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

slowtone

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kent, uk
Although I have two torts wondering in the same garden, besides the occasional scuffle it all seems quite peaceful.
But would agree two or more together can be like cat and dog.
 

TechnoCheese

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Although I have two torts wondering in the same garden, besides the occasional scuffle it all seems quite peaceful.
But would agree two or more together can be like cat and dog.
The thing is, there shouldn’t be any scuffles at all. Tortoise bullying isn’t just physical. In fact, it’s usually just mental. “Cuddling”, sitting face to face, “following”, and just being together in general are all one tortoise trying to push, stress, and chase the other out of its territory, and even just seeing each other puts a great straining them. It only gets physical when they’ve had enough.

If by a scuffle you mean physical altercations, then they are in no way peaceful. I personally would separate them.
 

slowtone

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35
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kent, uk
The thing is, there shouldn’t be any scuffles at all. Tortoise bullying isn’t just physical. In fact, it’s usually just mental. “Cuddling”, sitting face to face, “following”, and just being together in general are all one tortoise trying to push, stress, and chase the other out of its territory, and even just seeing each other puts a great straining them. It only gets physical when they’ve had enough.

If by a scuffle you mean physical altercations, then they are in no way peaceful. I personally would separate them.
Well scuffle I mean the occasional bashing of shells, most of the time they don,t take much notice of each other.
My garden is split into two so would be easy to separate them and watch their behaviour.
 

Lyn W

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Well scuffle I mean the occasional bashing of shells, most of the time they don,t take much notice of each other.
My garden is split into two so would be easy to separate them and watch their behaviour.
Yes split asap, we have had one thread recently about one tortoise biting the head off another and if I remember rightly there had only been some occasional 'scuffles' there. Horrible for the dead tort and devastating for the member who came home and found it.
 

ZEROPILOT

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I've been trying to get folks on the FLORIDA TORTOISE KEEPERS group on FACEBOOK to read this.
There are some stubborn, ignorant, S.O.B.s on that forum.
People feeding fruit to Sulcata and placing pairs together, mixing species, etc....
It shouldn't be about what is convenient for YOU.
Geez.
O.k. I feel better now.
Thanks.:)
 

Toddrickfl1

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I've been trying to get folks on the FLORIDA TORTOISE KEEPERS group on FACEBOOK to read this.
There are some stubborn, ignorant, S.O.B.s on that forum.
People feeding fruit to Sulcata and placing pairs together, mixing species, etc....
It shouldn't be about what is convenient for YOU.
Geez.
O.k. I feel better now.
Thanks.:)
With the Facebook groups it's pointless believe me lol. Your never going to convince them their tortoise isn't lonely.
 

dorothybaez

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Nov 16, 2010
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We have 2 sulcatas. One, Pinky, that my husband bought and one, Brain (we just *had* to name him that) that was a rescue from a woman who didnt want hers anymore. We've had them both for about 15 years and didn't know when we brought Brain home that they shouldn't be together.

They get along famously...by that I mean they pretty much totally ignore each other.

They're roughly the same age, but Brain's growth is stunted from his very poor previous diet. Maybe that's why there haven't been any problems? Hopefully things will stay this way.

First sign of trouble, though, they're getting separated, since Brain is so small and Pinky literally moved a piano out of his way a few days ago.
 

Awag

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Well, I am sad reading this because I just bought my first PAIR of tortoises. I have a male and female Hermann Tortoise... they were together in an enclosure at Petco. I bought an enclosure that is over 3 times the size of what they were in and never dreamed they would have issues. Does anyone have Hermann tortoises with a male and female together? I have seen him get bossy with her but not necessarily mean. However she seems to sleep a lot. I am worried!
 

TammyJ

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How do you define "bossy" and "mean"?
I guess if you have the space you could separate them unless and until you want them to mate? If you do want them to mate when they are mature, then I think the sudden encounter (supervised, please!) would be more conducive to successful mating anyway, then separation again after a while? Just my thoughts. But one thing is sure: bullying is both mental and physical and the negative communication is surely stressful for both of them.
Also, are you sure it is male and female?
 

Gibbo83

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7B904EDF-1CB9-4EC5-8DF9-F50E98783874.jpeg C0D3D25D-BE1F-4A85-BE8B-9C273893125E.jpeg Hi,
Thankyou for this post! We were given 2 female horsfield torts who had been kept together for a few years after being rescued. We carried this on but after reading this I can say the behaviours shown by them are that of one bullying the other, I just thought they were getting on!! One rested its head on the other, following each other round etc.
Seeing as they’ve been together so long would it be ok to separate them?
Just found your forum or I’d have known a year ago when we got them! Feel bad for them now!
My daughter named them, Flash & Turbo
 
Last edited:

Yvonne G

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They neither need nor want company. It's perfectly ok to separate them now. When you do, try to not put human emotions on them. One or both are going to look like they are missing the other, wandering around, trying to find her, etc. It's just that they've been trying for so long to chase the other tortoise away with no results she can't believe she's gone and is trying to make sure.
 

SummerMagpie31

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Joined
Nov 24, 2019
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10
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Richland, WA
Coming from the fishkeeping world, after reading this thread and the posts about tortoise care from HermanniHaven, I can’t help but draw comparisons to territorial fish. (Who are similarly trapped- a popular fishkeeping analogy is “imagine you are trapped in an elevator with a bunch of people you don’t particularly like...”)

