Tortoises are reptiles, so they’re not exactly big talkers. But, while reptiles cannot produce as many sounds as other animals, that doesn’t mean that they cannot produce any. If you’ve never had a tortoise before, prepare to hear some intense squeaking occasionally, which may take you by surprise.
The reasons for the tortoise’s vocalization concert may be equally unexpected, which is what we’ll be discussing today. Why do tortoises squeak, and what does this say about their intentions and state of mind?
Let’s check it out!
Common Reasons for Tortoise Squeaking
Tortoises let off a variety of sounds, squeaks being the most prevalent. The following are some of the standard reasons behind the behavior:
Annoyance or Discomfort
Tortoises cannot express their discontent over something other than squeaking and attempting to leave the area. Since leaving isn’t an option, they are left dealing with the current situation, so they will verbalize their annoyance instead.
Tortoises can experience discomfort for a variety of reasons, including poor diet, frequent handling and petting, inadequate environmental parameters, improper terrarium layout, etc.
The constant squeaking is a clear indicator that you need to look into the issue and correct it soon. Otherwise, the tortoise may become stressed and experience health issues. I’ve already detailed the dangers of stress in reptiles and tortoises in particular, so make sure to check that as well.
Communication with Other Tortoises
Many tortoise species are social animals that prefer to live in groups, especially during their juvenile years. This is to provide extra protection against predators and improve survivability. However, most tortoise species are not social, as they prefer to live solitary lives. Despite this difference in social behavior, all tortoises use noises to communicate with one another.
The squeaking sound in question may signify a variety of things, including territorial dominance, establishing boundaries, enforcing hierarchical dominance, and luring females for mating purposes. The squeak’s intensity, pitch, and inflections will express different meanings, depending on the case. As a general rule, it’s mostly males that use their vocal cords to express hierarchical and territorial dominance.
Both male and female tortoises use squeaking to attract their partners. When it comes to males, the mating squeak aims to attract the female’s attention as part of a courtship interaction. When it comes to females, the squeak is more of a general expression. In other words, female tortoises squeak to announce their reproductive availability to all males that can hear the call.
The males will hear the tell-telling call and rush to fulfill their biological obligations. Several males will answer the call in most situations, in which case fighting ensues to establish the rightful mate.
Expressing Joy, Excitement, or Fear
Tortoises can squeak to express joy or excitement, especially when meal time is close or the reptile is in a good mood for playing with its keeper. These squeaks can vary in intensity and inflection, depending on the tortoise’s mental state.
Fear is also a common emotion in tortoises, which they will often transmit verbally. Tortoises rely on squeaking to alert other tortoises of some impending danger, a behavior that is prevalent in nature among a variety of other animal species. Baboons and chimpanzees also howl and emit various vocalizations when predators are nearby. The same behavior is present in many fish, birds, mammals, and even insects.
Although, not all of them are quite adept at expressing themselves vocally as tortoises are.
Signs of Unhealthy Noise Making in Tortoises
This is the real test here: how to determine whether your tortoise’s vocal range suggests a positive or negative emotion. Learning the distinction is quite important, given all of the reasons why tortoises would squeak out of discomfort.
There’s no doubt that, eventually, you will get used to your tortoise’s vocalizations and learn to distinguish the meaning behind the sounds. Until then, here are a few subtle details to look for:
Rasping and Coughing Sounds
It’s never a good sign if your tortoise showcases coughing sounds when squeaking. This is generally a sign of respiratory infection, typically pneumonia. Several factors can be responsible for the issue, including excessive humidity, low temperatures, lack of proper ventilation, poor enclosure hygiene, etc.
If your tortoise is frequently coughing, you should contact your vet immediately. Pneumonia is deadly in advanced stages and progresses fast. Your tortoise’s health state will degrade faster than you may expect.
Screaming and Hissing
Screaming and hissing are usually both sides of the same coin and display some type of discomfort or anguish. The screaming sound is generally indicative of physical pain resulting from physical injuries, internal problems, and even fractures. The hissing may also express similar states but is generally used to suggest fear.
