Why Do Tortoises Hiss

Why Do Tortoises Hiss?

Tortoises do some crazy things and I’m always discovering new things they do. My tortoise seemed to go through a phase of flipping onto their back. One of the latest discoveries was my tortoise hissing I was at first concerned he was ill. So, what does it mean when a tortoise hisses. 

tortoises do not have vocal cords and the hissing sound you hear is expelled air as they retract their head into the shell. Tortoises will make a hiss when they are scared and they quickie retract their head. They can also make hissing sounds whilst eating food when moving their head quickly. 

Your tortoise making hissing noises can be quite disconcerting and make you jump if you are not expecting it. We have given the simple answer above but below we go into some more detail when and why are tortoise can hiss. 

Fear Not Anger

When you first hear your tortoise hissing you may feel that it’s an act of aggression or alarm call. Like a dog may growl to be aggressive or bark to warn you of something. However, the hiss of a tortoise is no sign of aggression and more a sign that they are scared.  

Your tortoise is not trying to alarm you of something happening or warn you away like a growl from a dog it is an involuntary sound they make. When a tortoise feels scared of something or someone they will rapidly retract their heads into the shell as protection. 

It is very similar to us when we believe something bad is about to happen we can take in a large gasp of breath making a sound.   

What Causes The Hiss From A Tortoise?

Tortoises do not have a vocal cord. Why would they as they can not talk. So, making a sound may seem a little strange to you then or even impossible.

The sound you hear is not created vocal noise but air being expelled from your tortoise. 

When they quickly retract their head into the shell air is quickly exhaled from your tortoise making a hissing noise. 

Your tortoise lungs are full of oxygen filling their body and to fit their head into their shell this need to be quickly exhaled. Hence when this happens you get the sound that resembles a hiss. 

If your tortoise did not exhale all this air quickly they would be unable to fit their head into the shell comfortable. Potentially leaving the head exposed and in the wild, this could possibly be disastrous. 

Is It Normal For My Tortoise To Hiss?

Yes, it is normal for tortoises to hiss. Your tortoise is not actually hissing just exhaling air from their lungs. They will do this by retracting their head into the shell quickly when scared. Tortoise can also make hissing sounds eating as they quickly moving their head in and out of their shell.

It is something that can take you by shock when you first hear it but it is something they do. If it is happening regularly it may be worth seeing if something is scaring them that is causing them issues.

A tortoise that keeps getting scared is likely to become stressed and this can lead to many more problems.

What Does It Mean When Your Turtle Hisses?

When your tortoise hisses at you it means they are scared. Your tortoise makes the hissing sound by quickly retracting the head into the body. The exhaling of the air in the tortoise’s lungs is what makes the sound. 

A tortoise that is constantly being scared can quickly become stressed. I would find out what is causing them to become scared. Other pets can scare your tortoise and you will need to keep them out of the way of your tortoise until they get used to one and another. 

Small children can also cause tortoise alarm and destress. Children tend to move quickly and this can scare a tortoise that has not been around kids. 

Why Is My Tortoise Hissing At Me?

If your tortoise is hissing at you they are displaying signs they are scared. You can overcome this by making slower movements and making your interactions more rewarding until they get used to your presence. 

If this keeps on happening you will need to change things up a little and approach them differently. 

Petting your tortoise is fine but if they are hissing at you it is a sure sign they don’t like it. Don’t forget we are going to look very big to a small tortoise.

Making sudden movements and quickly moving your hands towards your tortoise is likely to scare them. A new tortoise will require an extra cautious approach to get used to you and his surroundings. 

Your tortoise can also show signs they are scared if they scurry off to their hide when they see you. 

For pet owners, the thought of their pet not liking them can be heartbreaking but it can be overcome.

Treats are going to help you get along much better but you need to be careful not to go overboard. Giving your tortoise too many treats can throw off their diet and lead to health issues.

However, the occasional slice of strawberry or watermelon can help you bond with your tortoise. 

Make your movements much slower than you currently are fast movements are one of the biggest causes of scaring a tortoise.


So, while the hissing of a tortoise is perfectly normal we need to keep an eye on it that it doesn’t keep happening. 

If your tortoise keeps hissing at you then you will need to change your behavior around your tortoise. Whatever you are doing is scaring them it can be as simple as moving too quickly.

A new tortoise is likely to be more scared of its owner than an older tortoise. Getting to know your tortoise over a piece of fruit can help your relationship become better. 

Hissing is not something that should be happening all the time and is nothing to worry about when it happens.