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What Does A Tortoise Do When It Is Scared?

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2023)

Tortoises don’t display outward expressions of emotions, so it can be hard to tell when a tortoise feels afraid. However, there are behaviors that tortoises engage in when fearful.

When scared, tortoises retreat into their shells, tucking away their head and legs to keep themselves safe from harm. Tortoises may make a hissing sound due to the exhalation of air as this happens.

Also, tortoises urinate or defecate to make themselves less desirable to predators.

Tortoises scare easily as an adaptive response against threats, such as predators and adverse weather. So, they’ll hide inside their shells before they get hurt.

However, tortoises can be startled by minor things that may not pose a threat.

How To Know If A Tortoise Is Scared

While tortoises don’t display emotions outwardly, you can recognize when your pet tort is frightened.

The signs of a frightened tortoise include the following:

Hiding Inside Its Shell

If you notice your tortoise is withdrawing inside its shell more often, chances are, something in its environment is making it uneasy and frightened. Tortoises do this to protect themselves from harm from predators and other threats in their environment.

Tortoises sometimes hide in their shells if they’re in a new environment. Usually, this behavior goes away after a few weeks as the tortoise becomes acclimated to its new home. Everything is strange and frightening to a new tortoise, so it’ll protect itself by withdrawing into its shell.

how to know if a tortoise is scared


Exposure to dangerous situations can stress a tortoise, resulting in lethargy and fatigue.

However, lethargy may be a sign of illness. So, observe other accompanying symptoms to identify whether your tortoise is scared or sick.

If your tortoise is hiding inside its shell more often and feeling lethargic, it’s afraid.

Lack of Appetite

When tortoises are scared, they tend to eat less and sometimes refuse to eat.

However, loss of appetite can be a symptom of an illness. If you notice your pet tortoise eating less than it normally does, you should pay attention to any other symptoms it exhibits.


While pooping is a normal physiological process for tortoises, it can be a sign of fear, especially if accompanied by other stress behaviors like hiding and refusal to eat.

When a tortoise is scared, its body is flooded with stress chemicals that can cause it to defecate frequently. Some tortoises will poop when confronted by predators to make themselves less appealing.

What Are Tortoises Afraid Of?

Tortoises are easily startled by real or imagined threats in their environment, and this defense mechanism allows them to react to dangers quickly by retreating into their shells.

Things that tortoises are afraid of include:


Wild tortoises are preyed on by various predators, including:

So, they have an overwhelming fear of predators lurking in their environment.

While most captive tortoises don’t encounter these predators, they’ll still experience a stress response if they detect their scent or spot them from a distance.

However, the ability to accurately pick up the scent of predators depends on factors such as the age and health of your tortoise.

According to the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, upper respiratory illnesses can interfere with their olfaction, making it difficult to pick up scents in their environment.

This can sometimes make your tortoise sense things that aren’t there and experience stress.  

Snowy Weather and Storms

Tortoises are terrified of snowy weather since it seals their burrows in the wild, causing them to die from suffocation or hypothermia.

Tortoises are vulnerable to many illnesses when exposed to cold weather conditions for too long. Tortoises are ectotherms, relying on their environment to stay warm.

So, your tort must stay indoors during snowfalls and heavy storms. However, light rain can benefit tortoises as it allows them to wash and rehydrate.

Loud Noises

According to SOPTOM, tortoises have sensitive hearing, which has evolved to detect low-frequency sounds. So, they’re easily frightened by loud noises.

If your tortoise lives in an outdoor enclosure, it may be scared by busy streets and the sound of cars. If it stays in an indoor enclosure within your home, it may be frightened by loud music and TV.

Thunderstorms are likely to startle them. However, if your tortoise is used to living in a noisy environment in your home, it may not be frightened by the sound of loud thunderclaps.

Are Tortoises Afraid of The Dark?

Tortoises aren’t afraid of the dark as they have excellent eyesight and can see well even in pitch darkness. Most tortoises prefer to sleep in their burrows, which can get very dark.

what do tortoises do when they are scared?

Why Is My Tortoise Afraid of Me?

Tortoises are easily frightened by new environments and people. If you’ve recently brought a tortoise into your home, it may exhibit fearful behaviors, such as hiding in its shell and refusing to eat.

Unlike most pets, tortoises need time to become familiar with a new setting. So, be patient and supportive of your pet tortoise as it gets used to its new home.

While things may be awkward for a few weeks, allowing your tortoise to become comfortable around you lays a solid foundation for a long-lasting friendship.

Here are some ways to help your tortoise feel relaxed in its new home:

Safe Spot in Their Enclosure

This ensures a comfortable space where it can retreat when it feels scared or overwhelmed. This can help a tortoise feel more at ease and acclimate to its new environment sooner.

Minimize Play Time

When tortoises are thrust into a new environment, they can take a while to adjust to their new home. So, limit the time you spend interacting with the new tortoise to allow it to relax and settle in.

If you notice your tortoise hiding in its designated safe spot, avoid petting or picking it up. Once your tortoise feels comfortable around you, it’ll come out of hiding on its own