How to Tell if your Tortoise is Male or Female


Like most animals, you may need to be a bit more direct when trying to determine your tortoise’s gender. Unless you have a super-genius mutant tortoise, it won’t just up and tell you if it’s a male or a female. You will have to check yourself. Of course, since tortoises don’t have their male or female bits just dangling out in the open like dogs or cats do, it can be a bit tricky to sex your little shelled friend. So how can you tell if your tortoise is a male or female?

Tell-tale signs include the shape of the shell, their size, the length of their tail, and even their behaviour, if you are observant enough. Some tortoise species even have their own specific ways of identifying their gender. Sexing your tortoise is fairly straightforward if you know how to look. They have a different anatomy than other animals, so checking between their hind legs won’t work. Of course, that just means you need to shift your attention elsewhere.

Whether you plan on making more tortoise hatchlings with your pets, or are just generally curious, here is how you can tell if your tortoise is male or female.

Why Sexing your Tortoise is Important

Outside of satisfying your curiosity, there are practical reasons for determining your tortoise’s sex. Understanding whether you have a male or female tortoise can help you determine the best kind of care you can give them, so they can live healthy, stress-free lives. Here are just some examples why knowing whether your tortoise is male, or female is important.

Breeding, or Not

The most obvious reason why you will want to determine your tortoise’s gender is if you plan on breeding them. Breeding tortoises can be labor-intensive, but it can be made a lot easier if you already know if you have male or female tortoises. If you have a larger collection of one gender over the other, then it can be a bit tricky to get them to breed. Having a rough estimate of the number of males and females in your colony can help you get outside help from other tortoise keepers’ pets if you need it.

Also, breeding female tortoises will need extra calcium, in order to produce healthy eggs and to prevent egg binding, which is a condition that is life-threatening. Knowing how many egg-laying females you have will make it easier for you to adjust their diet accordingly.

Of course, if you didn’t want your tortoises to breed, understanding which ones are male or female can make separating them much easier. If the last thing you want are hatchling tortoises coming out of the ground out of nowhere, then being able to easily separate your sexually mature tortoises is vital.

Co-habitation

Another reason why you will want to sex your tortoise is if you want to keep them in the same enclosure. Some tortoise species are more territorial than others, and they can be a bit rough to their fellow tortoises. Just like any other animal, tortoises have their own sexual dynamics, but you can only really use this information if you know which of your pets are male or female.

Keeping two male tortoises in one enclosure is generally frowned upon, especially with certain desert species. Male tortoises are very territorial, and will fight a lot, causing stress to one another. Putting female tortoises in the enclosure might help alleviate this problem, but only if you put enough females.

If your male tortoises outnumber your female tortoises, you won’t fix the problem of male tortoises fighting each other, because they have to compete for the limited females. On top of that, your male tortoises will start harassing the females, which can be stressful for them as well. A good ratio for keeping tortoises in one habitat is having at least two female tortoises for every male tortoise. Still, if you can avoid putting two male tortoises in one enclosure, all the better.

If your looking for information on the best enclosure for your tortoise check out full article for all the information you will need.

How to Determine the Sex of your Tortoise

Although they look pretty much the same to one another, many tortoise species do show sexual dimorphism, that is, physical differences between male and female. If you are observant enough, you can easily distinguish them.

Naturally, checking for these attributes would mean you will have to pick your tortoises up or flip them over. Try to lessen the time you are holding your tortoise or having them flipped over to lower their stress. Here are a few things you can watch out for to help determine the sex of your tortoise. It’s recommended that you look for photo examples to compare to whilst looking for these details.

Anal Scutes

If you flip your tortoise over, you will notice that the underside of their shell, or the plastron, is segmented, just like their top half. These segments are called scutes, same as the segments on their carapace. You would want to take a look at the back end of these scutes, the ones closest to the tale. These are called the anal scutes.

The anal scutes should form a V or U shape, which allows the tortoise’s tail to move freely. Male tortoises have wider anal scutes, whilst female tortoises will have narrower scutes.

Gular Scutes

We’ve mentioned before that most male tortoises can be territorial, and they will engage in duels with other males if provoked. In some species, their shells are shaped in such a way that can help them fight against others more effectively. The gular scutes, located at the front end of the plastron, just under the tortoise’s chin, is one such adaptation.

Male tortoises can have longer or more robust gular scutes, which can help them flip rival tortoises easier. This is especially prominent in Sulcata tortoises, Radiated tortoises and Gopher tortoises.

Shape of the Plastron

Another way to check if a tortoise is male or female, is by checking the overall shape of the plastron. Male tortoises have concave plastrons, that is, they curve inwards, whilst females tend to have flat plastrons. The curved plastrons help the male tortoises mount the female more easily, given that the female’s carapace fits perfectly into the cavity on the male tortoise’s bottom shell.

Some species also have specific differences on the shape of their shell. A good example of this is the Red Footed Tortoise. Male members of this species have an hourglass-shaped shell, which is very distinct. Female members have the usual oval-shaped shell.

Another example is the Hermann’s tortoises. Male members of this species have shells that are much wider at the back than the females.

Tail Length

If you check the tail of a tortoise, you’ll notice that females and males have different tail lengths from one another. Female tails tend to be shorter and wider, whilst males have thinner, and longer tails. Male tortoises also tend to tuck their tails into their shell sideways.

Another way to determine if your tortoise is male or female, if you can’t decide if the tail is long or short enough, is by checking the cloaca, which is the opening where your tortoise defecates and urinates. If it’s a female, the cloaca would be close to the base of the tail, or closer to the anal scutes. If it’s a male, the cloaca tends to be found close to the middle or even close to the tip of the tail.

Coloration

Although male and female tortoises of many species don’t show any variations between their specie’s respective color patterns, there is a way for you to check their gender based on their coloration. Male tortoises tend to have brighter colorations, whilst female colors tend to be more muted. This is because male tortoises use their colorations as both sexual and threat displays during mating season.

Of course, there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. You shouldn’t base your determination of a tortoise’s gender on the coloration alone. Rather, use the color patterns as complimentary data on what you have observed thus far.

Size

The size of your tortoise can also help determine whether they are male or female, but only if compared to other tortoises. In most tortoise species, males tend to be larger than females. In some cases, the males can be 50% larger or more than the females.

Find an Expert

If you’re still having doubts about your tortoise’s gender, don’t be ashamed to check in with an expert, like a veterinarian who specializes in herpetology. Annual checkups are a great time to do this. You can also ask them to help teach you how to determine your tortoise’s gender so you can do it on your own.

Final Thoughts

Knowing whether a tortoise is male, or female can have many advantages. Having this knowledge can make taking care of your tortoise’s needs a lot easier. As with everything else, proper knowledge can help improve your tortoise husbandry and help make your tortoise’s lives longer and more comfortable.

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