We know that boredom in pet mammals can lead to destructive behavior. But what about exotic pets? Instead of waiting to see if our tortoises will go on a boredom-induced rampage, we’ve provided our reptile buddies with plenty of entertainment, including toys.
But do pet tortoises need toys? Pet tortoises need an environment that encourages a healthy body and mind. Some may call these items toys while others may consider them enrichment. No matter what they’re called, tortoises do need a variety of interactive objects to stay healthy and happy. Logs, rocks, bathing dishes, moist hides, and dirt mounds are good choices for toys and enrichment.
In addition to providing a clean and safe enclosure for your tortoise, you should give plenty of thought to enrichment objects and activities—otherwise known as toys! These things will keep your tortoise happy and engaged, leading to a healthier body and longer life.
Do Tortoises Play?
When it comes to tortoises, the word “play” is surrounded in controversy. On one side of the debate you have the people who think reptiles aren’t capable of that level of thinking or need. These are often the same people who believe tortoises don’t get lonely or have feelings of happiness.
On the other side are the people who believe that tortoises have feelings, which means they require stimulation and can get bored and upset without it. In short, these people believe that tortoises can and do play. We’re on that side of the debate because we’ve witnessed our tortoises enjoying a variety of objects and activities.
Of course, tortoises don’t show boredom, happiness or excitement to the extent of a cat or a dog but we do see that difference.
We’re not alone in our thinking or our experiences either. Go to any online reptile community and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of tortoise owners who say the same things. Their tortoises get excited about new objects and seem to take joy in the chance to explore new areas. That’s the very definition of playing.
What Do Tortoises Play With?
Since you’re still reading, you probably agree with us that tortoises have the capacity to get bored and therefore need some way to entertain themselves. Good! You’re well on your way to being an awesome tortoise keeper. But what the heck do tortoises play with anyway?
All tortoises are different and therefore will like different things. Just like all people aren’t into skydiving or video games, not all tortoises will like every toy or activity in this list. That’s okay! Try lots of different ideas to see what things make your tortoise the happiest.
By far the favorite tortoise toy is the climbing toy. These can be made of any sturdy material, but the best types are made of materials that a tortoise might actually come across in the wild. This means you need to understand your tortoise species and where it would live in nature.
Some common climbing toy choices include:
- Large, flat rocks that double as comfortable sleeping spaces
- Piles of smaller stones—be sure they’re secured and won’t move around under your tortoise
- Chunks of wood, big branches, or piles of secured, smaller branches
If you must use synthetic products, try to find some in natural-looking shapes. There are lots of great plastic climbing toys on the market. A bonus to synthetic materials is that they are less likely to harbor dangerous bacteria. A downside is that cheaper products may have harmful chemicals.
Do-it Yourself Climbing Toys
In a pinch, you can build a few climbing toys for your tortoise with objects found around your home. These can include safe plastic boxes turned upside down, sturdy carboard boxes, and even kitchen items that can be used as makeshift toys. Some tortoises love the challenge of climbing on top of upside-down bowls and small pots.
Some people say that hiding doesn’t constitute playing. We disagree. When human children play hide and seek, nobody claims the people hiding aren’t actually playing. When a tortoise hides for enjoyment (as opposed to hiding out of fear), it’s no different than a human child playing hide and seek.
If your tortoise likes to play sneaky reptile and hide from you for funsies, provide lots of hiding options. There are plenty of tortoise-specific hides on the market. Some are moist hides, some are dry, some are dark, some have multiple exits for lighting and a quick game of escape. Give your tortoise lots of choices to encourage creative play and exploration.
Some people use cardboard or plastic boxes turned on their sides for a cheap alternative and to add variety. Just be sure to remove any makeshift toys when they start to wear down.
If you have the engineering skills, you can build a hide out of rocks. You can also find large hollowed out logs or branches to put into larger enclosures. Just be sure a rock fort or log will not crumble and fall on top of your tortoise.
Tortoises love food. Sometimes they love food so much they become obese. While we don’t advocate overfeeding your tortoise, we also know that using food as a motivator is a great way to get tortoises moving. That’s where treat toys come in.
Fill a hollow plastic or rubber ball with your tortoise’s dinner and place it in the tank. Make sure some of the food is sticking out of the holes. When he tries to take a bite, the ball will slowly roll away from him, making him chase it around the tank to complete his meal.
