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Why not to keep 2 tortoises together - a lesson learned the hard way

erickrawls

New Member
Joined
Oct 23, 2018
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Shawnee oklahoma
This is a copy/paste of an article I wrote on my blog last year. I've seen several new keepers ask the question of whether they should get a 'friend' for their tortoise, and so rather than keeping on linking to my blog (which feels kinda self-promoting, which is not my intent), I am creating a thread on the TFO that has the article. @Tom and others have been saying this for a long time - this is nothing new, I've just added fun pictures. :)

Today I would like to write about an important lesson that I learned the hard way a few years ago: it is not a good idea to keep 2 tortoises together (yes, there are exceptions).

When tortoise owners ask me if I think they should get a second tortoise, I tell them: only if they plan to get a second enclosure. Then I advise them to spend the money on spoiling their 1 tortoise first: build a big outdoor enclosure, enlarge the indoor enclosure, upgrade the lighting. Put some money into savings for emergency vet care (you'll need it at some point during your tortoise's 80 or so years of life!).

...."But she's so.... lonely!"

Believe me, I've been there. Humans seek companionship, as do many other mammals. We like to project our own feelings onto our pets, and so, we assume that our tortoise would be happier with a 'friend.' Please know that I am not judging you for wanting to get another tortoise. Getting a little 'friend' for a tortoise can be so tempting. The truth is: (except for a few species like redfoot torts, aldabras, or pancake torts), most tortoises are loners in the wild. They roam several acres, and only occasionally encounter other tortoises. If a tortoise encounters another, they will fight, mate, or both. Then they wander apart again (or one is chased away by the other).



If you are thinking of getting your pet tortoise a 'buddy' then I hope you read my story first, and put some serious thought into your decision after reading about my experience. Keeping 2 tortoises together (especially of the testudo species) is NOT a cake walk.


In reality, it will look like this... *BITE!* ... a lot of the time.

If you get a male and a female, after much biting and bullying, there will be plenty of mating too. More than there would ever be in nature. Enough mating to kill the female.



If the female can't get away from the male, he will seek her out again and again (more than in nature, since there she CAN get away). My friend rescued a tortoise female earlier this year whose vent was terribly infected and torn and chafed and ripped from all the mating. It took her a long time to heal.


The infected, oozing, puss-filled tail of my friend's rescued female that was mated too much.
(I'm posting a small picture just so it's not too gross)


Here is how I learned my lesson:

I started out with one female Russian tortoise, Timmy. After I had her for a few years, I decided I'd like to get a second tortoise. A few knowledgeable people on the tortoise forums advised against this. They warned me that tortoises, especially the testudo species (to which Russian tortoises belong) are very territorial. They told me that the tortoises would compete for food, for the basking spot, for space. They told me that they would bite and ram, and one would become stressed, hurt, and might die.


"Timmy needs a friend. My tortoises will be different and won't fight."

For some reason, I was convinced that 'my' tortoises would be different. I set up a my enclosure with lots of site barriers. I soon adopted a little male, Roz. For the first 18 or so months, everything went well. There were NO signs of aggression, both tortoises ate together, basked together, slept together. Yay! My tortoises were the exception!


Wait. What?! My male is biting my female?! Oh no!

Then one day, Roz matured. Roz discovered that he was a rapist little man-tortoise with needs and urges. Roz discovered that he didn't like sharing his food. Roz discovered that he could boss Timmy around, in spite of being half her size. Roz became a big, mean, bossy, biting bully. Timmy lost scales on her legs, and even got a bite wound on her face once. Roz got to spend a lot of time in the time-out bin until I separated him permanently.

Watch this video of Roz bobbing his head at Timmy (which is territorial behavior), and then circling her and biting her:

In the wild, this is 'normal' courting behavior. However, in the wild, the female can get away! In captivity, while both tortoises were kept in the same enclosure, Roz wanted to mate with Timmy 15+ times each day. He spent his spare time bullying her away from the food or the basking spot. Timmy started to become withdrawn, and wanted to hide and sleep all the time. I separated the two, and she started eating again, thank goodness.

Now, the 'easy' solution would have been to re-home Roz. This, however, was not an option for me. I had made a commitment to care for him, and did not want to break this commitment. The 'harder' solution was to a) separate my male, b) build a larger enclosure, and c) get a little harem of female tortoises for him. It took me nearly a year to find females, since in the pet trade, most tortoises are male. I finally got Mila and Jill, and then Lady.



