Do Tortoises Attract Bugs?

You may find that your tortoise vivarium is home to more than just your pets, and not in a good way. Many a tortoise owner has suddenly found themselves confronted with flies or other pests in the enclosure, but is this down to your tortoise or is there another cause?

So, do tortoises attract bugs? Tortoises themselves don’t attract bugs. But their poop, their bedding, their food, and their water supply may attract bugs particularly if you keep them inside.

This means that you need to develop a strategy to keep a tortoise’s indoor enclosure bug free and we’ll take a look at how you do just that as well as examining common pests that might threaten your tortoise’s health if they arrive in its home.

Do tortoises attract bugs? - TortoiseOwner.com
Do tortoises attract bugs? – TortoiseOwner.com

What Is It About Tortoises That Attract Bugs?

It’s worth noting that while tortoises don’t clean up after themselves, there’s nothing inherently dirty about them and when they’re outdoors, they don’t tend to attract any more bugs than you will typically find in your garden.

However, when they’re indoors the conditions in a vivarium can become quite attractive to certain kinds of pest. Firstly, there’s the warm air – many insects need warmth for their eggs to hatch, so they may be drawn by the heat pattern of the enclosure.

Then, when they get there what do they find? Well, some nice humidity which might keep your tortoise’s skin feeling good, but it helps the bedding (substrate), food and tortoise poop reach the optimal condition to decay.

Most forms of fly will be attracted to this decay, and where there are flies there will be spiders, even ants are also quite keen on these conditions and as we’ve previously written about, some ant species are not conducive to the health of a tortoise at all.

Related article: Can ants harm tortoises? A guide to tortoises safety

In fact many different forms of insect can be attracted to this (two that you might not have come across before include fungus gnats and springtails – see below for more details on this) and as a tortoise owner, it’s unlikely that you will want to welcome all these pests.

And while, tortoises in outdoor enclosures don’t tend to attract any more insects than normal, you will probably want to keep these areas as free of pests as possible too – after all, who wants to be swarmed by stinging insects, bitten by ants, etc. when they spend time with their tortoises?


How To Keep Bugs Out Of A Tortoise Enclosure

Keeping bugs out of an indoor tortoise enclosure might include:

  • Keeping a close eye on sanitation – if you quickly remove poop, you don’t allow uneaten food to hang around and you regularly change your tortoise’s bedding, you may not entirely remove the conditions that attract insects but  you should cut down on them to keep the volumes more manageable
  • Hanging up some sticky paper traps – sticky paper traps can easily be placed above the vivarium to reduce the amount of flies, etc. that get into the vivarium in the first place – because they never come into contact with a tortoise, they are completely safe to use and won’t risk your tortoise’s health
  • Hanging up some “barrier fabric” – you need to be careful with this because it might have an impact on the temperature or humidity within the vivarium but you can use a layer of fabric, typically used in outdoor pest control, to seal off the vivarium though you will need to remove this fabric to gain access to your tortoises

We’ve already written a detailed article on dealing with pests outdoors and this covers everything that you can do when the problem is not inside your home.

One thing that it is very important to stress is that you should never use chemical pesticides in a vivarium or, ideally, even outdoors. There is very little useful research regarding the impact of such chemicals on reptiles or tortoises and thus, there’s no way to tell what might be safe and what might injure or kill your tortoises.


What To Do If Your Tortoise Enclosure Becomes Infested With Insects Or Pests

Also, it’s important to note that if you do find that your vivarium has become infested that it can be fairly tricky to get the bugs to leave.

The basic process is to remove everything and give it a thorough clean with soap and water (use a plain, non-scented soap) and bake the substrate used for bedding to kill off any eggs in them before putting everything back.

However, it’s fair to say that a certain level of bugs is likely to become the norm for your tortoises and you might need to put up with some of the less problematic pests as long as they’re not causing issues in the room that the vivarium is in.


Do Tortoises Get Fleas, Gnats And Other Pests?

There are quite a few pests that are attracted to tortoise habitats and some are more common than others. But are they a problem for your tortoises?

Fungus Gnats

These are very small flies (max. 0.2 inches long). They are dark in color and, in fact, they consist of several different species. Their larvae are quite useful in the natural world as they break down decaying plant roots and other organic water materials.

The adult flies don’t live very long but while they are around, as their name suggests, they can help to pollenate different types of fungus as well as some plant species. They enjoy life in damp soil and thus, they will be happy to move into a tortoise habitat if they can.

The good news is that they present no real threat to you or your tortoises. Though, if you have plant seedlings around, they can be severely damaged by these pests. If you have to get rid of them then you can try natural pest control using either Hypo aspis mites or the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis.

Do tortoises attract bugs? - Fungus gnats
Fungus gnats (on sticky tape)

Springtails

Tortoises don’t get fleas which typically only infest mammals, but they do attract snow fleas. These are also very small insects which are likely to hop around the cage. They are found nearly everywhere on the planet.

They are completely harmless to both humans and tortoises and their presence is generally something that most tortoise owners will just come to ignore. They eat rotting plant matter and will also eat fungal spores which is a positive thing.

They can be a problematic pest on some kinds of agricultural crop but otherwise, they’re best left to their own devices.

Do tortoises attract bugs? - Springtails
Close up of a springtail

Ticks and Mites

Tortoises can be prone to both tick and mite infections. It’s worth noting that these eight legged parasites tend to live outdoors and they’re less likely to make their way indoors without a little ride on your clothing.

It’s not impossible that they would get indoors that way but if you find them on your tortoises, they probably came in with the tortoises.

Ticks can be removed from the tortoise by using a pair of tweezers. Clamp as close as possible the skin. Pull them off slowly but firmly. Make sure you got both the barbs and the tick’s head (or go back for them) and then kill the tick in a jar of alcohol. Treat the wound left behind and monitor for infection.

Take the tick to the vet and see if they have anything to add or recommend.

Mites are smaller and quite rare in tortoises; they can be killed using a commercially available mite killer designed for reptile use. After they are dead, use some Betadine to disinfect the skin. Always talk to your vet if you have any worries.

Do tortoises attract bugs? Ticks
Close up of a tick

Conclusion

Do tortoises attract bugs? No, at least not by design. It’s the tortoise’s living conditions which attract bugs. This might seem like a minor distinction, but it helps to provide a basis by which you can reduce the odds of a tortoise enclosure becoming infested.

The good news is that most insects attracted to tortoise enclosures are harmless and the only real pests that are likely to bother your pets are mites and ticks. These can be dealt with fairly easily without risking the health of your tortoise.

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