Pest control and tortoises: What is safe and what isn't -

Pest Control & Tortoises: What Is Safe & What Isn’t

So you need to get rid of some pests around your home but don’t want to hurt your pet tortoise/s. Well, here are some good news: it’s quite easy to choose methods of pest control that will keep your garden bug free and your tortoises in perfect condition.

What kind of pest control is safe around tortoises? The safest kinds of pest control around pet tortoises are organic methods such as worms, bacteria, oil sprays, insecticidal soaps, pheromones and floating covers. Chemical pest control methods are dangerous to tortoises and other pets. They can get them sick, or worse, be fatal.

Traditional Pest Control Solutions And Tortoises

When we think of traditional pest control solutions, we usually think of chemicals. There are two issues with this when it comes to tortoises. The first is that many of these chemicals have never been tested around tortoises – so, you’re gambling with their health and safety if you use them in your home or garden.

The second problem is that some have actually been tested on tortoises. The ethical issues around testing on animals is already a red flag, but even worse, the chemicals have not had great reactions with them.

Tortoises appear to be much more sensitive to chemical use when compared to other reptiles. There isn’t a single pest control company that could recommend a safe chemical pesticide for use around tortoises. They all recommend organic choices, instead.

Is Ultrasonic Pest Control Safe For Tortoises?

Ultrasonic pest control devices are often utilized to keep mosquitoes and rodents at bay. While there has been no specific research into the use of these devices around tortoises, tortoise owners report that their pets seem completely unbothered by their use.

This seems to apply to almost all forms of reptile too – ultrasonic pest control appears to be safe to use but scientific studies are needed.

The 7 Best Options For Pest Control Around Tortoises

The best pest control solutions for use around your tortoises are all organic because these solutions employ all natural methods which can either be found in nature or work in a way that your tortoises never come into contact with them – we can be certain that they are completely safe.

Do not use a more traditional chemical pesticide even if you can find one that claims it is safe for use around reptiles. Tortoises are especially sensitive to these products and you use them at the risk of their lives. So, stick to organic methods of pest control which are also good for you and the planet.

Parasitic Nematodes: The Worms Will Win

Yes, you can use worms to combat pests in your garden. These nematodes are not like the parasitic nematodes that can destroy plants, or even cause infections in you or possibly your tortoise, they are completely safe and are designed to destroy a specific insect host completely.

In fact, there are already plenty of these worms living in your garden. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of them to keep all the pests at bay.

So, you can buy in a box of them and they will arrive in a moist medium. When you want to use them, you just add water. It’s quite important that you don’t keep them hanging around very long before you use them as they will start to die off.

You can store them in a refrigerator for a maximum of four months before they are no longer useful at all and there will be a big drop off in effectiveness long before that.

Once you’ve added the water, however, they will only last for a few hours – so go out and use it all, don’t try and save any.

The soil must be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the nematodes to survive in it and they are best applied in the early evening or when there is a good level of cloud cover as they can die off if it gets too hot.

Spread them all over the area where the pest is present and then sit back and wait for them to do their destructive best.

Bacillus Thuringiensis: Bacterial Pesticide

The use of the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT for short) can be very effective when it comes to organic pest control. It occurs naturally in the soil which means that it’s entirely safe for your plants, you and your tortoises.

There are, in fact, many different types of this bacteria and some of those are lethal to insects. However, each type is usually only deadly to a single insect – so you have to ensure that you get the correct BT solution for the insects plaguing your plants, or it won’t work at all.

Once you have the right BT, things are pretty simple, you can spray the plants and when the insect eats the BT it develops a near immediate bacterial infection. This stops it from eating and over the next few days it will die of starvation combined with protein poisoning induced by the BT infection.

However, you need to be careful when you use BT because sometimes the bacteria will kill more than one insect and you may end up killing a friendly insect alongside a hostile one – you need to research the BT strain thoroughly before deploying it.

Also, as a general rule – BT only works with the pre-adult variants of a pest. That means you need to strike when the insect is in a larval stage and not once it’s grown up.

Finally, while the spray is not toxic – you should remove the tortoise from the area while you spray and wear a mask and goggles while you apply it. That’s because there are a few instances where large volumes of the bacteria have caused a mild allergic reaction when inhaled.

Once the solution has been down for an hour or so, it’s fine to reintroduce your tortoise(s) as the airborne BT will have effectively reached a zero level of concentration.

Oil Sprays: Direct Pest Control

Oil sprays are very effective, but they work by asphyxiating the bug, so it’s got to be applied directly over your pests to kill them. This can be a touch problematic; it also makes it quite hard to avoid spraying beneficial insects in the process.

You can use a “dormant” oil in the dormant season to tackle any eggs and spores that might be on the branches of your plants and trees. When you’re working with young plants it’s best to use a “light” oil (these are often branded as superior or summer oils as these will evaporate quickly and won’t cause any damage to the young plants.

