Can you mix 'em? The answer is no

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GeoTerraTestudo

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We often get threads in which people ask, "Can I keep tortoises of different species, or tortoises and box turtles together?" The answer is almost always "No," and here's why:

1) Environmental requirements - Different tortoise species (and box turtles) often come from different types of climates. Different moisture and temperature levels can make it difficult to mix species successfully. Sometimes, their requirements may be quite similar, but then other considerations come into play.

2) Behavioral incompatibility - Some species are more solitary than others, or may use slightly different body language postures. Thus, when you put tortoises in together with other kinds of tortoises or box turtles, they may not be able to communicate or understand each other's signals. They may also have different requirements for individual space or time alone. This can lead to fights breaking out, and to stress, injury, or death.

3) Hybridization - If the animals do get along, then in the absence of their own kind, males and females might hybridize. This is not good, because it can lead to what's known as genetic pollution, or the compromising of each parent species' genetic integrity.

4) Disease transmission - Finally, even if none of the above things happen, one more serious problem still remains, and that is the spread of diseases. Different species have evolved in isolation from each other for millions of years. Over that time, they have come to acquire resistance to a certain set of diseases. The animals may serve as carriers for these diseases, and not be seriously harmed. However, if other species are exposed to those same diseases, they may quickly become very ill and even die, simply because they have little or no defense.

Despite these risks, some people still mix species and get away with it, not experiencing any of the problems outlined above. However, that's still taking a chance, and it could backfire at any time. It's best not to mix species, and to keep tortoises and box turtles in single-species groups, according to the space and environmental requirements of their kind. :tort:
 

terryo

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I have raised both my Cherry Head's with Box Turtles. Pio, who is now 6 lived with a Three Toed. They were both 1 month old and from breeders who I knew raised clean animals. They both required the same environment, heat, humidity, and lighting. The only thing I did differently was feed protein to the Cherry Head every two weeks instead of every day as I did the Three Toed. They lived together for three years with no problems. I would never do this if they were older, and needed different requirements, and came from breeders that I didn't know. But I don't see anything wrong with this if they are both hatchlings, who need the same requirements. I know many friends who have box turtles and RF's living together for many years in their yard with no problems.
Solo is three now and has been living with a Three Toed since he was a hatchling. This is the first Summer that he is with Pio and not a Box Turtle.
I've never said that this is the right way to do things, just the way I did it. I would never put any of my animals together if they needed different requirements, or they were from breeders I didn't know, or not the same age (hatchlings).
 

FLINTUS

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I agree, but as proved above it can be done successfully. However I would never recommend you mix species. Now here we have a bigger debate: subspecies? I think most would say don't mix Regional Variations when you don't know where they're from? Well, that might lead to a good discussion
 

GeoTerraTestudo

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terryo said:
I have raised both my Cherry Head's with Box Turtles. Pio, who is now 6 lived with a Three Toed. They were both 1 month old and from breeders who I knew raised clean animals. They both required the same environment, heat, humidity, and lighting. The only thing I did differently was feed protein to the Cherry Head every two weeks instead of every day as I did the Three Toed. They lived together for three years with no problems. I would never do this if they were older, and needed different requirements, and came from breeders that I didn't know. But I don't see anything wrong with this if they are both hatchlings, who need the same requirements. I know many friends who have box turtles and RF's living together for many years in their yard with no problems.
Solo is three now and has been living with a Three Toed since he was a hatchling. This is the first Summer that he is with Pio and not a Box Turtle.
I've never said that this is the right way to do things, just the way I did it. I would never put any of my animals together if they needed different requirements, or they were from breeders I didn't know, or not the same age (hatchlings).

Terry, I had you in my mind when I started this thread. I think your case is the exception that proves the rule. :D Why have you succeeded mixing species when so many others have had disastrous outcomes? I think it's for the following reasons:

- Your redfoots and boxies have similar environmental and dietary requirements. Therefore, you can keep them together without favoring one species over the other.

- Neither redfoots nor boxies are particularly territorial or aggressive species, and they are even somewhat gregarious as chelonians go. Therefore, they are able to cohabitate without conflict, and may even benefit from the company.

