Are Tortoise Bites Dangers & How To Avoid Them?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Recently, I found out that snapping tortoises can bite off human fingers. But what about the tortoises? Are tortoise bites dangerous and painful? How to avoid them?

Tortoise bites are not dangerous. The redness of your skin goes away within a few hours. However, treatment might be necessary if any sign of salmonella is observed. Again, tortoise bites are avoidable by wearing gloves and plastic boots when handling the pet.

Why do tortoise bites? What can you do if a tortoise bites you? The following article includes detailed instructions.

Do Tortoises Bite?

Tortoises do bite, and their bitings can be really painful.

Tortoises are known to be peaceful creatures. But do not take their innocence for granted. These creatures will not think twice about attacking you if they feel threatened.

As you know, tortoises are slow. Hence, they withdraw inside the shell to protect themselves from outside danger.

Besides, their bodies have evolved to participate in fights too. For example, tortoises have sharp claws and horny beaks. These creatures are maybe slow in speed, but they are quick when attacking the opponent.

A violent approach, rough handling, and frequent touching alert the tortoises. Therefore, they will start acting aggressively to defend themselves. Biting the opponent or throwing the sharp claw is the tortoise’s way of fighting.

Tortoises will bite any opponent that comes in their way, including humans. Moreover, you will also notice tortoises fighting among themselves over territorial or other issues.

Are Tortoise Bites Dangers?

Though the species has no teeth, they surely have a razor-like jaw and a sharp beak. These creatures can pierce through flesh and crush solid objects with their beaks.

Tortoise bites are not dangerous, but they are not the sweetest thing either. In fact, even the sound of it sounds painful.

However, I got bitten by my pet Sulcata tortoise once. Considering the size of this species, you may expect a deep cut. But in reality, nothing like that happened.

My tortoise bit me when I was feeding it grass with my hands. The pet took my finger as food, too, and went for it.

Those who do not believe a Sulcata tortoise can bite go through this article.

I felt no pain or discomfort. Yes, my finger was blood-red for a few hours, but it was temporary. In the worst case scenario, you can expect a deep cut and bleeding from the wound.

However, I have asked around to discover how terrible the tortoise bitings can get. Some owners suggest that bites on the forearms or fresh flesh sting more. But then again, it is nothing significant or scary.

Tortoise bites are not as terrible as turtles because of their diet habit. Since the tortoises are vegetarian, their beaks are not meant for crushing and piercing through flesh.

If you have read about snapping turtles, you must know how horrible their bites can get. In fact, snapping turtles can snap off your finger.

Though tortoise bite is bearable and nothing serious, it can carry salmonella bacteria. Unfortunately, this disease is contagious and can be easily transferred to humans. So, if you do not take precautions, you can also be infected with this illness.

However, salmonella in humans is not that severe, either. You will notice symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting, tummy aches, etc. Antibiotics can easily cure you within a few days or weeks.

How To Avoid Tortoise Bite?

Tortoises are friendly. But they are definitely not like your cats and dogs. In fact, petting these creatures frequently stresses them and forces them to act aggressively. As a part of the aggression, the tortoises may end up biting you.

Here is how you can avoid tortoise bites,

  • Do not pet the tortoises too often.
  • When handling, be gentle with the touch.
  • Wear gloves and plastic sandals to avoid bites on your finger and toes.
  • When stressed, leave the tortoise alone.
  • Make sure there is no loud noise or bright light around the tortoise enclosure.
  • In mating season, separate the couple if you are not planning to breed.
  • If you catch your tortoises bullying each other, separate them instantly.

How To Release A Tortoise Bite?

In most cases, tortoises bite to save themselves from outside danger. So, if you have a tortoise biting your finger, do not panic. The creature will sense the tension and get more stressed.

Second, do not kick the tortoise or try to release the bite forcefully. This will make the tortoise panic, and it may tighten its grip.

So, what should you do?

First, stay still. The tortoise will let go of the grip as soon as it calms. Then step back from the tortoise immediately and wash your wound with soap water.

What To Do If A Tortoise Bites You?

A tortoise bite is not dangerous. But of course, it has a risk of spreading bacterial infection. Hence, you need to take steps to eliminate any unwanted conditions.

First of all, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and lukewarm water. The redness will go on its own after a few hours.

Pour some disinfectant on the wound if it is bleeding. Cover the spot with a band-aid if necessary. The wound will heal naturally.

However, as I mentioned, tortoises often carry salmonella, which can be transferred to humans. Symptoms of salmonella are,

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Fever

If you notice any of the signs, talk to your doctor. You will soon get better with proper medications.

Remember, children and pregnant ladies are vulnerable to salmonella. Bacterial infections can cause complexities in them. Hence, take immediate action if a tortoise bites them accidentally.

Why Do Tortoises Bite?

Tortoises are very shy of nature. Yet, they can act aggressively and even bite you if the situation demands. But why do tortoises bite? Here are the reasons,

1. The Pet Has Mistaken Your Finger/Toe For Food

Tortoises are purely vegetarian, well, at least most of them. Even the omnivorous species consume a little amount of protein, that too occasionally. These tortoises often prefer worms and insects over any heavy proteins.

Vegetables are cut in small portions before feeding the tortoises. The smaller cut helps the pets munch on them easily.

Now your finger or toe flesh has a distant similarity to these veggies and worms. As a result, the pet often ends up biting your toe or finger, taking it as food.

It also happens when you hand-feed the tortoise. The pet can bite your finger by mistake.

So, no hard feelings.

2. Feed Your Tortoise

It is really tough to starve the tortoises as they can survive months without food. But then again, surviving does not mean living a healthy life. Your tortoises will still be hungry.

An underfed tortoise often bites its owner to get his attention. Also, some experts claim that tortoises are in the mood to devour everything when hungry. So, biting is a natural behavior of them in this condition.

3. Something Has Stressed The Tortoise

As you know, tortoises and turtles prefer solitude. Frequent touch, rough handling, and constant disturbing often stress these creatures. Tortoises can bite the opponent when anxious or panicked to release internal energy.

4. New Lifestyle

Tortoises do not like changes. They are most comfortable following the same old routine. Any modification in the lifestyle stresses the tortoise. As a result, the pets can show aggressive behavior like biting, kicking, etc. These changes are also seen in gravid tortoises.

Biting or aggressive behavior is also noticed in tortoises during the mating season. The males often bite the females during copulation.

5. Tortoises Can Be Bully

Yes, your shy tortoise can be a bully. According to experts, it is not unnatural for tortoises to crave social power. So, healthy adults often kick and bite the young and weak ones to show dominance.

6. A Bite To Itself

You may often catch your tortoise biting its own skin. Has that pet gone crazy?

Well, no!

As per evidence, tortoises also shed their skins occasionally. The skin does not come off as a whole but in little patches.

The flaky skin can cause the tortoise discomfort and itching. Hence, you will notice the pets biting their own skin to get rid of the patches.

Again, it can just be a skin disease or infection irritating the pets. Hence, the creatures are biting their own skin.

Before You Go

You can check the severity of the bites of snapping turtles from the link below. Also, you can go through the reasons why a Sulcata tortoise bites its owner.

Can snapping turtles bite off human fingers?

Can a Sulcata tortoise bite you?

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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