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housing different tortoise species together

Can Different Species of Tortoise Live Together?

Tortoises prefer to live solitary lives. They may socialize with other tortoises during mating season or play with new tortoises they run into while exploring.

However, they almost always live alone and prefer it that way. This makes it difficult for you to get two different tortoise species to live together.

Different tortoise species can live together, but it’s not recommended. Even tortoises of the same species get territorial, causing power imbalances and fights.

Mixing species may cause issues with sizes, temperaments, and habitat requirements. Pick species that have similar heat, humidity, and ambient temperature needs.

Can You Keep Two Tortoises Together?

As mentioned, it’s not recommended to keep two tortoises together, especially of opposite species. The tortoise will be happy to live by itself or have you and your family members as companions.

Even over-handling your tortoise, such as trying to cuddle it for hours or handling it every day, can stress tortoises. You can imagine how stressful it will be for your tortoise to constantly share a space with another tortoise.

Many people think that their tortoise needs a friend. This is unfounded, however. While some tortoises may not complain about a tank mate, they do not strictly need one. In the wild, tortoises usually keep to themselves. They may interact and play with one another if they cross paths, but they may just as easily avoid each other or fight.

Tortoises of the same species are more likely to get along. This is also true if they’re similar in age and size. Pairing two tortoises of different species can easily lead to problems if they’re not compatible. Not many tortoise species pair well together. Those that do will rely on similar:

  • Temperaments
  • Age
  • Size
  • Ample space

After all, tortoises prefer neighbors, not roommates. Rarer species that aren’t often kept as pets may share a burrow with another tortoise.

However, this is for a temporary amount of time, such as during extreme weather. Conflict will likely break out if two tortoises don’t have the space to establish their own territories.

There are some instances wherein you can keep multiple tortoises, even of different species. In this case, keeping at least three tortoises is often easier.

Housing Different Tortoise Species Together

If you intend on housing different tortoise species together, be prepared for extra work. They can adapt to live harmoniously, but this will take your oversight. You will need to:

  • Tailor the habitat to suit both kinds of tortoise equally
  • Keep a close eye on both types to break up fights or discourage conflict
  • Provide a range of hiding spots and burrows, so the tortoises can escape each other for privacy
  • Offer enough space for tortoises to claim their own territories and not fight over burrows
  • Be prepared to take care of three potential tortoises, as this number will limit conflicts or exhaustion in the tortoises
  • Keep a closer eye out for illness or disease, as this can transfer between tortoises easily
  • Get ready to prevent mating between species
  • Break up conflicts over food, water, and sunspots
  • Offer enough enrichment, exploring area, and heat lamps to keep all the tortoises happy

This can be time-consuming and costly. There is also a greater chance of injury or stress in all the tortoises due to their low or moderate compatibility. Even still, it is doable, so long as you’re an experienced tortoise owner or a new owner that’s willing to put in the time, research, and effort.

To make things easier (and to raise the chances of peaceful success), you should choose tortoises that are already compatible. No two species will be as good a fit for each other as their own species. However, these types tend to get along better than others. They also share environmental needs, which makes setting up a tank more straightforward.

Can Hermann And Horsefield Tortoises Live Together?

The first combination is the Horsefield and Hermann’s tortoise. For this enclosure, you will need humidity levels of 40%-45%. The basking light should be at around 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Both tortoises require their ambient temperature to be around room temperature.

Although both can be temperamental species, they are similar in size and can give as good as they get. This ensures that no one tortoise is heavily bullied or threatened. There’s a good chance that the two will call a truce and act as good neighbors if they have enough space. When given the right conditions, they can also be friendly and full of personality.

Can Red-Foot And Indian Star Tortoises Live Together?

The red-foot and Indian star tortoise will pair well together. However, you will need to pay more attention to temperature. Both tortoises need 70%-80% humidity levels. You can keep the basking temp between 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s because 85 degrees is the red-foot’s maximum, while 90 is the star’s minimum. For ambient temperature, you can keep it between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit. Once again, 80 is the red-foot’s max, and 85 is the star’s minimum.

Red-footed tortoises are one of the rare species that do live in colonies. They’re alright with sharing space and are less territorial than other species. This can pair well with an Indian star tortoise, which is also more docile and less likely to bite or start fights. The social nature, paired with the more peaceful disposition, will keep these two in peace with one another.

However, this depends on the amount of space, size, and age. Smaller tortoises are likely to get picked on, and any tortoise will get temperamental and stressed if overcrowded. Older tortoises may also get annoyed by more active young tortoises, leading to conflict.

Why Should Sulcatas Not Be Mixed With Others?

When it comes to enclosure requirements, the sulcata can technically be housed with the Hermann’s and Horsefield tortoises. However, it’s rarely a good idea to house sulcatas with any other species. That’s because of their massive size difference.

Hermann and Horsefield tortoises can be as small as 5 inches. They can then grow as much as 8 inches for Hermann’s and 8 inches for Horsefield. The sulcata, on the other hand, can grow as much as 18 inches. You don’t want a giant like that in a mixed enclosure. Throwing around their weight can be dangerous and even lethal to other tortoises.

Sulcata are also one of the most solitary tortoise species. They prefer to live strictly by themselves in the wild and can be highly territorial. Even with ample space, they may start fights and conflict with any companions to claim space for themselves.

There are times when sulcatas can peacefully exist with other tortoises in captivity. In rare cases, they may even play and interact with other tortoises.

However, there’s a greater chance that they will fight, bite, and injure any other animals in their enclosure. To be safe, even with your oversight, you should avoid pairing sulcatas with other tortoises.  

can you keep two tortoises together?

