Home » Do Tortoises Know Their Names? [Learn, Recognition + Response]
do tortoises recognize their names?

Do Tortoises Know Their Names? [Learn, Recognition + Response]

Studies have shown that tortoises can learn clever tricks and retain information for months or years. Surely this means a tortoise can learn its name and respond to it.  

Tortoises don’t know their names, as they can only hear heavy vibrations and low-range sounds.

The average speaking voice is beyond this range, making you silent to tortoises’ ears. Tortoises respond to their owners’ footsteps, smells, and voices because they associate them with getting fed.

Do Tortoises Recognize Their Names?

It’s unlikely your tortoise knows its name because it can’t hear what you’re saying.

That might seem impossible since calling its name leads to a reaction. However, even if you called out to it, the tortoise likely just heard your footsteps as you drew nearer, not the name itself.

In these situations, the tortoise responds to your presence, smell, and the prospect of food. For this reason, a tortoise may respond when you call its name, but that’s a coincidence.

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 shell have nerves running through them, and these detect vibrations that 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 better.  

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 the tone a human uses when calling a pet tortoise’s name.

do tortoises respond to their names?

Can My Tortoise Hear Me?

A tortoise can hear you, but only when you physically move or use a very deep tone of 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 don’t utilize noises or sound to interact or communicate 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 feels 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 it largely depends on how loud you’re being and the kind of sound you’re making. Heavy footsteps can be detected, while an affectionate tone will go unnoticed. 

Does Your Tortoise Recognize You?

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

They possess 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 them to feed, handle and play with them. Some tortoises will use this to verify that you’re not a threat and then ignore you, while others will come running to greet you, and sometimes only you.

Your footsteps, smell, stride, and weight, are likely different from others. With enough time to feel and smell the routine, a tortoise can learn to distinguish between you and other humans.

Tortoises can recognize you, although it takes time to learn who you are. They won’t recognize your face but will learn all 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 certain colors with rewards retained this information for up to 18 months.

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

The issue isn’t a tortoise’s intelligence., but its ability to hear its name at all. 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. So, we may never know for sure if tortoises have the cognitive ability to understand a name and recognize it as their own. However, it’s reasonable to assume it would respond to that sound if it could hear it.

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 your tortoise’s attention. This could be a specific knock on the floor, a deep sound from your throat, or another vibration that your 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 if it can’t hear it. If you have a loud, deep voice, the tortoise may associate the sound with you. 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, give your tortoise a unique, deep-ranged sound to respond to.

This won’t be a proper name, but it can get your tortoise’s attention. It won’t be answering to its name, but it signals that food and other fun rewards are available.