It was once believed that tortoises thrived in arid climates. While it’s true that tortoises don’t need as much water as turtles, they still need moisture and humidity to survive.
Now that we know how important it is for a tortoise to stay hydrated, many owners want to know how to get their tortoise to drink water. Simply putting a water bowl in the enclosure isn’t always sufficient, as some tortoises don’t pay attention to the water in their bowls.
To avoid dehydration in tortoises, you’ll need to find different ways for them to consume water. There’s much debate around whether tortoises can absorb water by soaking in it.
Do Tortoises Like to Sit in Water?
Tortoises like to sit in water, which is a common practice called soaking, and it’s healthy for tortoises.
Tortoises may not know how to swim, but that doesn’t mean they’re opposed to water. In the wild, many tortoises spend hours sitting in a shallow body of water and enjoying their day, which is healthy because it keeps them hydrated and clean.
Many tortoises that don’t like drinking from a bowl enjoy drinking in the water they soak in. If your tortoise is one of those chelonians, you must monitor them. Soaking in water sometimes stimulates a tortoise’s bowels, and they often defecate in the water they’re resting in.
The moment you notice that the water is contaminated, take them out. Tortoises don’t avoid drinking contaminated water if the waste comes from their bodies.
Do Tortoises Absorb Water Through Their Butts?
It’s unknown if tortoises can absorb water through their butts, as there haven’t been any studies on tortoises. The idea that tortoises can absorb water through their cloaca comes from muddled-up facts about freshwater turtles.
When turtles hibernate, they spend much of their time underwater. Despite being aquatic animals, they still need to breathe to take in oxygen from other areas besides their nostrils.
According to the Australian Zoologist, turtles can breathe through their skin and cloaca. When an animal breathes through its cloaca, it’s called cloacal respiration.
The discovery of cloacal respiration in reptiles led to more investigation into cloacal bladders.
Biological Reviews mentions that the idea that freshwater turtles took in water by anal drinking has been around since 1799. However, recent studies, such as from the Journal of Experimental Zoology, posit that the cloaca is mainly used for respiratory function and that hydrostatic function is fairly minimal.
Throughout these discoveries, tortoises have been considered. Researchers have uncovered that tortoise anatomy is very different from turtle anatomy. So, they don’t possess the same cloacal bursae function. They likely aren’t capable of absorbing water through their cloaca like turtles can.
Can Tortoises Absorb Water Through Their Skin?
The idea that tortoises can take in water through their skin is from research on turtles. More likely than not, tortoises are unable to do so.
Tortoises have different needs from turtles, as they’re land animals, while many turtles are aquatic or semi-aquatic. Turtles need more water, so they naturally have more ways of doing so than tortoises.
That isn’t to say that tortoises don’t need water. Ensuring that your tortoise stays hydrated is an important part of chelonian care. However, tortoises make do with taking in water through their mouths.
Can Tortoises Drink Water Through Their Nostrils?
Some tortoises will submerge their heads in their drinking water and begin to move their nostrils as if they’re taking in water through them.
According to Molecular Ecology, a type of tortoise called Aldabrachelys might be capable of drinking water through its nostrils.
They have a long, vertical nasal opening into the skull, which is part of a complex system of nasal tunnels. These tunnels have a valve-like structure that allows them to isolate their olfactory function to take in water through these passages.
Evolutionary scientists believe this complex nasal system may be exclusive to large tortoise species living in arid climates. This system allows them to drink water when water sources are shallow.
The idea that all tortoises drink from their nostrils is a myth. This is only true for some tortoise species; even then, it isn’t fully confirmed for common pet species. The two species of Aldabrachelys that were studied are now extinct.
Researchers have yet to find the same nasal chambers in common pet tortoise species, so it’s possible that they don’t have this ability.
Many researchers believe that tortoises move their nostrils when underwater out of instinct, even though they’re using their mouths for drinking. Usually, you’ll see your tortoise drinking water with its mouth.
Do Tortoises Like Being Sprayed with Water?
Tortoises like being sprayed with water. Any water-related activity is enjoyable for a tortoise, as long as it doesn’t have to swim.
Spraying your tortoise is a good way to keep it hydrated during the dry season. Just be careful not to over-spray. You should also dry off your tortoise after every spray because tortoise shells are absorbent.
If the tortoise shell retains too much moisture, it could cause shell rot.
How Do Tortoises Stay Hydrated?
Although tortoises can’t absorb water externally, they still have various options, such as:
The best source of hydration for tortoises comes from their drinking water.
Tortoises open their mouths and take water from their water bowl or soaking water, and some even enjoy submerging their entire heads into the water.
Other tortoises may not pay attention to the water in their drinking bowl. If your tortoise does this, it’s probably because it gets enough water from other sources and doesn’t need to drink at that moment.
Still, keep an eye on your tortoise if you notice it hasn’t taken a sip of water in days, as it could signify a health problem. Switch out your tortoise’s water source daily to incentivize it to drink fresh water.
Tortoises often eat vegetables and fruits with a high water content to keep them hydrated. That isn’t to say that food should be a tortoise’s only source of hydration, but it is a large part of it.
In dry temperatures, tortoises lose their body moisture quickly. Although they most likely can’t absorb water through their skin, they benefit from staying in humid climates.
Tortoise shells are highly absorbent, keeping the tortoise hydrated for a long time. Different tortoise species require varying humidity levels.
During arid temperatures, tortoises retain their body moisture by keeping the water in their large bladder.
Research from Biological Reviews (above) found a Galapagos tortoise’s body moisture decreased during drought periods, but its plasma concentration of sodium and chlorine remained the same.
This indicates that tortoises can regulate their fluid by reabsorbing the water in their urinary bladder.
Do Tortoises Need Water to Drink?
Drinking water is crucial for a tortoise’s health and happiness. Tortoises need access to fresh drinking water at all times. A dehydrated tortoise will experience the following health problems:
- Weight loss
- Poor carapace health
- Dry skin
- Bladder stones
How often a tortoise needs to drink depends on its species, age, and the humidity levels in its environment. It also depends on how much water it gets from other sources, like food. Baby tortoises dehydrate faster than adult tortoises, so they tend to drink more water.
With the right humidity levels, an adult tortoise should drink water at least once daily. Although they can go a week without drinking, if your tortoise goes more than 2 days without water, check for other concerning behaviors.