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10 Reasons Tortoises Suck as Pets

Updated on April 9, 2018
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Brittany has over a decade of experience keeping tortoises, frogs, pythons, and various other reptiles and amphibians.

I love tortoises

I have three. A marginated tortoise called Tickles, a red-footed tortoise called Cupcake, and a sulcata called Sunny.

Here's why it sometimes sucks to have pet tortoises, from someone who keeps them.

yum! | Source

1. You Can't Pick the Gender You Want

If you’re buying a hatchling, it’s almost impossible to discern what gender you’re getting with any amount of certainty. Sometimes you’ll make a guess after looking at the plastron (bottom of the shell) shape and get lucky, but usually you won’t. It will be easier to tell what gender a tortoise is with age. As their shell grows the anal scutes will change shape and it will become easier to differentiate the males and females.

2. Tortoises Don't Do Tricks

Unless you count making all the romaine disappear. Though most tortoises are smart and curious reptiles, they cannot be trained. They will often learn to recognize their care giver and come to them for food and interaction. So, the best trick you can hope for from a tortoise is that he’ll learn his name and come when he hears you calling.

3. They Get Big

Hatchlings are insanely cute. Just out of their egg, these tiny torts fit in the palm of your hand and look oh-so-adorable eating strawberries. But, they don’t stay small. Each tortoise will grow at its own rate, but the important thing is to remember is, they will get much bigger than they start out. Marginated tortoises can reach 14 inches, red foot tortoises can reach 18 inches, and sulcatas can reach 33 inches. That’s a big tortoise. Having a reptile that big is no problem if you live somewhere warm all year, and house them in an outdoor enclosure. But, in the midwest where I am, it means a new set of challenges for where to keep your shelled friend in the winter months. Though, you’ll have a few years to get it figured out, you should always be thinking of just how much space you’re going to need down the road. (In case you’re curious, I’ve turned my basement into a wintertime tortoise oasis until we finish up the torts permanent climate controlled enclosure outside.)

sulcata hatchlings on mother
sulcata hatchlings on mother

4. You Can't Cuddle a Tortoise

The rock hard shell and rigid spurs kind of kill the cuddle vibes. Not even a tortoise cozy can bring all the snuggle-feels back.

cozy | Source

5. Their Food Stinks

Most tortoise keepers will supplement fresh greens with some type of pellet food for added nutrition- I use Mazuri Tortoise Diet LS- and it smells terrible. Its scent isn’t bad if the pellets are left dry, however, my tortoises prefer the pellets soaked in water to soften them up. That’s when the smell emerges. Think of the way wet hay and rotting leaves smell and you’ll have a good idea of what rehydrated tortoise food smells like. And, there’s the added bonus that sometimes it attracts gnats; have fun getting rid of those little guys.

6. So Much Poop

Their diet is fiber heavy, so it moves through their digestive tract like a speeding bullet. Depending on the age and species, (like an adult Sulcata, for instance) you might be scooping up so much poop that it could be mistaken for that of a horse instead of a mere reptile.

7. Peep Shows

If they're a male they'll flash you the goods ALL. THE. TIME. And, occasionally will try to hump your hand when you remove them from their soaking dish. Did you know that one of the most well endowed animals on land is the tortoise? There’s an article on that declares they are “horrifically well endowed.” I have to say, after too many first hand views of my male tortoise’s unit, I agree with that statement completely. (If you’re curious to read more about torts weapon-like penis the article is called “Terrifying Sex Organs of Male Turtles.”)

8. They're Bullies

If you have a male, don’t try to get him a buddy. It’s not a good idea. Tortoises live solitary lives in the wild and are territorial by nature. In the wild when a tortoise stumbles upon another they have room to simply walk on. As a pet, they’ll have limited space. They will show aggression over everything; the best basking spot, food, space in general, hide boxes, literally everything. Tortoises will bite one another to the point where they lose scales on their legs, and ram shells so hard they can become cracked or damaged. It might take a few months, but one tortoise will become the bully and the other will become stressed out, at best.

"Get out of my area!"
"Get out of my area!"

9. They're Rapists

If you have a male, forget about getting him a girlfriend. It will end badly. If you put a male and a female tortoise together, the male will relentlessly mate with the her. Relentlessly, in this case, means that the male will seek her out repeatedly, bite her, smash his shell into her, and bully her into mating over and over, to the point where the female tortoise could die from it.

10. They Break Things

Most tortoises will grow some sort of spur on their front legs. The most destructive spurs, though, come attached to the sulcata. Sulcatas are also called the African Spurred Tortoise because they grow large spurs on their legs which are used in the wild to anchor themselves inside their burrows so nothing can drag them out. They work super well, too. It’s nearly impossible to drag an adult sulcata out of its burrow if it doesn’t want to come along. In captivity, though, the spurs are usually just used to tear things up. Like take notches out of the privacy fence, or a human leg. Shells are another nice protection feature in the wild, but when you have a cranky 100lb tortoise in the backyard they’re used for ramming the swing set, banging against the shrubs, or knocking over the flower pots.


I love my tortoises, but they're not a good fit for everyone

Do you have a tortoise? If you have anything to add to the list let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: This list isn’t meant to trivialize tortoises’ care, and in no way should be considered a care sheet. It's meant only as fun 'cause I'm low-key obsessed with mine. I urge you to do some more thorough research before you actually make the jump into buying one of those cute watermelon munching suckers. You can start with my other article called "10 Reasons You Should Have a Pet Tortoise."

© 2018 Brittany


Submit a Comment
  • tsadjatko profile image

    14 months ago from now on

    Awesome hub page, a responsible pet enthusiast should consider the drawbacks of their pet before ever getting involved. I love your approach, it is caring and considerate of both tortoises and those interested in owning one.

    However, a box turtle can be taught tricks as in this video:

    And wood turtles have a reputation as being as smart as dogs. So maybe, just maybe a tortoise could be taught tricks if it had the right trainer.


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