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do tortoises recognize their names?

Do Tortoises Know Their Names? (Learn, Recognize + Respond)

Last Updated on October 8, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Tortoises can learn clever tricks and retain information for months or years. However, tortoises don’t know their names, as they can only hear heavy vibrations and low-range sounds.

The average speaking voice is outside their hearing range, meaning you’re silent to tortoises’ ears. That may seem impossible since calling its name leads to a reaction.

Even if you called out to the tortoise, it heard your footsteps as you drew nearer, not the name itself. Tortoises respond to footsteps, smells, and voices, associating them with a favorable outcome.

Do Tortoises Have Ears?

A tortoise’s ears are hidden on the side of its head, behind its scales.

So, tortoises lack an external ear, and the eardrum is also covered in scales and positioned behind the eyes. Tortoises have an optic capsule (bony box located around the ear).

Tortoises don’t have good hearing but partially overcome this limitation by relying on heavy vibrations.

They absorb their sound cues through their shells. Their scutes, scales, and thick bony shells with nerves running through them. They detect vibrations the tortoise feels through the ground or touch.

Tortoises use this information to interpret what’s happening around them: the louder, deeper, and heavier the noise, the easier it’ll be to hear.  

Tortoises feel vibrations through the ground, which travel up their legs to the shell and the eardrums.

This means that tortoises can’t hear any sound that produces a light, high-pitched, or soft vibration. That’s usually a human’s tone when calling a pet tortoise’s name.

do tortoises respond to their names?

Can My Tortoise Hear Me?

A tortoise can hear you when you move or use a deep voice. Your average speaking voice won’t project enough low-range vibrations for a tortoise to detect it.

The presence of unique structures across their auditory system directly affects their hearing capacity.

Ciliary-bearing cells are responsible for differentiating between noises based on their sensitivity. Only a handful of sound frequencies (such as those produced by hatching eggs or mating and sparring adults) appear to be processed and responded to by tortoises.

This stands to reason because tortoises rarely utilize noises or sounds to interact with other tortoises. Instead, they produce and hear subsonic noises that can easily pass through the ground or water.

While tortoises can’t hear as well as humans, they’re considerably better at hearing low sound ranges. According to Radiata, tortoises hear everything through deep, physical vibrations.

A tortoise will likely know when you’re coming nearer because it senses your footsteps on the ground. However, a tortoise won’t detect a high-pitched voice or a soft speaking tone.

So, a tortoise can hear you, but this depends on how loud you’re being and the sound you’re making. Heavy footsteps can be detected, while an affectionate voice will go unnoticed. 

Does Your Tortoise Recognize You?

Tortoises can recognize you, but they’ll do so mainly through smell and sound, not sight. Tortoises have a keen sense of smell and navigate their world by sensing vibrations.

Tortoises have a vomeronasal organ, allowing them to “taste” the air.

Their vision isn’t that sharp, even though they can see dozens of feet away. According to Animal Cognition, they struggle to distinguish photographs from real life.

So, tortoises memorize you by recognizing your stride, footsteps, and smell by “tasting” the air.

Tortoises become familiar with people who regularly visit to feed, handle, and play with them. Some tortoises will use this to verify that you’re not a threat and ignore you, while others will come over to greet you, and sometimes only you.

Your footsteps, smell, stride, and weight are likely different from others. Tortoises can recognize you, but it takes time to learn who you are. They won’t recognize your face but will learn your other identifying cues.

can tortoises learn their names?

Can Tortoises Learn Their Names?

We know that tortoises can learn tricks, retaining the ability to solve puzzles for months or even years after learning them.

For example, in an experimental setting, red-footed tortoises taught to associate specific colors with rewards retained this information for up to 18 months.

A tortoise’s mental sharpness may wane over the years but still has a relatively good memory.

The issue isn’t a tortoise’s intelligence., but its ability to hear its name. For this reason, a tortoise won’t learn its name, but it likely could if it had better hearing.

This is impossible to test due to a tortoise’s physiology. We may never know if tortoises have the cognitive ability to understand a name and recognize it as their own.

There are clever workarounds if you want a tortoise to come when you call it. Instead of using its name, assign a deep-ranged sound to catch the tortoise’s attention. This could be a knock on the floor, a deep sound from your throat, or another vibration the tortoise can hear.

You can then train it to associate this sound with food, treats, and enjoyable times. Just as a tortoise may come over when it hears your footsteps or smells food, it’ll respond positively to this sound.

Do Tortoises Respond to Their Names?

A tortoise won’t respond to its name because it can’t hear it. The tortoise may associate the sound with you if you have a loud, deep voice. It’ll then come over if it thinks food or things it enjoys are waiting.

However, most of the time, the tortoise won’t understand the concept of a name and fail to hear it. Instead, use a unique, deep-ranged sound to get a reaction from the tortoise.

This won’t be a proper name, but it can get the tortoise’s attention. It won’t be answering to its name, but it signifies that it associates you with positive things and doesn’t perceive you as a threat.