If you’ve ever had a pet before, any pet, then the question of whether your little friend needs their own companion will have come up at least once or twice. This is especially true if your pet is a social animal. But what about tortoises? Is it okay to have more than one tortoise in one enclosure? If so, will they even appreciate the company?
Tortoises are not known to be social creatures, and they will be fine living on their own for much of their lives. But in theory, if you want to, it is possible to keep two or more tortoises together in one enclosure. For this to work, however, you will have to consider a lot of things, including the size of your habitat, the species of your tortoise, the male to female ratio, and even how old your tortoises are.
Cohabitation isn’t such a straightforward topic when it comes to tortoises, but let’s find out more, shall we?
Why Would You Want Two or More Tortoises?
If you are a first time tortoise keeper, many breeders would recommend that you get tortoises in pairs. Why? Well, aside from the breeders potentially selling you more tortoises, eventually, you will want more, and you will want a tortoise that is the same size as your own tortoise.
But by the time you decide you want another one, your first tortoise might have gotten bigger. Since your new tortoise will need to be the same size, they can get a bit expensive, as older tortoises are more expensive. Of course, this is just one scenario. Here are a few more reasons why you’d want to keep more than one tortoise.
Breeding your tortoises is not really something you think about when you get your tortoises for the first time. For one, it’s near impossible to determine the animal’s gender while they are still hatchlings, and secondly, you’ll have to wait a few years before they actually start making new tortoises. Of course, if it is something you might be interested in, it makes sense to get multiple tortoises when they are still young, and cheaper.
Eventually, however, breeding will be something you’ll want to consider, especially once your tortoises are turning into juveniles or adults. Breeding is a huge commitment and takes a lot of patience.
Observe Natural Behavior
Tortoises are a “watch and observe” sort of pet, much like fishes. They are not like any cute, or cuddly animals that you can hug or snuggle with. The appeal of tortoises to people is being able to observe them.
Observing solitary tortoises in their habitat is more than enough for most people but having two of them can unlock behavior that you would not have otherwise observed if they were alone. Some tortoise species, like the Red Foot tortoise, have behavior that are unique to their own species and can only be possible if there are multiple individuals in one habitat.
The Collector in You
Another reason why you would want to keep multiple tortoises is simply the joy of collecting various species. Of course, it’s generally never a good idea to mix certain species together. But if you know the required husbandry of certain species, you can pair them with other tortoises with similar needs. We’ll talk more about this later, but for now, just understand that keeping one tortoise can trigger the tortoise collector in you.
Things to Consider
Of course, the topic of keeping multiple tortoises in one enclosure is a divisive one nowadays. Some keepers say it should never, ever be done under any circumstance, but others say it is not a problem. Like any other such topic, it is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Keeping two tortoises together in one habitat is possible, but there are a few things you need to consider first. Here are some of them.
Some tortoise species are inherently territorial. So, keeping more than one tortoise in one enclosure can lead to a lot of competition and possible bullying. This territorial behavior is especially common with desert species than forest species. Desert tortoises have to compete in the wild for limited resources, so they tend to be more aggressive towards other tortoises.
Another thing you need to consider in relation to your tortoise’s species is whether you should keep different species of tortoises together in one enclosure. The arguments most keepers have against this is the threat of cross-contamination, where the disease of one species can transfer to the other. And this is indeed a risk.
But if the tortoises you own already have overlapping territories in the wild, have similar living conditions or share the same diet, then cohabiting multiple species should be a lot easier. A good example is Sulcata tortoises and Leopard tortoises. Both species share the same habitats in Africa, and it’s not strange to see two members of the species together in the wild. So, you can safely keep these two together without much problem. They are also known to interbreed and produce hybrids.
Another example are Red Foot Tortoises and Cherry-head Tortoises. Technically, Cherry-heads are a subspecies of Red Foot, so they are pretty much the same. Both are also very social animals. You can also put Elongated Tortoises together with Red Foot Tortoises without any issue.
Both animals are social creatures, though their habitats in the wild don’t overlap, since Red Foots live in South America and Elongated Tortoises live in Southeast Asia. They do share the same diet and living conditions, and they very rarely would fight, so it’s possible to keep these two together, no problem.
One of the biggest problems you’ll have to face when cohabiting multiple tortoises is competition or bullying. As we’ve mentioned before, some species are more territorial than others, but if you don’t have enough space in your habitat, then your tortoises will fight, regardless of their tendencies.
Tortoises need enough space for them to walk around and explore without hitting the walls of their habitat with every small movement. They will also want enough space for themselves without other tortoises getting in their way. As such, the more tortoises you have, the bigger your enclosure needs to be in order to stop them from fighting over territory.
This can be a bit tricky for indoor enclosures, but you can find premade enclosures that can do the job nicely. Of course, if you have enough space in your yard, and the climate allows it, you can build your own outdoor enclosure with as much space as you and your tortoises would want.
If you want to find out more we have a great article on the best enclosure for your tortoise.
On very important thing you’ll need to consider if you want to cohabitate your tortoises is their sex. Males tend to be very territorial, especially towards other males. If you have more than one male tortoise in one enclosure, expect a lot of competition and maybe bullying.
One way to avoid this is by mixing multiple sexes of tortoise together by putting females in your enclosure with your male tortoises. Of course, you will also have to consider your male to female ratio. If you have the same number of female tortoises as your males or fewer, then the males will still compete. On top of that, given that there are a limited number of females in your habitat, the males will also end up bullying the females as well.
A good ratio to keep in mind is having one male tortoise for every two or more females. Generally speaking, keeping multiple females in one enclosure, without the males, wouldn’t be a problem. Females don’t fight for territory, but if your enclosure is too small, they may still fight.
Tortoises fighting for space wouldn’t really be much of a problem if all you are taking care of are hatchlings. Hatchlings don’t need that much space for themselves and can live communally without a problem. This is temporary, however, and they start getting ornerier as they grow closer to sexual maturity. Eventually, you will need to start segregating them as they grow closer to their first or second year.
When is it Better to Keep your Tortoises Separated?
Sometimes, even with your best efforts, some tortoises just won’t get along. If any of your tortoise has to compete for space or food, or is being bullied, then this will be very stressful for them. In such cases, it’s best to separate them and give them their own enclosure.
A tell tale sign that your tortoise is being bullied is if you notice bite marks or scratches on their skin. You may also notice that they aren’t as active as the other tortoises. Some tortoises will try to hide or avoid the others. If you ever notice this, make sure to separate that particular tortoise to prevent further stress.
Although many of us would like to keep more than one tortoise, it’s important to understand that these animals are generally solitary. That is, they are fine with being alone. Forcing your tortoise to share space with another can be just as bad for them as feeding them the wrong types of food, or not giving them enough humidity.
As a tortoise keeper, it’s important for you to be sensitive to your pet’s needs and adjust to them accordingly. And this includes your tortoise’s need for companionship.