Do Turtles Get Cold? (All You Need To Know)!

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You can find turtles in many different habitats around the world. There are turtles in the deserts, lakes, sea, and more. But they are not fond of living in cold places. The question is, do turtles get cold? Maybe that’s the reason why you can’t find them around the Antarctic.

Do Turtles Get Cold?

Yes, turtles get cold since they can’t regulate their body temperature. They are cold-blooded like other reptiles. Turtles need to have a heat source to stay warm. If not, they will end up sick when they get cold. They need to bask every day to warm up their bodies wherever they stay.

Cold temperature is not suitable for a turtle habitat. That’s why for pet turtles, you need to provide them with a heat lamp. It will help them to dry their bodies at least once a day. This also helps their metabolism so they can stay healthy even in captivity. It’s one of their requirements.

What is the Best Water Temperature for the Turtle Tank?

The water temperature should also be comfortable for turtles. The best water temperature, in general, should be 75 to 86F. That’s equivalent to 23.8-30C which is an ideal water temperature for turtles. How can you make sure that you can have that water temperature in the tank?

It’s easy to achieve the best temperature for your turtle. All you need is to use a water heater. You have to also take note of two things before buying one. The first is to check if the water heater is adjustable. It will be useful in case the temperature drops outside. The other one is if it has protection for turtles not to break it.

What are the Best Turtle Basking Temperatures?

After knowing about the best water temperature for the tank, it’s time to learn about the basking temperature. Turtles need to bask and the temperature of the basking area is important. Most turtles need to have it around 10F or 5-6C warmer than the water. The temperature in the basking area should be between 80 to 90F.

Common Pet Turtles and the Best Basking Area Temperatures:

  • Florida Box turtle – 85-95F
  • Eastern Box turtle – 85-90F
  • Ornate Box turtle: 85-90F
  • Red Ear Sliders turtles – 80-90F
  • Map turtles – 80-90F
  • Painted Turtles – 80-90F
  • Mud turtles – 85-95F
  • Musk turtles – 80-90F

How to Find Out the Exact Temperature?

The best way to find out the exact temperature is to use a thermometer. It will help you when setting up the basking area for the first time. This can also let you know if it’s time to change the basking lights. If it’s no longer emitting enough heat, it’s time to replace the bulbs.

Getting a thermometer for the turtle tank is the best way to monitor its temperature. It’s also useful around the house. You can use it when you’re cooking and also at the temperature of your house. It’s a useful device to have especially when you are a turtle owner. The thermometer is not that expensive and it’s also a handy tool.

What Wild Turtles Do When It Gets Cold?

During the winter, wild turtles will start their hibernation process which is called brumation. They hibernate like other animals in the wild. It’s a state when reptiles and mammals sleep for a long time. During hibernation, it will slow down their metabolic rate so they don’t need much energy like when they are active.

Turtles will sleep the entire winter because of the cold weather. It’s also when the food is scarce for them to survive. That’s why they go on brumation to avoid using too much energy. It will slow down their metabolism so they don’t have to eat during the winter.

Do Turtles Hibernate When It’s Cold?

Yes, turtles hibernate when the weather starts to get cold. They will automatically slow down their metabolism. It will result in a slow heart rate. That includes the other processes in their bodies. It will help them to prepare for their brumation. That’s how turtles can survive in the wild.

When they slow down, turtles will no longer need as much oxygen as well. There are times when they don’t have access to oxygen, especially during the brumation. They prefer to do this underwater to avoid predators. During the brumation, they can live without food and oxygen for five months.

Turtles don’t generate heat to keep their bodies warm. Although they can hibernate during the cold months. Being cold-blooded does not require them to use a lot of energy. Unlike other mammals, turtles can survive because of brumation. But they need to choose the right place to hibernate to remain safe.

Is There a Bad Effect When Turtle’s Metabolic Rate Slows Down?

Being cold-blooded comes with some pros and cons with hibernation. Although they will be able to survive because of this trait. Turtles can live through the winter from being able to hibernate. It will reduce their metabolic rate to avoid needing as much energy they need like when they’re active.

Reducing the metabolic rate can result in some side effects. Turtles will have a hard time getting rid of the lactic acid they accumulate. It’s the substance that will result in muscle soreness. It will be unpleasant for turtles to wake up with muscle cramps. After sleeping for a few months, they will be in pain.

The good news is, turtles can neutralize lactic acid. They can use calcium and magnesium from their shells. Thankfully, turtles can do that. If they don’t, the lactic build-up will be too much for them to handle. It can result in a fatal outcome for the turtles.

Can Turtles Still Grow During Brumation?