I know that some people will advise that two female tortoises will get along fine. I disagree: one will always be the underdog. At least for testudo species, if you want to keep multiple females together, you should get 3 or more. This way they are less likely to fight, and the bullying will be divided a little among them.
During the Summer, the tortoises happily (and peacefully) lived outside in the large tortoise garden I built them. They will be divided over several indoor tortoise tables for the winter.


They spread out over the entire tortoise garden, except to eat.

IF you decide you want more than 1 tortoise, please avoid keeping 2 males together, or 1 male and 1 female. Either 3 females (with LOTS of space) or 1 male and 3+ females might work... but even then, you may find yourself needing a degree in tortoise diplomatics!

IF you decide to keep multiple tortoises, please remember that the enclosure size must adjust accordingly for multiple tortoises! If the absolute minimum size for 1 tortoise is 2'x4', then each additional tortoise will need at least that much more space. As always, larger is better when it comes to tortoise enclosures!
Thank you for that. My wife and I are having the same problem. Our male Rocky is always biting and trying to mate with our female Starla. Both are Russian. We are going to have a new indoor home built real soon, and like you said Starla is twice his size but he still will bully her. I plan to have there new home built to fit in a corner with a 90 degree turn in the middle with a divider door. So both sides are the same.
 
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jUMPSu1t

Member
Joined
Nov 11, 2018
Messages
32
Location (City and/or State)
Los Angeles
My tortoises (one male, one female) have never mated, seem afraid to do so, and I’m not sure that the would ever do it. It’s weird; my male seems so submissive that he would let my girl jump HIM if he got the chance. Weird.
 

Crzt4torts

Active Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Messages
235
Location (City and/or State)
Northeastern US
1110181601_HDR.jpg
My tortoises (one male, one female) have never mated, seem afraid to do so, and I’m not sure that the would ever do it. It’s weird; my male seems so submissive that he would let my girl jump HIM if he got the chance. Weird.
I had my male/female together for over 13 years before they became interested in each other...I believe the female was just young. Then he began pestering her, I separated them and she is much happier and healthier, gained some weight. She also laid numerous eggs and has 3 hatch, almost 3 years ago. While the babies are currently together and thriving, I will be separating them once a bit older, or if any sign of discord.
 

Crzt4torts

Active Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Messages
235
Location (City and/or State)
Northeastern US
View attachment 257332
I had my male/female together for over 13 years before they became interested in each other...I believe the female was just young. Then he began pestering her, I separated them and she is much happier and healthier, gained some weight. She also laid numerous eggs and has 3 hatch, almost 3 years ago. While the babies are currently together and thriving, I will be separating them once a bit older, or if any sign of discord.
1108180824.jpg
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Jan 9, 2010
Messages
47,205
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My tortoises (one male, one female) have never mated, seem afraid to do so, and I’m not sure that the would ever do it. It’s weird; my male seems so submissive that he would let my girl jump HIM if he got the chance. Weird.
They should be separated. Pairs are not the way to go.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
47,205
Location (City and/or State)
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View attachment 257332
I had my male/female together for over 13 years before they became interested in each other...I believe the female was just young. Then he began pestering her, I separated them and she is much happier and healthier, gained some weight. She also laid numerous eggs and has 3 hatch, almost 3 years ago. While the babies are currently together and thriving, I will be separating them once a bit older, or if any sign of discord.
Groups can sometimes work, especially juveniles. It is pairs that are the problem.
 

elizabeth marie

New Member
Joined
Sep 17, 2015
Messages
3
Location (City and/or State)
Scotland
I've never written here before but also wished I'd been on this forum before it was too late . . . .I have Torty (ingenious name) Russian male who is 13 now, I got him when he was 5 and when he was 7 I took in a "friend" for him . .Tattie aged 5 . .Tattie was dehydrated to near death but picked up with loving, warmth and food . .all was well with my beloveds' . . Until . Tattie matured and was healthy .. .butting ramming biting blocking constantly marauding Torty made Tatties life a misery . .I live in a flat with a small plot of garden in Scotland (Little sunshine) trying to share this out separately was murder . .it took 3 years to find another tortoise fan with suitable space and husbandry nearby (so i can stay in touch) before both torts were happy . .therefore me too :0) I also thought my Torty would be different . .I so agree with make no 1 tortoise homes (indoor and out) palatial Great Joy to happy tortoise owners !
 

