As humans, we don’t really think much about all of the motor skills we have. This includes simple things like using our handy thumbs to help grab things or taking a few steps backwards. But what about our animal friends? They have their own kind of motor skills and all sorts of things they’re great at, but can our pet tortoises walk backwards?
Can a tortoise walk backwards? Yes. Tortoises can walk backwards but it is not a normal movement they do every day. Turning around is preferred but if the need arises, walking backwards is an option to get out of a tight space. It may look clumsy and slow to us, but they’re actually quite good at it.
How’s that for unexpected motor skills? While our tortoises won’t be sprouting thumbs anytime soon, walking backwards is definitely something they can do. One look at the internet and you might think they can’t, but it’s a subject full of false rumors and hearsay.
Tortoises Movement Basics
Tortoises can move very well, considering their unusual shapes and large shells to lug around. They can walk, saunter, and run, sort of. Tortoises do not get the zoomies (a frenetic burst of energy) like a kitten or puppy, so there’s no chasing their own tails as fast as possible.
But regardless, depending on overall health and how warm the tortoise is, they can move pretty quickly, and woe be to anyone standing in the path of a large determined tortoise!
Tortoises are great at moving forward, nobody will argue that point. They may even take a step or two to the side. But what about taking a few steps back? There is actually a lot of debate about this for some reason. It doesn’t take long for tortoise owners to realize that yes, a tortoise has the ability to scoot backwards if she needs to.
How do Tortoises Move Backwards? Do The Tortoise Shuffle!
When we say scoot, we really do mean it. A tortoise may have strong legs for barreling through your potted plants, digging, and making a mess, but their flexibility and reverse motion is quite limited. Those big, hard shells can get in the way, too.
But look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. If tortoises couldn’t move backwards at all, they likely would not be around today. And what about torts in the wild? Tortoises could not survive so many years in the wild if they didn’t have some way to back up.
But how do they do it?
They can’t really see behind them. They lack the flexibility required to get a good view. They’re kind of like a huge dump truck without a rearview mirror. But that doesn’t stop them from backing up.
Using their powerful front legs for leverage, a tortoise sort of helps their stumpier hind legs by pushing at the ground. This makes them turn a little as they back up, doing a little push and scoot motion to make it work. It is a bit of a time-consuming project, but it can be done. It’s kind of like watching an overloaded truck back out of a small driveway.
Now, even though most tortoises have some trouble with this action, not all of them struggle. There are some tortoise species, such as the pancake tortoise, who have far more flexibility than your standard tort. But even with this added maneuverability they too have some trouble moving backwards.
You would too if you had a big shell on your back!
Tortoise Ancestors Forged the Path Forward
In the wild, tortoises and turtles will almost never divert from old paths used by their ancestors. It’s the tried and true route, after all. That is why you will often find them crossing roads. This is the path their ancestors took, and it’s the path they grew up taking as well. Road or not, torts and turtles will go where they choose.
Why does this matter? It’s a matter of stubbornness and habit. Tortoises like to go forward, and it’s tough to stop them when they make up their minds. That’s a lot of evolution telling a tortoise not to go backwards. But that doesn’t mean they never will.
Why Bother Walking Backwards?
So why would it be important for a tortoise to walk backwards? If it’s so hard, why do they even bother?
Even as a human with all our motor skills and awareness, we do not actually walk backwards on a daily basis. Sure, we could if we wanted to, but it’s not a natural or normal movement. Taking a few steps back is helpful upon occasion, but we have no real use for actively walking in reverse all the time.
Tortoises don’t really have a use for walking backwards either. Not many, at least. And while they may not spend their days motoring around in reverse, they do occasionally need to take a few steps back.
What is the difference between walking backwards and taking a few steps back, though? When you take a few steps back you’re not going very far. Walking backwards, however, is a continued motion over an extended period. It can be fun and silly to walk around backwards, but in the end, it may result in you tripping over something you couldn’t see.
The same applies to tortoises.
When Would A Tortoise Need To Walk Backwards?
Now, just because a tortoise doesn’t often walk backwards, it does not mean that it can’t. Your tortoise may walk backwards to get out of a rough spot. Maybe it’s become wedged in a corner or on a rock. A big step back or even just a little scoot backwards can be a big help in that situation. Some torts like to walk a step or two backwards simply to alter course. Some prefer to back into their holes instead of going in head first, too.
A tortoise may need to back up if he gets stuck in a fence. It’s not going to be a fast escape, but those strong little legs can move backwards to get them out of a jam.
Another scenario where your tortoise may choose to walk backwards would be getting out of their water dish. Depending on the kind of water dish, the tortoise may just climb over it, but often they can be seen backing up to get out.
Another great example of a tortoise backing up is with female torts who are making a nest for their eggs. The female will claw and dig up a hole then back into it to deposit her eggs. This is one of the biggest reasons we know that tortoises can back up.
Walking backwards is a handy skill to have, but don’t worry if your tort doesn’t seem to back up at all. Some tortoises prefer to just power their way through every obstacle instead of backing up and going around.
Backing Up is Not Always Good
Sometimes, when a tortoise seems to continuously back up, or seems to have trouble going forward, there could be something wrong. Generally, it’s a neurological disorder that might cause constant backward movement, but there could be a number of other physical issues, too.
In this case you should take your tortoise to the vet for an examination, as soon as possible.
Can a tortoise walk backwards? The answer is yes. A tortoise can walk backwards. The distance is minimal, and the situation has to be right, but it can be done. Tortoises will more often be seen backing up and turning at the same time rather than walking straight backwards. This is because it is easier for them to maneuver this way. In some cases, if your pet tortoise is continually walking backwards, or in circles, then it is recommended to seek veterinary help right away.