Tortoises often find living in captivity stressful, especially when their surroundings are unfamiliar. So, adding artificial plants to imitate their natural environment can make the transition easier.
Fake plants look authentic, provide shade from the sun, and enable tortoises to feel at home. Also, artificial plants are much easier to care for than natural plants. Unfortunately, some tortoises chew and eat fake plants. Given that the material is non-digestible, this could cause impaction.
You can still use fake plants in a tortoise’s enclosure, but certain caveats apply. Don’t just put artificial plants in the enclosure and let the tortoise eat them. There must be some separation between tortoises and artificial plants, so they can’t consume them when you’re not around.
Can You Put Fake Plants in a Tortoise Tank?
A tortoise tank should never be left bare because this can lead to boredom and depression. An unhappy tortoise is unhealthy, more defensive, less engaging, and more likely to stop eating.
Most wild tortoise species (except dessert varieties) encounter all manner of greenery in their surroundings. So, an enclosure should replicate its natural living environment.
Getting plants for a tortoise enclosure can be costly, time-consuming, and hard to manage. You may struggle to keep plants alive in warm and humid living conditions if you don’t have green fingers.
Fake plants are a simple alternative to real plants. If you choose your artificial plants wisely and keep a watchful eye on the tortoise, they can make a nice addition to an enclosure.
Let’s take a closer look at the different considerations:
Fake plants can look great in a tortoise’s habitat, adding the visual of lush greenery.
Their appearance remains the same, unlike real plants. Fake plants won’t grow uncontrollably or unruly, and their leaves won’t start to wilt or be eaten.
You may be able to acquire fake plants that would otherwise not be an option. Plastic or fabric plants that resemble exotic growth can make a tortoise enclosure look striking.
While insects will still be interested in a tortoise’s enclosure due to food and animal waste, bugs won’t be attracted to plastic plants and flowers.
If any unwanted substances get on artificial plants, they can be washed and cleaned.
Artificial plants don’t require pesticides or other chemicals to keep them insect free, making them significantly safer for tortoises and the environment.
Imitation of Wild Environment
The more familiar surroundings you place in an enclosure, the more the tortoise will feel at home.
This can be essential, especially in the early weeks you live together. Many tortoises refuse to leave their shells upon relocating, but artificial plants can bolster their confidence.
Learn about the tortoise’s natural habitat and what greenery grows in such a locale. This will enable you to create a home from home for a new tortoise.
Shade and Temperature Control
To avoid Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), such as shell pyramiding and soft shell, tortoises must balance their exposure to sunlight, temperatures, and humidity.
Large leaves from a fake plant will offer shade if the tortoise is overly hot but isn’t ready to enter the cooler side of the temperature gradient. This leaf won’t struggle with climate changes, unlike a real plant.
The tortoise may use plants to maintain warmth and hide when stressed and anxious. A tortoise that feels afraid or intimidated will retreat inside its shell.
With sufficient fake vegetation and leaves, a tortoise may no longer consider this necessary.
Knocking Over Plants
Many owners complain that their tortoise’s natural curiosity and playful personality lead them to knock over fake plant pots. If this is the case, consider bedding the plants into the ground.
While the initial cost of artificial plants is similar to live plants, they’ll eventually be a more cost-effective choice because they don’t require regular replacement.
Fake plants aren’t affected by seasonal changes or extreme weather, so they add year-round color.
Artificial plants don’t grow and spread like real plants, so they don’t need pruning or trimming, making them a perfect non-invasive choice for small and limited spaces.
Fake plants don’t produce pollen or other allergens, making them ideal for allergic tortoises. The Veterinary Page discusses how a sulcata tortoise was allergic to orchard grass.
What Happens if a Tortoise Eats Fake Plants?
Tortoises are part of the turtle family (Testudinidae).
It’s no secret that plastic ingestion is a major problem for aquatic lifeforms. Scientific Reports have discussed how eating plastic waste is responsible for significant wild turtle mortality.
It stands to reason that the same would apply to tortoises. Whether living in the wild or being kept as a domestic pet, the digestive tract of a tortoise isn’t engineered to process and digest plastic.
This means that consuming plastic leaves from fake plants can lead to impaction. So, pay attention if the tortoise stops going to the toilet or shows signs of inappetence.
Thankfully, the problem is unlikely to be immediate. In the case of wild sea turtles, an average of 14 pieces of plastic were found in the gut of each deceased animal.
It’s unlikely that the tortoise will be inclined to eat that much bland-tasting plastic, especially when tastier foods, like fruit and vegetables, are available.
Stopping Tortoises from Eating Fake Plants
The best way to stop a tortoise from eating fake plants is to provide its favorite foods. If the tortoise has sufficient supplies of food it enjoys, it’s far less likely to eat fake plants.
Some tortoises nibble away at the leaves, if only through curiosity. One bite may be enough to deter them from continuing, especially when full.
Biology Letters explains how tortoises remember food locations for 18 months, so the plant (fake or natural) will likely be recalled as non-edible or toxic.
If the tortoise insists on attempting to eat a specific fake plant, consider making the plant inaccessible. A barrier may be enough to deter them from investigating further.
Alternatively, switch to a fake plant with less vibrant, eye-catching colors. Tortoises can see in color, and they’re particularly drawn to bright colors, such as red.
Of course, if a tortoise is obsessed with eating plastic plants, remove them from the enclosure. Many animals are driven to eat non-food items, a condition known as pica.
Bite marks and missing pieces from the fake plants will tell you if this is so.
Fake plants can make a nice addition to a tortoise tank. They’re a low-maintenance way to introduce color to an enclosure and help a tortoise adapt to its long life as a beloved family pet.