Are Tortoises Cold-Blooded

Are Tortoises Cold-Blooded?

When buying your first tortoise you will have discovered all the equipment that is needed to keep your tortoise healthy. You have your enclosure and then an array of lamps but why do we need all this lighting equipment?

Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles that need an external heat source to warm their body temperature. Wild tortoises will use the heat of the sun to raise their body temperature and hibernate during the colder months. A captive bread tortoise will need heat lamps to raise its body temperature. 

With this in mind as tortoise owners, we need the correct setup to keep our tortoise healthy. There are a lot of misconceptions around tortoises and the cold and we hope to display these myths below so you don’t fall foul to any of them. 

What Does Cold-Blooded Reptile Mean?

Cold-blooded reptiles are animals that cannot regulate their own body internal temperature. When the weather turns cold the reptile will be unable to use their internal heating system to warm up and need another heat source.

Cold-blooded doesn’t mean that your tortoise has cold blood. The term just means that the blood in their system changes with the temperature they live in.

Other Cold-Blooded Reptiles

Tortoises are not the only cold-blooded reptiles and some other cold-blooded reptiles are:

  • Crocodile
  • Bearded dragon
  • Snakes
  • Spiny-tailed iguana
  • Green anaconda
  • Chameleon
  • Black mamba
  • Sea turtle
  • Lizards

As you can see from this shortlist that most of these animals in the wild are in parts of the world where the temperature is warm. 

Climate change is having a big impact on the survival of some of these wonderful animals. As our planet starts to warm up sadly some of these animals are getting rarer in the wild. 

If we don’t get to grips with our climate sadly in a few years many of these animals will be extinct. 

Unfortunately, we are already seeing dramatic changes to the great barrier reef with “bleaching” that is killing the reef as the water warms.

Can Tortoises Be Out In The Cold?

No, your tortoise should not be out in the cold this can be disastrous to your tortoise. Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles that require external heat to warm themselves up. Being in anything below 10 degrees will start to slow their immune system down ready for hibernation. Anything below 3 degrees will make your tortoise ill and lead to death. 

As tortoise owners, we need to learn quickly that our tortoise is cold-blooded and that cold can have a dramatic effect on their life. Our job as owners is to supply them with the heat they need as they would get in the wild. We do this with UV bulbs and heat lamps that act as our Sun. 

Can A Tortoise Freeze To Death?

Yes, unfortunately, if your tortoise is outside in the open your tortoise will likely freeze to death. 

When hibernating tortoises in the wild will burrow into the earth for protection from the cold temperatures. The lowest temperature that it can get to is around one degree anything lower will likely lead to death.  

What Happens If A Tortoise Gets Too Cold?

When a tortoise starts to get cold their body temperature starts to drop. Once the body temperature starts to cool the immune system of the tortoise start to shut down. All in preparation to fall into hibernation. 

This process is completely natural to a tortoise in the correct environment. However, if your tortoise’s immune system keeps dropping regularly due to insufficient heat this can lead to problems. 

Your tortoise carries many different bacterias which are perfectly normal and cause them no harm in normal circumstances. If the temperature keeps dropping lowering their immune system. These bacterias can break through the body’s defenses and cause your tortoise to become ill.

With this knowledge, we need to keep our tortoise’s temperature-controlled and within the correct range of the spices we keep. 

If the temperatures fall below cold and turn to freeze conditions your tortoise is likely to rapidly become ill and eventually die. If your tortoise survives freezing conditions the eyes will likely freeze causing your tortoise to lose their sight. 

How To Protect Your Tortoise From The Cold?

I will assume that you are keeping your tortoise indoors once the weather outside becomes colder. 

To keep your tortoise core body temperature to levels that allow them to function correctly. We need to provide them with additional heat if your part of the world is colder than they require. Heat lamps and UV bulbs will be needed for 12 hours per day giving your tortoise the required heat and UV. 

As tortoise owners, we need the correct lighting setup if you need more help see our guide: Guide How to Arrange the Lighting in Your Tortoise Table or Vivarium

Can Tortoises Die From Heat?

Yes, tortoises can die from overheating. While tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles they still only have a tolerance for temperatures between 69 and 100 degrees. A tortoise will rapidly start to overheat in high temperatures and will need shade from the Sunlight to cool down. 

Despite this article being manly about the cold that a tortoise can endure I think it was important to touch on heat. As many people believe that a tortoise can not overheat and this is wrong and can lead to heartbreak. 

Does A Tortoise Get A Cold?

Yes, your tortoise can get a cold, and the systems a very similar to that with human colds.

  • Labored breathing, 
  • Lethargic
  • Lacking Appetite, 
  • Gaped Mouth While Breathing 
  • Whistling When Breathing
  • Bubbles Coming from The Mouth, 
  • Runny Eyes
  • Runny Nose and Bubbles From The Nostrils

If your tortoise displays any of the signs above it is likely they have been affected by the cold and have a cold. Self-treatment is difficult in these instances and it would be best practice to visit a vet who can supply antibiotics. 


Learning from the moment you by your tortoise they are cold-blooded will stand you in good stead in offering them the best care. I believe it is the duty of the seller to tell you this when you buy your tortoise.

Many people skip lighting seeing it as an extra cost and heating for tortoise and wonder why they soon die. Tortoise will live a happy a long life sometimes over 150 years if you provide them with the right environment.

Getting the lighting and heating right is not difficult and shouldn’t be left out of their overall care. You should never let your tortoise become cold unless you are hibernating them and the condition will need to be controlled.

Once you have your lighting setup it’s not something you have to worry about again other than replacing the bulbs once every six months.