Why Is My Tortoise Pacing? [5 Reasons]

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

“Not that my tortoise has to catch a train or he is late for a meeting. Yet he is walking back and forth in his pen. Is he okay?” I got this mail last week and decided to discuss this pacing behavior in tortoises for the newbies.

A tortoise can pace because:

  • It wants to mate.
  • The habitat is congested.
  • Its enclosure is made of glass walls.
  • Something is stressing it.
  • The pet is bored.

Well, what can you do to stop the tortoise? Is pacing severe? Read to the end to get your answer.

5 Reasons Your Tortoise Is Pacing

A tortoise usually walks back and forth to calm its nerves, just like we do. Though the pacing is mostly harmless, you can not take it lightly. So, I have listed 5 common reasons why tortoises pace and how to treat them,

1. Your Tortoise Wants To Make Love!

Tortoises prefer solitude over social companionship, true that. But yet, these creatures get involved in mating every year. Tortoises enthusiastically participate in copulation not just to save the species but also because they enjoy it. No wonder why people tag tortoises as the rabbits of reptile worlds.

Yes, the male and female tortoises equally look forward to mating. But the males show off a bit more energy and aggression towards it.

According to behavioral psychology, male tortoises do several stunts to attract potential partners. For example, mounting the females from behind without any notice or spinning around them. Also, kicking the partners with their legs and bullying them also fall under this category.

Apparently, tortoises may also pace to impress the females. They walk back and forth to get noticed by the partners.

In short, the male tortoises act aggressive and weird when the mating season arrives. They behave like this because of their instinct.

Moreover, the males show this aggression during sex too. Generally, the male tortoise mounts the female from behind. He gets a solid grip as his curved plastron fits the female’s carapace. Also, the male tortoise uses his claws to hold the female so that she can not escape.

The constant ramming and solid clawing often injure the female. Even the male may bite the partner during the copulation to show dominance. These creatures will calm down after mating with several partners.

But this is the case in the wild. What about the pet tortoises?

Well, of course, a pet tortoise does not get to be involved in copulation so easily. It can mate only if the owner decides to breed the pets.

Breeding pet tortoises is not always suggested, as a small mistake can backfire the whole process. Again, some species are better off without breeding. But it does not mean that the pet tortoises do not feel the sexual urge.

In reality, the captive tortoises also feel sexual frustration and look for mating partners. Of course, they can not calm their aggression via copulation. As per the experts, pacing in the enclosure help the pet tortoises release their sexual energy and return to their ordinary life.

Magic Solution

Do absolutely nothing. Yes, no joke!

The professionals suggest that the sexual urge of the tortoises is at its peak during the breeding season. But yes, you can not let the tortoises mate out of pity.

So, these creatures will pace in the habitat to release the tension and divert the energy. Eventually, the tortoises will calm down and become fit.

2. The Pet Is Just Bored!

Have you ever watched your tortoise for long hours? The pet sometimes does dumb things as a part of playing. For example, climbing a rock, rolling around, sniffing the ground, etc.

Again, it is considered that the tortoises also pace when they are bored. Here, walking back and forth makes them cheerful and relieves their energy. So the pets will be calm soon.

Magic Solution

There is nothing to worry about unless the tortoise exhibits loss of appetite, weird behavior, and signs of illness. The tortoise will soon stop pacing and focus on something else.

However, you can place different-sized, smooth-edged rocks and medium-sized plastic balls inside the tortoise habitat. The pets can use these as toys and stay busy.

3. These Glass Walls Are So Confusing!

Of course, the grass-walled terrarium and tank look aesthetic. Also, you can catch your little pet doing funny activities whenever you want.

But here is the deal.

Tortoises can not hold the idea of glass. For them, the transparency is new and almost mind-boggling.

When many owners think the tortoises can not see clearly, they are absolutely wrong. The fact is, both turtles and tortoises have clear visions. These creatures are usually attracted to bright colors and see clearly in UV light.

So, installing a glass wall is not a good idea.

The captive tortoises get curious by seeing the outside world and express a wish to explore it. So, they start pacing along the glass, hoping the walls will fall. But of course, nothing of this sort happens, which makes the tortoises frustrated and stressed.

Some tortoises get obsessed with the outside world. Thus, they start looking for other ways to escape the habitat. In worst cases, the pets may start headbutting on the glass wall.

Magic Solution

Usually, tortoises forget about the mysterious outside world after a few days. So, they stop pacing on their own.

But yet, you should not buy a transparent tank or terrarium for the creatures. Yes, you have to sacrifice your knack for aesthetics for the sake of your tortoises.

However, you can cover the walls with paint or go with opaque glass tanks to avoid this solution.

