It’s common for people who own a single turtle or multiple turtles to wonder from time to time whether their turtle might get lonely? And of course that leads into the question of whether turtles experience any emotional affection for you as their keeper and for other turtles.
Most species of pet turtles are largely solitary creatures. They are generally content to do their own thing. In fact while multiple turtles in a tank can get along their can also be a risk for fighting. Turtles however do seem to form bonds of sort with both other turtles and you as their keeper.
Affection and social interaction in reptiles like turtles can be a strange and subtle thing. They certainly don’t seem to need others in the way wolves do for example. But social bonds can and do form in certain situations. When these bonds form there are of course signs of affection. But these signs can be extremely subtle and difficult for people to catch.
Scientific understanding has come a long way in terms of reptile social orders. It was once though that reptiles were basically extremely primitive life forms incapable of emotion and feelings. But this stigma is disappearing as were learning more and more about them and starting being able to get past the discriminatory dogma of the past.
For example alligators care for their babies when their young. So some reptile indeed form social bonds and display a sort of affection towards each other and turtles are no exception.
Will Having One Turtle Make Them Lonely, Should I Get Several?
Turtles do appreciate the presence of other turtles. It gives them playmates and makes their lives more interesting. However turtles are also perfectly fine with being alone.
Each turtle is an individual and different species vary in their personalities. But having just one turtle can be much easier for both the turtle and their owner.
Having multiple turtles can also be okay as long as you have enough tank space to comfortably fit them all. Aggression can take place however and that is something you will always have to be on the look out for.
Advantages of Having Multiple Turtles in a Tank
I would say that turtles do not really get lonely due to their solitary nature. Many of their activities do not require others. They eat alone and basking does not have to be a social activity.
The main advantage from having multiples turtles in a single tank comes mainly from the novelty of it, for both you and your turtles.
By having several turtles this makes sure that your turtles don’t get bored. While turtles might not get lonely they can definitely get bored. Swimming around a small enclosed space, that they’ve explored a million times before. Eating the same food every day and having nothing new happen at all.
Turtles mates help to make every day a special day for your turtles. While their surrounding environment might not change, their interaction with each other do. They can and do play with each other, helping to alleviate any boredom. Seeing their constant funny interactions can be immensely entertaining and rewarding for you their keeper as well.
The entertainment of the turtles keeper should not be the highest priority but it provides entertainment for your turtles as well.
However there are ways you can provide novelty for a single turtle as well. Feed them different kinds of food from time to time breaking up the monotony of time. Figure out what foods they like best, and while avoiding overfeeding give it to them as a special treat to brighten up their day.
You can also get them some cool plants to hide out in. As well as other cool hidey spots like underwater bridges, rocks and maybe even a little castle. Of course you can and should do these things for multiple turtles living in a tank as well.
If you do decide to go with multiple turtles or already have multiple turtles in a single tank, you do have to make sure that the tank is large enough to comfortably contain them all. Turtles need 10 gallons of swimming space for ever inch of their shell. So if you have multiple turtles then you need add all their shell inches together times ten and that’s how big your tank needs for them to be comfortable and happy.
Disadvantages of Having Multiple Turtles in a Single Tank
While having multiple turtles in one tank can be a lot of fun, their are also some headaches and dangers that go along with it as well.
Turtles can and do get aggressive with each other. Usually when their babies they will be pretty peaceful and get along just fine. But turtles that have gotten along well with each other for years can start turning on each other once they start to become sexually mature.
This is usually when all the aggressive hormones start getting pumped out and turtles can starting getting so aggressive and violent that they may even kill each other.
Aggression can happen for several reasons. One the tank could be too small. If your tank is too small, as your turtles grow up it will definitely add to their risk for violence. Constrained quarters can be very dangerous for all animals.
In a constrained space a more submissive turtle can not escape an aggressor. And the larger more fierce turtles will fight fanatically over any living space. This is one of the main reasons turtle keepers will keep turtles by themselves is that the tank size to support multiple adults can sometimes just get too big for most people to provide.
Turtles also might start fighting over breeding. Two males who have been friends for ever might start fighting to the death over a female. Also a male may be bringing unwanted sexual advances towards a female turtle who does not appreciate it at all. Unlike with humans, female turtles are generally quite larger than males so this can very often lead to the female killing the male.
Key Signs of Aggression to Watch Out For
One of the greatest advantage of just having a single turtle in a tank is knowing that you never have to worry about coming home one day to find that one of your turtles has killed the other one.
I don’t mean to be overly dramatic but once two turtles start being aggressive to each other it generally will not stop until they have been permanently separated or one of them gets killed by the other one. For this reason you have to watch carefully for any signs of aggression when keeping multiple turtles in a tank.
One potential sign of aggression can be if a turtle holds out their front legs directly in front of them while being in front of another turtle. They will hold out their front legs straight towards them while doing a funny looking little fluttering motion with their limbs. This can be very strange to watch happen but it generally means one of two things.
Either the turtle doing the fluttering is a male and other turtle is a female. In this case the male turtle is trying to woo the female into mating with him. This might seem heartwarming but it can actually be very dangerous. If the female doesn’t like the attention and the male turtle just will not cease with his advances then this can lead the female to attack the male. If they aren’t separated then this could go all the way to death.
Or if the two turtles are males, then this fluttering of claws is a sign of dominance and that one of the turtles wants to fight. This could be caused by cramped of living quarters or it could be over who gets to mate with a female turtle, if one is present in the tank as well. Whatever it is once aggressive actions like this start they will generally escalate to biting and chasing.
If you see one of your turtle fluttering their claws or especially if you see any biting of one turtle towards another, then you need to separate them fast. If you cant afford a second tank quickly, then an alternative that can do in a pinch is to get one of those large plastic gallon bins that you can find at the supermarket.
While these are not ideal they can serve as a fairly decent secondary tank for an aggressive turtle until you can get a superior and more permanent living situation.
Failure to separate aggressive turtles in time can lead to loss of limbs and even loss of a turtles life.