There are a number of people online claiming that their tortoises can jump. In fact, there are many YouTube videos dedicated to people showing off their “jumping tortoises” . First time tortoise keepers may wonder just how true these claims are.
Can Tortoises jump? Tortoises do not truly jump. They love to climb things and on their way down, it may appear as if they are jumping. When tumbling down an object, a tortoise might appear to be throwing itself off and this is often misconceived as jumping.
Tortoises can lunge, tumble, climb and may even face-plant while trying to summit and decline certain obstacles like tree roots, shrubs, sticks, logs and stairs. Sometimes people believe that their tortoises are jumping when they push themselves into a free-fall from a high surface, but they are not really jumping and won’t land “on their feet” so to speak.
Why Can’t Tortoises Jump?
Tortoises do not have the physical capability to actually jump. Jumping requires the right proportions, weight, and muscles – things the tortoises simply don’t have. The Tortoise is physiologically limited in speed and movement – they’re typically slow and stuck to the ground.
The motion of jumping simply is not possible due to the weight of the heavy shell (which is attached to the rest of the skeletal make up), and the lack of supporting muscles that would be required for jumping. The Tortoise shell is designed to protect the animal and also allows for easy burrowing and floating/drifting on water, not for leaving the ground. Luckily the shell does protect a Tortoise from potential injury if it falls (aka jumps) from a high surface!
If you are wondering whether a tortoise (or a turtle) can get out of its shell, the answer is definite no. Please don’t try to get your tortoise out of its shell as you’ll be causing her extreme pain and possibly death. Read about this in one of our first articles: “Can Tortoises and Turtles Live Without Their Shell?”
Is it Safe for a Tortoise to Jump Down from High Surfaces?
As tortoise keepers we worry that our little friends will sustain serious injuries when they push themselves off (otherwise considered to be jumping’) high surfaces. While this worry is certainly warranted, torts are usually just fine. We always make sure that our tortoises don’t have the opportunity to jump from HIGH surfaces. When they do tumble down an object, it’s a very, very small distance.
All of this discussion can be vital! The real danger for a tortoise jumping is that she can land on her back. If she struggles to right herself on time, it can be fatal. We wrote about this problem in this article: “Can an Upside-down Tortoise Right Itself?”, but in short, the dangers are:
- Overheating in the sun: It’s a really upsetting thought but a tortoise stuck on his back in the heat can cook to death.
- Suffocating: The normal breathing movements and organs are restricted when a tortoise is upside down. The tortoise might also vomit and being upside down that can lead to chocking.
- Dehydration: Tortoises rely on the water content in their bladders for hydration. If a tortoise panics and loses control of the bladder and bowels, it can become dehydrated. If she doesn’t drink and eat to replenish herself, it can eventually lead to illness.
- Bowel Torsion: A tortoise that is on its back will very often spend a lot of time twisting and turning in desperation, to get back onto its feet. Unfortunately, this can result in bowel torsion which means that the intestinal tract gets twisted into an unnatural position. Even if this happens and you turn the tortoise over, it will most likely die as simply turning the tortoise over won’t untwist the intestinal tract. The intestinal tract must be professionally untwisted by a vet.
- Infection by Maggots: While flies do not typically attack a healthy animal, they are opportunists and will attempt to lay their eggs in any sores (cuts/wounds) that the immobile Tortoise has. They will also target any moist areas. They commonly lay their eggs in the Tortoises eyes, cloaca, and mouth. Maggots can hatch in as little as a day and can cause serious tissue damage and carry disease.
How to prevent your tortoise from jumping (and getting hurt)
Tortoises love to climb and summit things – they’re curious and find it entertaining – so it can prove difficult to deter them. Here are a few things you can do to minimize the potential for serious injury.
Ensure that your enclosure is large enough
Many people overlook the importance of creating a large enough living space for a Tortoise. Remember that your Tortoise hatchling will grow much bigger over the course of its lengthy lifespan. As a Tortoise grows and matures, its space requirements will change too. If your Tortoise gets frustrated with the available space, it may try to climb the sides of the enclosure or try to get out. Make sure that the enclosure doesn’t have very high sections or objects that the Tortoise can climb up to and then jump/fall off.
If you want the details about the enclosure, check out this in-depth article we wrote: “How much space do pet tortoises need?”
Create an interesting enclosure that caters for safe climbing and declining
If there is an object to climb, your tortoise will try it, so it’s best to create a setup that deters it all together. When you include logs and items inside the enclosure, make sure that they are small or low enough for your Tortoise to safely climb over it without the risk of tipping over. If you do have a section that is high, make sure that there are steps or a gradient that is not too steep. This will ensure that your tortoise can go up and down without having to jump or fall off it.
Provide stimulation that does not encourage climbing
While Tortoises don’t require as much stimulation as dogs do, they still require some stimulation to be happy and comfortable. As such, it is important to ensure that the enclosure isn’t bland or boring. You can provide stimulation by including tufts of grass in the enclosure which can provide shade and mental/visual stimulation for your pet. You can also include balls that the Tortoise can interact with, but won’t be able to climb.
When given the opportunity, most tortoises are climbers. They just love to explore what’s on the other side of things. As a result they sometimes end up on a higher surface. Without a clear way back, they can throw themselves off to the ground (or simply fall). While we cannot stop their explorer’s instincts, we can manipulate their living space in such a way to prevent climbing, jumping, falling, and flipping over. While you don’t need to worry excessively about this (they’re strong creatures!) do check on your pet tortoise from time to time and make sure she’s OK.