4. No Room To Roam!

Well, people just take tortoises to be slow. Of course, these creatures are not as fast as a cheetah, but hey! Tortoises are not as sluggish as sloths, either.

Though giant tortoises walk slowly and barely travel distances, it is totally the opposite with smaller and young tortoises. According to different sources, some tortoise species travel 4 – 5 km per hour.

It means tortoises are active and not as lazy as you take them.

Now consider the size of your tortoise habitat. Is it big enough for the pet to walk 4 – 5 km? Of course, not! So, the tortoises pace instead.

Magic Solution

Of course, it is an issue if your habitat is congested compared to the size of the tortoise. Go for a bigger space. However, in the case of giant tortoises, it is wiser to build a spacious outdoor habitat.

Nevertheless, sometimes, the tortoise will pace anyway, even if you place it in a bigger enclosure. You have to worry about nothing as long as the pet is healthy and eating right.  

5. Stressing Over Something!

Apparently, stress can also cause tortoise pacing. When anxious or aggressive, energy is stored inside the pet, and becomes restless. So, pacing inside the pen often makes the stress go away.

Magic Solution

If stress is causing pacing in a tortoise, you need to determine the cause first. The tortoises often get anxious over lack of food, improper temperature, frequent handling, noisy environment, etc. Find out the root and eliminate it immediately.

Why Is My Tortoise Restless?

Continuously pacing inside the enclosure is one of the signs of restlessness in tortoises. Though restlessness is temporary in most cases, sometimes it may indicate a more severe issue. For example, there is a medical condition called perennial restlessness. In this condition, the creature can not stay calm.

Some signs of perennial restlessness are,

  • Excessive pacing
  • Aggressive nature
  • Headbutting on the wall
  • Scratching the enclosure walls
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breaking the habitat decoration and plants, etc.

Take the pet to a vet if you notice any of these symptoms. Your tortoise requires expert supervision.

Moreover, sometimes the outside loud noise and disturbances can lead to restlessness in the tortoises. Sudden changes in diet and significant modifications in the habitat environment may also make the tortoise restless.

My Tortoise Is Pacing & Not Eating: Why?

Pacing along with loss of appetite can be a sign of perennial restlessness. However, this symptom can also indicate other physical conditions in many cases. For example,

1. The Pet is Sick

Loss of appetite is a common sign of sickness in tortoises. Start looking for other weird changes in the pet if it suddenly stops eating. You can determine the disease by picking up the signs.

While most diseases make the tortoises lethargic, some can force them to pace. For example, intestinal worms and stomatitis make these creatures frustrated. As a result, they may pace to release the stress.

NB Do not overlook any sign of sickness. A tortoise can die of prolonged illness. Here are the indications that your tortoise is dying.

2. Your Tortoise Needs Water

Though tortoises do not swim, they require water as much as any other creature. In fact, the absence of a water source inside the pen will lead to dehydration and flaky skin in the pets. If days go by, the tortoises will start looking for the water by themselves. In that course, you may find these creatures pacing.

3. The Habitat Temperature Is Not Right

The suitable temperature for tortoises is 95 – 105F during the day and 65 – 75F at night. Any fluctuation in this temperature can backfire on the pet’s health.

Usually, tortoises burrow in colder weather. So chances are that the creature is looking for a burrowing spot by pacing here and there.

4. What Is Stressing The Pet?

People often think that tortoises can not feel stress or anxiety. But the truth is, these creatures also feel mentally drained. The surroundings or any significant incident cause this change in their health.

Because of this mental trauma, the pet may stop eating. Besides, it may pace to and fro to release frustration.

Why Is My Baby Tortoise Pacing?

In the case of baby tortoises, the pacing is temporary and harmless. Generally, you will notice the hatchlings walking back and forth when you place them in a glass-walled habitat.

The babies often feel confused seeing their own reflection in the glass. In most cases, they think other tortoises are playing with them on the other side. So, the babies continue pacing as a part of their play.

Again, the transparent glass allows the babies to watch their masters. So, they pace to get noticed whenever these little angels need attention or food.

Why Is My Female Tortoise Pacing?

Pacing is equally common in female tortoises, and the reasons are the same. It means that the females also face during the breeding season to get noticed or calm down.


Besides, you may also notice your gravid tortoise pacing a lot. You know how weird and aggressive the females act in the gestation period. Pacing, biting, ramming, etc., are just some of the weird behavioral things of a gravid tortoise.


Releasing the build of frustration and anxiety are two prime reasons why your tortoise is pacing. Luckily, these are temporary situations, and you have nothing to worry about. However, consult a vet to be safe if the pacing comes with aggressive behavior and appetite loss.

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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