How Do Turtles Breathe Underwater?

Copyright: whitcomberd

Sea turtles live in the ocean, which is full of water. This means that they cannot breathe air like other species of turtles do. But it also doesn’t mean that sea turtles have to hold their breath underwater forever. They need oxygen to breathe, but how do they live without air in the water. The question confused most people, so let’s do some research and see what the science behind it is.

They cannot breathe underwater. Instead, they can hold their breath underwater for 6-8 hours. They have an organ called the cloaca near where their tail meets their body, allowing them to store oxygen for up to six hours before needing more.

Sea turtles can spend long periods underwater due to their cloaca. The cloaca is a special part of the turtle’s body that allows them to do something almost as if they were breathing underwater. To understand how this works, we have to talk about why sea turtles can stay submerged so long in the first place and how turtles breathe in water.

How do turtles breathe in water?

Scientific studies have shown that sea turtles are a unique and special species in the animal kingdom. The most interesting and unexpected trait of these animals is not their ability to breathe through their noses, which they use for both inhaling air into two lungs and also exhaling it back out again.

What makes them unique is that turtles do this process very differently from other living creatures. However, due to the rigidity of their torsos, curiously, not all mammals share this same limitation.

How do we breathe? A human would answer that we inhale and our rib cage expands, but what if I told you that there is more to it than just inhaling oxygen? We also exhale when the ribs contract again because they are somewhat flexible. On the other hand, turtles have rigid shells made up of fused ribs, so they have no elasticity.

Unlike a typical gill system that relies solely on water for oxygen exchange, turtles have developed tiny soft projections that stick out all over their bodies called papillae. These little structures allow them to breathe in air bubbles and absorb dissolved oxygen while submerged underwater.

Although they can take up dissolved oxygen through these spiky-looking features known as “papilla, ” It is important not to forget about surface breathing time; otherwise, this would be lethal if prolonged without proper replenishment.

The two bronchi near the heart divide and carry air into the lungs of a turtle’s body. The muscles within its shell expand as they inhale, contract as they exhale. All sea turtles don’t have the ability to breathe oxygen like humans, but they have the great ability to obtain oxygen from water.

Just as a turtle can stay underwater for a long time, the way its lungs and muscles are primed allows them to hold in the air with little effort. For starters, their lungs are structured differently than most animals. This is because they don’t have the same flexibility as other creatures. If they did, it would be too difficult for the turtles to breathe effectively. The setup of the muscles and organs in their lungs allows them to store air inside without exerting much effort.

How do turtles breathe underwater and stay there for so long?

The metabolic rate of reptiles is slower than that of other organisms, which means that they are more in tune with their environment and are able to conserve energy. In the desert heat, where it can feel like a sauna at noon or an icebox at dusk, this skill comes in handy for them as they cycle throughout the day (or night) when temperatures rise and fall, respectively.

But sea turtles live in water, and this ability to retain air for so long will not be beneficial if the turtles use it in a hurry. At this point, another skill that helps them is their cold-blooded body. Turtles cannot generate their own body heat but instead, use heat from the outside environment to increase their main body temperature.

A turtle’s slow metabolic rate means that it will have less energy, will not always be very active, and will need little food or air for long periods of time. This is because a slower metabolism produces fewer by-products like heat that make the animal more lethargic.

The turtle, with its low metabolic rate and lack of energy expenditure due to a slower breathing pattern, will remain submerged in the water longer than most animals on land.

While all of those things contribute to how long sea turtles can spend underwater. One more thing that helps them is that they can use their special “blood,” which is the closest equivalent to breathing. When turtles are underwater, they use chemicals like hemoglobin that allow oxygen and other substances from the outside to enter their bodies.

How do Turtles breathe through cloaca?

The cloaca is defined as a small hole present in the back of an animal, which has many different functions depending on the animal. Some animals, such as amphibians and birds, act as their bladder to prevent waste materials from entering other areas inside their bodies. Unlike reptiles, this organ works primarily in reproduction, causing eggs to exit through one opening while sperm enter through another.

You must have heard an interesting fact about turtles that can breathe through their butt. It may sound strange, but it is actually true. Without a doubt, the cloaca is present at the end of the body and looks like the rear of the turtle. But compared to the cloaca of other animals, turtles perform differently than your expectations. You can take the example of the goat, the main purpose of its anus is to excrete waste, nothing else, and it is not involved in any other biological process. But the turtle’s cloaca performs another function than that.

The four main roles of cloaca are urination, excretion, breathing, and reproduction, and the turtles used a single opening for all of these functions.

The unique anatomy of a turtle helps them get enough fresh oxygen even underwater, and the whole process is less strenuous compared to normal breathing. The lungs and cloaca work in a similar way; the cloaca acts as a pump and sucks water into the body. All the oxygen is collected from the water, and the remaining water is expelled.

The cloaca is present in most animals and is not fully associated with turtles. Some fish, most birds, and even some mammals have a cloaca. The cloaca of turtles is slightly different from other animals; all other animals use it for the same excretion purpose, only turtles use it for breathing. Well, it is also obvious that many animals do not need the use of a cloaca to breathe.

In Turtles, the cloaca consists of three parts. The first part is Urodeum, which receives urine from the ureter. The second part is proctodeum, it is the outer part of the digestive tract. The third part is coprodeum. The cloaca is also used to perform another function such as laying eggs, and then they are expelled through the cloaca.

If you look at the egg-laying process in turtles, you see that the eggs are released from the base of the tail. This procedure is the same for all turtles that live on land or in the sea.

