Tortoises are considered quiet or even noiseless animals. As they’re solitary creatures, there’s less need for advanced communication between tortoises.
Despite their largely silent nature, there are certain noises that tortoises make:
Some are involuntary sounds, while other noises are intentionally made to convey a message. We’ll explore the sounds tortoises make and when to expect these vocalizations.
Do Tortoises Make Any Sounds?
Tortoises don’t often vocalize, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make noises.
According to the Journal of Morphology, tortoises have vocal cords, and vocalization is possible for almost every species.
In particular, the tortoises’ larynx is almost identical to that of mammals, with the addition of two diverticula (small, bulging pouches).
These work as resonating chambers that allow tortoises to make calls at a low frequency. This means tortoise calls and communication can be difficult for humans to hear, if we hear them at all.
Of course, tortoise sounds still lack complexity and can’t begin to rival more intricate communication between animals. Nonetheless, tortoises can interact through vocalizations a little.
Even still, most communication between tortoises happens with body language and vibrations. Tortoises might bump into another tortoise or person to get your attention or warn you off.
What Noises Do Tortoises Make?
Tortoises make distinct sounds, each with a different meaning.
You’re more likely to hear them when a tortoise is distressed or straining. For example, a tortoise may hiss when it’s afraid or in pain or grunt when exerting effort to achieve a task.
However, some tortoises remain silent because they see no point in vocalizing, while others remain quiet because they don’t want to attract the attention of predators.
Here are the different noises that tortoises make:
Some species are more vocal than others, and individual tortoises may have unique grunting patterns or frequencies. However, grunting sounds are produced by air leaving a tortoise’s lungs.
Grunting is a low, rumbling sound that varies in intensity and duration. Although a grunt sounds similar to a hiss, they’re usually deeper and shorter in duration.
Male tortoises may grunt during the breeding season to attract a female or assert dominance over other males for a mate or territory.
The grunts may be accompanied by other behaviors, such as head-bobbing or headbutting, to signal their intentions to females or other competing males.
According to Herpetologica, most female tortoises grunt when mating or laying eggs. In this situation, grunting signifies discomfort or effort as she moves into position to lay eggs.
Aside from grunting, croaking noises are a tortoise’s most common sound. They’re used as a form of call, designed to get the attention of any nearby listeners.
Male tortoises sometimes croak to gain the attention of a female, and others will make the sound to request food from their owners.
Croaking becomes more frequent if the tortoise learns it’s positively associated with food. If you feed a tortoise whenever it croaks at you, it’ll learn that this noise gets it a meal.
Tortoises lack tear ducts, but you may still hear them crying. In a tortoise, this sound is comparable to a low-register cat meowing.
It can be alarming for many owners, especially if you haven’t heard it before. Some believe the tortoise is injured, depressed, or otherwise upset, but the crying noise is rarely connected to sadness.
It’s an involuntary noise that happens during the following:
- Respiratory infections
If the tortoise has breathing troubles, this will affect the way air passes through its vocal cords.
It can produce a strained sound that’s unpleasant to the ears, characterized by that mewling noise many call crying in tortoises. Respiratory infections can be unpleasant, with symptoms like heavy breathing, runny nose, and gasping for breath.
Otherwise, the tortoise is straining while mating, and a similar effect is achieved.
Its breathing will be irregular for the mating session. Depending on the condition of the tortoise’s lungs, humidity, and age, this can produce a cry.
According to The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, hissing is often used to show defensiveness, aggression, and mating dominance.
Some male tortoises hiss at a mating partner to intimidate her into submission. Otherwise, a tortoise will make this low-register hiss to warn off enemies.
If the tortoise feels threatened, its first response will be to retreat into its shell. Collapsing its body to fit inside its shell will result in a hissing sound.
If you hear a tortoise hissing, give it space to calm down and remove stressors.
Squeaking isn’t a sound that tortoises make naturally or voluntarily.
In most cases, it indicates a respiratory infection. The characteristic noise signals that its airways are filled with mucus and inflamed and swollen.
The air can’t flow through them naturally, and the tortoise’s entire respiratory system is forced to strain. This can produce a distinct squeak, which means the tortoise has trouble breathing.
In less serious cases, squeaking could mean an object, like gravel or grass, is stuck inside the nostril. Just like with a respiratory issue, something obstructs the airflow, producing a squeaking sound.
It’s also possible that you’ve mistaken this sound for a vocalization when it’s not.
Squeaking noises can be made when a tortoise rubs its shell up against a rubbery or otherwise textured but smooth surface. This can happen with rocks, toys, and even parts of the enclosure.
A whistling sound can signify respiratory distress for the reasons outlined above. However, it may also be an intentional and harmless noise that a tortoise makes.
For example, a whistling noise followed by a hiss means the tortoise is scared and trying to defend itself.
The noise results from air being forced out of the tortoise’s mouth and nostrils quickly. Depending on the tortoise, the whistling or the hiss may be the louder noise.
Why Do Tortoises Make Noises When Mating?
You’re unlikely to hear a tortoise make a sound unless it’s mating. Most of a tortoise’s vocalizations relate to mating or the courting phase.
This can be a way for tortoises to show mating dominance, or it can be a series of involuntary noises due to the strain involved with breeding.
A male tortoise’s breeding groans can continue for 10-20 minutes. The vibrations can carry for up to a mile, despite being at a low register.
In some cases, involuntary sounds aren’t just due to exertion but excitement. For some tortoise species, mating is an event they have awaited for decades.
For instance, the Galapagos tortoise won’t develop proper reproductive organs until it’s 15 years old and may wait another 10-25 years before breeding.
Male tortoises can become overly eager to pair with a female, so their breathing rate is elevated. Consequently, squeaking, croaking, and other sounds may be produced.