Are turtles and tortoises smart? Can they communicate? Are there fundamental differences between longtime pet species like dogs and cats and reptiles like turtles and tortoises? If given the opportunity, will reptiles communicate with their owners? Animal communicator Shannon Cutts talks about turtle intelligence.
If you had to guess, what animal species would you say I talk to most often in my work as an animal communicator?
I’ll give you a hint. It certainly isn’t reptiles.
It isn’t even common companion birds like parrots and cockatiels.
To date, I have communicated with one snake, one iguana, one turtle, five parrots, two sheep, three horses and literally hundreds of cats and dogs.
Why is this? What do you think? Are dogs and cats harder pets to cohabitate with and care for and that is why their people need animal communication more than pet parents living with other species?
Or could it be reptile keepers simply do not realize animal communication is possible with turtles, tortoises, lizards, snakes and other reptile species?
Truthfully, I don’t know the answer.
As a nearly lifelong parrot and reptile keeper, I have ample firsthand qualitative evidence that parrots and reptiles like turtles and tortoises are every bit as intelligent and expressive as dogs, cats, horses and domestic livestock companion animals.
Sometimes, I think they are smarter. After all, turtles and tortoises represent one of the most ancient species lineages on the planet today. They survived the catastrophic conditions that wiped out the dinosaurs. They have successfully survived – and even thrived – in every type of climate and environment….at least until now.
People, homo sapiens, you and me, just might be the one threat turtles and tortoises can’t withstand. This makes me really sad.
We are the biggest losers here. These animals are marvelous in every way. Brave, resilient, sensitive, resourceful, incredibly smart, caring, compassionate, independent, creative – right from day one, turtles and tortoises care for themselves in ways it takes most other species years to accomplish.
So I don’t know why more turtle and tortoise keepers and reptile keepers in general don’t seek out animal communication.
What I do know is that turtles and tortoises are more than capable of talking with me, just like cats and dogs and horses and birds are capable of talking through me to their people.
I also happen to know that, thanks to a very smart redfoot tortoise named Moses and his scientist/researcher keeper, Anna Wilkinson.
As reported in New Scientist*, Anna watched rats in a maze and thought to herself, “Moses could do that!” And he could. And did. And did it better than the rats….so much so that this sparked the formation of the first-ever cold blooded cognition lab AND the high praise that turtles and tortoises appear to be “surprisingly advanced” “learning machines.”
It feels worth mentioning that I wasn’t surprised to learn this.
After all, my Malti is a redfoot tortoise. She is best friends with my family’s dachshund, Flash Gordon, and truthfully they are much more alike than different.
Plus, I have had the privilege of keeping company with turtles and tortoises (as well as parrots) for most of my life.
Speaking of parrots, there is even supposition in the scientific community today that birds are the modern day descendants of the dinosaurs.
This doesn’t surprise me either. My cockatiel soulbird, Pearl, is a tiny pterodactyl if I ever did see one (one look at his pint-sized and precious skeletal X-ray images convinced me the connection is real).
But enough of that.
My point here is that reptiles like turtles and tortoises are not only every bit as intelligent and communicative as all the other species I have chatted with, but they also bring the ancient collective wisdom of their lineage to every conversation. In talking with a turtle or tortoise, I often feel like I am talking with the Big Bang itself, or at the very least the primordial soup from which we all emerged.
It is a pretty cool feeling.
What is not so cool – not cool at all – is how quickly turtle and tortoise species are going extinct. Being largely quiet, low profile and increasingly solitary as their numbers continue to diminish, they are easy enough to overlook and even easier to disregard.
While studies like those reported through the cold blooded cognition lab do their part to elevate the worth and value of turtles and tortoises, the animals involved in research rarely achieve any kind of public recognition beyond those limited scientific research circles.
For those of us who are lucky enough to keep daily company with turtles, tortoises and other reptile species, it falls to us to be their voice. It becomes our role to share them with our friends and family, to create a culture of caring people who go out of their way to help turtles and tortoises survive.
Social media is a great way to share the intelligence of turtles and tortoises with others (my Malti and, previously, my rescued box turtle, Bruce, have both become quite well known now thanks to a feature on The Dodo and my commitment to maintaining a presence for them on various social platforms).
But then again, if social media isn’t your thing, you can also do a tremendous amount of good simply by sitting out on the lawn with your pet turtle or pet tortoise and allowing passersby (especially kids!) to admire your animals and ask you questions about them.
And the best way of all is to take time to talk with your tortoise or turtle companion directly.
Find out what they think about their life with you. Discover unmet needs or wants that you could work on together. Invite their input to make our planet a more turtle and tortoise-friendly place. Learn from their longevity and wisdom to create a better world for all of us to share together.
Do you want to talk with your tortoise, turtle or reptile companion animal? I can help!
* New Scientist “Cold-blooded cognition: tortoises quick on the uptake”