How to Tell Male & Female Tortoises Apart

Updated March 23, 2017

Reclusive, shy tortoises are shelled reptiles that resemble their water-dwelling relatives, the turtle. Encompassing many species, tortoises can range from a few centimetres in length to everal meters long. Tortoises have gained popularity as pets in recent years, although some species are protected from sale and transport. For those allowed as legal pets, telling the sex of your tortoise requires careful observation and a brief knowledge of basic tortoise anatomy.

Observe the length of your tortoise's neck and claws. In most tortoise species, females have a shorter neck plate and longer claws than males.

Flip over your tortoise and observe their plastron, or the underside of their shell. Males generally have a divot, or dimple, in the far end of their plastron, which reveals their sexual organs during mating. If your tortoise is very small, using a magnifying glass to observe may be helpful.

Pay attention to your tortoise's tail. The easiest way to determine a tortoise's sex is by their tail. Females have short tails which they hold in a downward position. Males have long tails which they will pull up and hold close to their shell when relaxed.


It is usually difficult to sex young tortoises. You can more accurately determine their sex after they reach maturity, which for most species is around four to six years of age.

Things You'll Need

  • Adult tortoise
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

A writer and professional lab assistant based in Seattle, Kate Bruscke has been writing professionally about health care and technology since 1998. Her freelance clients include "The Seattle Times,", Reading Local: Seattle, Nordstrom and MSN/Microsoft. Bruscke holds a Master of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.