Microchip Identification in Chelonians

Unlike our furry friends the dog and cat, turtles and tortoises (known collectively as "chelonians") aren’t quite suited to wearing collars bearing ID tags.  In the past chelonian enthusiasts have tried to establish forms of identification for their turtles and tortoises through various methods.  Microchips (also know as transponders, PIT tags, or microchip transponders) provide a more long-lasting and reliable form of identification.

Most microchips are about the size of a grain of rice.  This small size makes them easy to inject into muscles or beneath the skin of all but the smallest chelonians.  They provide durable and easy identification.  

Each chelonian that is microchipped is entered into a data base.  When your pet is scanned by a microchip reader, its unique identification number will appear on the reader’s screen.  A simple phone call allows the animal’s number to be linked with ownership information or, if you prefer a little added privacy, with the veterinary hospital that inserted the microchip.

What are the advantages of microchipping chelonians?

  • Correctly identify individuals in large groups
  • Simplify record keeping
  • Proof of ownership
  • Increased chance of retrieval of a lost chelonian
  • Theft prevention/recovery
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Online sales
  • Added value of animals


  • Left hindlimb
    • The microchip is placed in the subcutaneous tissues.  The injection site is then closed with tissue glue.
    • Midline sub-plastron.  The needle is inserted under the tail and just above the caudal edge of the plastron and advanced into the connective tissue between the pubis and the plastron.
      • Requires limited aftercare.
      • May be more advantageous for semi-aquatic turtles due to the quick return to the water.  However, the turtle must be dry docked for at least 24 hours post implantation.


Ensure the chelonian has a clean habitat for several days after the implantation.  If sutures are used to close the injection site (vs. tissue glue) these can be removed after 4 weeks.  Over the next few weeks continue to monitor the site for signs of infection (swelling, redness, heat, or discharge), and test scan the microchip to ensure it has remained in its proper location and has not migrated.  Semi-aquatic turtles should be dry docked for at least 2 days post-injection (for rear leg placement) and good water quality is crucial to prevent infection.

This procedure is not for everyone, there are serious complications that can arise from implanting microchips, as stated above.  Owners must make well informed decisions about chip implantation, and they must weigh all the benefits and the negative aspects of this form of identification before pursuing microchipping.  There are certain instances where microchips could play a valuable role, but each case needs to be assessed on an individual basis to determine if microchipping's benefits out way the risks for that particular chelonian.