If you want to observe the cloaca respiration process in aquatic turtles, you can easily observe it. Place a turtle in the water and look at the rear of the turtle. If you keep one eye on it for 15 minutes, there is a good chance that you will see this procedure.

How long can turtles breathe underwater?

Turtles are basically of three types Tortoise, aquatic turtles and sea turtles.

Some turtles are able to spend their entire lives underwater, while others spend the majority of it, emerging from time to time on the surface for a few minutes. However, few of them have evolved in such a way that they can spend more time in the water than other animals.

Some tortoises are more terrestrial, live in arid climates, and can only hold their breath for a couple of minutes if they get into deep water. Other species spend much of their lives submerged underwater with little available oxygen. These guys can go for hours without taking another breath.

Each turtle species can hold their breathe for different period of time:

  • Russian Tortoise for 1 – 2 minutes
  • Sulcata tortoise for 1 – 2 minutes
  • Desert tortoise for 1 – 2 minutes
  • Red-eared slider for 20 – 30 minutes
  • Snapping turtle for 20 – 30 minutes
  • Map turtle for 20 – 30 minutes
  • Leatherback sea turtle for 7 – 10 hours
  • Green sea turtle for 7 – 10 hours
  • Olive ridley for 7 – 10 hours
  • Kemp’s ridley for 7 – 10 hours

Each turtle is different from another; even if two turtles belong to the same species, it is not necessary that they can spend the same time underwater. In this case, they are like humans in that each human varies from person to person.

This time limit for each turtle is an estimate of how long they can spend underwater. Other than that, when turtles live in their natural environment, they won’t wait until the last minute for oxygen.

How do turtles breathe during hibernation?

Turtles are cold-blooded animals, which means they feel the effects of climate change in their bodies. When it starts to get colder outside, and the weather changes dramatically from summer to winter, turtles’ metabolism will automatically slow down so that they can survive until spring arrives again.

When turtles hibernate, their hearts beat at a rate of 10 beats per minute. Their normal heartbeat is around 40-45 times per minute. You can see how much their heartbeat slows down when they go into hibernation.

Due to the slowdown in metabolism, turtles will need significantly less oxygen. Occasionally, they don’t have access to enough air because of unfortunate circumstances, but when hibernating, they can survive without any for up to five months.

Turtles make very little effort in taking care of themselves. The sloths can survive for 5-8 months without any water or food because they have evolved over time in order to minimize their needs and escape from predators. These numbers vary from species to species, but averages say these long periods with no sustenance come naturally for most creatures out there.

When cold weather hits, it goes down as far as -4 degrees Celsius or 25 Fahrenheit, which would make breathing difficult even if turtles are just standing outside. You can imagine what that must be like inside your shell. So in order to survive these conditions turtles need to hibernate and in that period, they hold their breath for many months until the weather gets normal and they get out of water.

Turtles have another nature gifted thing that helps them underwater that is their cloaca breathing. It helps them to survive and breathe in hibernation.

How do turtles breathe when sleeping?

Scientists believe that turtles spend up to 75% of their lives sleeping underwater. They can do this because they have a special technique for managing oxygen, which prevents them from drowning while asleep in the water or when hibernating.

When they go into “sleep mode,” as we might call it, these reptiles will find an isolated area where there are no disturbances so that they can stay still long enough to get some shuteye without getting cold or hungry.

If you look closely, each turtle has a different way of sleeping. Some turtles like to sleep on land, digging a safe place in the sand, while others like to sleep underwater under coral reefs.

Naturally, they don’t sleep deeply, and they don’t even like to sleep in open places. Turtles always choose an area that has the right temperature and provides them with protection from surrounding predators.

Turtles sleep is just like human beings sleep. They have to slither into a hidden place and assume a position of rest before they can fall asleep. However, their state isn’t exactly the same as ours is because when turtles are sleeping underwater, it does not affect them in any way, unlike humans who would drown if we tried that!

If you have a pet turtle and find out that he is underwater and not moving, there is no need to worry. They sleep this way, and it is very common in them and doesn’t even try to wake them up. Try to remain calm and wait for them to wake up.

Turtles are not deep sleepers and they wake up even with a little disturbance. They may appear like they are sleeping, but in reality, they are in semi-sleeping type condition.

Turtles have a wide range of sleep patterns and habits. Some turtles spend their entire lives underwater, while others find spots where they feel safe to rest on land or sea. Sea turtles prefer resting at the bottom of oceans for long periods of time between feeding sessions. However, if threatened by predators, these creatures will quickly swim away back into deeper waters that are safer from attack.

For this reason, they have developed a mechanism that helps them to survive by using less oxygen. They do so by using less of their body’s functionality and becoming still when necessary to reduce the amount of energy used per minute. Their heart rates also drop significantly as well in order to conserve precious resources of oxygen.

Due to their unique ability to breathe underwater, turtles can sleep for as long as they want. Their mechanism of sleep is the same as that of hibernation.

How deep can sea Turtle dive?

Different species of turtles can dive to different depths. Sea turtles can dive to nearly 3,000 feet in search of jellyfish and their prey. This deep dive is possible due to the structure of your body. This ability is mainly present in leatherback turtles that lack a rigid sternum. This sternum can actually cause sea turtles to collapse on deep dives.

The deep water compression problem can be avoided due to the oily skin surface and leathery rind, which absorb nitrogen during resurfacing.


Turtles can breathe underwater because they have a cloaca, which is an end-to-end passage for the excretion of both urine and feces. When turtles are submerged in water, gasses like oxygen enter the body through their cloacal opening. This way, turtles don’t need to come up to the surface every few minutes for air – they simply use this gas exchange system as long as it lasts underwater.

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