With so many lovely tortoises available, it can be hard to choose just one. Indeed, this abundance of choice might leave you questioning, “Can I just get two different species and house them together?”.
Unfortunately, tortoises of different species shouldn’t live together because it’s too risky.
Not only is disease a concern, but there could be clashes in temperament, aggression, injury, and problematic breeding. Mixing tortoise sub-species is less of a concern.
Some owners believe that species with similar temperaments – like Greek and Hermann’s – can be kept together. However, getting two tortoises of the same species is better if you want to keep a pair.
Can Two Different Species of Tortoise Live Together?
Expert opinion varies on whether different tortoise species can be mixed.
The Tortoise Trust believe it’s okay to mix tortoises of different species as long as they’re of a similar temperament and size and ideally come from the same region.
Others, like Home and Roost, say it’s okay to have multiple tortoises of the same species (in certain contexts) but not different species.
However, The Tortoise Group believes we should keep only one tortoise per household, ideally a male. They believe that neither different species nor tortoises from the same species should be mixed.
Reasons Not to Mix Different Tortoise Species
Here’s why different tortoise species shouldn’t be kept in the same enclosure:
According to The Veterinary Nurse, it’s difficult to identify and resolve stress in tortoises. So, it’s important to minimize any sources of unnecessary stress.
Wild tortoises only encounter their species (or similar species), so inter-species mixing is stressful.
There’s some crossover between yellow and red-footed tortoises in the wild, but most interactions will only be between the same species.
Size And Temperament Differences
There can be significant size and temperament differences between different types of tortoises.
For example, mixing a Sulcata (African-spurred) tortoise with a Hermann’s tortoise would be irresponsible because the former is significantly bigger than the latter. Hermann’s are among the smallest tortoises.
Similarly, placing a shy tortoise like a Leopard Star with a bold tortoise like a Horsfield would be irresponsible, as the Leopard star will likely become very stressed.
You’ll get personality variations even within the same species. That’s why some would say that mixing tortoises from the same species is irresponsible unless you know their personalities.
Different Care Requirements
Some tortoises, like the yellow-back tortoises, need very high humidity, whereas others need far less.
Creating a compromise that works for both tortoise species will be expensive and time-consuming, and it might risk the tortoise’s health.
Talking of health, perhaps the most important reason not to mix tortoise breeds is that you could introduce unnecessary diseases into your enclosure.
According to Tortoise Den, all tortoises carry diseases and parasites. These are usually harmless to the tortoise but could damage another tortoise that hasn’t developed a resistance to the disease.
A common disease that seems to be spread this way is ‘Runny Nose Syndrome.’
Are There Any Species of Tortoise That Can Live Together?
As mentioned, some experts believe it’s possible to mix species. In this case, The Tortoise Trust recommends mixing species that are:
- Similar in size
- Similar in temperament
- Same geographical region
An example of this might be a Hermann’s and a Greek Tortoise because they’re both relatively small, Mediterranean tortoises.
According to Exotic Direct, Hermann’s tortoises are usually slightly smaller and more active than Greek tortoises. A pairing of this nature might work, but it would still be risky.
If you want a pairing like this, it would be advisable to mix females only.
It is possible to mix subspecies safely.
Many people aren’t aware, but there are two subspecies of Hermann’s Tortoise:
- Western Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermanni)
- Eastern Hermann’s tortoise (Testudo hermanni boettgeri)
Some other species also have subspecies that could be mixed. Nevertheless, ensure that the tortoise’s temperaments aren’t drastically different before mixing them, and always avoid male pairs.
Can Different Species of Tortoises Breed?
It’s usually okay to mix sub-species for breeding. For example, it would be okay for a Western Hermann’s tortoise to breed with an Eastern Hermann’s tortoise as they belong to the same ‘group.’
However, it’s not advisable to breed different species (e.g., a Greek with a Hermann’s).
Some crosses wouldn’t result in viable hatchlings. But even if viable, these hatchlings may be difficult to care for because they’ll have a combination of care needs (inherited from the mother and father).
Crossbreeds may also be difficult to sell. And since a clutch can be between 4 and 12 eggs, you could soon become overwhelmed with hatchlings.
How to Mix Same Species Pairs
Given the risks involved in mixing different species, most owners who want a pair of tortoises only opt for the same species mixes.
Here are some points to consider when safely pairing the same tortoise species:
Avoid Male-Male Pairs
According to Michael Tuma, males are very territorial, so it’s normal for them to engage in biting, head-bobbing, and shell ramming in the wild.
In the wild, the “losing” tortoise would have the option to escape, but if you force two male tortoises to live together, one may become seriously injured or even die.
Ages Should Match
If you pair a male and female, ensure they’ve reached sexual maturity.
Females are ready to breed when their shells are at least 8 inches long, typically around 9-15 years old (in captivity). An older female who hasn’t laid eggs for several years shouldn’t be left with a male.
Monitor Their Behavior
When pairing any two tortoises, you’ll need to be cautious and observe the initial interaction. If aggression ensues, be prepared to separate the tortoises.
Two Females Together
Keeping two females together is usually the best combination because it’s less likely to cause aggression, and breeding isn’t possible.
You’ll still need to keep a close eye on females and give them plenty of space/resources, but you’re less likely to see them being aggressive to each other when compared to male-male pairs.
Tortoises are more “sociable” than we might first recognize, but it’s usually better to keep tortoises alone.
If you want to keep a pair of tortoises, choose two females, and avoid male-male pairs.
It’s best to pair tortoises of the same species, but mixing subspecies is usually okay.
A minority of people say mixing different species is okay, but you should always match them based on size, temperament, and geographical location.
Nevertheless, most people would say that mixing species is too risky from a health perspective. Thus, in most cases, keep different species of tortoise separate.