Do Tortoises Bite? Facts You Should Know


Some pets tend to bite as a defense strategy whenever they feel they are in danger. If you have little children, you may worry about their safety when they are around these pets. Thus, before you get a tortoise, you need to know whether you and your family are in any danger.

Tortoises tend to bite humans and other tortoises, primarily for self-defense, especially for male tortoises. A tortoises’ bite ranges from a mild pinch-like feeling to an excruciating one that can sever a finger and tear flesh away, depending on its species, size, and diet. 

Tortoises can bite even though they are known as gentle creatures. Read on to find out if tortoises have teeth, if they can bite you or other tortoises, and their bite force.

Do Tortoises Bite

Do Tortoises Have Teeth?

Each time you look at a tortoise with its mouth open, you see no traces of teeth. You would wonder how then they can chew or bite without them. As it turns out, there’s more to these creatures than what meets the eye.

Instead of teeth, tortoises use beaks or ridges along their jaws to bite and chew food. With years of evolutionary changes, the tortoises have adapted to survive and thrive even without teeth. Thanks to these ridges and beak-like mouths, they can eat according to their dietary needs. The beaks work perfectly, just like teeth, to support their omnivorous diet. Thus, they can comfortably eat both meat and plants.

Surprisingly, only baby tortoises have teeth, called the egg teeth, which they use to break their way out of the egg during hatching. After some time, these teeth disappear to leave the ridges the tortoise uses in adulthood. Even without teeth, they are still able to chew and be safe from predatory attacks. By carefully observing a tortoise’s teeth, you can tell its feeding habits. Their beaks are intricately designed to suit their dietary needs. Each has a specific role according to the type of food the tortoise eats. 

For instance, carnivorous tortoises’ beaks are strong and sharp, enabling them to bite and tear bones and flesh effectively. On the other hand, herbivorous tortoises have flat beaks to help them chew vegetables and fruits, mashing them in the process. For the omnivorous, their beaks combine the features of carnivorous and herbivorous tortoises. You can tell that they have gradually adapted to their various situations. Although they have no teeth, the beaks are just as effective, and the sharp ridges function just like teeth.

Can a Tortoise Bite You?

The point of having a pet is to have a companion that you and others can have fun with as you tend to it. The problem arises when they start snapping at you. Therefore, it is essential to know whether tortoises bite, and why; this way, you can prevent it from happening.

Tortoises can bite you, especially if they perceive you as a threat. All animals have a survival instinct, and for the tortoise, biting is their sole defense strategy. Depending on the species, tortoises can cause minimal to severe bites to humans. When intentional, it usually happens if they see you as an enemy. Thus, biting is the only way they can defend themselves.

In other cases, male tortoises who wish to prove dominance may bite. Sometimes, the biting is unintentional. When you feed them, using your hand, they may bite you by mistake. However, the biting doesn’t take place often, only on these rare occasions.  

The leading cause of biting is self-defense. It is the only weapon the reptiles have to keep them safe whenever there is impending danger. While other animals have other skills such as speed and sharp claws, the tortoise only depends on its sharp beak to survive.

Therefore, if it’s a new pet, uncomfortable in its new environment, it may perceive you as a threat. It will then interpret any movement you make towards it as an attack. Therefore, it would be best to be cautious and avoid having your hands near its face. As soon as it gets used to you, the snapping will significantly reduce since they will feel safe knowing you won’t harm them.

Secondly, male tortoises tend to bite. Due to their instincts, they feel the need to prove dominance. Hence, if your male pet starts snapping at you, it’s probably because of this instinct. Lastly, a tortoise can bite you unintentionally when you feed it or if it mistakes your fingers for food. It is also common to find them trying to bite your toes when you are not wearing shoes. They are known to explore different types of food due to their opportunistic feeding habits.

To be safe from biting, you need to be extra careful. You can keep a safe distance if the pet is new in the house until they get fond of you. Avoid putting your fingers so close to them when you pet them because they are likely to snap. Secondly, when crawling around, ensure that you wear socks or shoes to protect your toes. 

Do Tortoises Bite Other Tortoises?

If tortoises can bite humans, one concern is whether they bite other tortoises when in the same enclosure. If you have two tortoises, you need to be prepared for any instances of them snapping at each other.

Tortoises can bite each other if you put them in the same enclosure. When they are both males, they will bite when fighting or when they need to show who is dominant. They can also bite females before they mate. If they feel threatened by other tortoises, they are likely to protect themselves by snapping and biting. Although most cases happen between males, it is also possible to find females trying to bite each other. 

If you bring in a new male tortoise, the other male will likely try to bite. Male animals have a dominance instinct; hence, if they feel that the other is infiltrating its territory, it will resort to biting to establish and prove dominance. This instance is also typical when there is a female around. The males are likely to fight each other over her. The biting helps them solve internal issues too. Therefore, it is quite a typical occurrence that doesn’t have to worry you.

If you have a male and a female together, the male may bite the female during mating. They fight each other and mate afterward. However, the most common reason for this is self-defense. These fights are mostly light, but it’s possible to find them turning into blood fights as one tortoise may tear the other’s flesh. These cases are common in the wild where the tortoises resort to cannibalism during severe scarcity. 

What’s a Tortoise’s Biteforce?

Perhaps you are now worried about your safety and that of your family members. If tortoises can bite, how painful is it? Can the bite tear into flesh? Please take a look at what we found out.

A tortoise’s bite ranges from mild to severe, depending on its species, diet, and size. Herbivorous and carnivorous tortoises have different bite forces. Herbivores feed on soft foods; hence, their bite force is not that strong. They exert light pressure, but the bites can leave marks if powerful, and they may tear into the skin. However, carnivorous tortoises have excruciating bites, and they will tear into flesh. If the tortoise is giant, it can take off fingers. 

Since they don’t have sharp pointed teeth, most people underestimate their bites. The truth is, if strong enough, the tortoise can easily take away a chunk of skin, especially when fighting with each other. When in the wild, they have to bite for survival; therefore, it is not unheard of for a tortoise to bite a finger off if they see you as a threat.  

While the herbivore’s bite will only be mild, resembling a pinch, it’s still capable of leaving marks or breaking the skin. The impact may remain for a couple of hours, but it will disappear, and there will be no pain. Carnivorous tortoises, on the contrary, can be quite ruthless when they bite. The pain is gruesome, and the chances are high that it will tear the skin. They are used to biting animal flesh; hence, they will find it easy to break into your skin.

Tortoise Bite When Aggrieved

Tortoises are known to be exceptionally docile pets; however, they can turn into lethal creatures when they feel the need to defend themselves from predators. If you bring in a new pet, it may see you as a potential enemy. Therefore, whenever you try to touch a tortoise that’s not familiar with you, it may snap at you. This tendency will go on until they get cozy in their new environment and begin to trust you.

It’s also common for male tortoises to bite when marking their territories, proving dominance, and during mating. Again, the tortoise may unknowingly bite you when feeding it, if it mistakes your finger for food. It would be best to be careful when around tortoises, especially carnivorous ones. You may end up with anything from a bite mark, to a severed finger.

Recent Content