Frequently Asked Questions.

This area is compiled of questions asked by visitors to the site and often from people with new tortoises/hatchlings.

Sometimes my tortoise has a black mouth and tongue -why is this?

This is usually because he has been eating lots of dandelions and is nothing to worry about so long as he is eating OK. Urine can also be stained red when dandelions are eaten to excess too. Some medication can affect the tongue colouring so it is as well to ask a vet at the time of accepting medication, if there are any side effects.

My tortoise has reached 10 cms, I have heard they must be microchipped at this size to remain legal. Is this the case?

No, The certificates which go with your tortoise are often misleading. Unless you wish to sell your tortoise or breed from it a microchip is not a necessity. The paperwork still covers that particular tortoise so long as it is still in your care. It IS illegal to sell it or breed from it without having it chipped but not to keep it.
In my opinion 10cms is far too small to chip a tortoise. It is the equivalent of having a mars bar stuck in your leg, as unfortunately chips do not come in different sizes for smaller animals.

Why does my tortoise appear to be repeatedly flexing his front legs as he basks?

Because a tortoise has a shell and not a flexible body the same as other animals, there is no way of the lungs expanding during breathing without causing the pumping action of the legs that you are seeing. This is just breathing and nothing to worry about unless the breathing is noisy or accompanied by extended neck and open mouthed gasping.

My tortoises have recently been mating and it's nearly hibernation time. Do I need to take them to a vet or stop them from hibernating until eggs are laid?

If it is recently, then it will be fine for them to hibernate. This would happen in the wild and it is only tortoises that have well developed or over calcified eggs, that are showing signs of wanting to nest that need veterinary intervention. Tortoises can store sperm too for several years, so this tortoise may well not become gravid until spring.

Do tortoises like to be petted?

This varies amongst individual tortoises. Many captive bred tortoises are happy to be held of even have their shells scratched gently. Some even wiggle in response. Very often wild caught/ imported tortoises will be far more shy and will take a lot longer to become tame. It's best not to pet these tortoises and to let them come around to human contact in their own time. Some never become fully tame.

Why does my tortoise hiss at me when I pick him up?

This is not a deliberate hiss but a swift exhalation of air from the lungs as the legs and head are quickly retracted into the shell. It is not a deliberate noise or response so need not be taken as a sign of aggression.

Should I leave the heating/lighting on 24 hours?

No, this would only confuse the tortoise. Imagine natural daylight and heat and try to mimic this. Set lamps to come on and go off to correspond with dusk and dawn. Heating overnight is not necessary indoors and will stimulate your tortoise to bury into the substrate when necessary.

I have bought a lovely raised sleeping area for my tortoise but he prefers to try to dig underneath it, why is this?

This is because it is natural for a tortoise to retire 'downbank'. In the wild, he would dig down at night to conserve heat and moisture and to avoid predators, Climbing above ground would lessen his chances of survival considerably.

Why does my tortoise hide away in his super duper new enclosure? Would he be better going back into his old vivarium?

No he is best left to get used to his new pad. He is just settling down, much the same as any animal moved to new quarters. Even fish will hide for several days when put into a large pond after the confines of an aquarium. You will find that this happens in reverse too, it's just a settling in period. Tortoises do not like change, and while we may think it nice to rearrange the 'furniture' in his enclousre from time to time, he will likely either hide away for a while or show his disgust by stomping around the perimeter at having to get used to things all over again.


My tortoise taps on the glass to come out. Does this mean he is pleased to see me?

He does this because he does not understand the concept of glass as a barrier. Basically if he can see through it it is not there. The same applies to runs made of chicken wire. Tortoises spend all their time trying to get through the wire because they can see what is on the other side. It is important to make sure that the sides of any habitat are solid and that the tortoise is not able to see out. This prevents continual climbing and tipping up and helps prevent stress.

Should I put oil on my tortoises shell to condition it?

No, never put anything other than water on the tortoises shell. The shell is a very efficient thermoregulator and as such, should not be interfered with. If a shell is oiled it will serve as a trap for many bacterial and fungal organisms, which can damage the shell and be difficult to cure. In nature the tortoises shell would only come into contact with water and with overhanging bushes etc which are sufficient to keep it clean.

My tortoise's shell seems to be soft underneath. It is not a year old yet but I was told that soft shell needs treatment, is this right?

Young tortoises have a bit of natural 'give' or 'spring' to the plastron (underneath shell) for a couple of years. For this reason it is best if they are handled from side to side and not top to bottom, as even a slight squeeze can be uncomfortable for them due to springiness. A soft area which is limited to a small area, would need veterinary attention, but this natural 'give' is no cause for alarm.

I've noticed that my Horsefield is naturally getting very dirty. How often should I bath him and also how to go about cleaning his legs and shell?

No washing is necessary, other than giving him a shallow soak for hydration every couple of days if he is kept indoors. When outside he will keep naturally clean with his daily activities. Tortoises in the wild are less brightly coloured than those reared indoors and this is how nature intended them to be.

Will my tortoise overheat if he falls upside down under the heat lamp?

Most tortoises can right them selves perfectly well if they tip over, unless in a position where they are stuck between two objects etc. If you position the heat lamp at the top of a slope, your tortoise will be able to roll away from the heat by using the slope . When upside down, they will wriggle theri legs and head frantically to attempt to right themselves and if there is a slope to roll down, they will soon be out of harms way.