be a reason why your tortoise will pee if you pick her up.

If your tortoise urinates when you pick her up, she is very likely scared. It is their defence mechanism to urinate (pee), and therefore, you should avoid disturbing your tortoises with your presence. If this situation happens, you should hydrate your tortoises to make up for the loss of fluid. 

Why Does My Tortoise Hide Inside The Shell?

Your tortoise might be scared and it is their defense mechanism to hide inside the shell. You should ensure that its enclosure is large enough for the tortoise to crawl around, as well as providing safe substrate.

Your tortoise has a defence mechanism to hide inside the shell whenever it observes danger. Hiding inside the shell is a passive mechanism that your tortoise expresses whenever it is frightened. If your tortoise does this more often, you should eliminate anything disturbing for your tort.

If you are a non-conventional pet lover and love to keep tortoises at your home, you should have all the essential knowledge about your tortoise. You should know their needs, desires, management and natural behaviours to keep them healthy and happy.

Tortoises are one of the most rewarding pets to take care of. They’re also some of the more challenging animals to find information on, which is why we created this post for you!

Hopefully, with these insights into tortoise behavior and cognition, you can provide your pet with a healthy habitat that they will love exploring in. You should also know how to pick up your turtle without them urinating or hiding inside their shell from fright.

If you have any questions about caring for your pet tortoise, please let us know and our team will be happy to try to help answer anything! We hope this article has been helpful as a starting point for understanding your little adventure buddy.