You can’t use an oil spray on a plant with moisture stress (a condition where the plants cells have a less than adequate level of water, often seen as browning of the leaves). It’s also not a good idea to use these sprays on very hot days as they can evaporate too quickly to be truly effective.

You should always test an oil spray on a small part of a plant before using it everywhere as it is possible that a plant may react badly to it. It’s best to wait 48 hours to inspect the test area before you continue.

Try not to spray when it’s peak flowering time if your plants are pollenated by flying insects as you can kill off the bees and other friendly flying insects too. If you have to spray at this time of year, aim for very early in the day before the bees arrive.

Oil sprays are remarkably effective with a wide-range of insects and are very easy to source and use.

Insecticidal Soaps: Spray Away

An insecticidal soap sounds all chemical and harsh but, in fact, it’s made out of animal fat and the long-chain fatty acids that it contains will react with and dissolve the insect’s cuticle. Yes, this one works by eating through the skin of the bug which isn’t a pretty mental picture.

Because the soap is essentially animal fat, it poses no health risks to you, your tortoises or any other animal around. Though, it might inspire a dog to lick at the leaves a bit.

This soap should come in a spray form and it will be sold as an “insecticidal soap spray” and it’s very important that you buy this and not a “herbicidal soap spray” as that’s a spray designed to kill your plants and not pests.

The limiting factor when using insecticidal soaps is that they are only effective when they come into contact with insects while they are wet. As soon as they dry up, they are completely useless. That means you want to spray when the insects are out and about in their greatest numbers.

Before you go mad with this and spray everywhere, test a small area of your plants with the spray, there are some plants that react badly to insecticidal soap and can end up with a nasty looking burn. You want to leave the test patch for 48 hours before you make a decision as to whether to go ahead with the rest of the area.

It’s best not to spray when it’s hot because the spray will dry up faster and be less efficient. You may find that the soap struggles to dissolve in hard water, if this is the case you can use ordinary distilled soap to add to the mix to help it dissolve. This is also completely harmless to tortoises.

Not all bugs are affected by these soaps but many of the most common garden pests are. The only way to find out is to give it a tray.

Pheromonal Traps: The Scent Of Another Insect

We know that most insects like to spend their time hanging around members of the opposite sex if they can. This provides an excellent opportunity to trap the little blighters.

Insects use a “pheromone,” that is a hormone which is excreted into the air, to signify their availability to members of the opposite sex. Scientists have worked out how to duplicate these pheromones and built traps around them.

Pheromones are totally natural and completely non-toxic to you and to your tortoise. However, they come with a substantial set of drawbacks. The first is that they only work for insects which use pheromones for mating behavior – so, if your pests don’t use pheromones, this won’t work.

Secondly, they only mimic the female pheromone, which means they only kill male insects. That means they’re best used as a first line of defense to identify when a problem pest is moving into the area. Once the pest is established, you will need to move on to another form of pest control as the females will start to devour your plants undeterred by the pheromone traps.

Many gardeners will choose to use a Bacillus thuringiensis trap as a back up to a pheromone trap as it offers a far greater degree of long-term pest control.

Floating Row Covering: Solid But One Minor Drawback For Tortoises

One of the simplest forms of pest control going is the “floating row cover”. You use a translucent (that is light can pass through it) white polyester fabric layer to form a physical barrier around an area to keep insects physically at bay.

There are two types of fabric that can be used for this a “light” version that is preferred in summer months to prevent heat getting trapped and killing off any plant matter and a “heavy” version which is used in wintertime when heat collection doesn’t matter so much.

You buy the fabric by the yard and it comes in a couple of different widths and then you simply measure out a length that works and use a wooden frame with metal hoops to attach the fabric too, to place over the area.

It is very important that you properly seal the row edges when you do this, or the insects will simply fly in around the sides.

The drawback of this method, for tortoises, is that the fabric only lets about 80% of the sunlight through to the plants below – which is not usually a big problem for the plants but might be a big deal when it comes to your tortoise’s basking habits. So, if you choose to go with floating row covering, it’s a good idea to monitor the daytime temperatures in the enclosure.

A tortoise needs to be able to bask at the right temperature in order to produce Vitamin D3 which is essential for its health.

The other drawback is that you can’t use this method if your plants require insect pollination – because without insects, there will be no more plants. So, it’s often best used as a temporary barrier when a specific pest is particularly active or during the seedling phase when plants are especially vulnerable.


As you’ve seen, organic pest control is the safe way to go around pet tortoises (and other pets). There’s just not enough hard data when it comes to chemicals and tortoises and the little that does exist suggests that they don’t get along well with each other. Without a doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our beloved pets.

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