Tortoise behaviours and the reasons behind it

Tortoise behaviour and the reasons behind it

Our pets can not communicate with us so there are many times when they will exhibit behaviour that seems strange and unusual to us. There are times when we can find this worrying as we do not know what they are trying to tell us. Here we look at some strange tortoise behaviours and what their actions mean.

Head banging

Head banging in tortoises is usually a sign of mating behaviour or a show of dominance. These are not social creatures and when two males are placed in close proximity they will often fight and show aggression.

When mating, some tortoises will bite and others will ram, but it’s also not just to other tortoises, if a human or object gets in their way they will try to ram it.

These behaviours are not across the board, some tortoise species such as the Hermann’s is more prone to bobbing their head rather than banging it. Assertiveness can also be your tortoise pre-empting a need to be territorial based on the perception of another male tortoise in the area – whether they are or not.


This can be related to behaviour, but it can also be signs of a respiratory infection. If your tortoise is squeaking, first check for any discharge in the noise or any difficulty breathing before you pass off any squeaking as a behavioural issue.

Male tortoises can squeak, loudly, as part of the mating ritual and there are also some owners who are sure their tortoises squeak as part of their personality.

Regardless if this is the case or not, any squeaking should be met with caution and a check on your tortoise to make sure the reason for this isn’t part of a bigger problem or the start of a respiratory infection.


Lack of substrate and an enclosure that is too small are both reasons as to why your tortoise may be scratching. If this is the case, you need to make sure their home is as large as you can afford; tortoise do get bored and not having enough space can cause them to become lethargic and frustrated. Your tortoise enclosure or table should be at least 4 ft x 2 ft, although as big as you can manage is always suggested.

On the other hand, tortoises do like to dig, so the scratching could easily be a lack of substrate. As keen burrowers they do need to be provided with enough substrate that they can bury themselves in it should they wish, just as they would in their natural habitat, this should provide them with what they require and stop the scratching. You can also make sure to provide them with plenty of hides and spaces they can go and hide away in.

British Pet Insurance Services offers a range of exotic pet cover levels, insuring; lizards, snakes, tortoises, parrots, birds of prey and small mammals. With up to £5,000 vet fees and a range of optional extras, select the level of cover to suit your needs.

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