Calcium and magnesium are vital nutrients for turtles’ growth. Although they need to get rid of the lactic acid first. It’s more important to use those nutrients to avoid muscle cramps. But if turtles don’t have enough calcium and magnesium, they will not be able to grow. Turtles need to use them when they hibernate.

Survival is more important for turtles than to grow bigger. But if they grow bigger, it can save the turtle’s life. It will lessen the chances of predators trying to eat them. Although it’s alright if they dont grow during hibernation. If it will help them survive the winter, that’s enough for them.

Turtles can get cold like other animals. It’s more dangerous for them since they can’t warm up their body temperature. That’s why turtle owners should make sure to provide heating for their pet turtles. In the wild, they can survive the cold by brumation. Pet turtles don’t have to if they have enough heat in their habitat.

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp at Night?

Pet turtles need to have a suitable environment to survive. They require a few things when they are in captivity. Turtles should have the right turtle tank size, a place to hide, and a basking area. That includes having the right amount of heat and light inside the tank.

If you’re wondering if turtles need to have the lights on at night, the answer is no. The turtle will be alright when the lights are off at night. It’s recommended to do that to help their circadian rhythm. They should learn the difference between day and night. It will simulate the light and darkness in the wild which is good for the turtle.

What Kind of Light Turtle’s Need?

Aside from having a heat lamp, turtles also need to have UV lights. It’s where they can get the UV rays since the sun is not available for them. This will help them have the same light source as in the wild. The UV lamp should provide them with the UVA and UVB rays they need.

1. Mercury Vapor Lamp

This type of lamp provides heat as well as both UVA and UVB rays. It’s a 3 in 1 type of lamp that you can use for the turtle tank. This will eliminate the need to use different types of bulbs. But the disadvantage of the Mercury vapor lamp is it can consume a high amount of electricity.

2. The 2 Lamp System

If you don’t want to use too much electricity, you can go for the 2 lamp system. This means that you have to install two separate lamps. One is for the UVA and the other is for the UVB. The UVA light will provide heat as well so there’s no need to add more.

3. Optional Lighting

Optional lighting is also popular for turtle owners. One is the viewing light and the other one is the nightlight. The viewing light is for you to see the turtle during the day. While the nightlight is usually red or purple it sees through the tank at night. It’s not bright enough to so it will not interrupt the turtle’s sleeping pattern.

Do Turtles Need UV Light?

Yes, turtles need to have both UVA and UVB light to be healthy. The UVA light will help them to stay warm and be comfortable. It will help to maintain their body temperature. This will also help their metabolism, breeding, and have a strong immune system. UVA improves the turtle’s mood as well.

The UVB light is critical when it comes to the turtle’s health. They need it to produce vitamin D3 which is essential for them. It will help to absorb calcium from the food they eat. If it’s not available, the turtle’s shells and bones will be weak and not grow properly. Turtles may suffer from metabolic bone disease without UVB.

What Happens When a Turtle Gets Cold?

Turtles are ectotherm or cold-blooded animals. They only rely on their environment to be warm or cool off. It means that their temperature will be the same as their surroundings. They will get cold if their habitat is also cold. If it’s too warm, their body temperature will be the same.

When the turtle is cold, its metabolism also slows down. The colder the water is, the same thing happens to their metabolism. It means that they have low demand for oxygen and energy. When they hibernate, they use their stored energy. They get their oxygen through cloacal respiration which means that they breathe from their behind.

How Turtles Stay in Cold Water Without Oxygen?

Turtles have lungs therefore they breathe air. They can survive in frigid and icy ponds even if they dont surface for air. How can turtles do that? It has something to do with their body temperature and metabolism. They can survive without going to the surface for air because of that.

When the water on the pond is covered with ice, it will become a problem for turtles. They cannot go to the surface to breathe and oxygen is thin on icy waters. The oxygen that is produced by aquatic plants is being consumed by critters. The oxygen will be used up during the winter.

Some turtles like snapping turtles and painted turtles can survive in this situation. They will switch their metabolism and use the one that doesn’t need oxygen. Although it’s an amazing ability, it’s also dangerous for the turtle. When it goes on for a long time, the acids will build upon their tissues. It can be lethal to do this metabolic switch.

How Long Can Turtles Survive in the Cold?

The snapping turtle and painted turtles can survive being submerged in cold water. They can last for more than 100 days and survive in the cold. Painted turtles have anoxia tolerance. They can move calcium from their shells and can neutralize the acid. It’s the same way humans take calcium-containing antacids.

When the spring comes, turtles will wake up from their hibernation. That’s when they will have a huge muscle cramp. It’s the result of the lactic acid build-up from changing their metabolism. Turtles will be desperate to bask so that they can warm their bodies after being in the cold water.

