Can Turtles Drown?

If you are a lover of turtles or you are simply interested in certain things about them, you might have at some point wondered whether turtles are actually able to drown or not.

There are lots of interesting and curious facts about turtles, and we are going to tell you all about their swimming habits and ability to be underwater in this article. Turtles live almost exclusively in the water, but they do come to land for certain reasons, like when it is time to lay their eggs. However, after laying the eggs, the mother will quickly retreat back to the water, leaving her young to fend for themselves.

As creatures that are primarily in the water, they do have certain abilities that make this life a little easier, and we will tell you all about them below.

Can You Drown A Turtle?

How Do Turtles Breathe?

The first thing that you need to know about turtles is that they are not like the fish that they live in the water. It is common knowledge that fish have the ability to breathe underwater, and they have special organs that are called gills, which help them to do so.

Turtles do not have gills like fish, and they actually are quite similar to us people in this respect. Turtles have lungs, which they use to breathe, but they are much smaller than human lungs.

However, they are more than powerful enough to allow them to stay under the water for longer periods of time. They can’t hold their breath forever, and they will need to surface at times so that they can breathe.

When it comes to looking at their ability to breathe while they are actually under the water, things aren’t so straightforward. Turtles are able to breathe underwater in a way, but not like other creatures do.

As we have previously mentioned, they do not have any gills that would allow them to get oxygen under the water, but they are able to move the water across their scales in a way that allows them to stay underwater for longer. Their scales actually contain red blood cells, which have the ability to get small amounts of oxygen from the water.

Unfortunately, the amount of oxygen that they are able to get this way is not enough for them to be able to stay under the water indefinitely. It would only be enough oxygen to support a turtle that is brumating, as they would not be moving around and using up all of their energy.

For those who didn’t know, brumation is a period of dormancy in a turtle’s life cycle, sort of like hibernation. This is a period of time in which they do not move around, and they observe all of their energy.

A turtle that is swimming around and going about its normal life would not be able to stay underwater forever. Interestingly, there are some species of turtle that have the ability to stay underwater for a particularly long time without having to breathe through their lungs, but this will not last forever, and they will need to surface for air.

It can sometimes appear that a turtle is breathing underwater through their lungs due to the fact that they often blow bubbles out of their mouths when they are underwater, but this process is actually just air escaping from their bodies, and they are not breathing.

Also Read: Can Turtles Breathe Through Their Butts?

Can You Drown a Turtle?

Turtles are very skilled at living under the water, but interestingly, they can actually drown under certain circumstances, though it is unlikely. There are different factors that could influence whether or not a turtle will drown, and it will also depend on the species of turtle that it is.

As an example, Red-Eared Sliders will spend the majority of their lives under the water, and this is where they will eat, sleep, and live, so they are really comfortable doing so.

In contrast to this, Box Turtles are known to be very poor swimmers due to the fact that they lack webbed feet, and you will typically find this type of turtle in shallow areas of water where they can be safe.

Even more terrible at living the water life are Tortoises, who also lack webbed feet, but they do not typically live in the water and so they are not used to it at all. This would mean that they would be highly likely to drown if they were to find themselves in a deep body of water.

The majority of the time, when a sea turtle drowns, it is due to the water pollution that is created by humans. If the turtle gets stuck or tangled, it won’t be able to make its way to the surface, and so it will drown. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to try to reduce sea pollution levels and help to save the lives of innocent animals.

How Long Can a Turtle Stay Underwater?

We have stated that a turtle does not have the ability to stay underwater indefinitely but you might still be wondering how long they can stay underwater before they need to resurface, so we will answer this question for you here.

This is another question that is relatively subjective, as there are a variety of different factors that it will depend on.

The main things that will influence how long they are able to stay under the water are the species of the turtle, the temperature of the water they are in, and the location that they are in. We will give you some information about the lengths of times that certain breeds can stay underwater below.

There are some turtles that are able to hold their breath for around thirty minutes, and there are others, in different parts of the world, that can go months without having to come up for air.

Your Pet Turtle

The slider turtles that many people choose to keep as pets will be able to swim underwater for long periods of time.

When they are inactive during the night, many of these pet turtles will opt to sleep under the water, and they will only surface a few times to get some quick breaths of air before they head back down.