- Because three-toed boxies are terrestrial pond turtles, and cherryheaded redfoots are true tortoises, these two species are not closely related, and it is impossible for them to hybridize with each other.

- As you mentioned, you've had these animals their whole lives, and kept them healthy, in good condition, and disease-free. Therefore, they pose less of a disease risk to each other than newly introduced animals, who could be carriers. I also wonder whether it's easier for torties to catch diseases from other torties, and boxies from other boxies, but harder for the two groups to transmit diseases to each other. If they can, I don't know if the disease would be more or less severe than in its native group. Sounds like an interesting topic for research.

This is why, in my OP, I said that one should "almost always" avoid mixing species. People can get away with it in a few cases, but as a general rule, it should be avoided.




FLINTUS said:
I agree, but as proved above it can be done successfully. However I would never recommend you mix species. Now here we have a bigger debate: subspecies? I think most would say don't mix Regional Variations when you don't know where they're from? Well, that might lead to a good discussion

I would only mix subspecies if the species were critically endangered, and the only way to keep it alive was to outcross.
 

terryo

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As you mentioned, you've had these animals their whole lives, and kept them healthy, in good condition, and disease-free. Therefore, they pose less of a disease risk to each other than newly introduced animals, who could be carriers. I also wonder whether it's easier for torties to catch diseases from other torties, and boxies from other boxies, but harder for the two groups to transmit diseases to each other. If they can, I don't know if the disease would be more or less severe than in its native group. Sounds like an interesting topic for research.

Many years ago before there was an Internet, and in the days when you couldn't find a good herp vet, my Dad had friends that kept box turtles with a few tortoises. I don't know what kind they were as I was a kid and not too interested. I do remember that their friend gave them a tortoise that he got off a ship, which he never bothered to quarantine, and after 6 months all his tortoises started to die, until there were none left. The box turtles were fine. In those days most everything came off a ship, and box turtles were all over the woods for the taking. Our oldest box turtle was with my Father way before I was born, and was well over 65 when he died only two years ago.
 

GeoTerraTestudo

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FLINTUS said:
agree with above, Didn't give your opinion on regional variation though?

Above the species level, offspring viability and fertility are often compromised. However, there are several levels of classification at the species level and below that are capable of freely interbreeding (producing offspring that are fully viable and fertile):

- Species: Animals of similar genotype and phenotype.
- Subspecies: Members of the same species (conspecifics) from different areas with slight divergence in genotype and phenotype.
- Intergrade: Conspecifics whose subspecies designation is indeterminate.
- Regional variant: Conspecifics from different areas with less divergence than that of subspecies.
- Strain: Conspecifics that differ in only one allele or trait.
- Breed: Artificially selected animals bred for a certain suite of traits (Note: breeds are found only in fish, birds, and mammals).
- Morph: Artificially selected animals bred for a certain appearance.

I'm not a big fan of morphs, and see no reason to perpetuate them. I'm not convinced that strains need to be bred exclusively, either. However, when it comes to variants, intergrades, and subspecies, you could lose some important adaptive traits that enhance fitness in a certain environment when you outcross them, and this is why I think the term "genetic pollution" is appropriate here. Again, if a species faces extinction, then I think outcrossing is justified. Otherwise, though, I think we should maintain as much fidelity to natural types as possible.


terryo said:
Many years ago before there was an Internet, and in the days when you couldn't find a good herp vet, my Dad had friends that kept box turtles with a few tortoises. I don't know what kind they were as I was a kid and not too interested. I do remember that their friend gave them a tortoise that he got off a ship, which he never bothered to quarantine, and after 6 months all his tortoises started to die, until there were none left. The box turtles were fine. In those days most everything came off a ship, and box turtles were all over the woods for the taking. Our oldest box turtle was with my Father way before I was born, and was well over 65 when he died only two years ago.

Very interesting anecdote. Well, it is possible that the tortoises and box turtles were just too dissimilar to infect each other, or too different for the disease from one to have much of an affect on the other. On the other hand, some diseases can jump taxonomic barriers, so I think it's still worth being careful about mixing chelonians that don't naturally co-occur, even if they're from different families.
 
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