The great debate: turtle sociality

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GeoTerraTestudo

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All right, let's have it out. Just how sociable are turtles, anyway? :D

Like most people, I have stated that, with few exceptions, turtles are essentially solitary animals. In most species, turtles spend most of their time alone, except when coming together briefly to mate. Other than that, if two turtles meet, they either ignore each other or fight.

As I said, there are exceptions. In the pond turtle families (Emydidae and Geoemydidae), individuals can be seen in close proximity to each other much of the time. Here in North America, painted turtles, chicken turtles, sliders, and cooters regularly bask in groups on logs, and in the Old World, European pond turtles and Caspian turtles may be found swimming in loose groups. Are these animals congregating, or merely aggregating?

When it comes to tortoises, some have pointed out that redfoots seem to rest together when they could do so separately, suggesting that they could enjoy each other's company. Manouria species may be the most gregarious of tortoises, with their complex behaviors, and their tendency to do well in groups. Again, perhaps these two species are at least a little bit social.

Growing up, I had box turtles, and quickly figured out that these animals tolerate each other's company well, but when given enough space, they go their separate ways. Again, other than territorial fighting between males, or mating between the sexes, boxies certainly seem solitary.

I thought the same of the Russian tortoises I have now. My male often harassed the female, not only at feeding time, but also when I allowed them to interact. I concluded that, as many have said, Russian are aggressive and not gregarious. I noticed a few cute behaviors, but I dismissed them ... until now.

This year, it seems like my Russian pair actually like spending time together. I haven't seen them fight yet, and it's not only the male who seeks out the female; sometimes she seeks him out, too. When they meet, they sniff noses and vents (almost like dogs). The male is usually the one to bob his head at the female, but sometimes she returns the greeting. Also, despite having plenty of space and hiding place in their outdoor enclosure on my porch, lately they have been resting together as well.

What could account for this? Is it because they hibernated, and now feel like mating? If so, why is the male being such a perfect gentleman around the female. He hasn't bitten her once yet this season. And why are they hanging out together so much? Could it be that they actually enjoy each other's company? Could it be that even the aloof Russian tortoise likes spending time with its own kind every once in a while?

When in doubt, I have always told people to get only one box turtle or tortoise. Only if they have plenty of room, or plan to breed their boxie or tortie, do they need to worry about getting more than one. Otherwise, their pet will be better off alone, as they usually are in nature. I still stand by that advice as a default precautionary measure, but I have always wondered how much these animals interact with their conspecifics in the wild, and how important it is to allow that in captivity. I am glad I have two Russians, which have their own pens, but are still allowed to interact with each other from time to time.

In nature most tortoises are usually on their own, but maybe they still like to meet and greet others of their own kind every once in a while. If that is the case, do they not really miss it much when kept alone? Or is it better if they can continue doing so in captivity? As I said, I think it's better to keep them alone than to crowd them, but if possible, I think it's better still to keep a few so they can still associate with each other from time to time, which is probably what they do in the wild. What do you think?[/i]
 

terryo

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I haven't put my only two Cherryheads together and I have no other experience with tortoises, but being around box turtles all my life, I can tell you of my experience with them. Right now I have 7 in the outdoor garden, and I always see the two that I got from the same rescue together. At night when everyone digs under these two always go in the little cave together. The little Three Toed, who is the youngest in there, will usually pair off with Chewy, an Eastern, She follows her all over the garden, and will even stop eating when Chewy finishes her food, and will go where she goes in the garden. I don't know why, but they did this all last Summer. Then there's Pio (my Cherry Head) who was raised since she was a hatchling with a little Three Toed hatchling. After three years together,I took the TT out and Pio completely stopped eating and paced her vivarium for three days, and finally went in her hide, and didn't come out, until I finally put the TT back in. When they were finally separated, Pio took a long time to adjust to being without her, and seemed very stressed.
 

ascott

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Man, boy do I wish I had a way to know what went on their heads...it just would be so helpful in so many ways....lol :D
 

JoeImhof

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From lots of observation, I can say for sure that my Russians will invariably gravite to each other when they see each other.
Certainly the male will run to female when he sees her, but not only that, she will eventually make her way to near him if he is uninterested and she has no place better to run off to.

But that of course doesnt mean necessarily that makes them sociable. Seems just as likely that since they are solitary in the wild, they might be programed to get together on the occassions they see another tort. I'm guessing those times would be rare in the wild, and might be why they seem to have it in them to come over to the other when they see others.
 
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