Do tortoises bite?

Tortoises Can Bite: Here’s What You Need To Know

This is probably something everyone wonders about when thinking of getting a tortoise (or two!). It’s especially important to know if they can harm young playful children or other pets.

So do tortoises bite? Yes, tortoises do bite. While they are typically very docile and peaceful, they are able to use the strength of their beaks to bite each other, other pets and sometimes humans for a variety of reasons.

The tortoise is a very interesting and versatile animal, with different species making homes in habitats all over the world. Let’s look at what the reasons for biting are so that we can prevent unnecessary harm.

Do Tortoises Bite Humans?

If you have ever considered bringing a pet tortoise into your home, you have probably wondered if they could potentially bite you while you are caring for it. The name “snapping tortoise” might be an automatic disqualifier for families with small children.

The answer to this question is that tortoises can and will bite humans in certain circumstances. Depending on the type of tortoise that you choose to have as a pet, you might experience minimal to extreme levels of biting.

Additionally, there will only be rare circumstances where the tortoise will feel provoked and feel the need to bite their human caretakers.

Why Do Tortoises Bite Humans?

  • To protect themselves when they feel threatened
  • To establish dominance (usually male tortoises)
  • By mistake, thinking you might be food

The first reason why a tortoise would bite a human would be in the name of self-defense. Like most animals, if it feels threatened in any way, it will probably snap at your fingers, or anything within reach, in order to protect itself.

These provocations can be anything from picking them up to moving them or bumping into them. Especially if your pet is new to you, he or she might not be used to your sounds and smells yet so avoid putting your fingers within reach of their mouth.

As they grow older and they get used to you, you can take more liberties with this until you are sure that they won’t bite you. When we got our first baby tortoises, they used to snap at us occasionally. Now that it’s been a few years, they’re know they’re safe with us and they never ever bite.

Tortoise bites are more common in the males in general, because they use their strong snappers to establish dominance. If your tortoise has ever taken a bite of your hand with no apparent reason behind it, this might have been it.

Male tortoises will use this tactic to establish dominance amongst the females as well, which we will go into in the next section.

Finally, tortoises can bite humans when they mistake them for something they can eat. Although most tortoises are vegetarian and rarely eat any kind of meat, they can snap at your finger if they see it in front of them and mistake it for something tasty!

This is not because they necessarily find your extremities very appetizing. And it isn’t because your finger looks like lettuce either. It’s simply because tortoises are opportunistic feeders.

All of these reasons should be taken into consideration in order to avoid many of the unnecessary tortoise bites that could come your way. Like many animals, sometimes they can be unpredicatable.

Do Tortoises Bite Each Other?

Now that the question of whether or not tortoises bite humans has been answered, you might be wondering if tortoises bite each other. Since these tiny household pets seem to be so aggressive toward their human caretakers, do they display the same energy toward other members of their species?

The answer is yes again. Tortoises do bite each other. They can bite to establish dominance, they can bite for mating reasons and they can bite during a fight.

The first reason why a tortoise would bite another of its own kind would be to establish some kind of dominance. This could happen if a new tortoise was placed into the same area as another.

As a means of marking their territory and settling disputes, the tortoises are very likely to take a few snaps at each other at some point or another. Although these types of problems usually happen with males, both males and females can get into these types of quarrels.

When it comes to male and female tortoises together in the same environment, the males will commonly bite the females when it is time to mate. It has been reported in some cases that tortoises of opposite genders will both get into fights and mate, which inevitably includes biting.

A more obvious reason for tortoises biting each other would be self-defense, which relates to the category of establishing dominance. If tortoises ever get into a disagreement of any kind, one of their solutions is to fight it out with their jaws.

In the most extreme of situations, a tortoise might literally take a bite out of another tortoise. If there is ever a circumstance where there is absolutely no source of food and the tortoises get hungry, they can turn to cannibalism.

While this can come as a shock to many people, the aggression that tortoises let out on humans and other tortoises can potentially reach this level. However, as long as they’re treated well as pets, it shouldn’t happen too often!

Do Tortoise’s Bites Hurt? Tortoise Bite Force

The fact that tortoises bite both humans and tortoises, and even eat other tortoises in extreme and rare cases, brings us to the topic of how strong their bites really are. Do they really hurt that bad?

Due to the fact that tortoises and turtles visibly do not have teeth, most people would assume that the strength of their jaw alone could not do that much damage. After all, why would they need such a strong bite to munch on leafy greens?

Well, if tortoises have the ability to take a chunk out of another tortoise’s leg for food when they are desperate to feed on something, the strength of their jaws should not be underestimated.

If you were surprised to read about the aggression of these tiny animals, take a look at the list below to find out what kind of damage a tortoise bite can really do, to both humans and other tortoises.

The force of a tortoise bite will depend on the type of diet that the specific species of tortoise adheres to. The most general classification would be herbivore versus carnivore tortoises.

Herbivore Tortoise Bites:

  • Tight pressure/pinching feeling
  • Leave a mark for several hours
  • Could potentially break the skin

Carnivore Tortoise Bites:

  • Extremely painful
  • Will most likely break the skin
  • Can take fingers off with enough force

So the herbivore tortoises have a pretty hard bite, but you will most likely only feel a right pressure similar to a pinching feeling. The area of the bite might display a red indented mark for several hours, but it will ultimately go away after some time.

While the bite of the average tortoise is unpleasant, you will survive while keeping all of your body parts intact, even though they have the potential to break the skin if the bite is hard or long enough.

Carnivorous tortoises, on the other hand, will be able to do a lot more damage when biting a human or another animal. These bites are extremely painful, due to the fact that these tortoise species need to chew through more dense food on a daily basis.

Additionally, these types of tortoises are more than likely to break the skin of a human, and could even take fingers off with the right amount of force. So, you wouldn’t want to end up with anything near the mouth of a carnivorous tortoise, or else you might come out with a severed finger.


While tortoises are peaceful pets, they do occasionally bite. Whether they feel threatened, are hungry or it is time to mate, you are likely to witness a snapping mouth at some point. As a tortoise owner, keep in mind the situations we discussed today so that you’re not in the way when it happens!

Related Questions

Are tortoises aggressive? No, tortoises are not aggressive animals. Even though they do bite from time to time, they have a reputation for being docile. They will not normally be aggressive for no reason.

Can tortoises live with other pets? Yes, tortoises can live safely with other pets. However there are a few caveats, which we discuss here in this article “Can Tortoises Live With Other Pets?” Mainly, you want to be careful with young or playful pets, big or aggressive pets and animals that might be sick and contagious.

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