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Can a tortoise stay outside at night?

Should I Bring My Tortoise in At Night?

Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Wild tortoises remain outside day and night, dealing with light, temperature fluctuations, and humidity changes. However, more care is needed when looking after a pet tortoise.

Most pet tortoises live outside of their native climates. For example, you may own a Mediterranean tortoise but live in a cold state in North America, like Alaska.

You must adjust how a tortoise is cared for so its health and happiness aren’t adversely affected.

Furthermore, wild tortoises have a high mortality rate because the outdoors carries many risks. Always protect pet tortoises from the dangers their wild brethren often face.

In some cases, this involves bringing a tortoise indoors at night. In other cases, it’s about modifying the outdoor enclosure to avoid fluctuating temperatures and threats when night falls.

Can A Tortoise Stay Outside at Night?

A tortoise can stay outside at night as long as certain conditions are met:

  • Nighttime temperatures mustn’t drop below the tortoise’s standard range for the species.
  • Nocturnal predators mustn’t be able to access the enclosure.
  • Adverse weather shouldn’t endanger the tortoise’s physical well-being.

Nighttime Temperatures

Each tortoise species has specific temperature and humidity requirements.

So, nighttime temperatures mustn’t fall below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower than this, and your tortoise may enter brumation. This can be dangerous to its health if it hasn’t prepared for brumation and developed sufficient fat stores.

Even if the tortoise doesn’t brumate, experiencing low temperatures night after night can harm its immune system. A lack of consistency could make it susceptible to appetite loss and lethargy. 

At worst, the tortoise could get hypothermia when the temperatures drop extremely low since tortoises are ectothermic and can’t produce body heat.

If your area experiences a significant drop in temperature at night, bring your tortoise inside.

You can stabilize its temperature and return it to the outdoors when appropriate.

Nocturnal Predators

Some predators hunt only at night, and many species have biological advantages. For example, raccoons and snakes are often more agile than birds of prey and domestic cats.

They have a greater chance of slipping through gaps in a tortoise’s enclosure. Depending on the animal, it may be able to dig under the enclosure or enter through a compromised point.  

If your area is home to many such predators, you should apply extra safeguards to the enclosure at night or bring it indoors. This may include putting a tarp over the enclosure and securing all entry points.

While tortoises have ways of defending themselves, they shouldn’t be left in this situation.

Adverse Weather

While this can apply to daylight hours, adverse weather is even more dangerous at night because most owners sleep during these hours, so they don’t regularly check on their tortoises.

During the day, you can provide safeguards for the enclosure if heavy rain, wind, or snow arrives. Likewise, you can bring the tortoise indoors if the weather worsens. 

If the forecast tells of dropping temperatures, heavy rain (which might flood a tortoise’s enclosure), or wind (which could knock objects onto the tortoise), bring it inside.

Which Tortoises Don’t Get Cold At Night?

According to the Journal of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, certain tortoise species can tolerate more temperature gradients in their living environment.

Depending on its origins, some tortoises cope with low temperatures better than others.

do tortoises get cold at night?

Mediterranean Tortoises

Mediterranean tortoises (testudo genus) are native to many parts of southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Prominent members include the following:

  • Russian tortoise.
  • Marginated tortoise.
  • Spur-thighed tortoise.
  • Hermann’s tortoise.

The Mediterranean region experiences cold weather for longer, with the winter months ranging from 40-65 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest months average 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the area.

Consequently, tortoises native to this region can handle a wider range of temperatures. Fluctuations from one end to the next won’t adversely harm them as long as the swing isn’t overly dramatic.

When temperatures dip below 50 degrees, they often brumate in the winter. However, these tortoises can handle a drop in temperature to the 70-degree range during summer nights.  

Tropical Tortoises

Tropical tortoises originate in parts of South America, central Africa, and the Caribbean, including:

  • Indian Star Tortoise.
  • Red-footed tortoise.
  • Yellow-footed tortoise.

Although their habitats range from deserts to rainforests and grasslands, they enjoy temperate climates. Tropical regions rarely experience nighttime temperatures lower than 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, most tropical tortoises are less resilient against low temperatures. For instance, Indian star tortoises are prone to respiratory illnesses when exposed to cold weather, while red-footed tortoises are more adaptable but still vulnerable to breathing conditions.

That’s because tropical tortoises don’t brumate when the temperatures fall during the winter, leaving them to endure the cold without any natural defenses.

What Will Happen If I Leave My Tortoise Out at Night?

Depending on the species, a tortoise may be unaffected if left outdoors at night. Others may endure a few nights, while the most vulnerable tortoises could become sick. Health ailments could manifest as:

  • Lethargy.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Weight loss.
  • Respiratory illness.
  • Trouble moving.
  • Shell damage.
  • Organ damage.
  • Premature brumation.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Frostbite/tissue damage.

Even a brumating tortoise should stay between 41-50 degrees, so anything below can cause your tortoise to freeze to death. So, it’ll be hard to tell if a tortoise is brumating or dead.

Take your tortoise in at night if you live in a northern climate, especially one prone to ice and snow.

Keeping Tortoise Warm At Night

If you want your tortoise to stay outside at night, but it’ll be cold, you can safeguard it against the dropping temperatures by fitting a heat lamp.

Depending on the bulb, this won’t affect your tortoise’s sleeping patterns. However, it’ll provide heat to maintain a proper body temperature.

This will be more comfortable and stave off dangers such as respiratory infections, early brumation, and a weakened immune system.

Ceramic Space Heaters

Ceramic space heaters radiate intense infrared heat without emitting any light, which makes them perfect for nighttime use.

They’re controlled by thermostats, which switch off once the desired temperature is attained. That’s an important feature, as it prevents your tortoise from overheating by accident.

Mercury Vapor Bulbs

According to the American Journal of Veterinary Research, tortoises require sunlight to form vitamin D, which is crucial for calcium absorption.

When tortoises can’t bask in the sun and soak in vitamin D naturally (either due to poor weather or long winter nights), mercury vapor bulbs compensate.

Like other bulbs, these emit UVB rays and heat, ensuring they keep your tortoise warm during summer and winter nights while providing vitamin D.

This helps tortoises form stronger bones/shells and optimizes their metabolism.

Heat Mats

Heat mats are sheets of plastic fitted with components that emit heat when powered. However, these devices won’t emit light and provide ambient warmth for the enclosure.

Just arrange the mats so that a tortoise can’t lay directly on them, which may cause burns. Instead, you can mount it on the enclosure wall so that it can heat the area that way.