Yes, they can hear. As many turtle keepers and zoologists may know, turtles are particularly responsive to loud sounds and noises. Turtles’ ears are not as sharp as any other animals. So, they mainly rely on their other senses for survival like touch, taste, smell, sight, etc. Many people strongly feel that their turtle/tortoise can hear them and recognize their names.
Can Turtles Hear? Do Turtles Have Ears?
Yes, they have ears. They have internal ears, but they do not possess external ears like dogs, cats, and even humans. These ears are hard to spot, even impossible with the naked eye, as the sides of a turtle’s head are smooth and flat and lack the holes we have come to associate with ears.
Turtle’s Hearing Capability:
Turtles and tortoises do not hear much. They only tend to process and respond to a few sound frequencies, especially those sound frequencies which are made by mating, hatching eggs, or dueling adults. This makes sense since they don’t use noises or sounds to speak much(But they can make sub-sonic noises when traveling through ground or water readily).
To know how turtles or tortoise hear, we need to know how the turtle’s ears work. Turtles are mostly sensitive to extremely low frequencies, making them experts at hearing low-frequency noises /sounds. These low-frequency sounds help in turtle’s navigation along with communication. Turtles of several sea turtle species usually use low-frequency communication to attract adult females who protect and guide the hatchlings.
Many people considered turtles deaf because they cannot see their ears. But, turtles do have ears.
To Understand this Better, We Must know How a Turtle’s Ear Works?
The turtle’s ear comprises of several parts, including the middle ear and inner ear. The distinctive external ear is absent in them, and instead of that, on the outer side, they have flaps of skins that capture sound waves.
Turtles’ lack of external ears affects the sound range they can hear. If we compare the human’s external ear with the turtles’ ear, the human ear’s shape is formed to draw sound waves into the inner ear. On the other hand, turtles have thin flaps called the cutaneous plate.
This skin of the cutaneous plate is almost similar to what is found on the rest of the turtle’s face. The sound waves captured by the cutaneous flaps are transmitted to the inner ear with the middle ear’s help. The inner ear mainly processes the sound waves and then transmits it to the brain for analysis. That’s how the turtle can hear and respond to sound waves. The sound waves or vibrations warn turtles when there is any predator and detect possible prey and navigation.
The turtle’s Hearing Range:
The hearing range of turtles is considered to be between 200 to 800 Hz. Turtles don’t respond fine to sounds above 1000 Hz.
Research is done on Green turtles(also known as Green sea turtles) shows that their hearing range lies between 200 Hz to 500 Hz. While if we compare that to humans, humans can hear sound frequencies present between 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
Can Tortoises/Turtle Hear Ultrasound? No
No, they can’t because the term “ultrasound” applies to all acoustic energy with a frequency above (20,000 hertz or 20 kilohertz), and as mentioned above, turtle/tortoise can hear max up to 1000 Hz. So, there’s not a chance that turtle can hear/detect ultrasound with their ears.
Even typical diagnostic sonographic scanners operate in the frequency range of 2 to 20 megahertz, hundreds of times greater than the limit of tortoise hearing.
Can Turtles Perceive Sound Underwater?
Turtles tend to hear much better when they are in the water as compared to land. This is mostly because of the way their ears are formed. Turtles have small holes at both sides of their head. They usually hear through these holes. As turtles’ skin is very thick and there is too much fat, it is tricky for turtles to hear well on land. But, it is just the opposite if they are in the water.
In water, the fat and skin of turtles become good conductors of sound. As turtles have functional internal ears, their sensitivity relative to air pressure serves them well. Turtles pick up the changes in water pressure caused by the fins of fish.
Sea turtles live in almost all oceans except the Polar Regions, where the water is extremely cold. Still, there is not sufficient data available on the recording of sounds made by turtles underwater. We know that they can hear, but how well they hear? It is still a mystery.
For How Long Turtle Can Stay Underwater?
It depends on the type/species of a turtle. Most sea turtles can go underwater for at least 4-5 hours without breathing, and most aquatic/riverine turtles can stay underwater for at least 20-30 minutes.
But, land turtles can only stay up to 1-2 min underwater.
