Tortoise facts

The tortoise is a land dwelling creature distinguishable by its tough shell, into which it retreats when it feels threatened. Tortoises can vary in size from just a few centimeters right up to two meters, depending on the species.

Living between 80-150 years, tortoises are known to be the longest living creatures on the planet and they survive on a purely plant based diet. These slow, graceful creatures are found in many areas of the world and have evolved to completely adapt to the environment in which they live. They are able to survive in the desert or the forest and are happy to adapt their diet according to the time of year and on what plant life is available to them, eating everything from grass to cacti and shrubs to flowers. If you would like to know more about how long a pet tortoise can live we have a detailed article here.

There are many interesting tortoise facts for anyone who may be looking to purchase a tortoise and wishes to have a good knowledge of the animal they will be caring for.

A Brief History Of The Tortoise

Tortoises are evolved prehistoric creatures and there is evidence to suggest that these descendants lived long before the dinosaurs ever walked the planet. They are believed to have evolved onto land from the water, as is the case with most modern day land creatures and still show some features similar to their cousins turtles and terrapins who are still aquatic creatures.

Tortoise Breeding and Life Span

Tortoises tend to lay around no more than twenty eggs at a time but more commonly only lay just a few at once. The eggs require around 100 to 160 days of incubation time, at which point the babies area hatched. Female tortoises usually lay their eggs at night under the cover of darkness and the eggs are protected by being buried in soil or sand, where she will then leave them unattended to hatch when they are ready. She will, however cover the area with her urine in order to warn off potential predators.

The baby tortoises have a special ‘egg-tooth’ with which they break free from their eggs and begin their life. It will find its way to the surface and will then survive alone. The only assistance the babies have is a small egg sac with which they are hatched, which provides nutrients for their first few days of life until they are strong enough to fend for themselves. Some species of baby tortoise will start their diet with the added nutrition of small creatures such as worms.

Amazingly, the female tortoise is able to store sperm and use it to fertilize her eggs up to four years later. They do not mate for life and may breed with many other tortoises throughout their lives.

Males can become very aggressive during the mating season and will fight one another in order to gain a female, this usually takes place in the spring and summer.

Due to their lengthy life span, the tortoise is a symbol in some cultures such as the Chinese culture, of longevity

The Tortoises Body

Tortoises, depending on the species can vary greatly in size from very small to extremely large. The giant tortoise, for example can grow up to one and a half meters and is thought to have gained its size because of its ancient history of island living and having to thrive in such a small area of land.

The tortoises shell has a hard, protective exterior and a softer layer underneath called the plastron. Females are usually distinguished by a v shaped notch in the plastron, near the tail which helps with the delivery of her eggs.

Tortoises are classed as reptiles and have a dry and scaly skin and are cold-blooded creatures. This means that they gather heat from the environment and store it in their bodies in order to regulate their temperature.


As mentioned earlier in this article, the tortoise is a herbivore and enjoys a variety of plant life in its diet. They are happy to eat whatever type of plant life is within the area that they are living and will adapt their eating habits according to seasonal changes.

Some of the plants that a tortoise in captivity may be fed are things such as dandelions, clovers, clematis and nettles. In the wild they are known to consume everything from grass to flowers and everything in between.

Many people are led to believe that tortoises do not require very much water but this is not true. They need a regular intake in order for their internal functions to work correctly and healthily. Tortoises are also known to have a very slow rate of metabolism.

Species of Tortoise

One of the most interesting tortoise facts is that there are a huge number of species. When thinking about tortoises, one may immediately think of the giant tortoise, but there are many different types around the world. Some of these species are as follows;

  • Russian tortoise
  • Leopard tortoise
  • Radiated tortoise
  • Red-footed tortoise
  • Desert tortoise
  • Yellow foot tortoise
  • Hingeback tortoise
  • Gopher tortoise
  • Galapagos tortoise
  • Sulcata tortoise
  • Elongated tortoise

If your thinking of buying a pet tortoise check out guides on the best tortoise for an indoor pet and how to buy a pet tortoise.

