Can Tortoises Hear?

Educating yourself about your tortoise can only make you a better tortoise owner. Going above and beyond to try and understand your reptile that bit more makes you able to care for them that bit more. Knowledge is power and understanding basic tortoise anatomy can help you notice if something isn’t right allowing you to take action. We often get asked about a tortoise’s hearing and if they have ears, let’s find out.

Can tortoises hear? A tortoises hearing is much different than to what we experience as humans. They can hear lower frequencies much better than louder ones. Tortoises rely on vibrations in order to better understand the world around them, therefore louder frequencies can go undetected.

In this article we’re going to cover do tortoises have ears, can they recognize their name being said, and some other important topics.

Do Tortoises Have Ears?

Tortoises don’t have outer flaps that are visible like in humans, instead they have ears described best as scales that are located behind their eyes at the side of their jaw.

This comes as a surprise to many people as they assume tortoises don’t have ears simply because they can’t see them, which is somewhat understandable. As a tortoises ear is located inside its body, they rely on vibrations to hear things around them and be aware of predators attacking.

As humans the part of our ear that let’s us process sound waves is called the pinna, however tortoises don’t have this part of the ear and therefore rely on vibrations. This is thought to be because they’re low to the ground, it makes more sense biologically to rely on vibrations over sound waves, as they aren’t in the sky.

Do Tortoises Have Good Hearing?

According to a study done on a Hermann’s tortoise by the German Society for Herpetology and Herpetoculture tortoises have a hearing range between 10-182hz. To put this into perspective humans can hear anywhere from 20-20,000Hz.

Tortoises are designed to hear lower frequency sounds much better than higher ones, this is because they’re stuck to the ground so it benefits them more hearing ground vibrations over sound waves coming from the sky. Tortoises can use these low frequency sounds to become more aware of predators walking around them.

This isn’t to say they’re completely deaf to loud higher frequency sounds, in-fact they’re hearing is quite sensitive and loud sounds will more than likely agitate them.

Tortoises have good hearing but not in the sense you would think, they’re extremely good at hearing predators and things going on around them, but if you mean it in a human sense tortoises don’t have the best hearing.

If you want to communicate with your tortoise they would be more responsive if you tapped your foot on the floor compared to you actually talking to them. However there might be a bit of a language barrier!

Can Tortoises Hear Their Name?

Tortoises are extremely smart creatures, they are one of the oldest living things on earth and you don’t get achieve that by chance. Although due to the fact our voices product sound waves which they don’t hear very well, it’s unlikely they recognize their name.

Therefore if you call them they probably won’t walk towards you because you called their name. If you called out their name and they come towards you it’s by chance, they’ve recognized your foot steps, or they smell food.

It’s a hot debate between tortoise owners as some will swear their tortoise responds to their name being called, but the truth is tortoises can’t hear the human voice very well, never mind interpreting different words and understanding them.

How Sensitive Is A Tortoises Hearing?

As we touched on above tortoises have quite sensitive hearing. They differ from cats and dogs who are very sensitive to high pitch noises. Tortoises can be troubled by sounds in the 117-120Hz range. Humans don’t produce sounds in this range so you don’t have to worry, but other animals typically will in which your tortoise can mistake for a predator and become stressed.

This is usually displayed as the tortoise burrowing or hiding inside it’s shell to escape from the predator, except their not in danger so they can become stressed for no reason. If you have another pet it’s best they’re kept in a separate room for your tortoise, or soundproof the area in which your tortoise lives.

Music tends to be in the 440 Hz range therefore you don’t need to worry about playing music around your tortoise, we cover in the next section if tortoises like music.

Do Tortoises Like Music?

As music is played in a frequency above a tortoises hearing range, it’s unlikely they process it meaning they don’t like or dislike it. There’s currently no evidence to prove either. What we do know is tortoises react the most to opera music, guitars, piano, and the organ as they are the closest to a tortoises low frequency hearing.

Some people like to suggest playing nature sounds for a tortoise however this can have a negative effect on them. The sounds found in nature can trigger reactions in them as they think they’re out in the wild. These nature sounds can consist of predators and insects that could confuse a tortoise about its current environment.

Can Tortoises Be Deaf?

Tortoises aren’t deaf as they can hear things, just in a different way than you and I are used to. They’re deaf in a sense that they won’t understand you when you talk to them, but they can hear vibrations like footsteps and animals walking along the floor that alerts them to a potential danger.

Similar to humans, tortoises can lose their hearing due to damage done to their auditory system. This can occur during a fight or happen naturally.

Tortoise owners think their deaf but it’s due to their hearing not being as good as a humans, however using this science we are technically deaf when compared to dogs, as they have such good hearing.

Tortoise Hearing – Final Thoughts

Tortoises do hear things, but it’s not on the same spectrum as us humans are use to. They respond to lower frequency vibrations like footsteps as they are closer to the ground. This is a biological trait that they use to understand their surroundings and hide from predators.

You won’t be able to see a tortoises ears due to them being located inside their head, just under the jaw. Because of this tortoises barely recognize sound waves that we make when we speak, therefore it’s not likely your tortoise can understand you or respond to their name being called.