Last Updated on October 7, 2023 by Samantha Harris
Good long-term memory is essential to tortoises’ survival. Different species can be found worldwide, but most are found in semi-arid habitats.
Food sources in these localities are often scattered across the land in patches, so tortoises need to recall information to navigate their environment.
Tortoises can remember things for at least 9 years. Complex tasks are recalled in detail for weeks, while simple tasks can be recalled for years.
Tortoises have spatial memory similar to small mammals, recalling where they’ve been, where to find food/water, and how to retrace their footsteps.
Navigating a maze through trial and error isn’t an easy task. However, after completing the task, it’ll remember how to do so.
How Long is a Tortoise’s Memory?
Despite being viewed as slow, simple creatures, tortoises have a good memory.
According to the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, a tortoise can remember tasks it’s been trained in for at least 9 years, perhaps longer.
Researchers gathered a group of 6 tortoises and had them go through 3 different memory tests:
- Test 1: Researchers taught the tortoise to bite a colored ball attached to a stick.
- Test 2: The tortoises were taught to walk 6 feet and bite the ball.
- Test 3: Researchers assigned a specific color to each tortoise and presented them with two differently colored balls.
The tortoises successfully mastered each task as instructed. Then, the researchers visited the tortoises after time had elapsed to see how long they could remember this information.
Tortoise Memory Span
The researchers went back to the tortoises 3 months later. They were surprised to discover that all 6 remembered tasks 1 and 2.
The third task required re-training because the tortoises couldn’t remember the assigned color. They re-learned the third task a second time faster than the first, indicating some residual memory.
The same research team re-visited the tortoises 9 years later. Those tortoises were also capable of remembering the first two tasks.
While the more complex tasks were forgotten, this still requires an impressive memory.
Do Tortoises Have Spatial Memory?
Scientists have observed that tortoises have an excellent spatial memory.
According to the Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers examined the spatial learning ability of a tortoise by training it to complete a maze.
Once the tortoise learned the maze, researchers tested whether olfactory cues affected performance. The test revealed that the tortoise’s decision-making while going through the maze wasn’t dictated by its sense of smell. So, the tortoise learned to navigate the maze and committed it to long-term memory.
The maze used to test the tortoise was often used to test rats. Even though tortoises have a different brain structure, they have similar spatial abilities as mammals. It’s theorized that tortoises adapted to food scarcity in their environment by developing strong memories.
Do Tortoises Remember You?
Tortoises learn to associate their owners with positive things, such as food and neck rubs. This is demonstrated by the way tortoises react when their owners visit, including:
- They look up when their owner enters the room.
- Meeting their owner when they walk nearby.
- Following their owner around the home or yard.
Tortoises can remember where to get food, even if they haven’t been there in months, meaning they can recall the person caring for them.
The reptilian brain may not be capable of feeling or showing affection, but it can remember the positive association it forms with the people it learns to trust.
Can a Tortoise Learn and Remember Tricks?
Tortoises are fully capable of remembering tricks. They can remember tricks, but getting them to learn them presents a different challenge.
Tortoises are capable of surviving for months without food. Depending on the type of tortoise you have, food might not be a big motivator for them. So, training with treats can be difficult.
Besides that, tortoises don’t hear the same way other animals do. They can detect sounds at specific frequencies, so teaching a tortoise a trick based on sound might be unsuccessful.
Learn what your pet tortoise likes and what motivates them. Due to its good memory, once it learns the trick, it likely won’t forget it, especially if it performs it regularly.
A method of teaching tricks is letting a previously trained tortoise keep it company. Researchers have discovered that tortoises learn and remember things faster in a group than alone.
Do Tortoises Remember Their Name?
Tortoises are unlikely to remember their name. Tortoises are reptiles, so they function differently than warm-blooded animals. The main factor is how the two process auditory cues.
Tortoises had long been considered deaf until more research was conducted on their auditory sensors. Tortoises have ears located near their eyes, but scales cover them. They can hear, but only in specific frequencies.
For example, they can hear things like tortoise mating calls and the sounds of tortoises fighting. However, the sound of people talking is rarely heard.
Some owners report their tortoise responding when they call it for food. This is likely just the tortoise responding to the vibrations of the owner’s footsteps.
How Do You Get a Tortoise to Remember You?
If you want to form a lasting bond with your tortoise, it needs to remember you. The good news is that your pet tortoise likely has you ingrained into its memory already.
It’s easy for tortoises to remember things because they learn through conditioning. If they begin to associate you with good things, such as food and neck rubs, they’ll realize that you’re trustworthy and recall that about you.
Rest assured that if you’re good to your tortoise, it will remember you for the rest of its life. The more time you spend around it, the stronger this memory will become.