Tortoises do not have the most easily identifiable differences between males and females, but if you plan on owning your pet tortoise for any real length of time, then you need to know what gender your pet is. Knowing your tortoise's gender will help you determine what kind of care your pet needs and what to expect during mating or breeding seasons.
Your tortoise's tail is actually one of the most telling signs of the animal's gender. In most species of tortoise, females will have significantly smaller tails than male tortoises do. If your tortoise has a long tail, he is most likely a boy. If your tortoise has a short, or even nubby-looking tail, then she's probably a girl.
Mature male tortoises often have a concave-shaped stomach when you turn them over onto their shells. This means that their stomach is curved more like a bowl than a flat plate. Females have flatter stomachs. It can be difficult to tell the stomach shape of a juvenile tortoise, so you may need to wait until your tortoise matures before you can use the shape of the stomach to tell gender. In captivity, tortoises typically reach maturity when they are between 4 and 8 years old.
The shape of the notch in the shell, located on the underside of the tortoise below the tail, can also be an indicator of whether the animal is male or female. The distinct shapes can vary by species, but generally speaking males have a V-shaped notch while females have more of a U shape. The shape of the notch in the shell is not a definite factor for determining tortoise gender, but it can help when combined with other aspects of the tortoise's body. For example, a long-tailed tortoise with a concave stomach and a V-shaped notch is going to be a male.
If you have thoroughly examined your tortoise and you just cannot figure out its gender, then it's time to take the animal to an expert. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you whether your tortoise is male or female. Be sure to ask your veterinarian to check your pet's gender the next time you take your tortoise in for care.
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Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.