When they are breathing in oxygen, they increase the rate of their blood flow, which allows them to get more oxygen than they normally would.

Mata Matas

This is a type of South American turtle that lives in places like rivers and ponds, and they live almost motionlessly in the water before they unexpectedly ambush any nearby fish.

To be able to live and hunt like this, they need to be really still for long periods of time, and they can’t surface for water without interrupting their hunting. Sometimes, they can hold their breath for longer than an hour when doing this.

Turtles in Hibernation

We have briefly mentioned the process of hibernation for turtles, and freshwater turtles will have to hibernate so that they can survive throughout the winter.

Some turtles will hibernate in loose soil, and others do so underwater. When they are doing this under the water, they can sometimes go for around six months before they need to surface.

This is because they are able to lower their metabolic rates, and they will absorb the oxygen in the water through their throats and cloacas. So, they aren’t really holding their breaths, but it is still really impressive.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are really good at living under the water, and some of them can stay under for hours at a time.

Interestingly, Loggerhead sea turtles have been known to stay under the water for more than ten hours at a time, which is incredible.

How Much Oxygen Does a Turtle Need?

To help answer this question we are going to tell you a little bit about the biology of a turtle.

Turtles are actually ectothermic animals, which are often referred to as ‘cold-blooded’ animals, and they have the ability to warm their bodies using sources like warm water and sunlight. In comparison to warm-blooded animals, the metabolic rate of a turtle is quite low, and it will fluctuate with temperature.

When it is colder, the metabolism is slower, and when it is warmer the metabolism is faster. The faster the metabolism; the more oxygen that the turtle will need. This means that in warmer temperatures, turtles will need oxygen more regularly.

Do Turtles Sleep Underwater?

The answer to this question is yes, most species of pet turtles will sleep underwater, and they can actually go for around an hour before they have to surface for air.

This is due to the fact that they are not swimming around at this time and using up lots of energy, so they can go a lot longer without oxygen. However, some turtles will sleep at the surface of the water at times.

Can a Baby Turtle Drown?

Baby turtles are actually at the highest risk of drowning due to their inexperience in the water. If these are pet turtles that you are concerned about, then you will need to be careful and ensure that they are in a large enough tank with nothing blocking them from reaching the surface of the water.

If you have more than one turtle, ensure that they both have enough room to make it to the top of the tank, and make sure there is no debris that makes it too difficult for them.

Baby turtles are at a higher risk of drowning as they can sometimes find it difficult to know exactly when they need oxygen, and they need to be able to make it to the surface in time. There is also the possibility that they can become trapped, and unable to get to the surface.

For Sea Turtles, the process is a little bit different. Of course, these turtle eggs will hatch on land, and they will have no guidance from the mother to get them to safety.

The hatchlings will climb out of the nest and wait until the temperature of the sand has cooled, which is a signal that it is nighttime when there are fewer predators around.

They will then look for the white crests of the waves and the natural light of the horizon, which will guide them toward the water. If they are able to make it down to the beach successfully, they will start their first-ever journey into the water. They do have instincts that will guide them, but they lack experience.

When they get to the water, the ‘swimming frenzy’ will begin, which can last for multiple days. This process will be different for every turtle, but this is when they will get away from the water that is near the shore, and make their way further out into the sea.

Baby sea turtles also have weaker bodies, which puts them at an even higher risk of drowning.

Can a Turtle Drown if They Are Sleeping?

It is only natural to think that if a turtle is sleeping under the water, it is going to face the risk of drowning, but this is a highly unlikely scenario. There are lots of different species of turtles that will choose to sleep underwater, and they aren’t going to sleep for so long that they drown.

Turtles that sleep underwater will have natural instincts, and they will unconsciously drift towards the surface of the water to take a few breaths before heading down again.

Even if they didn’t move towards the surface, and they had been under the water for too long, they would immediately wake up when it gets to the point that they need oxygen, and they will swim up to the surface for air. This means that they will not accidentally drown when they are asleep.


Turtles have pretty good instincts when it comes to their natural lives under the water, and they aren’t very likely to drown, though it does happen sometimes.

The most prominent cause of drowning for turtles is the pollution in the waters, and they can get trapped in debris, making it impossible to surface for air. Otherwise, turtles would be just fine surviving in the wild without drowning on their own.

Dorothy Razo

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