Are Tortoises Smart than We Think

Are Tortoises Smart than We Think: An In-depth Investigation

Dolphins and chimpanzees are two of the most intelligent species after humans. But do you know some other species also possess greater levels of intelligence? Most amazingly, tortoises also fell into this criteria.

So, if you inquire whether tortoises are smart, the answer is a definite “yes” – tortoises are smart. Tortoises possess a surprising level of intelligence and cognitive abilities, including learning and memory, problem-solving skills, and social behaviors. 

Let’s explore the world of tortoise intelligence and discover what makes these remarkable creatures so smart.

Fact Check: Are Tortoises Smart?


When we consider the term “intelligence in animals,” there is a crucial mistake we usually make. We always try to compare animals’ intelligence with human’s. But you cannot directly compare animal intelligence to human intelligence. 

Are Tortoises Smart

As per the foundational understanding, animal intelligence refers to their ability to learn, remember, solve problems, and communicate. And it is an important characteristic that helps animals survive in their environment.

However, as we already mentioned that tortoises are intelligent, we would like to justify the statement now. In terms of tortoise intelligence, the very first important thing is their unique brain structure. Studies show that their brain is structured to gain insight into their cognitive abilities. 

Tortoises have relatively small brains compared to their body size. But it is well-structured and contains specific areas for processing sensory information. Again, their brain is equipped with designated cells to control the body parts’ movement.

The second thing is their impressive cognitive abilities which include learning and memory, problem-solving skills, unique social behavior, etc.

Watch this YouTube video to know more about memorizing capability of tortoises: 

Cognitive Abilities of Tortoises

Tortoises may not be known for their speed or agility, but they possess a surprising level of cognitive abilities. Let’s explore this in detail.

Learning and Memory

Tortoises can learn and remember information. Studies demonstrated that tortoises can remember food locations and navigate back to their home range. It is for sure that you will be surprised to see their capability to return to their old habitat after being moved to a new location.

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Problem-solving Skills

In terms of tortoises’ intelligence, the second most important mention is their problem-solving skill. A great example of their problem-solving skill is their dealing process with the body parts, surface friction, surrounding elements, etc., when they are stuck on their backs.

Tortoises Problem-solving Skills

Social Behaviors

Another must-mention matter about the smartness of tortoises is their unique social behaviors. Here, we would like to notify you that it is not like tortoises living in a family or conventional social structure of animals. 

But, their inherited social behavior is observable when they consume food together. In general, they do not fight over food. 

Also, the imitating characteristics of the tortoise is a significant part of the tortoise’s unique social behavior. In this case, the perfect example is copying a tortoise escaping from the enclosure by others.


Tortoises communicate with one another via a mix of vocalizations, visual cues, and odors. They can also converse through touch. In this situation, they experiment with several methods, such as probing with their tongues, bumping against something, or walking on it to feel beneath their feet.

Influential Factors in Tortoises’ Intelligence

There are several factors associated with varying the degree of intelligence in tortoises, including age, environment, diet, and social interactions.

Tortoises' Intelligence


Like every other animal on the planet, at the younger period of life of tortoises, they learn fast. And during the old age period, their learning curve receives declination. However, researches show that the old tortoise is wiser in terms of decision-making than the younger ones.


Tortoises who live in more challenging surroundings possess higher adaptability than those who live in more favorable conditions. It has been observed by many animal researchers that tortoises memorize the obstructions on their path or access to food. 

Significantly, they memorize the earlier dealing process with those obstructions and are capable of implementing the learnings in the future endeavor to do the task more easily. 

The associated physical and intelligence practice helps them survive in unfavorable conditions.

Social Interaction

Well, it is not like tortoises live in a well-formed family structure, but they show superior functionality when they are in a group. It is now proved that training a single tortoise is easier if he or she receives the lesson in a group environment.

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Intelligence In Interaction with Humans

Tortoise Intelligence In Interaction with Humans

Let’s check some fascinating and intelligent acts of pet tortoises with this reasoning.

Showing emotional intelligence while interacting with humans Reasons
No movement – passing longer period inside the sellThe partner tortoise is gone
Trying to bite the ownerIt is bored
It is jealous 
Headbutting another tortoiseFeeling protective
Hiding inside the sell and taking out the head frequentlyThe animal is scared
Poking the ownerThe pet is curious
Not interested in the playThe pet is hungry


Here, we answer some most common questions regarding the smartness of these “living stones.”

Do tortoises recognize their owners?

Yes, if you pet a tortoise and take care of it regularly, it can recognize you. Tortoise’s brain is equipped with cells to memorize things which enables recognizing you. However, the duration to recognize you varies depending on several factors like the frequency of interaction, etc.

Are tortoises smarter than dogs?

Studies show that tortoises are usually smarter than dogs. The reason behind such a claim is that tortoises are more affectionate and curious than dogs.

Are tortoises smarter than humans?

By the rules of nature, it is not possible at all. Even if you go for hypothetically, there is no point in justifying such. Also, the brain size and function of humans is not comparable to any other animal on the earth. Humans are superior in intelligence.

Final Words

The ecological roles of tortoises are very crucial to maintaining sustainability. Tortoises are well known for several ecological contributions like seed dispersal, maintaining the calcium cycle, being a food source for other animals, etc. 

We hope that our exploration of tortoise smartness is capable enough to increase your knowledge and love toward this seeded animal. This knowledge will help you substantially in the future to encounter tortoises in wild or human-arranged settings. 

Finally, we should appreciate the unique qualities that tortoises bring to the animal kingdom and continue to study and learn more about their intelligence.

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