Tortoise Habitat

When looking at tortoise facts, one of the common things to find out is the natural habitat of the animal. Tortoises live all over the world and in a vast amount of different areas.

Tortoises always live on land. Some tortoises live in desert conditions whilst others prefer grassy plains. There are species which live in forests, some prefer a coastal climate whilst others live on mountains. The species will always adapt to its environment and do very well when they are kept as pets, making them a popular choice with animal lovers.

Keeping a Tortoise As a Pet

One of the reasons you may be interested in reading about tortoise facts is for information on keeping them as a pet. Many people will opt to choose a tortoise as their chosen pet, but it is important that they are well looked after and cared for. Before taking on a tortoise, it is important to find out all of the relevant information to ensure that your tortoise has everything it needs to thrive in its new home.

One of the most vital things to think about is whether you will be able to care for your tortoise long term, because of their long lifespan, you need to consider that they may even outlive you, so it is important to ensure that should you no longer be around to care for your tortoise, that a plan is in place to rehome them.

Here is a list of things you will need in order to make your new tortoise a happy home and care for it properly;

  • A terrarium for your tortoise to live in. It is important to remember that tortoises need space and you should think carefully about the size of the terrarium according to the size of the tortoise. You may opt to buy a smaller one and upgrade to a larger one when your tortoise grows or you may decide to buy a bigger one from the get-go.
  • The tortoise will require adequate shelter within the terrarium, somewhere that it can hide away and feel safe.
  • If you are going to be having more than one tortoise, it is recommended that you house them in same sex couples, unless of course you want tortoise babies. That being said, the tortoises will lead a much happier life when they are living with another tortoise of the same sex.
  • The lighting for your tortoise is an incredibly important factor when setting up its new home, being cold blooded animals, the tortoise requires heat and light in order to maintain a healthy temperature. You can opt to place the terrarium in direct natural sunlight, however if this isn’t possible then you can purchase specialist lighting equipment to replicate the sunlight. The tortoise will want to bathe in the light for about 12 hours a day, so it is essential that the light remains on for at least this length of time each day.
  • Depending on the species of tortoise you purchase will depend on the climate they will prefer to live in. Some tortoises such as the Russian tortoise survive very well in drier environments while other species like the Greek tortoise prefer a more humid and cool environment. If you buy your tortoise from a reputable place, they will be able to offer you the best advice for the species.
  • Inside the terrarium should be cleaned at least once a week and the bedding for the tortoise should be tended to monthly. Once again, different species prefer a different type of flooring for the tank and advice should be sought before putting down any sort of ground. Different species may prefer bark, while others may like soil or sand.
  • Your tortoise will need regular exercise and can be taken out of its terrarium into the garden to stretch its legs. When taking your tortoise outdoors you should provide an appropriate enclosure to make sure that the tortoise cannot escape or become lost.
  • It is important to make sure that your tortoise is getting the best diet. Providing plenty of leafy vegetable such a lettuce or cabbage. You can also opt to feed your tortoise things such as celery, dandelions and certain types of fruit
  • Some tortoises may require dietary supplements to ensure that that are getting all of the vital nutrients that they need.
  • Water must be provided for your tortoise and you can present it in a shallow container. It is worth remembering that you should provide a container that the tortoise cannot knock or turn over.
  • When handling your tortoise you should always take extra care and be as gentle as possible. If the tortoise is dropped, the shell may crack and this could lead to an infection.

Tips For Buying Your First Tortoise

If you are thinking about buying a tortoise and have considered all the information above, it is now time to start looking at making your purchase and bringing home your new pet. But it is also worth remembering that the actual purchase itself should be researched.

