My Tortoise Keeps Trying to Climb the Walls

My Tortoise Keeps Trying to Climb the Walls

If you are new or an old hand at tortoise husbandry some of our shelly little friend’s behavior can appear quite strange even alarming. One behavior trait is a tortoise trying to climb out of the enclosure. I often see people say on forums “my tortoise keeps trying to climb the walls” often alarmed that their tortoise is unhappy or unwell. 

A lack of space can cause a tortoise to become frustrated and want to escape the enclosure. If the tortoise enclosure is too small they may be trying to escape if the size is adequate then it could possibly be natural behavior. Species such as the Russian tortoise love to climb walls. 

So, the quick answer is a little ambiguous and it does need a closer look at what could actually causing your tortoise to climb the walls. 

Why Does My Tortoise Keep Trying to Escape?

If your tortoise enclosure is too small your tortoise will feel uncomfortable and will try to escape. If your tortoise is new to the enclosure it can take several weeks for them to become settled and happy with their new home. Until your tortoise is happy they will not stop trying to escape. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues that may be causing your tortoise to climb the walls.

Is Your Tortoise Enclosure Too Small?

The first thing that you want to make sure of is that your tortoise enclosure is not too small. The reason for this is that the climbing of walls will be caused by stress and not a natural behavior trait. Stress in tortoises can lead to health issues and eventual death. 

Many people buy a tortoise package that will include all the things you need to get going with tortoise husbandry. While these can be excellent the enclosures are often small and only suitable for baby tortoises.

As your tortoise grows you will want to upgrade your tortoise enclosure to something bigger that is more suitable to a bigger tortoise. The side walls will also need to be bigger around 12” higher than your tortoise when they are standing on their hind legs. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t do proper research when they come to buy a tortoise. That cute little thing you first see is going to grow and in some cases grow very big so intern they will need a very big enclosure. 

It is often the reason why people choose the Russian or Hermann tortoise due to its small size. Which leads to not having to have such a big enclosure. 

Is Your Tortoise Enclosure Made of Glass?

Often people mistakenly believe that our tortoise will love a glass tank. Or possibly it could be that we humans would love to watch our tortoise more easily. However, a tortoise doesn’t understand glass. It leads to confusion and stress as they cant get to that place they can see.

Tortoises have excellent eyesight and move a considerable amount so if they see a big wide open room they can’t get to because of the glass it stresses them. A wooden enclosure is best suited for tortoises and will stop the tortoise from becoming confused. 

If you are purchasing your tortoise from someone who has their tortoise in a class tank walk away. If they are doing this to their tortoise what else are they getting wrong with their care? 

Is Your Tortoise Enclosure A New Environment?

Tortoises are intelligent animals and understand change so a new environment can lead to some confusion. In this case, however, if everything is correct with the enclosure size and no glass your tortoise is likely to settle in.

The settle-in process is quite natural and it is just your tortoise getting used to his/her surroundings. When I have got a new tortoise the process of pacing and climbing walls incessantly can last around 3-6 weeks.

There is nothing to worry about if your tortoise is displaying these traits if it’s a new environment. Just make sure you have the correct enclosure and they will eventually settle in their new home. 

Is It Mating Season?

While tortoises are very happy alone and are solitary reptiles the urge to find a mating partner can lead to different behavior patterns.

Pacing is one of the most common behaviors displayed by tortoises when they are looking to mate. This can also lead to climbing and scratching at the walls this is all-natural as your tortoise burns off their pent-up frustration.  

Tortoises will start to get marting urges during the spring after they come out of hibernation through to the middle of summer. So, if your tortoise starts to display pacing and climbing during this time it is likely to be the mating urge. 

It can come as a shock when your slow-moving normal docile tortoise starts to charge up and down the enclosure. While at first, it can be a concern your tortoise is not stressed by these urges just working them off so to speak. 

Adding something in the enclosure that your tortoise can safely climb over will also help them burn off that pent-up frustration. 

Tortoise Breeds That Love To Climb

Knowing your breed’s natural behavior habits is often well worth learning about to offer them the best tortoise diet and enclosure. 

The Russian tortoise is also known as the Horsfield tortoise is a prolific climber. When people come looking for help with climbing it is often the Russian tortoise.

They are excellent diggers as well as climbers and it comes naturally to them to display these traits. If you have a shallow substrate that doesn’t allow them to carry out the natural digging instinct they will often turn their attention to climbing.

As the Russian tortoise has sharp nails the noise can often be loud when climbing against wooden walls. Making your substrate deeper so they can dig and burrow should stop them from climbing the walls.

Just be careful not to make it that deep that it makes your walls smaller and they can escape over the top of the enclosure. 

Do Tortoises Climb Walls?

Often people who have a tortoise trying to climb up the walls wonder if can a tortoise really climb walls with that big shell?

Yes, a tortoise can climb walls if your enclosure or yard is not secure a tortoise will easily escape. Tortoises are excellent climbers and have been known to climb walls and fences much higher than themselves. Tortoises are ambidextrous and use all for legs to propel themselves up.

Here is John my tortoise on ticktock climbing, he is very determined even falling onto his shell doesn’t stop him.

How Do I Stop My Tortoise From Climbing?

Often people want their tortoise to stop climbing down to worrying about their safety or it is becoming a nuisance. 

To stop your tortoise from climbing you want to discover the route cause of them doing so. If it is a natural behavior trait it will be much hard to stop. If the enclosure is too small you will want to offer a bigger enclosure and this should stop them from climbing.

Changing the enclosure around so moving the water dish and any furniture you have in the enclosure. Will keep the environment different for your tortoise and keep his mind more active as he explores. 

If it is an enclosure issue down to size or being glass you want to correct this as soon as possible as this will be causing your tortoise stress.


I hope that helps you with your tortoise climbing the walls and helps you pinpoint the problem with your tortoise.

The problem if you can call it that in most instances is a natural behavior and there is not a lot you can do about it. If it is something to do with your tortoise setup I would advise changing the conditions as soon as possible.

Tortoise has great personalities and doesn’t ask too much of us as their owners. However, getting lots of little things wrong can lead to poor health and unhappiness. Learning about how they act in the wild will stand you in good stead by offering them the best care in captivity.