General rules as apply to most gourami (including female bettas) and similarly species-aggressive (or mate-harassing) fish:
One is fine.
Two is terrible.
Groups of five or more with a 3:1 female:male ratio, more “good” spots than animals, and a TON of space can work.


I do not want five tortoises (yet, anyway). Append “good spots” with “hiding and basking” and it reminds me so much of managing my aquarium. Right down to once ending up with TWO aquariums after needing to separate some fish!
 

Meryl C

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Heathfield, East Sussex
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 this. I took on 4 Herman’s in April this year, 2 males, 2 females, 1 pair are actual brother and sister. They actually seem to get on well, and tend to sleep / huddle together, otherwise wander happily on their own. Maybe I am a lucky one, but once they are back outside after hibernation, I will keep a closer eye on them. They have been together a long while, which is why I took all 4 as I didn’t want them to be split up! Long may this continue. Is this because they are Herman’s ?
 

Tom

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Thank you for this. I took on 4 Herman’s in April this year, 2 males, 2 females, 1 pair are actual brother and sister. They actually seem to get on well, and tend to sleep / huddle together, otherwise wander happily on their own. Maybe I am a lucky one, but once they are back outside after hibernation, I will keep a closer eye on them. They have been together a long while, which is why I took all 4 as I didn’t want them to be split up! Long may this continue. Is this because they are Herman’s ?
We are not talking about groups. We are talking about pairs. Groups of juveniles usually get along for most species most of the time. It is pairs that are the problem.

Sleeping and huddling together is a form of crowding and territorially contesting the use of the best spots. Its not snuggling and it doesn't mean they like each other. Quite the contrary, it means they want each other out of their space.

You might be okay for a while, but eventually, I would expect the two males to fight. You may have to separate one of them in the future.
 

Meryl C

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We are not talking about groups. We are talking about pairs. Groups of juveniles usually get along for most species most of the time. It is pairs that are the problem.

Sleeping and huddling together is a form of crowding and territorially contesting the use of the best spots. Its not snuggling and it doesn't mean they like each other. Quite the contrary, it means they want each other out of their space.

You might be okay for a while, but eventually, I would expect the two males to fight. You may have to separate one of them in the future.
Noted. My eyes will be open come new year.
 

willee638

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Feb 16, 2020
Messages
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HK
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!
 

willee638

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Joined
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Messages
125
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HK
Thank you for the valuable information, I was just thinking of getting a buddy "a male" for my brand new baby girl "red footed" tortoise thinking exactly the same thing as many first time owners would tortoises behave like humans needing companionship to be more active, healthy & happy. Your article saved me a lot of hassle & grief for & more importantly pain & suffering for my little darling, although I heard you mentioned red footed tortoises can cohabitate in groups more than other spices but like you said sounds like a nightmare for just one male & one female together. I was told when purchasing my tortoise by the pet retailer if I brought 2 of them together they would give me a small discount but luckily I didn't after hearing what I learned here, I think trying to mate tortoises for ordinary pet owners would be foolish simply because we aren't experienced & are not equipped with the proper facility & equipment.
 

Blackdog1714

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Richmond, VA
Thank you for the valuable information, I was just thinking of getting a buddy "a male" for my brand new baby girl "red footed" tortoise thinking exactly the same thing as many first time owners would tortoises behave like humans needing companionship to be more active, healthy & happy. Your article saved me a lot of hassle & grief for & more importantly pain & suffering for my little darling, although I heard you mentioned red footed tortoises can cohabitate in groups more than other spices but like you said sounds like a nightmare for just one male & one female together. I was told when purchasing my tortoise by the pet retailer if I brought 2 of them together they would give me a small discount but luckily I didn't after hearing what I learned here, I think trying to mate tortoises for ordinary pet owners would be foolish simply because we aren't experienced & are not equipped with the proper facility & equipment.
You are right on. The SCIENCE that goes into the egg incubation is awesome! But even more stunning is the owner that goes out to the pen the next spring and notices a new addition to the family. Says a lot for raising them in the right conditions!
 

willee638

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Joined
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Messages
125
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HK
Noted. My eyes will be open come new year.
Thanks for enlighten me on these facts, first time pet owners are very tempted to get a pair of anything, but learning what I heard here this is a mistake keeping 2 instead of just 1 especially males & even 2 females will bully each other. What customers see in the pet stores with groups of babies tortoises together on display mislead they're happy if more than 1, probably behave more like cats doesn't like being handled a lot.
 

willee638

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Messages
125
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HK
I can't say I've made a big investment being a first time tortoise pet owner, many other animal pet owners have spent substantially more & for a pet & it's upkeeps. But if I can't at least provide basic essentials for it's proper care then I shouldn't bother to keep a pet, young children, people with no time & those who can't afford it's upkeeps or with limited space are not good candidates to own tortoises that needs constant attention. I think tortoises are perfect pets because I have spare time, like spending hours in the outdoor sun & find them affectionate animals, I find myself getting overly enthusiastic in my pet tortoise trying to give her too much too fast & worrying about what might be normal behaviours. I was a teenage pet owner for a brief moment & not a good keeper decades ago & probably now trying to makeup for my neglects.
 
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