3 Reasons Your Tortoise Keeps Pacing and What to Do

3 Reasons Your Tortoise Keeps Pacing and What to Do

Pering into your tortoise enclosure and seeing him pacing frantically can be pretty worrying. A tortoise pacing is pretty normal behavior for tortoises and not something to be overly worried about in most instances. When you see a person pacing around, it can indicate stress, but what does it mean for a tortoise if it’s nothing to worry about? 

There are several reasons a tortoise is pacing, the first being a totally natural one in that they are trying to attract the opposite sex. Something a little more concerning is a pacing tortoise when they can see their reflection in a glass enclosure. Also, pacing can be a sign that the enclosure is a little too small. 

Ok, so there are some things in there that can be a little worrying, but they are easy to overcome. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes that make a tortoise pace and see how to overcome them and make your tortoise feel better.

Reason #1 Tortoise Mating Frustrations

The first and one of the most common reasons your tortoise may suddenly have started pacing around their enclosure. Maybe because they are feeling frisky and if there is no one to get frisky with they are frustrated. Despite tortoises being solitary reptiles they love to mate and have been called the rabbit of the reptile world. 

Now when I read this I couldn’t believe it but has been verified by many but untried by me I must point out. Showing your tortoise a video of two tortoises mating ignites their mating instincts. So in theory your tortoise likes to watch adult tortoise films. 

Tortoises Like To Be Alone

You may have read all over the place that your tortoise likes to be alone and you don’t need to buy a pair of tortoises. We are doing the right thing with our tortoise but are we living them in a state of frustration for their entire lives.

When your tortoise starts to pace during the mating season. It is the way tortoises attract the opposite sex. As a bird may display its feather bloom or start to dance to attract mating partners your tortoises equivalent is to pace.

Despite our fears for our tortoise’s built-up frustration, it’s believed that tortoises enjoy the mating season. 

Tortoise Love The Mating Game

The whole process of mating within tortoise is a strange performance. The easiest way to see a tortoise is getting ready for mating is when pacing starts and the tortoise becomes aggressive. Also, the time of the year is a big indicator as tortoises will get the urge to mate around spring. 

Male tortoises will attack any other male tortoise that they come into contact with within the wild or captivity. The fights between two male tortoises are very violent and can lead to the loser with damage to the shell and skin and in some cases death. 

A tortoise that is looking to mate that comes across a female tortoise will not become caring they keep the aggressive stance. No dinner dates for their lady friend with a tortoise just aggressive bumping and biting. 

The female will push back until eventually accepting the advances of the male tortoise. Female tortoises are often built bigger than male tortoises to survive the mating ritual.  

Where Does All That Energy Go?

There is a lot of built-up energy with a mating tortoise and without an avenue to let that out it has to go somewhere. Right? Well yes, that is the reason your tortoise is pacing around their enclosure they are letting off their sexual frustration. 

There is not a lot we can do about this as owners and we shouldn’t try to intervene. Some will have the idea of finding a tortoise mate but this can be a bad idea as you have to get the match perfect. A male tortoise is very aggressive and can cause smaller female damage even death.

Allow you tortoise space and just allow them to walk the frustration off they will become a lot fitter and healthier. 

Reason #2: The Tortoise Glass Trap

It is often believed that tortoises or reptiles in general don’t have the same feelings or thoughts as humans or the same senses. However, this is far from the truth and whenever someone asks me about a tortoise pacing I always ask the same question. 

What enclosure do you keep your tortoise in? If I hear a glass tank or anything that can be seen through I shudder. I point out this is not their fault but the person who sold them the tortoise. 

Tortoises See Well

One of the best senses your tortoise has is its sight science believe that the tortoise’s sight is as good if not better than ours. Your tortoise has color vision and can see excellently in ultra-violet which is something our eyes can not do.

So what does this have to do with a glass tortoise enclosure? If you have a tortoise vivarium or fish tank that you can see into your tortoise can also see out. The tortoise will be able to see everything in the room and without the ability to get to it. In essence to your tortoise it will look like the world is ever ending without the ability to reach it. 

What you will find is this stresses out your tortoises making them pace up and down their enclosure. They are just trying to get to a place that looks interesting but they can not lead to stress pacing.

Tortoises Don’t Understand Glass

Tortoises are believed to be very clever reptiles and who can argue with that when they have survived our ever-changing world for such a long period. 

However, glass is something your tortoise has no understanding of and just can’t fathom it out. There is nothing like glass in the wild that keeps them enclosed. Your tortoise can’t see anything in its way but is unable to proceed with them being persistent they don’t stop trying.

In this situation, your tortoise will start to pace in frustration. While some will argue that the pacing in this situation is nothing to worry about I totally and wholeheartedly disagree. 

Your tortoise will quickly become stressed out and stress in a tortoise leads to their immune system being lowered. With a low immune system, they are much more likely to become to illness and disease.  

How To Make It Easier For Your Tortoise

If you agree with my statement or not I’m sure you agree that it would be unfair to have a tortoise frustrated every day of its life. 

Getting a new tortoise table may not be an option for many but the remedy is easy to come by. You can now purchase vinyl wrapping cheaply and it is readily available. 

Wrapping the bottom have of your tank so your tortoise can no longer see out. Will stop the pacing and the stress caused to your tortoise. What your tortoise can’t see doesn’t exist and we all want our tortoise to live a stress-free life. 

Reason #3: Lacking Space

Unfairly a tortoise has a reputation of not needing much space to move around in. The assumption is that they are slow-moving so they will only need a small amount of space. This is one of the biggest misconceptions people make and tortoises are mobile reptiles.

I feel the misconceptions come from giant tortoises who only move a few hundred meters over the course of a month. 

The giant tortoise is slow and moves very little but smaller spices which make up the majority move a great deal.

For instance, the desert tortoise which is native to the USA can move an incredible amount with an estimation ranging from 2 to 5 kilometers per hour. 

The desert tortoise doesn’t move fast but constantly throughout the day. The reason for this is the desert lacks food. So they spend their day wandering the desert on the lookout for any food. 

When you think about 2 to 5 kilometers per hour of walking that is an incredible about of space they need. As owners, we are unable to offer such fast amounts of space.

The end result is that your tortoise wants to stretch their legs as they would in the wild. They can see the big open space in the room but can’t reach it to burn off their energy leading to stress. 

Your tortoise will often pace up and down the glass, this is a sure sign they are stressed and want to get out.

We can keep them happy by not allowing them to see the outside and supplying their food without the need for all that walking. 

Offering your tortoise as much space as possible is always best practice and having things in the enclosure to make it more interesting. 


In most instances, pacing will be down to mating rituals and the time of the year and changes in your tortoise behavior are all signs. 

However, if you have a glass tortoise house then the problem will be your tortoise can see outside without the ability to reach it. Leading to stress and you should take action to reactive the situation.

Finally, we looked at the issue we all have providing your tortoise with space. Our tortoise despite its slow nature loves to move. We as tortoise owners need to do our best to provide them with as much space as possible.

I know of the reasons we have given above which I have found to be unlikely in my many years of tortoise keeping. You could have a tortoise that is falling ill and you should seek the help of a vet.