It’s a common dilemma in tortoise owners. Despite the fact that their pets are not the fastest animals on earth, they turn away for a few minutes and their tortoise has disappeared. In fact, it seems to have gone into hiding. Then the big question becomes, “How do I find my tortoise?”
If your tortoise went missing, here is how and where to go look for them: look for burrows, look under things, inside anything they can crawl into, wait for the morning sun as it might bring the tortoise out of hiding, and alert the neighbors. If all else fails alert relevant authorities in your area, and advertise on Facebook or in your local paper.
Tortoises going into hiding is very normal and you shouldn’t worry too much when your tortoise first goes missing. Let’s take a look at why tortoises hide, where they hide, and how to find them. We’ll also have a look at how to stop them from getting lost in the first place.
Where Do Tortoises Hide?
Tortoises are burrowing animals and the most likely place to find a missing tortoise is not in another city or another person’s yard but underground. If a tortoise can burrow, there’s a pretty good chance that it will burrow.
In fact, they can have up to 40 burrows in a single area! Many of these aren’t huge spaces but shallow holes that they can quickly hide out in. However, some of their burrows can go for nearly 30 feet! These are their main hibernation hole ups.
Related article: Why do tortoises bury themselves?
It’s important to note that if there are no burrows to be had, tortoises can hide pretty much anywhere though they’re most likely to stay in a place that has a constant and relatively comfortable temperature.
The Four Main Reasons That Tortoises Hide
Tortoises don’t hide out of spite. They do it because they’re programmed to disappear for four main reasons.
To Take Shelter
We know, tortoises have their own home built in but that doesn’t mean that they’re immune to dealing with the elements. If it gets too hot or too cold, they’ll look to change the temperature to something more comfortable. They may also decide to stay out of the rain.
To Feel Safe
If a tortoise feels under threat from predators and it has the time to react, it will often go away and hide. This is a better thing for the tortoise than retreating into its shell which is really an action of last resort.
Tortoises will need to hibernate when it comes to Winter. They will head off into their burrow for a long sleep. Staying underground means they can’t freeze, and the burrow is built to prevent it from filling up with rainwater or snow.
To Lay Eggs/To Nest
As with many other animals, tortoises get protective when they get broody. A female won’t always nest in a burrow, but they’ll always nest near one and usually in such a way that they can hide their eggs if they feel that they need to.
How To Look For A Missing Tortoise (in 8 steps)
So, it’s normal behavior for a tortoise to go missing – they hide naturally and it’s not your fault if your tortoise does disappear. However, knowing this won’t help you get your tortoise back and while it’s likely that your tortoise is simply chilling in a burrow – it’s also possible that they’re elsewhere.
So, let’s see what you can do to get them back again:
Household Search Party
As soon as you notice your tortoise is gone, get everyone in the house together and ask them to help search the surrounding area. If you’re outside you want to carefully search each part of the ground, tortoises can seem invisible if you’re not looking carefully.
Look For Burrows
As we’ve already said, tortoises are burrowing creatures, so, you want to keep an eye out for signs of burrowing. A big warning sign is that the weather has suddenly changed to get much warmer or much colder – that’s a real trigger for tortoises to start burrowing. Check around the edges of rocks and any plants, in particular, they’re a tortoise’s favorite spot.
Look Under Stuff (And Inside Too)
If they can’t find a burrow, a tortoise is likely to aim for the shade. If they’re indoors, that could be under your sofa or your refrigerator. In fact, if there’s a space that your tortoise can fit through, the chances are that they have done.
You can try and use food and water to lure them out if you’re indoors, but it doesn’t always work. Tortoises aren’t as easy to summon as rodents or dogs in this respect.
So again, if you’re indoors, the best way to find them is to go over every last inch of floor space and see if they’re there.
Morning Sunlight Can Call Your Tortoise
Temperature changes can make tortoises go into hiding but it can also bring them back out of hiding. When the morning sun comes out, the temperature goes up and they can come scuttling out of a burrow or from under something to soak up some rays. So, keep your eye out when the sun comes up.
Alert The Neighbors
Let everyone in the neighborhood know that your tortoise is missing and that if one turns up, it’s much more likely to be your pet than it is to be a wild tortoise.
This has three effects: the first is that it can get your neighbors looking for your pet and extra eyes are always appreciated, right?
The second is that it stops people from mistaking your pet for a wild tortoise that went astray. This means they’re less likely to take your tortoise to a wood or a stream and release it.
The third and final effect is it that it makes people less likely to decided that your pet is now their pet. Lots of people want a tortoise and are may not look a gift tortoise in the mouth if one just turns up in their yard.
Contact The Vet, The Police, Animal Shelters, etc.
If your tortoise doesn’t turn up in a day or two then it’s time to broaden the search. Contact your local vet and possibly any other animal related businesses in the local area (zoos, shelters, etc.) and contact the police. Have a good quality photograph on hand to show when you let people know.
Advertise On Facebook or In Your Local Paper
You can also place an advert on local Facebook groups or in your local paper looking for your tortoise. Again, it’s very useful to have a good quality photo for this purpose.
Don’t offer any rewards though. It often ends up with other people’s tortoises being stolen or con men turning up to take advantage of your good nature. It’s always better to rely on the better nature of other people.
How To Not Lose Your Tortoise
It is very difficult to keep an eye on a tortoise all the time, but you can reduce the risks of it getting lost in the first place.
Secure The Enclosure
The most important action that you can take is to secure the tortoise’s enclosure if it lives outside.
You’ll find that during spring there are often minor issues that can become major if they’re not properly attended to. Look for rodents gnawing their way in or other damage from predators and fill up any gaps. Tortoises love to find these holes and get away.
Related article: Here’s why tortoises should NOT roam around the house
If you’re worried about theft – try to ensure that the enclosure is out of sight from the road. You might also want to fence the area off.
We’ve also seen one tortoise owner who used a colored string that they’d attached to their tortoise’s shell. They then claim to follow this string when their tortoise goes missing. We’re not sure that we’d advise that.
We can’t tell if they’re joking but we think that they should be – a tortoise might get tangled up in the string and hurt themselves or choke to death. It’s better just to keep the tortoises secure in the first place.
We hope that our guide to finding a missing tortoise has helped give you some ideas on how to find your pet if they’ve gone missing. If not, we hope that it will help you ensure that your tortoise doesn’t go missing in the first place. You should be aware that most tortoises that get lost do get found again. The important thing is to search hard and try not to panic. Get the word out if your tortoise doesn’t come back in good time – you’d be surprised at how far your tortoise can get in a day if it’s determined to.