You don’t want to make it too challenging as that can cause stress to a tortoise and make them burn too many calories. So, choose a ball with flexible sides and large holes all around. Something like this is perfect.
We’ve covered digging habits in another article, but here’s a quick primer. Tortoises love to dig. Not all will dig, but most have some kind of drive to do it. Many like to bury themselves. This is for temperature control as well as entertainment, so provide the right materials for successful and satisfying digging.
Dirt is the best choice, but make sure it’s not too wet. You don’t want a sloppy, muddy mess. Too dry—like sand—and your tortoise won’t be able to make the right shape or create a breathing space in front of his face.
If you can’t use that much dirt in your tortoise’s enclosure, damp moss is a good alternative. You can also contain any digging material inside a box turned on its side if you’re worried about cleanup.
A favorite digging configuration is the mounding method. Simply mound a suitable material into a corner or against the side of the tank. Your tortoise can dig into it instead of heading downward.
There is nothing cuter than a tortoise pushing pebbles around her enclosure for fun. Some tortoises like to pile them up, other just like to push them, scooting them all over the tank. This requires a lot of space and the right sized rocks.
Provide enough room for your tortoise to play with her rocks. Also provide a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. See what she builds!
This entry is both a toy and an activity. If you have gravel in your tortoise tank—or other loose bedding and substrate—it’s fun to hide treasures inside. Small shells, shiny aquarium rocks, pebbles with interesting shapes or textures are all fun for your tortoise to dig up and discover.
Although tortoises don’t swim like turtles, some take great pleasure in bath time. Many tortoises enjoy bath time so much, they stay a little longer than needed. Some splash, wade about the dish, or drag toys into the water to interact with. If your tortoise seems to enjoy bath time more than average, try placing a small rubber ducky or other floating bath toy in the water to see what she does.
What Activities Do Tortoises Enjoy?
In addition to the toys listed above, there are some ways your can add enrichment to your tortoise’s life. By creating opportunities for games and activities, you’ll be helping your tortoise’s mind stay active and healthy, which translates into a long life.
Some activities for tortoises include:
- Fun food shapes give your tortoise something neat to look at, interact with, and get rewarded by eating. Build a “snowman” out of fruit, keeping his favorite treat at the top so he has to work to get it.
- Turn dinner time into puzzle time. Wrap her meal in tasty, edible wrappers like large kale leaves and watch her figure out how to get to the tasty center.
- Create a maze with a treat at the end. The maze can include climbing toys, hiding spots, gentle inclines or hills to traverse.
- Chase me! For social tortoises who love human interaction, you can teach your buddy to chase your hand around the tank. If you’re worried about being bitten, you can play this game on the outside of the glass while your tortoise is inside. The more you play the game, the less likely your pet will be to bite you. Though it’s worth noting many tortoises have no desire to bite you anyway.
- Play ball with your tortoise. That may sound strange, but some tortoises actually enjoy a slow, leisurely game of chasing a big ball around the yard.
Bonding With a Tortoise Over Toys
Ignoring the naysayers who don’t think tortoises have personalities or happiness, it’s possible to bond with your tortoise by using toys, accessories, and other objects in the environment. While many tortoises are happy to play alone, many more enjoy interacting with their humans through play.
This isn’t to say that you’ll end up with a dog-like tortoise who plays fetch or wants to roll around on the floor with you. But in their own ways, tortoises can bond with their humans during playtime.
Make the activities fun, relaxing, and rewarding for your tortoise. Don’t force a tortoise to play or interact, but if they seem willing to play, make every effort to create a rewarding experience. This can be done with affection, treats, or extra time outside of the enclosure. Do what makes your tortoise happy and he will be more likely to bond with you over playtime.
It’s impossible to force a tortoise to do anything they don’t want to do. That makes it easy to see when a tortoise enjoys a certain activity or object. Take note of what makes your tortoise happy, switch toys regularly to keep things interesting, and be sure to include bonding time if that seems to give your tortoise joy.
What do tortoises like? Tortoises like space to roam, places to hide, and objects to interact with. They enjoy basking in the warmth, digging in dirt to cool down, and some even enjoy playing with humans.
What do you need for a tortoise habitat? Tortoises need a lot of space, a place to hide, a warm side of the tank and a cool side, and access to fresh water. Tortoises need a stimulating environment that includes enrichment objects such as toys, things to climb on, and places to dig.