Yvonne G

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I've never written here before but also wished I'd been on this forum before it was too late . . . .I have Torty (ingenious name) Russian male who is 13 now, I got him when he was 5 and when he was 7 I took in a "friend" for him . .Tattie aged 5 . .Tattie was dehydrated to near death but picked up with loving, warmth and food . .all was well with my beloveds' . . Until . Tattie matured and was healthy .. .butting ramming biting blocking constantly marauding Torty made Tatties life a misery . .I live in a flat with a small plot of garden in Scotland (Little sunshine) trying to share this out separately was murder . .it took 3 years to find another tortoise fan with suitable space and husbandry nearby (so i can stay in touch) before both torts were happy . .therefore me too :0) I also thought my Torty would be different . .I so agree with make no 1 tortoise homes (indoor and out) palatial Great Joy to happy tortoise owners !
Hi Elizabeth Marie, and so glad to see a post from you finally!!! Wow. . . that's too bad you weren't able to keep Tattie, but it turned out best in the end (two happy torts). It's hard to not put human emotions on our tortoises. We think because we would be lonely living alone, surely out tortoise must be lonely too. I'm glad it worked out for you.
 

MPappagallo

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2019
Messages
369
Location (City and/or State)
Myrtle Beach, SC
This is a copy/paste of an article I wrote on my blog last year. I've seen several new keepers ask the question of whether they should get a 'friend' for their tortoise, and so rather than keeping on linking to my blog (which feels kinda self-promoting, which is not my intent), I am creating a thread on the TFO that has the article. @Tom and others have been saying this for a long time - this is nothing new, I've just added fun pictures. :)

Today I would like to write about an important lesson that I learned the hard way a few years ago: it is not a good idea to keep 2 tortoises together (yes, there are exceptions).

When tortoise owners ask me if I think they should get a second tortoise, I tell them: only if they plan to get a second enclosure. Then I advise them to spend the money on spoiling their 1 tortoise first: build a big outdoor enclosure, enlarge the indoor enclosure, upgrade the lighting. Put some money into savings for emergency vet care (you'll need it at some point during your tortoise's 80 or so years of life!).

...."But she's so.... lonely!"

Believe me, I've been there. Humans seek companionship, as do many other mammals. We like to project our own feelings onto our pets, and so, we assume that our tortoise would be happier with a 'friend.' Please know that I am not judging you for wanting to get another tortoise. Getting a little 'friend' for a tortoise can be so tempting. The truth is: (except for a few species like redfoot torts, aldabras, or pancake torts), most tortoises are loners in the wild. They roam several acres, and only occasionally encounter other tortoises. If a tortoise encounters another, they will fight, mate, or both. Then they wander apart again (or one is chased away by the other).



If you are thinking of getting your pet tortoise a 'buddy' then I hope you read my story first, and put some serious thought into your decision after reading about my experience. Keeping 2 tortoises together (especially of the testudo species) is NOT a cake walk.


In reality, it will look like this... *BITE!* ... a lot of the time.

If you get a male and a female, after much biting and bullying, there will be plenty of mating too. More than there would ever be in nature. Enough mating to kill the female.



If the female can't get away from the male, he will seek her out again and again (more than in nature, since there she CAN get away). My friend rescued a tortoise female earlier this year whose vent was terribly infected and torn and chafed and ripped from all the mating. It took her a long time to heal.


The infected, oozing, puss-filled tail of my friend's rescued female that was mated too much.
(I'm posting a small picture just so it's not too gross)


Here is how I learned my lesson:

I started out with one female Russian tortoise, Timmy. After I had her for a few years, I decided I'd like to get a second tortoise. A few knowledgeable people on the tortoise forums advised against this. They warned me that tortoises, especially the testudo species (to which Russian tortoises belong) are very territorial. They told me that the tortoises would compete for food, for the basking spot, for space. They told me that they would bite and ram, and one would become stressed, hurt, and might die.


"Timmy needs a friend. My tortoises will be different and won't fight."

For some reason, I was convinced that 'my' tortoises would be different. I set up a my enclosure with lots of site barriers. I soon adopted a little male, Roz. For the first 18 or so months, everything went well. There were NO signs of aggression, both tortoises ate together, basked together, slept together. Yay! My tortoises were the exception!


Wait. What?! My male is biting my female?! Oh no!

