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Can Different Species of Tortoise Live Together?

Last Updated on September 17, 2023 by Samantha Harris

With so many tortoises available, it can be hard to choose 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.

Disease is a risk, but there could be clashes in temperament, aggression, injury, and problematic breeding. Mixing tortoise sub-species is less of a concern.

Some owners believe species with similar temperaments, like Greek and Hermann’s, can be kept together. However, two same-species tortoises are recommended if you want a pair.

Can Two Different Species of Tortoise Live Together?

Expert opinion varies on whether different tortoise species can be mixed.

The Tortoise Trust believes 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.

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:

Stress

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 and a Hermann’s tortoise is 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. Some believe 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 might risk the tortoise’s health.

Disease

Perhaps the most important reason not to mix tortoise breeds is that you could introduce unnecessary diseases into your enclosure.

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.
  • From the 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.

can you keep two tortoises together?

Mixing Subspecies

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.’

Breeding different species (e.g., a Greek with a Hermann’s) is inadvisable.

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, engaging 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 must 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.

Quick Summary

Tortoises sometimes interact, but keeping tortoises alone is recommended.

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 believe mixing species is too risky from a health perspective. Thus, in most cases, keep different species of tortoise separate.