  • Ensure that you have enough space and a big enough budget to successfully house your new pet.
  • Also make sure to purchase good quality equipment for your tortoise, whilst it may be expensive, it will save you a small fortune in the long run replacing faulty or substandard equipment.
  • If you purchase a tortoise and later decide that it is not the pet for you, it is essential to find a new home for the animal. Tortoises should never be released into the wild because of the risk of damage to the existing eco-system.
  • It is important to remember that whilst tortoises are fascinating creatures, they are not incredibly sociable. They much prefer to be left alone and handled as little as possible. A tortoise is a pet which is better off being watched and enjoyed from afar so as not to upset the animal.
  • When you do handle your tortoise, you should always be mindful of hygiene. These animals are known to carry bacteria such a salmonella, so hand-washing after touching the animal is a must.
  • If you are looking at buying a tortoise from a private seller, there are things to be mindful of such as the health of the animal. To avoid high vet and treatment bills for an animal that is not in the best of health, you can simply study the shell. If the shell appears to have any bumps rather than being smooth this can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Flaking of the shell can point a lack of essential nutrients within the animals current diet.
  • It is highly recommended to purchase your tortoise from a reputable breeder who will have taken very good care of the animal prior to selling it. Don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions before committing to buying a tortoise, a good breeder will be able to answer any of your concerns and put your mind at ease.
  • When buying a tortoise from a pet shop you should be mindful that these animals have most probably been sourced from tortoise farms. Whilst this isn’t a terrible thing, it could indicate that the animal hasn’t received the best care that it could have done and checking for signs of ill heath should be mad a priority.
  • There are hundreds of websites online where you can source valuable tortoise facts and information on buying your first tortoise and to find out more information about the care of the animal.
  • Research is always key to any purchase but especially that of an animal who is going to depend on you to stay alive.

Fun Tortoise Facts

Whilst taking care of a tortoise is serious business, there are some fun tortoise facts to find out;

  • The oldest every recorded tortoise was from Tonga and lived to 188 years old.
  • Despite not being water loving creatures, tortoises can hold their breath for an impressively long time.
  • Baby tortoises are called hatchlings
  • Tortoises do not have teeth
  • Tortoises like to hibernate in the winter
  • A creep is the name given to a group of tortoises
  • Tortoises have both an exoskeleton and an endoskeleton
  • The tortoises shell colour can give away where they are from, with tortoises from hotter climates having a lighter coloured shell and ones from a cooler climate having a darker coloured shell.
  • Tortoises shells are packed with nerve endings making the very sensitive, meaning they love a good stroke.
  • The late Australian zoologist, Steve Irwin was said to have shared a tortoise named Harriet with Charles Darwin.
  • Tortoises smell with their throats
  • The Russians sent tortoises into space in the 1960s making them the first creatures to ever leave the planet


What have we learnt from these tortoise facts? Tortoises are extremely fascinating creatures that come in a wide variety of species. From those that live in the desert to the tortoises that thrive in a grassy environment and many in between, they are a diverse creature.

Tortoises are a shy animal that like to spend time alone apart from when it comes to mating where they will battle it out to find a mate. They are amazing in that from the moment the hatchlings are born, they can fend for themselves and thrive right from the beginning of their lives.

The tortoise is a versatile animal that can easily adapt to its environment and surroundings. Not only this but they can alter their vegetarian diet according to the time of year and the environment that they are living in, eating all types of plants including grass and cacti in the wild and fruit and vegetables in captivity.

These animals have a huge life span and as pets can quite often outlive their owners. They come in a variety of sizes, showing just how complex each species of tortoise is.

Whilst they make for very interesting pets, potential tortoise owners should be aware of the great deal of care and attention that these majestic creatures require and ensure that they are fully prepared for the arrival of their new pet and have all the necessary equipment in order to provide the tortoise with the best life.

There are some very exciting tortoise facts and this proves that they are extremely interesting creatures, having roots in various cultures and countries for their connection to longevity. They truly are wonderful creatures and make an exciting addition to both the wildlife and in a home in captivity.

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