Then one day, Roz matured. Roz discovered that he was a rapist little man-tortoise with needs and urges. Roz discovered that he didn't like sharing his food. Roz discovered that he could boss Timmy around, in spite of being half her size. Roz became a big, mean, bossy, biting bully. Timmy lost scales on her legs, and even got a bite wound on her face once. Roz got to spend a lot of time in the time-out bin until I separated him permanently.

Watch this video of Roz bobbing his head at Timmy (which is territorial behavior), and then circling her and biting her:

In the wild, this is 'normal' courting behavior. However, in the wild, the female can get away! In captivity, while both tortoises were kept in the same enclosure, Roz wanted to mate with Timmy 15+ times each day. He spent his spare time bullying her away from the food or the basking spot. Timmy started to become withdrawn, and wanted to hide and sleep all the time. I separated the two, and she started eating again, thank goodness.

Now, the 'easy' solution would have been to re-home Roz. This, however, was not an option for me. I had made a commitment to care for him, and did not want to break this commitment. The 'harder' solution was to a) separate my male, b) build a larger enclosure, and c) get a little harem of female tortoises for him. It took me nearly a year to find females, since in the pet trade, most tortoises are male. I finally got Mila and Jill, and then Lady.



I know that some people will advise that two female tortoises will get along fine. I disagree: one will always be the underdog. At least for testudo species, if you want to keep multiple females together, you should get 3 or more. This way they are less likely to fight, and the bullying will be divided a little among them.
During the Summer, the tortoises happily (and peacefully) lived outside in the large tortoise garden I built them. They will be divided over several indoor tortoise tables for the winter.


They spread out over the entire tortoise garden, except to eat.

IF you decide you want more than 1 tortoise, please avoid keeping 2 males together, or 1 male and 1 female. Either 3 females (with LOTS of space) or 1 male and 3+ females might work... but even then, you may find yourself needing a degree in tortoise diplomatics!

IF you decide to keep multiple tortoises, please remember that the enclosure size must adjust accordingly for multiple tortoises! If the absolute minimum size for 1 tortoise is 2'x4', then each additional tortoise will need at least that much more space. As always, larger is better when it comes to tortoise enclosures!
Thanks so much for sharing this info. I am new to the tortoise world and trying to learn all I can before deciding what type and how many to get. I will definitely get only one based on your great info. It was amazing to watch your video showing the bullying actually happening.....it really opened my eyes as to what can happen when they are raised together.
 

MichaelL

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Joined
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Messages
196
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Ocala, Fl
Ok so I got a female russian from petsmart, then a year later i liked her tons and wanted to breed russians. I planned on keeping them separate except for the period of time when I wanted him to mate. I had two tubs for each of them for winter time, and for spring, summer, and fall, (I live in Florida) I had two 8x4 feet pens right next to each other for both of them.(Basically an 8x8 pen with a big divider in the middle) So in march when it began to get hotter, I put them in their outdoor pens and would occasionally move him into her pen to mate with her. He would usually try to mate once, then most of the time fail and move on with life. He was never too aggressive and would try to mate "lightly" i should say, and she was never very stressed. So i combined their pens to make one big 8x8 pen. He only tried mating with her for the remainder of march, about once every few days, and then stopped completely. Now it is june and he hasn't tried to mate since march and they live happily together, no one is the underdog and I plan to keep them together outdoors every year. So maybe russian tortoises are only aggressive in spring and then stop? Mine are fine and for me, keeping a pair together outdoors most of the year works out well.
 

Cheryl Hills

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Youngstown, Ohio
Ok so I got a female russian from petsmart, then a year later i liked her tons and wanted to breed russians. I planned on keeping them separate except for the period of time when I wanted him to mate. I had two tubs for each of them for winter time, and for spring, summer, and fall, (I live in Florida) I had two 8x4 feet pens right next to each other for both of them.(Basically an 8x8 pen with a big divider in the middle) So in march when it began to get hotter, I put them in their outdoor pens and would occasionally move him into her pen to mate with her. He would usually try to mate once, then most of the time fail and move on with life. He was never too aggressive and would try to mate "lightly" i should say, and she was never very stressed. So i combined their pens to make one big 8x8 pen. He only tried mating with her for the remainder of march, about once every few days, and then stopped completely. Now it is june and he hasn't tried to mate since march and they live happily together, no one is the underdog and I plan to keep them together outdoors every year. So maybe russian tortoises are only aggressive in spring and then stop? Mine are fine and for me, keeping a pair together outdoors most of the year works out well.
You are going to have problems. Trust me, it will happen. It is never a good idea to have two torts together. We had an. Incident on here about a month ago. It was believed one tortoise, russian, had bit the head off of its roommate. Do you really want to take that chance? In groups, it might work. Russian torts are very scrappy and territorial. Learn from mistakes already made. It is not just spring, it is year round
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Mine are fine and for me, keeping a pair together outdoors most of the year works out well.
This is what everyone thinks... right up until the day they realize they are wrong. The only question is how much damage is done on the day this lesson is learned. Sometimes its just some minor scuffling and nipping, and other times its a lost head, lost tail or leg, a lost eye, or a dead tortoise.
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/bad-day-for-baby.114328/
 

