Even though tortoises only walk slowly, they still need to get around. This is essential for bone and shell development, appetite, fitness, weight control, and overall health.
You can take a tortoise for a walk, but it may not enjoy being out in the open due to people, animals, cars, and loud noises. Tortoises can detect low-frequency sounds.
So, block off access to unsafe parts of the yard and supervise the tortoise while it roams and explores. Using a leash is unnecessary as tortoises move very slowly.
Walking a pet tortoise shouldn’t be necessary if it has a good-sized enclosure to explore with various enrichment toys. With sufficient space, tortoises can walk backward or forward.
How Fast Do Tortoises Move?
Tortoises have an average walking speed of 0.2-0.5 km/h.
According to the Guinness World Records, the greatest speed achieved by a tortoise is 0.28 meters per second, courtesy of Bertie, a leopard tortoise from the UK.
The average tortoise can only run 3-4 miles an hour, and most move less than 1 mile per hour, making them one of the slowest land animals. A desert tortoise can move 20 feet per minute in a short burst.
Tortoises are slow because they don’t have to chase their food like other mammals. They largely eat plant matter, which they find in their natural habitats during the warmer months.
Also, tortoises have developed adaptations that keep them safe from predators, such as their:
- Hard outer shell
- Sharp beak
- Gular horn
- Burrowing skills
Their metabolisms are slower than other mammals. While they can’t move as fast, they live longer.
The average speeds of tortoises are as follows:
|Tortoise Species||Average Speed|
|Leopard Tortoise||1 km/h|
|Indian Star Tortoise||0.5 km/h|
|Russian Tortoise||8 km/h|
|Hermann’s Tortoise||8 km/h|
|Red-Footed Tortoise||1 km/h|
|Pancake Tortoise||8 km/h|
|Gopher Tortoise||8 km/h|
|Desert Tortoise||0.5 km/h|
|Angonoka Tortoise||0.5 km/h|
|Radiated Tortoise||0.5 km/h|
|Aldabra Tortoise||0.5 km/h|
|Galapagos Tortoise||4.5 km/h|
How Far Can a Tortoise Walk?
Depending on the species and size, a tortoise can travel 300 meters to 100 kilometers daily. Smaller tortoises usually travel further than larger, heavier tortoises.
According to the Journal for Nature Conservation, tortoises are susceptible to dehydration and overheating when they move into open habitats with direct sunlight.
Rocks and other obstacles also pose a navigational challenge for tortoises, making it harder to travel significant distances.
Also, the journal describes how researchers discovered that adults couldn’t travel more than 1 km without the risk of overheating, so they make shorter trips of 0.5 km between refuges.
Female tortoises cover larger surface areas than males. While tortoises don’t move far, they should exercise throughout the day. Captive tortoises like roaming, exploring, climbing, and digging.
Do Tortoises Walk or Crawl?
Tortoises walk on all 4 limbs. Their legs are relatively small and stumpy compared to their large shells, sometimes making it seem like they’re crawling along the ground rather than walking.
Tortoises can’t crawl because their hard outer shells are attached to their spine and rib cage, which doesn’t physically allow them to crawl.
How To Walk A Tortoise
Walking is a significant source of a tortoise’s daily exercise. They need to move frequently to:
- Avoid respiratory problems.
- Develop healthy bones and shells.
- Maintain a normal appetite.
While a tortoise must have a large enough enclosure to roam around, taking a pet tortoise for a walk allows it to explore new, interesting areas.
As tortoises are slow-moving animals, you don’t need a leash. However, doing so gives you further control over where they travel and their burrowing actions, preventing them from getting lost.
Walking a tortoise out in the open is unsafe as there are too many stressors, including other animals, people, cars, and unfamiliar sights and sounds.
Instead, allow the tortoise to walk around your yard or outdoor space while supervised. To prevent them from traveling where they shouldn’t, block access using wooden planks or other materials to guide the tortoise’s journey.
A tortoise won’t need to be out long, so an hour is enough to stretch its legs and enjoy roaming new surroundings. If a yard or outdoor space is unsuitable, let them roam in a tortoise-proofed room.
Can You Let Your Tortoise Walk Around the House?
Letting a tortoise roam around the house unattended isn’t recommended.
Even though tortoises are slow-moving, they can burrow or hide in small spaces. Tortoises are in danger of getting lost and injuring themselves, which is a significant risk for smaller tortoise species.
Other reasons include the following:
Tortoises carry salmonella on their shells and skin. While this doesn’t affect them, it can make humans sick, especially when immunocompromised.
Being indoors isn’t a natural environment for tortoises because homes lack the substrate to perform their instinctual behaviors, like digging and burrowing.
Ceramic tiles, soft furnishings, and laminate flooring can make tortoises uncomfortable because they’re unaccustomed to the feeling underfoot.
Many dangers inside the home pose a risk to tortoises, including:
- Sharp objects.
- Predatory pets like cats and dogs.
- Trapping risks.
- Floor heaters.
Any of these could cause harm to a tortoise.
Even with supervision, there will be times when you’ll need to redirect the tortoise’s journey. However, most tortoises dislike being handled and become stressed when picked up too often.
If you pick a tortoise up too much while it roams, it may urinate on you out of fear, which is an instinctual defensive behavior.
Tortoises are ectothermic (they rely on their environment for temperature regulation), so you must maintain a warm internal temperature to maintain their metabolism and digest food.
Certain rooms may be too cold for tortoises, decreasing their internal temperature.
Walking a tortoise doesn’t always meet a tortoise’s exercise needs. If your tortoise seems stressed or bored in its enclosure, it may not be large enough.
Instead of prioritizing a walk, get a larger enclosure with the right substrate for burrowing. Also, things to climb over, plants, rocks, and ramps, will be appreciated.