This post at Mental Floss stated that a group of tortoises is called a 'Creep'. I had never heard of that before, and in trying to find the references for the name, I was surprised that I couldn't actually find anything.

Wikipedia showed no results in either of their lists for animal names.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animal_names
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_terms_of_venery,_by_animal

Neither did the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center: http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/about/faqs/animals/names.htm

The closest I found was that a group of turtles is called a nest or a bale.

Is there an actual source for what a group of tortoises is called?

  • $\begingroup$ How big of a group do they say a creep is? $\endgroup$
    – rhill45
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ @rhill45 They didn't say anything about the size of the group, just what the (supposed) name is. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @rhill45 I asked this to my new friend at The Tortoise Group, and he replied: I thought that a group was any collection of more than one. So even though there are words for two (pair, brace, duo, couple, etc.) it would still officially qualify as a group! $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it an English Vocabulary question? Should it be migrated to English site? To my view it not looks like a biology question, even not on nomenclature ( identifiers ). $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


Creep is correct. I sent an email asking this question to The Tortoise Group, which is a non-profit organization whose mission statement is:

Improving the lives of wild and desert tortoises through education.

The Executive Director replied:

It's a bale for turtles and a creep for tortoises. I am sure they could have come up with a better name!

If you have additional questions, there's a wealth of scientific information on their website.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay but where does the word come from? The OP isn't asking for someone to validate the claim but explain the origins since it isn't common or listed on many sites. Read the last sentence of the OP it asks for a source not a validation. He has already learned that creep is a word used to define this. $\endgroup$
    – dustin
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 19:10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I apologize if I missed the point of the question. I emailed the same source asking specifically for the origin of the name, and will let you know if/when he replies. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 21:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe for the etymology part of the question, this related question on a related SE site could help: english.stackexchange.com/questions/21336/a-murder-of-crows $\endgroup$
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ I received this from The Tortoise Group: "That's a good question. I think with all those collective nouns, it's difficult to find out exactly when the term was first used, or how or why. All I know is that it was used because tortoises creep slowly. Sorry I couldn't help with this one!" $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 22:26

What I found was that creep is a collective noun. The professor Peter Trudgill uses the word in a chapter about collective nouns and the example is of tortoises. I don't know what book to tell you to look in though. He is professor of sociolinguistics. From a search on collective nouns for animals, turtles, and reptiles, I only found turtles having the following collective nouns: bale, nest, turn, dole.

My guess is then that Peter Trudgill made up the word and some people have adopted it or it is primarily an English (England) word.

  1. collective noun list two

I believe I found the source. In Geology, a creep is defined as a slow moving mass. By borrowing the word creep from Geology, one can accurately describe a group of tortoises.

  1. Creep

I have worked in various parts of the world in sales of engineering equipment, but have always been involved in animal conservation, especially for turtles and tortoises.

One of my previous employers, now an engineering company was originally purveyor of turtle meat to HM Queen Victoria. They provided the Green Turtle Soup entrée for Queen Victoria's Coronation Banquet, and for the Royal Family in general up to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, who also had green turtle soup at her coronation banquet. It was not on ration points. The company had the royal warrant.

I'm afraid the general terms for tortoise and turtle in English come from the meat trade.

A "creep" originated in the Galapagos, where the tortoises were hunted often to extinction, by sailing ships crews, whaling or other, and even HMS Beagle.

Once on board a creep became a bale, also the usual description for sea turtles caught by nets, and stored, like their land cousins in tightly bound nets. There was a number of individuals and weight for a bale. There was a market standard for different species - say 4 Leatherbacks per bale, 6 Green per bale. Green turtles were favoured as they had tasty meat but did not expire quickly.

If the animals were caught by bill hook or harpoon they were put in a 'drag bale', thus injured they would be the first consumed by the crew. Those captured at sea or on land put in nets were "bales" (uninjured) when landed. Galapagos Tortoise may be one per bale.

There were markets all over the world; in London, it was Billingsgate for the meat, and for the shell it was Lower Thames Street. Turtles were delivered live to restaurants. Generally, the voyage and the occasional wash with water had purged them. Shell and meat would then be subdivided with other terminology, depending on the quality of species meat and shell.

Obviously, there are many other terms for chelonian meat and shell in other languages - florid descriptions in China and French/Creole on the East Coast of America for the Diamond Back Terrapin and the alligator and common snapping turtle, for instance.

I obtained this information from an old employee of the former employer's green turtle soup restaurant at a company dinner in London. No, we did not have turtle soup, and I did not kill him. He was a really nice guy and a war hero with the London Scottish Regiment. For the shell business, I know something from another of my employers. We were involved in trading heavy equipment to the former Soviet Union. Our offices were next to the dreadful fur trade warehouses on Lower Thames Street, which was next to the Turtle Shell Exchange (this may not be the correct title of the market).

My point is that our naturalist forbears took collective nouns, in this case, from general parlance. They were generally scientists. Conservationists came later. I think the collective noun was thus applied outside the tortoise/turtle trade to all species by English speakers.


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