MichaelL

Active Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
196
Location (City and/or State)
Ocala, Fl
You are going to have problems. Trust me, it will happen. It is never a good idea to have two torts together. We had an. Incident on here about a month ago. It was believed one tortoise, russian, had bit the head off of its roommate. Do you really want to take that chance? In groups, it might work. Russian torts are very scrappy and territorial. Learn from mistakes already made. It is not just spring, it is year round
Ok, I will separate them soon. Thank you, im glad its easy for me to separate them.
 

MichaelL

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Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
196
Location (City and/or State)
Ocala, Fl
This is what everyone thinks... right up until the day they realize they are wrong. The only question is how much damage is done on the day this lesson is learned. Sometimes its just some minor scuffling and nipping, and other times its a lost head, lost tail or leg, a lost eye, or a dead tortoise.
https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/bad-day-for-baby.114328/
Thank you, I will separate them soon. Thank you for warning me.
 
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MichaelL

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Joined
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Messages
196
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Ocala, Fl
You are going to have problems. Trust me, it will happen. It is never a good idea to have two torts together. We had an. Incident on here about a month ago. It was believed one tortoise, russian, had bit the head off of its roommate. Do you really want to take that chance? In groups, it might work. Russian torts are very scrappy and territorial. Learn from mistakes already made. It is not just spring, it is year round
I completely get what your saying, but also just wondering, while on this topic. Why do you think mine has stopped trying to mate and ignores her now? Is that a problem?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
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Messages
47,205
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I completely get what your saying, but also just wondering, while on this topic. Why do you think mine has stopped trying to mate and ignores her now? Is that a problem?
Although not addressed to me, I've got some insight. This is a complex and confusing issue. Numerous opinions abound, and all of them or none of them could be correct. Here are several factors that address your question:
  • Some species can breed whenever they reach a certain size. Other species, like radiata for example, will not produce eggs or offspring until they reach a certain age, even if they've been full adult size for years. I believe Russians are this way too. Many times full size adult Russians are living together and no babies. Then five years later, for no apparent reason, they start making babies.
  • Tortoises don't like change. When we remove them from their territory and deposit them into an entirely new territory, it really messes them up for a while. We speculate that this is one reason Chersina seldom survive or breed for very long once imported. How long? No one knows. I speculate that it has to do with the individual tortoises age, demeanor and how suitable the new territory is. In some cases it takes years. In some cases the never accept the change and acclimate.
  • There are multiple subspecies of Russians. They have a huge range and I speculate that sometimes, in some cases, mixing animals from different parts of the range is the problem.
These are a few ideas anyhow. Points to ponder...
 

MichaelL

Active Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
196
Location (City and/or State)
Ocala, Fl
Although not addressed to me, I've got some insight. This is a complex and confusing issue. Numerous opinions abound, and all of them or none of them could be correct. Here are several factors that address your question:
  • Some species can breed whenever they reach a certain size. Other species, like radiata for example, will not produce eggs or offspring until they reach a certain age, even if they've been full adult size for years. I believe Russians are this way too. Many times full size adult Russians are living together and no babies. Then five years later, for no apparent reason, they start making babies.
  • Tortoises don't like change. When we remove them from their territory and deposit them into an entirely new territory, it really messes them up for a while. We speculate that this is one reason Chersina seldom survive or breed for very long once imported. How long? No one knows. I speculate that it has to do with the individual tortoises age, demeanor and how suitable the new territory is. In some cases it takes years. In some cases the never accept the change and acclimate.
  • There are multiple subspecies of Russians. They have a huge range and I speculate that sometimes, in some cases, mixing animals from different parts of the range is the problem.
These are a few ideas anyhow. Points to ponder...
wow thank you.Tortoises are truly complicated and amazing creatures. I think the age might have to do with it since my female is a little over five inches and my male is 4.5
 

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