Home » Can Tortoises Get Heatstroke?
can tortoises get too hot?

Can Tortoises Get Heatstroke?

Unlike turtles, tortoises cope better in hot climates. The desert tortoise is native to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, where rainfall is limited and scorching heats are frequent.

Even still, tortoises can get heatstroke. Depending on the species, anything that exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit is a dangerous temperature.

Desert tortoises handle these temperatures best, of course. However, cold-climate tortoises, like the Russian tortoise, may begin to overheat if temperatures exceed 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

All tortoises love warm weather since they’re cold-blooded reptiles and require outside temperatures to regulate their internal temperatures. Likewise, they require less water than turtles and have highly effective organs that glean every last bit of moisture from their drink.

However, it can grow ill if a tortoise is exposed to the sun and heat for too long, with no shelter or water. Just like humans and mammals, tortoises can get heatstroke.

What Temperature Is Too Hot For A Tortoise?

Different tortoises have different heat tolerances. Most tortoises perform at their best at 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to Ecology and Evolution, the ideal temperature for Aldabra tortoises is 77-90 degrees Fahrenheit. This giant tortoise is native to Seychelles, near Madagascar, which enjoys a tropical climate.

So, higher levels of humidity help offset the high temperatures, ensuring the Aldabra tortoise stays hydrated, even in the hottest conditions.

Meanwhile, the desert tortoise is home to a climate that can reach a scorching 140 degrees Fahrenheit as ground temperatures. However, the desert tortoise doesn’t bask in these conditions; it burrows into the ground and creates far cooler tunnels. It’ll struggle to deal with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit without proper shelter and water.

Meanwhile, Russian tortoises handle cold temperatures best and shouldn’t be exposed to heat above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Although they’re a breed of desert tortoise, they hail from climates that reach excessively cold temperatures, which makes them more vulnerable to intense heat than others.

So, consider your tortoise’s unique species and native habitat, and monitor it in hot temperatures. So, avoid anything about 90 degrees unless your tortoise is well suited to it.

tortoise heatstroke symptoms

Can Tortoises Get Too Hot?

Even tortoises from natively hot climates need a reprieve from the heat.

They achieve this by soaking in water, finding shade during the heat, and building cool burrows underground to shelter them. So, the fastest way for a tortoise to overheat is to be exposed to direct sunlight on hot days.

Although not ideal, even this can be tolerated if the tortoise has enough water.

Most tortoises overheat when they become dehydrated, which limits their natural defenses against heat, and their shell, organs, and skin can no longer protect them.

Chances of a severe heatstroke increase significantly if the tortoise is also engaged in physical activity. This burns energy and saps them of internal moisture, which is why most tortoises seek shade and lie down on hot days.

If your tortoise stays above ground instead of burrowing, its chances of heatstroke skyrocket. According to Advances in Meteorology, soil temperature at the surface level is higher than air temperatures.

So, while your outdoor thermometer may read 100 degrees, your tortoise lying in the dirt could be experiencing 120 degrees or more.

Even if your tortoise isn’t outside, this can still be dangerous. A tortoise enclosure that’s not properly ventilated can work as a mini greenhouse.

The heat will be trapped inside and only rise, leaving your tortoise to be baked in its enclosure. So, it’s crucial to properly air out your tortoise’s tank whenever a heat lamp is involved.

Tortoise Heatstroke Symptoms

According to the Journal of Natural History, tortoises of all sizes are affected by heatstroke the same way. These symptoms develop gradually as a tortoise gets hotter and more dehydrated. Look out for:

How To Cool Down A Tortoise

Take action immediately if your tortoise manifests one or all of the above symptoms. You’ll need to cool down your tortoise, as it won’t be able to cool itself.

Take The Tortoise To A Cooler Area

Whether your tortoise is outdoors or in its vivarium, remove it from the area. That can mean bringing it indoors where there is air conditioning or setting it in a room with a fan. Ensure it’s shaded and not exposed to direct sunlight, even through the windows.

Be sure the temperature change isn’t too dramatic, as this can negatively affect your tortoise’s system. The new area should be cool, not cold.

Give Your Tortoise A Bath

Fill a tub with room-temperature water and place the tortoise inside of it to soak. You may be tempted to provide cold or ice water to help it cool down immediately. However, this sudden change of temperature may send your tortoise into shock.

Instead, let it soak in the medium-temperature water to absorb moisture through its skin and gradually cool down. This will also help it rehydrate, both through its skin and through drinking its bath water. If the tortoise defecates in the bath, change it and start again, so it only drinks clean water.

Once it has been in the water for 20-30 minutes, change out the water for a slightly colder batch. Continue this until you’ve reached the average temperature you regularly bathe your tortoise.

Offer Foods with High Water Content

Tortoises glean most of their liquids from food and bathing. If your tortoise is overheating, it may feel too lethargic and ill to properly drink.

So, provide it with foods with a high water content. It may not eat initially, but encourage feeding and ensure the tortoise has constant access to the food.

If your tortoise eventually eats, it’ll be gleaning water, nutrients, and fiber. This will give it energy and help it recover. Ideal foods include:

Depending on the severity of heatstroke, a tortoise may recover fully in a few days. If the tortoise is still foaming at the mouth and lacks coordination, take it to the vet.

How to Prevent Heatstroke in Tortoises?

Even if you cool a tortoise off immediately, it could suffer long-term brain or organ damage from heatstroke. So, consider these measures to avoid heatstroke:

Avoid Using A Vivarium

Vivariums are popular because they’re cheap and aesthetically pleasing. However, they often deal with ventilation issues because they’re primarily built to keep their inhabitants warm.

This can be good for a tortoise, but vivariums are prone to quickly escalating to dangerous temperatures if improperly monitored.

So, if you’re a new owner or can’t monitor your vivarium at all times, consider a different enclosure.

You can also install fans and ventilation points around the vivarium if you already own one. This will ensure the temperature remains more balanced, with less room for error.

what temperature is too hot for a tortoise?

Don’t Use More Than One Heat Source

Some owners use a heat lamp and direct sunlight at the same time on their tortoises, which is unwise. The combination can produce a furnace effect in the enclosure.

Of course, exposure to the sun’s rays promotes melatonin production, which helps the tortoise get enough sleep. Your tortoise will synthesize adequate amounts of vitamin D, which further enhances calcium absorption, contributing to stronger bones and shells.

Temperatures produced by the sun are difficult to regulate for a tortoise. A tank in direct sunlight can quickly become too hot, even if you don’t use a heat lamp too. If you’re intent on using sunlight for your tortoise, turn off its heat lamp or take it outside to bask. Never use both at the same time.

Turn The Tortoise Upright Whenever It Topples Over

Whether inside or outside, tortoises may accidentally flip over, putting them at risk of heatstroke. That’s because the top of a tortoise’s shell is a thick layer of keratin and bone that help to shield the tortoise’s inner organs from the intensity of direct heat.

When a tortoise flips over, its belly is exposed. This area of its body is thinner and ill-prepared to deflect the heat, so it can quickly grow overly warm and begin to dehydrate.

That’s made worse if the tortoise can’t right itself again. As temperatures rise, it’ll be unable to move to a cooler area or shade, and it won’t be able to seek out water.

You should always look over at your tortoise whenever it’s basking to ensure it’s upright. If it overturns, place it on its feet and watch for any signs of distress.