Can Tortoises Fight And Kill Each Other?

If you’re thinking of keeping a tortoise, you might be thinking of keeping more than one in order for them to keep each other company but is that a good idea? Will they fight or even kill each other? Well it probably isn’t a good idea and there are some good reasons for that.

So can tortoises fight and kill each other? Tortoises can fight when left alone but it’s unlikely that they they would kill each other. It is possible that mixing two or more species of tortoise together might result in their deaths due to disease or infection from the other species.

In truth, tortoises don’t do well in company and the best way to keep a tortoise is to keep it on its own. However, it is possible to reduce the chances of two tortoises fighting if you must keep them together. So, let’s take a look at why tortoises don’t get along and what you might be able to do about it.

Can tortoises fight and kill each other? TortoiseOwner.com
Can tortoises fight and kill each other? TortoiseOwner.com

Tortoises Are Solitary Creatures

Tortoises are naturally solitary creatures. In the wild, they only really seek each other out to mate. Otherwise, they tend to prefer their own company. As you might expect – a pet tortoise is fairly similar to a wild tortoise in this regard.

Related article: Are tortoises better in pairs?

What this means is that tortoises don’t get lonely. In fact, The Arizona Department of Game & Fish is so positive that tortoises don’t get lonely, that they only allow you to keep a single tortoise per household.

They say that this is because tortoises are prone to fighting and that means you might end up with an injured tortoise or tortoises.

Tortoises don’t need company

Just to repeat that point. Tortoises don’t actually need a friend. In the wild they are perfectly fine all alone. This would also be much easier for you as an owner because a happy tortoise is an easy one to look after.

However, we know that many owners will still want to keep more than one tortoise (as we do), so, we’ve got some tips to help keep them from fighting later in this article.


Male Tortoises Will Fight (And So May Females)

According to the BBC, male tortoises face a serious evolutionary problem. A tortoise cannot right itself when it is flipped over if it is bigger than a certain size.

At the same time, a male tortoise will fight other male tortoises for the right to be alpha and to mate with other tortoises. There is a clear advantage to the tortoise to be bigger in order to win a fight.

Related article: Can an upside-down tortoise turn itself over?

However, the price for losing is being left on their backs and unable to right themselves. This can, in the wild lead to the death of the tortoise.

Tortoises can become aggressive for many reasons and their aggression can play out in many different ways including:

  • Biting – a tortoise has a fairly strong beak and it can lash out at another tortoise and give it a serious bite with it.
  • Chasing – they can chase another tortoise away if they feel that they have an advantage over them.
  • Headbutts – a tortoise isn’t afraid of butting heads, quite literally, with another tortoise, this is a very common dominance display.
  • Ramming – tortoises are quite substantive creatures thanks to their shells, and they are often happy to ram into each other when they want to jostle for position in life.

Related article: Are tortoises aggressive? Recognizing tortoise aggression

Some say that only male tortoises fight but, in fact, female tortoises can fight too and while it’s rarely quite as aggressive as the males fighting – if there are two females around in the same space, one is usually the dominant party and will be prone to handing out a little bullying from time to time to the other.

So, it really is better just to allow tortoises to be by themselves in most situations. They’re happier that way.


Can Tortoises Kill Each Other?

OK, so the crux of the matter is can tortoises kill each other? Well, technically, it’s possible. As we’ve seen a wild tortoise can be flipped over by another fighting tortoise and if that happens, they will die because they often cannot right themselves (small tortoises might be able to – but big ones can’t).

Upside down tortoise - TortoiseOwner.com
Tortoises can flip each other during a fight

We think it’s possible for two pet tortoises to fight with a similar outcome. The problem is that you’re a tortoise owner. If you find one of your tortoises lying on its back, you’re going to pick it up and right it again.

It won’t be there for long enough to come to any serious injury (though it may not be the happiest tortoise in the world, either, mind you). So, while it is technically possible for a tortoise to kill another tortoise with pet tortoises, we think it’s very unlikely to happen.

So, we’re going to say the two pet tortoises won’t kill each other as the result of a fight. However, there is another genuine concern that could cause a tortoise to kill the other and they won’t be doing this on purpose.

Avoid mixing two species of tortoise together

Yes, the one way to get tortoises to kill each other is to put two different species in the same enclosure. Of course, this isn’t a guaranteed way to off your pets but it’s very risky behavior without any real upside. If tortoises don’t like members of their own species, they’re no more likely to enjoy the company of another species.

But, the reason this is dangerous is not that they will fight more severely but because some breeds of tortoise are host to specific parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc. and while they do absolutely no harm to a tortoise of its species, they may infect and kill a tortoise of another species.

Related article: Do tortoises attract bugs?

So, in short- putting two species together is like carrying out biological warfare experiments with tortoises. It might end badly.

A group of tortoises (a creep) - TortoiseOwner.com
Keep the same one type of tortoise together is better than having multiple species

3 Ways To Keep Tortoise Fighting To A Minimum

OK, let’s assume that you’ve ignored our advice and decided to keep two tortoises together. Firstly, we have to advise you upfront that sometimes this simply won’t work – two tortoises can hate each other so badly that all they do is fight and injure each other.

You’ll just end up with endless visits to the vet and two unhappy tortoises. They really do prefer their own company. However, you can reduce the risks of them fighting if you follow these simple steps:

Give Tortoises Enough Space

The more space you give your tortoises, the less likely they are to impinge on each other’s space. We’d recommend a big outdoor enclosure for this that gives each tortoise a place to go and retreat from any others that are around.

Related article: How much space do pet tortoises need?

If you think of an aggressive tortoise as a school bully, you’ll know that bullies are often lazy and won’t go out of their way to find trouble – they wait until opportunity crosses their path. The more room there is in a tortoise’s enclosure the less likely these opportunities are to arise.

Never Push A Tortoise To Be Social

You can’t push two tortoises together and expect them to become chums. You’re not arranging a date between two people and this kind of forced space sharing is likely to lead to violence rather than friendship.

Related article: Can tortoises and turtles mate?

In fact, while your tortoises may never really be “friends” by human standards, it’s fair to say that familiarity breeds contempt and given enough space and time, your tortoises will probably learn to pretend that the other tortoise(s) don’t exist.

Occasional Tortoise Meetings Might Be Best

If your tortoises just won’t stop fighting when you keep them together, you need to keep them separately and then occasionally introduce them to each other. It’s not a guaranteed strategy to break down resistance but it might work, and it doesn’t hurt to try.


Conclusion

Can tortoises kill each other? As solitary animals, tortoises don’t seek out each other’s company and they can fight if they are forced into the same space. However, they’re not really equipped to kill each other, it will just make them unhappy.

You can take action to try and help tortoises get along with each other but there are no guarantees of success. You should be aware though that you might kill your tortoises if you mix and match species in the same enclosure as it can make them very sick.

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