Your tortoise may hiss at you at first, when it has yet to familiarize itself with your presence, or when rattled. This is normal behavior among wild-raised tortoises, allowing them to signal other tortoises of an imminent danger nearby, typically a predator. If your tortoise is hissing at you, give it some space; it will come around eventually. So long as your tortoise has a good hiding spot to retreat to when stressed, it should be fine.
If instead, the reptile exhibits screaming, you might want your vet’s assistance to deal with this one. It’s important to identify the motive behind the tortoise’s anguish so you can correct it fast.
High-pitched whistles are generally indicative of stress or anxiety and may be triggered by a variety of factors. These include improper setting, physical discomfort due to extreme parameter variations, uncomfortable handling, dealing with other aggressive tankmates, etc.
High-pitched whistles are always sounds of discomfort, but they shouldn’t suggest a serious problem. More like a standard feeling of unease, which usually has fast and easy fixes.
Understanding the Reasons Behind the Sound
The sound your tortoise is making can indicate the emotion behind it, but it doesn’t explain what caused that emotion in the first place. So, your job is to identify why the tortoise produces that sound in the first place. In this sense, look for the following:
- Lack of appetite
- Lethargy or low activity levels
- Hiding behavior
- Signs of weight loss
- Any visible injuries
- Irregular pooping or signs of diarrhea or constipation
- Signs of skin mites or other parasites
- Signs of internal parasites in the fecal matter
- Signs of dehydration
- Signs of stress as a reaction to improper environmental parameters, etc.
These symptoms and triggers are some of the most common to consider. Your tortoise will use different sounds depending on its mental state and whatever’s fueling the sound in the first place. Get accustomed to the different meanings, and you’ll soon learn how to decipher your pet’s language with incredible accuracy.
Providing an Appropriate Living Environment
Providing your tortoise with a proper living environment is the first step toward improving the animal’s comfort and general quality of life. In this sense, consider the following recommendations:
- Overall housing – Make sure that the enclosure is large enough to accommodate your specific tortoise species. Most importantly, think ahead. Tortoises can grow to impressive sizes over the years, so you may need to invest in a larger terrarium to accommodate the reptile’s needs.
- Substrate – You need a substrate that’s comfortable, safe, and easy to clean. Coconut coir, soil, or cypress mulch are all good options for tortoises, depending on their preferences. The ideal substrate should be soft, safe in case of ingestion, and with great moisture-retaining properties.
- Lighting – Not all reptiles require access to adequate UVB lighting for better digestion and normal nutrient absorption. Tortoises do.
- Temperature – The ideal temperature range is 75-80 F for the main dwelling zone and close to 100 F in the basking area. These values may differ depending on the species.
- Humidity – Aim for humidity levels around 50-60% for maximum comfort and safety.
- A hide box – The hide box is meant to provide the tortoise with a safe space that the animal can use when tired or scared.
- The proper layout – Decorate the animal’s enclosure according to its natural habitat. This will improve the tortoise’s comfort and mental state, reducing the likelihood of stress.
Tortoises demand a specific habitat setting, preferably one that mimics their natural living conditions. You should always gauge your reptile’s health status and overall mental state to detect any health problems in time.
Seeking Professional Veterinary Care
Always seek proper veterinary assistance if you can’t figure out your tortoise’s condition on your own. Early diagnosis and targeted treatment are key to preventing more serious health issues, especially when it comes to tortoises. These animals are sensitive to respiratory problems and stress. Ignoring their warning signs and vocal hints can lead to dramatic outcomes.
Tortoises showcase an unexpected range of vocalizations, depending on their intent and physical and mental state. Your goal is to decipher what’s driving the reptile to use those specific sounds, as this can provide a gateway into the animal’s mind. Ask your veterinarian for assistance if you can’t figure out the problem yourself.