Basking will fire up their metabolism to get rid of the lactic acid byproducts. It will be hard for the turtle to move because of the cramps. That can be dangerous since they will be vulnerable to predators. Spring can be a hazardous time for turtles. But surviving the winter is worth the outcome.

What is Cold Stunning?

It’s a condition when sea turtles become weak and inactive. This may be because they are exposed to cold temperatures for some time. It happens when the water temperature falls below 50F. Sea turtles stay in the water most of the time. It can happen since they are in the wild.

When the turtle is cold-stunned, it will be lethargic and have a hard time swimming. That will make them float on the surface of the sea. The wind and tides may wash them ashore as well. When the temperature stays low, they can have health issues or even death. Many sea turtles are affected when a cold stunning event happens in their habitat.

Is a Cold Stunning Event a New Phenomenon?

No, it’s not a new phenomenon since it was documented in the late 1800s. Among the first accounts happened to the sea turtles in the US. Due to the cold stunning, there are significant changes in the sea turtles population. This might have contributed to the frequency of cold stunning events.

As a result of conservation efforts, the sea turtle’s population increased in recent years. The turtles that were affected by cold stunning are larger now. But there are a lot of unanswered questions about it. The factors that influence the size and occurrence of these events are still unknown.

Based on recent research, warming sea temperature can be one reason. It can influence the sea turtle’s movements. That may increase the chance of being cold-stunning. When turtles get cold, they will suffer from respiratory diseases. But cold stunning is a worse type of phenomenon.


1. Why Do Sea Turtles Become Cold Stunned?

Sea turtles are cold-blooded animals since they are reptiles. Unlike birds and mammals, they can’t regulate their body temperature. But the leatherback sea turtle is the closest turtle species to get close to this ability. It may be caused by many physiological adaptations. Although most sea turtles cannot do the same.

Other turtle species’ body temperature is related to their environment. Some areas will require them to find warmer water during the winter. Turtles will swim away from the shore and go to deep water. They will migrate to the south to do that. When the water temperature is lower than 10C, the turtles will be at risk of cold stunning.

It commonly occurs in the coastal areas of the US, Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico. Cold stunning happened during the winter and can cause a sudden drop in water temperature. It’s also likely to occur in shallow bays and lagoons. That’s where the water temperature can fall too fast.

2. What Influences the Cold Stunning Events?

The cold stunning events occur in the past but not every year. The number of turtles affected may also vary. Severe winter weather can be one of the contributing factors of cold stunning.

The number of turtles in the area can also influence this phenomenon. But the confusing part is some turtles stay in the area where cold stunning is likely to occur. While some turtles migrate and find warmer water to stay for the winter.

3. How Does Cold Stunning Affect Sea Turtles?

There are different ways sea turtles can be affected by cold stunning. It depends on how cold it gets and how long it lasts. If the temperature is colder and the duration is longer, the effects of it will be worse. Although sea turtles can quickly recover from a brief exposure to the cold.

It is a common event that happens in the southeastern US. The cold-stunned turtles become lethargic and float. The cold air temperature will make their condition worse. It can cause drowning and the turtles become vulnerable to predators as well.

Colder and prolonged conditions can make the sea turtles weak. Being exposed to the cold can affect their entire body. It can negatively affect their circulation, organ function, and immune system. This can cause damage to the turtle’s shell, skin, and eyes. Bad bacteria and fungal infections may also be present.

4. Where Does Cold Stunning Occur?

During extreme and atypical cold weather, cold stunning can happen in different areas. In 2010, the severe cold weather resulted in a cold stunning event all over the Florida and Florida Keys. Below are where the cold stunning event occurred in the past years.

  • Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts
  • Long Island Sound, New York
  • Pamlico Sound, North Carolina
  • Mosquito Lagoon and surrounding areas of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida
  • St. Joseph Bay, Florida
  • Bays statewide, Texas it includes Corpus Christi Bay, Matagorda Bay, Upper/Lower Laguna Madre

5. What to Do to Help Cold Stunned Sea Turtles?

When a sea turtle is cold-stunned, it needs help from people. You have to recover and protect them. They can be put in captivity for a short time. At least until the water gets warmer or transports them to a warmer location. For severely affected sea turtles, it requires to have veterinary care.

Rehabilitation may also be needed before they will be ready to be released. In the US, they have a well-established network of agencies, organizations, and volunteers. They will come together to help sea turtles during these events. They also plan for cold stunning events that may occur. That way, they can help the cold-stunned sea turtles when this phenomenon happens.

6. How Can Cold Stunning Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, preventing the cold stunning events is not possible. It’s a natural phenomenon that we cannot prevent. The best thing to do is to help save as many sea turtles as when it happens. It requires efforts by the collective network. That includes government agencies, wildlife agencies, stranding organizations, rehabilitation facilities, and volunteers.

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