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The anatomy of a Tortoise is basically the same as for a turtle.  To visit the turtle anatomy pages,CLICK HERE

Tails. One of the most helpful characteristics

  • Males: Longer, with the cloacal opening in about the middle. May have a hardened claw-like tip in some species.
  • Females: Very short and stubby, with the cloacal opening near the base.
  • 'Claw tips' are seen in elongated tortoises.


Carapace. In some species the shape of the carapace is distinctive-

  • Red-footed tortoises in the northern parts of the range show a distinctive 'wasp waist'.
  • Male hingeback tortoises are more elongated than the rounder females.
  • Male Hermann's tortoises are slightly wider at the rear than the female.


Plastron- Indent. Another almost universal characteristic.

  • Male: Mildly to deeply indented to allow them to better mount the female.
  • Female: Flat or slightly bulging to allow more room for eggs.


Plastron- Gular Scutes.

  • Male: Some species have projecting gular scutes for fighting/flipping rival males.
  • Female: Most species do not have projecting gulars.
  • Some species with this characteristic include the bowsprit, plowshare and desert tortoises.


Plastron- Anal Scutes. (Some species)

  • Male: Anal scutes form a 'wide', "V" shaped open angle and the points are further from the marginals to allow the tail more freedom of movement.
  • Female: Anal scutes form a tighter angle or more "U" shaped and the points are close to the marginals to allow more protection
  • Some species with this characteristic are Red-footed, Star, Sulcata, Forstens, and Impressed tortoises.


Tortoises 101 Page 3

Tortoise Anatomy

Tortoises are not domestic or tame, but they are remarkably indifferent to the presence of humans. They do not seem to have any fear of people; some even seek them out for attention. Some like to have their heads patted, others enjoy having their necks scratched where they meet their plastron.

Shared characteristics
In most species of tortoises, the most common sexual characteristics are:
Size and color.

  • Male: Usually smaller and slightly more colorful than the females.
  • Female: Usually larger to allow space for eggs.Usually somewhat more dully colored.
  • The male impressed tortoise shows very distinctive color changes when mating.
  • Red-footed tortoises are one of the size exceptions- males are often larger at the same age.


Sexing your Tortoise
There are certain characteristics that most male tortoises share, but many species have a few that are unique to them. Please note that it is usually impossible to accurately sex a tortoise before it is sexually mature.