Here are Some Species of the Turtle with Average Time Underwater:
- Box turtle: 1 – 2 minutes
- Snapping turtle: 25 – 30 minutes
- Desert tortoise: 1.5 – 2 minutes
- Green sea turtle: 8 – 10 hours
- Red-eared slider: 25 – 30 minutes
- Leatherback sea turtle: 7 – 9 hours
Fact: A recent CT scan and MRI study of turtle ears has concluded, which tells us that all turtles can hear better underwater than they can on land. Even desert tortoises that are unlikely ever to encounter water can hear better underwater. This is taken as evidence that all turtles evolved from aquatic ancestors.
How Turtles Hear on Land:
On land, turtles/tortoise use their hearing to be aware of both prey and predators. Their land hearing is nowhere near as good as their hearing underwater. As we discussed above, it does help their survival somewhat.
Land Turtles or Tortoises can Hear through the Vibrations in the Eardrums.
Vocalization During Nesting Period:
Turtles are the least vocal reptiles on this planet, but their nesting period is quite understood due to experimentation, and their vocalization has been established strongly during their nesting period. As we know, laying eggs is fairly exhausting physically. The sounds they generate are due to grunting and breathing heavily.
After an incubation period of approximately 2-2.15 months in the sand nests, the eggs hatch concurrently, most often at night. The baby turtles then find their way directly into the sea/ocean waters. We know that the ability to see the light has a role in the hatchlings’ ability to find the sea; there is a probability that the ability to hear also plays a role.
Can Turtles Hear Music?
Turtles can hear music, at least at the lower frequencies. They can hear most likely the voice of a violin or a soprano singer at lower frequencies. The higher frequencies would never pick up by a turtle.
Turtles may hear the bass sounds like a cello or double bass or the singing of a cool baritone voice. For Turtles, when it comes to music, it is all about the bass.
Their experience and familiarity of the music would not be similar to that of humans, of course. There is still much about turtles that are not fully understood by us.
Other Important Senses In Turtles except Hearing (Discussed above)
Indeed, turtles cannot hear well. But, their other senses are finely developed and sharp. Turtles do smell, taste, see, and feel as well.
Four other Turtle’s Senses:
Sight: Turtles have very sharp sight. Due to this, they can easily find food for themselves and for little ones. Also, turtles can differentiate between shapes and colors. This helps to detect their predators, plus this also helps in determining what food they are eating. Even though turtles have a well-developed vision, but they do not possess peripheral vision.
Smell: Like sight, turtles/tortoise do have a good smelling sense. They smell well on both land and underwater. They have special bumps under their chins instead of nostrils. These special bumps have nerves that enable them to judge smell. During the mating season of turtles, the sense of smell plays an important role in selecting a mate. Using this sense, male and female turtles find each other with the help of pheromones. Also, because they have a good sense of smell, they can detect the danger of predators and stay away.
Touch: Turtles have very thick skin that looks like leather. But their skin is extremely sensitive. So, if you scrub them on their neck, pet turtles like it and enjoy that time with you. In the same way, Sea turtles will also feel you if you touch their skin.
Taste: All turtle or tortoise species do not have taste buds. Some turtle species like Chelonians or Sea turtles do possess taste buds. They can taste every food they eat. Yet, other species like Snapping turtles do not have taste buds. Since they do not possess taste buds, they sometimes eat or swallow poisonous food. Other turtles species, e.g., Leatherback and Hawksbill, can eat poisonous and non-poisonous food simultaneously, like jellyfish.
Turtle Habitat and Facts
|Turtle Type||Foods||Adult Size||Vivarium Type||Eggs / Live||Temperament||Country Origin||Price|
|Red Eared Turtle||Carnivorous||12"||Semi-Aquatic||8-12 Eggs||Social||USA, Mexico||$ 20|
|Eastern Mud Turtle||Carnivorous||4"||Semi-Aquatic||2-5 Eggs||Social||USA||$ 39 - $ 104|
|Common Musk Turtle||Carnivorous||6"||Semi-Aquatic||1-5 Eggs||Social||Canada, USA||$ 49.99|
|Florida Soft Shelled Turtle||Carnivorous||20"||Aquatic||10-22 Eggs||Social||North America, Africa, Asia||$ 179|
|Mata-Mata||Carnivorous||16"||Aquatic||12-28 Eggs||Aggressive||South America||$ 495|
|Amboina Box Turtle||Carnivorous||7"||Semi-Aquatic||1-2 Eggs||Social||Asia, North America||$ 119|
|Common Box Turtle||Carnivorous||5"||Savannah||4-7 Eggs||Social||North America||$ 25 - $ 50|