Can Ants Harm Tortoises? -

Can Ants Harm Tortoises? A Guide to Tortoise Safety

If you’ve ever had a picnic, you turn away from your food for a few minutes and may come back to an unpleasant surprise. Ants have swarmed around your food, and are taking it away in a little black trail. Humans aren’t the only ones who can be bothered by these little insects – our beloved pets can be too.

Can ants harm tortoises? When it comes to tortoises, ants can be very harmful! Depending on the type of ant, they can range from annoyances to killers. Fire ants are the main species of ant that is deadly to a tortoise. If they are not successful in killing it, they can be harmful through biting.

While most ants will not hurt your tortoise, seeing them crawling around their enclosure or on the animal itself can be unsettling. Many owners will quickly brush or wash them off as they crawl all over. Below you’ll find remedies for getting rid of ants and keeping them out of your tortoise’s outdoor enclosure.

Which Ants Harm Tortoises?

While most ants are just annoyances, there are ants that can harm tortoises. Knowing the types of ants to be aware of will help you if you start to see them in your yard or around your tortoise enclosure.

Most commonly these ants are:

  • Fire Ants
  • Red Harvester Ants
  • Carpenter Ants

Fire ants are the most common nuisances for tortoises. Both fire ants and red harvester ants sting, while carpenter ants bite. Not only will ants attempt to sting or bite your tortoise in order to provoke it, they can often see a tortoise as a snack!

Keeping this in mind, it is very important you are checking the outdoor habitat for ants. Common black ants will not harm your tortoise, but they can still infest their home.

This is often due to leftover food in the enclosure. Look for ant nests in and around the perimeter of the tortoise home.

Can Fire Ants Kill a Tortoise?

Fire ants are the biggest ant threat to your tortoise. They have been known to swarm the animal and slowly eat it alive. This is most common for baby tortoises, as they are smaller. Slow-moving tortoises have a more difficult time preventing fire ant attacks, as they are unable to get away from the small, yet deadly predators.

Fire ants are omnivores, eating both plants, bugs, and animals. They could be drawn to the tortoise enclosure by the food that the tortoise eats and then the tortoise itself.

Although these ants are native to South America, but have now become extremely concentrated in the Southern United States. While finding their way to pockets of California, Taiwan, China, and Australia, the Southern United States holds significant concentration.

You should be especially aware of fire ants entering your tortoise enclosure if you live in:

  • Texas
  • Louisiana
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Georgia
  • North and South Carolinas

The states listed above have the most heavily concentrated populations. They can be found in almost every area of the state. This is something to consider when purchasing a tortoise as a pet and wishing for it to live outside.

Being aware of the ant populations in your state will allow you to prepare for your tortoise’s living arrangements. Before getting a tortoise, consider using ant killer or poison to eliminate them from the area.

Please keep in mind that some of these products can be toxic to other animals and/or current pets! If you choose to use a toxic spray or powder, make sure you do it months before your tortoise will ever be near the area. Ants can be harmful, but strong chemicals are just as dangerous for your new pet!

How To Get Rid Of Ants In a Tortoise Enclosure (Without Harming Your Tortoise)

Sometimes we cannot stop ants from coming in or never thought they would! Now you find that there are ants in your tortoise’s enclosure, what should you do? Firstly, remove your tortoise from the area.

Not only will this prevent further ant irritation for the time being, but it will also keep it out of danger. Some of the products or methods you use could be dangerous. Since you’re reading this on this site, our primary goal is obviously to keep our beautiful tortoises safe.

Chemical Solutions

While we personally prefer the natural, safer solutions (described below) you can use this chemical solution. If you do decide to use poison to get rid of ants, do so on the perimeter or outside of the enclosure. Please make sure that the tortoise/s (and other pets) have absolutely no access to the chemicals.

The chemical solution is these 2 products (commonly found at most hardware and landscaping stores as well as online):

  • Amdro Pro Fire Ant Bait and,
  • Extinguish Plus Ant Bait

Mix these two ant baits 50/50 and pour in impacted areas. Make sure this is not inside the tortoise pen.

Natural Solutions

For the natural options that won’t hurt or injure any pets, here are 2 solutions that have been trusted by both people with general ant problems as well as tortoise owners!

These solutions will often require you to identify an ant hill (especially for fire ants) or the source of the ant infestation.

1. Hot Water

Pour extremely hot water down the ant hill. This will kill the ants or, even better, require them to relocate. If you are able to do this often, the ant problem within the tortoise enclosure should subside. The ants will move away as they do not want to be blasted with boiling water.

Unless the ants are the particularly vicious and dangerous kind, we prefer this next solution. This one simply encourages them to move away rather than actively killing the colony.

2. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is both non-harmful to tortoises and smells great (to humans, that is)! Ants do not like cinnamon like we do and will stay far away from it. Consider sprinkling some around the pen’s perimeter and inside of it to relocate the ants.

Getting them outside of the pen will allow you to use stronger materials and chemicals for the more long-term solutions.

How To Safely Prevent Ants In Your Tortoise Enclosure

There are many preventative measures to take to keep ants out of a tortoise’s enclosure. If you have not gotten your pet yet, consider checking the area for ants and preventatively spraying chemicals.

Do this well in advance to ensure the tortoise sees no residue or impact. Once you have gotten the tortoise, we suggest using the natural solutions to prevent ant attacks. These are clearly much safer for our pets.

Around the perimeter you can:

  • Plant spearmint: ants do not like the scent and will stay away from it
  • Line calcium carbonate: ants do not like to cross chalky paths as they interfere with their scent following abilities
  • Use chemicals and poisons: just make sure there is no access to the tortoise
  • Scatter cornstarch: Ants are attracted to cornstarch and will try and eat it. It is indigestible for the ants and will slowly kill them as they starve. Put it in their path back to their nest
  • Ant traps: Cover some type of food in poison. Ants will bring it back to their home and die once it is eaten

Once again, unless they are particularly vicious, we always prefer to relocate the pests rather than killing them. Within your enclosure, always opt for natural removal options and preventative measures.

Other Preventive Measures

Remove uneaten food

If your tortoise does not eat all of the food you have given it, make sure you remove it from the pen in a timely manner. It does not take long for an ant to smell its next meal. This will prevent all types of ants (and possibly other pests) from entering.

Balsamic Vinegar + Lemon Juice

A natural ant killer that can be used within your enclosure combines balsamic vinegar and lemon juice equally. Pour this into ant hills or visible trails of ants. The acidity will kill or deter the ants without posing harm to your tortoise.


While most ants will not harm your tortoise, they can be an irritation. Depending on the location of the world in which your tortoise lives, you must be aware of the dangerous risk that some types of ants may cause.

Preparation is key when you are creating the outdoor enclosure for your pet. While you should not be incredibly anxious and disregard the possibilities of an outdoor habitat (tortoises are naturally found outdoors anyways), take extra steps to survey the area and prevent contamination by these little beasts!

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