Tortoises like to climb for enjoyment and 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 necessary strength and energy to hold themselves up, which can result in falls, sometimes leading to injury or even death.
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 enough 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.
Tortoises enjoy climbing, so you will find all species of wild tortoise scaling objects in their environment for fun or basic 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 they hail from a desert climate or a tropical one, all tortoises face obstacles. They must overcome these to forage, locate water, and find burrowing spots. If a tortoise couldn’t climb over barriers or maneuver up slopes, it wouldn’t be able to survive.
2/ Keeping Themselves Entertained
Tortoises will 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
There are times when food isn’t easy to reach, especially for land-dwelling tortoises.
In tropical regions, a tortoise often waits until the fruit or leaves naturally fall out of a tree to feed. A tortoise may 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 locked in small enclosures for extended periods. So, they may then try 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. The amount of space that tortoises need is species-specific and must be considered.
5/ Searching for Somewhere Safer
Tortoises will climb to escape dangerous areas, such as flooded spaces. If your tortoise feels unsafe in its enclosure, it may try to find a new place to live by climbing out.
This doesn’t mean that your tortoise dislikes its home. However, if the tortoise appears stressed and spends a lot of time hiding, it indicates that it’s feeling 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. They’ll see the greater world beyond them and fail to understand the glass as a 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, and the tortoise usually adapts to its new home.
Most tortoises can climb a 5-foot wall if they have adequate support.
The size of the tortoise is a major factor. Smaller tortoises can rarely climb beyond 2-3 feet, while giant 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 nimble claws. A tortoise can scale anything if it can be hooked with its 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.
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, it’s unusual to 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.
What Can Tortoises Climb?
As discussed, tortoises are excellent climbers, able to scale any textured surface with a slight gradient.
If it’s flat, tortoises will only climb a few inches up the fence. However, if there are an adequate number of handholds, such as chain-link fencing, the tortoise can easily scale the full height.
Most walls are sheer and smooth, making it impossible for tortoises to scale them. However, if the wall is partly composed of mesh and another supporting material, the tortoise can climb it.
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.