It's an alarming and bewildering sight: a tortoise creeps toward a cat that's sleeping or eating, then bites or uses its shell to hit the unsuspecting feline. The cat jumps and runs away, and the tortoise pursues the annoyed cat to do it all over again. The behavior has been caught on video – and made into baffling yet entertaining GIFs – and the internet has been puzzling over what it all means. Why do tortoises have such a beef with cats?
(Sorry, tortoise. The cat's just not that into you.)
Multiple theories have been thrown around, some plausible, many laughable. Maybe tortoises just don't like cats – after all, one's a reptile and the other's a mammal. Could it be that these two animals just can't get along? Or maybe it's a fight over territory and the tortoises refuse to be intimidated by cats' claws and fangs. Many of the videos that capture the tortoise-on-cat violence show the cats eating food just before they get attacked. Could the tortoises be trying to scare off the cats and steal some of their chow? Or perhaps something darker is going on: the tortoises have grown tired of their normal food and they want to munch on your tasty tabby.
The truth, of course, is far stranger than any of the armchair-biologist theories that have been proposed. Experts have explained that these tortoises are just trying to get it on with the cats. Yep, these tortoises are exhibiting courtship behavior and the cats aren't having it.
Male tortoises will bite females and butt them with their shells as a way to get them in the mood. Those bites? They're just love nips. And those shell-butts? They're just affectionate taps. Male tortoises are mistaking cats – and even some small dogs – for eligible female tortoises, and while the aggressive wooing might work with a female tortoise, it's definitely not working with cats as these videos show.
Like Romeo and Juliet, or Pepé Le Pew and his feline amour, tortoises and cats are just not meant to be together. Good luck finding true love out there, tortoises.