Why Shouldn’t You House Different Tortoise Species Together?

Even if your tortoises get along, it’s rarely a good idea to house them together. You can enjoy better results by keeping them in separate enclosures. Putting a divider in a pen or tank can have negative consequences. That’s because there are many additional risks involved when cohabiting tortoises.

Disease Risk

Perhaps the biggest concern is the risk of cross-contamination. This danger is always present when keeping multiple tortoises, but the odds are magnified when different species are involved. After all, each will hail from other regions of the world.

Diseases that come from different locations can have a serious impact on a tortoise. A small cold to one tortoise can be fatal to a tortoise from the other side of the ocean.

It can also be hard to notice diseases. Some can be asymptomatic, only appearing years down the line. Even using a divider to keep tortoises apart won’t be enough. Unless they are completely separate, they can share diseases through indirect contact.

Of course, there are ways to prevent diseases from being introduced. Firstly, you should quarantine tortoises for at least six months before adding them to the enclosure. After that, keep the enclosures as clean as possible.

Different Needs

Different species have different needs. Most often, this won’t apply to diet or substrate. However, other species can have strongly varying needs for:

  • Humidity
  • Ambient temperature
  • Basking temperatures

Failing to meet the needs of one or the other could lead to serious illness and discomfort. At the least, the tortoises will feel uncomfortable and frustrated. They may start more fights as a result.

More Chances Of Injury

Like most reptiles, tortoises are territorial creatures. According to Herpetologica, tortoises even have hierarchies embedded in how they interact with other animals.

You can’t change territorial behavior, either. According to Advances in the Study of Behavior, reptiles are solitary because they do not have the cognitive ability to be social. Additionally, they cannot handle diseases from other animals. This suggests that aggressive territorial behavior is hardwired and inherent.

Fights often break out because of power imbalances. Species with a hardier exterior, a bigger size, or more aggressive traits will dominate other species. Introducing other tortoises means introducing more reasons for a fight to break out.

The less dominant tortoise will be the target of this bullying. That can result in issues like:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Stress
  • Hiding behaviors
  • Cuts to the skin
  • Lose scales

Injuries aren’t just for the less dominant tortoise. They will still fight back and harm the other tortoise too. Aggressive behavior can be found in both males and females of all tortoise species. This can lead to serious injuries that may need the help of a vet to repair if they aren’t permanent.

Can Different Tortoise Species Mate?

This is perhaps the most difficult problem to fix when mixing tortoise species. A tortoise can mate with a tortoise of a different species. This inter-breeding may be successful, but that’s not a good thing. The offspring that’s produced will often be deformed, experience health issues, and may die young.

A mature male housed with a mature female will naturally try to copulate during the breeding season. This isn’t a problem in the wild, as females have room to escape. In captivity, this can be extremely dangerous for your female tortoise. That’s especially true if the male is larger or faster than her.

Males housed with females will seek out the female again and again. In captivity, there is nowhere for females to run or hide. This can lead to exhaustion, stress, and injuries to the female’s vent, leading to chafing and infection. On top of that, the female will have to deal with aggressive, territorial behavior from the male, like cuts and scrapes on the skin.

How To Keep Multiple Tortoises Together?

If you want to keep multiple tortoises together, it is possible. As long as you devote the time and effort to helping them co-exist, they can live together peacefully. Here are pointers to make your mixed tortoise enclosure more successful:

Isolate Aggressive Tortoises

Some tortoises (usually males) will refuse to get along with other tortoises. This can be true no matter the group dynamics, how big your enclosure is, or how much food you give. Some tortoises demand their own space and dislike the company of others.

If you have a tortoise of this nature, be prepared to encounter this. You will need to break up fights or, better yet, place a divider in the enclosure to keep it from making physical contact with others.

At Least Three Tortoises

Three tortoises are better than just a pair. That’s because three will even out the group dynamics and keep each tortoise better distracted. This lessens the chances of bullying. If you’re pairing males and females, this can also keep the mating drive from focusing on a single female, exhausting her.

That said, the right number of tortoises will largely depend on the species you pick. For example, testudos are considered more aggressive, so three is almost always recommended. You may get away with just one of each for less aggressive species. Red-footed tortoises are used to living in colonies, so 4-5 may be more comfortable for them.  

Gender Ratio

All-female enclosures are a common way to mix tortoise species in captivity. Fights will still break out, but aggression will be lower overall.

If you must add males, then try to own no more than one. Then, have about three females for every male tortoise. This will keep the mating pressure off a single female. If you want to include additional males, add more females as well.

The right ratios will vary from one species to another. Getting multiple species will make this even harder. However, it pays to know which ratios are recommended for each species. As a rule of thumb, own fewer tortoises of the more aggressive species or only get females.

Big Enclosure

When it comes to multiple tortoises, bigger is always better. Provide as much space as you can so privacy is assured. Since tortoises like to burrow, this can also prevent competition over digging space.

For one tortoise, veterinarians recommend at least a 2 x 4-foot enclosure. Bigger species will, of course, require more space. You can multiply this by the number of tortoises you want to house plus some leeway.

Similar Sized Tortoises

Tortoises of a bigger size will do considerable damage to their smaller companion. This is true whether they’re the dominant or the submissive party.

As such, pick a species that are close in size, like the Hermann’s and Horsefield species. Similar sizes won’t stop fighting, but you can reduce the chances of ongoing fights.

Different tortoise species can live together, but you must take precautions. Be sure to choose compatible species, and set up an enclosure that discourages conflicts.