Do Tortoises Like to Have Their Shell Scratched?

Posted by Diedra Blackmill on Aug 22nd 2019

Do Tortoises Like to Have Their Shell Scratched?

Tortoise getting petted

Image courtesy of Albrecht Fietz

We like to think of tortoise shells as armor, and they are. But it's not the same as a medieval knight wearing plate mail. Tortoises actually do have nerve endings in their shells, as I've mentioned in a previous article on this blog.

(Click here to read that article, “ The Top 5 Misconceptions About Keeping a Tortoise”.)

And what that means is that tortoises absolutely can feel it when their shell is touched. Of course, feeling a thing and liking it are two different matters. So this article takes a look at whether tortoises actually like having their shells petted and scratched.

The short answer

The short answer is that yes, in many cases tortoises do like their shells to be scratched or petted. But that's not true across the board, so here's the longer answer:

There isn't necessarily a yes or no answer to this question because all tortoises are individuals. Just like some people like to hug their friends and other people don't like hugs, some tortoises really enjoy having their shells scratched and other tortoises don't like it so much.

Small tortoises eating

However, we have pretty good evidence that many tortoises enjoy being touched and getting attention. In fact, here's some evidence for it.

Take a look at this tortoise

This is a video that was shot at our store over the summer during our Tye-Dyed Iguana summer camp for kids. At the summer camp kids get to meet and interact with several different types of exotic pets in our store, and they learn a lot about the animals, what they eat, where they live, and how to handle them.

In the video, you can see that the baby red foot tortoise really enjoys getting its shell scratched. It actually does a little dance and tries to lean closer to someone's hand while being petted.

What to know about tortoise handling

Now that you know that tortoises can feel even light touch on their shell, that should influence how you handle your tortoise. What it means is that your tortoise can feel pain through its shell as well. Petting and scratching to show affectionately are fine, but knocking on your tortoise’s shell or hitting its shell are not cool.

Tortoise outdoors

If you're getting a tortoise for your kid, make sure they understand these handling guidelines for tortoises and that they know they can cause their pet pain or injury if they don't handle it correctly. They should never drop a tortoise on its shell.

This is true for all the varieties of tortoises:

  • Russian tortoises
  • Greek tortoises
  • Red foot tortoises
  • Sulcata tortoises
  • And others

If you or your family would like to learn more about tortoises, we host educational events throughout the year at The Tye-Dyed Iguana, and all of our events are kid-friendly. Considering a shelled pet for your home? Come in and pet one of our tortoises to see what you think.

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