Are Tortoises Cold Blooded?

If you’re thinking about getting a pet tortoise or you’re already a tortoise owner it’s important to learn about the animal so you’re familiar with them, and are able to provide better care for them. We always get asked if they are cold-blooded or not, let’s find out.

Are tortoises cold blooded? Tortoises are reptiles which make them cold-blooded animals. They are ectothermic meaning they can’t regulate their own body temperature and therefore require external heat sources like UV light or the sun to thrive and survive.

In this article we’re going to cover can a tortoise freeze to death, how to regulate their temperature at home, and some other important topics!

Tortoises Are Cold-Blooded

Tortoises among other reptiles such as snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles, and chameleons are all cold-blooded animals who require external heat sources to generate heat. In the wild this means tortoises stay warm with the help of the sun. In captivity tortoises rely on heat lamps to keep warm.

Being cold-blooded also means tortoises can’t lower their temperature when it gets too high, which can lead to overheating.

Tortoises will frequently move to different areas depending on if they want to heat themselves or cool down. This is why having a cooling and basking area in a tortoises enclosure is necessary.

Can A Tortoises Freeze To Death?

Yes as tortoises can’t regulate their own body temperature they can freeze to death. If they are left at temperatures below 45 Fahrenheit (7 degrees) freezing to death is a very real possibility.

This is why tortoises and other reptiles are found in warm climates, they rely on external heat to survive. You might be wondering what do they do during winter? To combat the cold tortoises hibernate over winter, however whether they’re hibernating or not if the temperature is too cold they will still freeze to death.

In order to get out of the cold tortoises like to burrow. This is the act of digging holes in the ground which allows them to escape a cold climate.

As a tortoise owner you’re responsible for providing them with heat to prevent freezing, we cover how you can do this in the section.

How To Prevent Your Tortoise From Freezing To Death

Tortoises out in the wild are responsible for regulating their own temperature which they do by going in and out of the sun throughout the day and burrowing at night. When you take a tortoise into captivity it’s up to you as the owner to ensure their temperature needs are met.

To prevent your tortoise from freezing they will need a heat lamp to use at night when temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

We recommend using this one from amazon.

Setting up your heat lamp is important, you don’t want to place it too close or too far away from your tortoise. It’s recommended that you place your heat lamp 10-12 inches about their substrate, this way it won’t stop your tortoise from heating up or burn them.

Can Tortoises Get Too Warm?

Along with not being able to raise their body heat, tortoises are also unable to cool themselves down. This is an important thing to know because your tortoise can overheat and get too warm which would lead to a very uncomfortable death.

If your tortoises lives in an outdoor enclosure it’s essential that half of it will be in the shade. This allows the tortoise to retreat and cool down if the sun is raising their body heat too much.

How To Prevent Your Tortoise From Overheating

At temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit and above, tortoises will start to overeat which can lead to health problems such as :

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Heat stroke

Loss Of Appetite

If a tortoise is too warm and starts to overeat they tend to lose their appetite. This can lead to a tortoises death itself, as they aren’t getting vital nutrition the body will start to shut down and eventually die.


Heat tends to bring on lethargy and cause a lack of energy for tortoises, humans too. If your tortoise is too warm they might be stuck to one spot with little energy to move which would lead to overheating.

Heat Stroke

Finally if a tortoise has been overheating for a length of time they’ll suffer from heat stroke. It can be spotted by the tortoise foaming at the mouth along with vomiting. Heat stroke is an emergency and therefore you should seek out a vet immediately.

To prevent your tortoise from becoming too hot you need to provide a cool area within their enclosure that allows them to escape the heat. This won’t matter if your heat lamp is too strong or too close to them so that needs to be addressed first.

Next up you need to ensure your tortoise has access to fresh drinking area at all times, kept in the cool part of their living spice. This will help cool them down, hydrate them and an array of other benefits.

If your tortoises enclosure is kept outside you need to position it in such a way that throughout the day half of it is covered in shade. This allows tortoises to move out of the heat and cool themselves down.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can A Tortoise Survive In Cold Weather?

Tortoises can survive in cold weather, but they do it by digging holes to burrow in and escape the cold. However they can’t be left out in the open during cold weather for any length of time as they will likely freeze to death.

Weather colder than 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit will start to cause them problems and cause them to freeze.

Can I Leave My Tortoise Outside At Night?

Tortoises can be outside during the day but must be taken inside at night when the sun goes away. You might be wondering how tortoises survive in the wild at night, but they typically live in warmer climates allowing them to stay warm at night.

Having your tortoise inside can provide you with that extra bit of comfort knowing they’re safe, at least that’s how I see it.

Ultimately it depends on the weather where you live, if the temperature tends to drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit during the night then leaving your tortoise outside is a no-go.

Final Thoughts

Tortoises are in-fact cold-blood animals as they need independently regulate their temperature, meaning they need external heat sources to stay alive. With tortoises being cold-blooded there is a possibility they can freeze or overheat to death. This is why it’s crucial to provide a basking area and heat lamp at night.

To prevent overheating you need to ensure their heat lamp is a far enough distance away, 10-12 inches is the recommended distance however the wattage of the bulb needs to be taken into account.

I hope you found this article useful and you can use the information to provide a safe environment for your tortoise to thrive in!