Tortoises climb for enjoyment, and due to necessity, so you may find them scaling stairs, fences, trees, and ramps. If there are sufficient footholds, tortoises may even climb walls.
Tortoises are good climbers due to their strong, sharp claws and low center of gravity.
They climb to navigate rocky terrain, escape threats, find food and water, entertain themselves, and claim new territory. They can’t scale untextured walls or glass, especially with no incline.
However, tortoises don’t always have the strength and energy to hold themselves up, which can result in falls, sometimes leading to injury or death.
Are Tortoises Climbers?
Tortoises can’t climb up sheer or very steep surfaces. For example, there’s no chance of a tortoise climbing up table legs. However, tortoises can scale objects with a slight slope or some grip, such as:
- Mesh fences
- Overturned bowls or bath dishes
Also, tortoises are good at climbing down surfaces. A tortoise may descend with sufficient speed that you’d imagine it’s thrown itself off or jumped from the surface.
Tortoises lack the strength and body proportions to climb up large obstacles or to great heights. Unfortunately, they can lose their balance or strength while high up a fence and fall.
A tortoise can die, even if it falls on its back. The shell can crack if the impact of the landing is hard enough, causing severe injuries to the internal organs.
Why Do Tortoises Climb?
Tortoises enjoy climbing, so you’ll find all species of wild tortoise scaling objects in their environment for fun or survival. The main reasons for climbing include the following:
The natural terrain is rarely flat and perfectly suited to walking. So, tortoises climb to get over rocks, around foliage, and cross dips in the land.
Whether from a desert or tropical climate, all tortoises face obstacles, so they must overcome them to forage, locate water, and find burrowing spots.
If a tortoise couldn’t climb over barriers or maneuver up slopes, it wouldn’t survive.
2/ Keeping Themselves Entertained
Tortoises climb to entertain themselves because they instinctually explore and forage. It’ll feel unnatural to walk from one flat corner of an enclosure to another.
Tortoises will create fun by climbing the enclosure walls or scaling atop rocks if climbing toys aren’t provided. Certain species, such as Russian tortoises, are prolific climbers.
3/ Access To Food
Tortoises often wait until fruit naturally falls from a tree to feed. A tortoise may even scale a tree or shrub to reach food if a meal isn’t readily available.
4/ Expanding Their Territory
Tortoises are curious animals that can grow frustrated when confined in small enclosures for extended periods. So, they may then attempt to escape over the walls.
A tortoise can also misunderstand that the wall is the beginning and end of its enclosure. So, it’ll want to continue expanding its territory and overcome the barriers within it.
Get a larger enclosure (relative to your tort’s size) to avoid this problem.
5/ Searching for Somewhere Safer
Tortoises will climb to escape dangerous areas, such as flooded spaces. If the tortoise feels unsafe in its enclosure, it may try to find a new place to live by climbing out.
This doesn’t mean that the tortoise dislikes its home. However, if the tortoise appears stressed and spends a lot of time hiding, it indicates that it’s unsettled.
6/ Seeing Through a Glass Wall
New owners mistakenly believe that glass enclosures are the best habitats for pet tortoises. However, this is untrue since tortoises can grow unsettled and confused by the glass.
Despite having good vision, tortoises can’t register glass barriers, which means they’ll see the greater world beyond them and fail to understand the glass barrier.
When tortoises encounter a glass enclosure wall, they’ll attempt to climb the barrier, scratch it, or pace back and forth in search of an opening.
7/ Unfamiliar Environment
A new tortoise may exhibit unusual behaviors, like incessantly climbing walls.
This signifies that the tortoise feels out of place, so it’s climbing to escape and return home. However, this is a natural reaction, so the tortoise adapts to its new home.
How High Can Tortoises Climb?
Most tortoises can climb a 5-foot wall if they have adequate support.
Smaller tortoises can rarely climb beyond 2-3 feet, while large tortoises can scale an 8-foot tree without effort. This depends on the angle of the object and the number of handholds.
Tortoises don’t have the advantage of small hooks or burs on their feet like a gecko. Instead, tortoises climb with their claws, so they can scale anything if they can be hooked with their claws.
If the angle is sloped, the tortoise can use its weight and shape to balance itself. This gives it a lower center of gravity, enabling it to remain secure as it climbs.
What Can Tortoises Climb?
As discussed, tortoises are excellent climbers, able to scale any textured surface with a slight gradient.
Do Tortoises Climb Trees?
Some tortoise species, such as Russian and African tortoises, are very good at climbing trees due to their long and sharp claws.
This gives them a solid grip when scaling trees with rough bark. Under the right conditions, they can climb up to 8 feet high, which is remarkable considering their body proportions.
However, you’ll unlikely see a tortoise climbing a tree for no reason. When they do so, it’s to reach fruit, shade, or escape predators. Also, tortoises can only climb trees that bend at a slight angle.
Can Tortoises Climb Fences?
Tortoises will only climb a few inches up the fence if it’s flat. However, the tortoise can easily scale the full height with enough handholds. For example, chain-link fencing.
Can Tortoises Climb Walls?
Most walls are sheer and smooth, making them impossible for tortoises to scale. However, if the wall is partly composed of mesh and another supporting material, the tortoise can climb it.
Can Tortoises Climb Ramps?
Tortoises can scale ramps as they have an incline, enabling tortoises to climb easily, which is why ramps are often added to enclosures as a source of enrichment.
Can Tortoises Climb Down Stairs?
Most small tortoises experience difficulty going down stairs unless they’re gently sloped.
Tortoises can go down the stairs, although with little grace. Technically, they don’t go down the stairs as much as they tumble down them, which can be dangerous.