As amphibians, turtles are one of the few species of vertebrates that are able to survive on both land and water. I get asked many questions about this topic, such as how turtles swim or how turtles breathe underwater. One question I am frequently asked is what do turtles do in the winter? Do they hibernate? Do they stay in the water or on land? How do they survive cold temperatures? In todays article, I will answer all of these great questions.
While blood vessels intake significantly less oxygen compared to the lungs, it is still enough to help the turtle survive months under water. Brumation refers to a slow, sluggish period of low activity that turtles go through in the winter underwater.
Turtles bask in order to increase their body temperature and expose their shell to UV rays.
Where do turtles hide during winter?
We’ve found that all species choose to hibernate in wetland locations that hover just above freezing, that they move around under the ice, hibernate in groups and return to the same places winter after winter.
How do turtles survive winter?
In lieu of air, turtles rely on stored energy and “cloacal breathing” to survive the duration of winter, drawing oxygen from water as it passes over blood vessels in the skin, mouth and cloaca, or the hind end.
Do turtles come out in the winter?
Dec 03, 2020 — Unlike frogs, turtles don’t hibernate through the winter. In fact, sometimes you can see snappers and other species moving around under the ice. While their metabolism runs at very low ebb in the cold, they remain alert to changes in light and temperature that signal the coming spring.
Can turtles freeze and come back to life?
Under normal circumstances turtles cannot stay frozen for long periods of time and stay alive. If a turtle freezes completely ice crystals will form in its internal organs which will damage them. So turtles can’t really freeze and stay alive, but there is an exception to this.
You may be familiar with turtles swimming among lily pads and basking on logs in the summer months, but where do they go when the weather turn cold? In Minnesota winters, freshwater turtles retreat underwater where temperatures remain more stable and most importantly above freezing. Most turtles are relatively inactive buried in mud at the bottom of lakes and rivers, although some are known to move around a little under the ice.
In the winter, you probably notice a distinct lack of turtles. After all, these cold-blooded reptiles have no way to generate their own heat. When its cold outside, theyre also cold.
These animals were designed to breathe fresh air, making brumating for months underwater a bit complex. However, the turtle has a unique ability called cloacal respiration . In other words, they breathe through their butt.
The exact opening that they pass waste and eggs out of is also rich with blood vessels. Luckily, turtles can switch to anaerobic respiration, which doesnt require any oxygen at all. But this causes a buildup of lactic acid, prompting the turtle to spend more time sun-bathing in the spring.
This method isnt the best option, but it can help turtles survive when their oxygen needs arent being met. Image Credit: David Mark, Pixabay Turtles brumate according to the temperature of the water theyre in. The snapping turtle is remarkably tolerant to the cold, unlike some other species.
Image Credit: Sebartz, Shutterstock Hibernation and brumation are a bit different. It isnt unusual to find a turtle out wandering around during the winter on warmer days. It isnt odd to see some species swimming around underwater for much of winter, though they will move slower and less often than during the warmer months.
Therefore, the turtles metabolism wont slow down, and theyll stay active. If they experienced low oxygen levels over the winter, they might have a buildup of lactic acid. Therefore, many turtles may spend extra time in the sun to help clear their bodies of this toxin.
Turtles spend the winter months underneath a pond or lake, usually buried in the mud at the bottom for protection. Turtles can stay underwater for extended times over the winter due to their decreased metabolic rate. However, this will result in higher amounts of lactic acid, which the turtles will need UV rays to get rid of in the spring.
Lactic acid is the same substance that causes muscles to become sore after a hard workout, so you can imagine how the turtle may feel! Their ability to survive the winter is a significant reason that many turtles live so long.
Dec 03, 2020 Unlike frogs, turtles don’t hibernate through the winter. In fact, sometimes you can see snappers and other species moving around under the ice. While their metabolism runs at very low ebb in the cold, they remain alert to changes in light and temperature that signal the coming spring.
Martha Foley : So I’ve always assumed that turtles, like frogs, go down and stick themselves in the mud and just go into some sort of semi-torpor for the whole winter and then they come up in the spring. Then I had a chance conversation with one of my colleagues at Paul Smith’s College, Bob Brell, and he said that someone had been seeing snapping turtles under the ice.
CS : One of the ideas is: the reason you won’t find the soft-shell turtles in a stagnant pond, let’s say, with the snapper, is that they can’t do this low-oxygen thing that builds up the lactic acid.
Where do turtles go in the winter?
Turtles winter in the water because the temperature is much more stable (and usually warmer) than the temperature of the air. Although turtles are cold blooded animals, they cannot survive an extended period of time in temperatures below freezing. The water offers a safe place where the temperature will never reach a temperature below freezing.
How do turtles breathe underwater?
Now you are probably wondering how turtles are able to breathe underwater. The usual answer is that they can’t, and they must rise to the surface to get oxygen from the air. However, when a turtle spends the winter underwater, they go through a process called brumation. During brumation, the turtle is able to extract oxygen from the water through their blood vessels. Interestingly enough, the largest concentration of blood vessels on a turtle’s body is on their butt. The official term for this type of oxygen collection is called cloacal respiration. While blood vessels intake significantly less oxygen compared to the lungs, it is still enough to help the turtle survive months under water.This is because a turtle that is underwater in brumation has a much slower metabolism. Their heart rate also slows down tremendously. This is due to the cold water temperature, as well as the low level of movement. When a turtle has a low metabolism, they require much less energy and oxygen.
Do turtles hibernate?
Brumation refers to a slow, sluggish period of low activity that turtle’s go through in the winter underwater. Brumation is similar to a deep sleep, but the turtle might still move around a little. This process is similar to hibernation for warm blooded animals, but brumation usually involves limited movement and is only exhibited among cold blooded animals. Brumation is also common among snakes and lizards.
Do all turtles hibernate underwater?
No, all turtles do not spend the winter underwater. Only turtles that live in cold environments spend the winter underwater. There are also some species that spend cold winters in a different way. For example, the box turtle usually digs a hole in the ground to stay warm over the winter.
How Turtles Breath While Brumating
Turtle brumation is a bit complicated. These animals were designed to breathe fresh air, making brumating for months underwater a bit complex.However, the turtle has a unique ability called “cloacal respiration.” In other words, they breathe through their butt. The exact opening that they pass waste and eggs out of is also rich with blood vessels. Gas exchange can take place across these blood vessels.When turtles are brumating, their oxygen needs are meager. They have minimal energetic needs because their temperature will match the water temperature outside. The oxygen in the water is usually plenty to provide for their needs until spring.However, turtles still occasionally run into the problem of too little oxygen. Typically, this occurs when the water isn’t oxygenated enough to provide the turtle with their needs.Luckily, turtles can switch to anaerobic respiration, which doesn’t require any oxygen at all. But this causes a buildup of lactic acid, prompting the turtle to spend more time sun-bathing in the spring. This method isn’t the best option, but it can help turtles survive when their oxygen needs aren’t being met.Some turtles use the same spot year after year, while others will switch. We don’t exactly know why turtles choose certain spots over others.
How Long Does a Turtle Brumate?
Turtles brumate according to the temperature of the water they’re in. Therefore, how long they brumate will depend on their location. Those in the north will spend more time brumating than those in the south.The length will also vary by year. Spring doesn’t precisely occur on the same day every year. Therefore, turtles will stay in brumation for different lengths as well.Most turtles can brumate a maximum of 8 months a year. Many won’t spend this long brumating, though.
Can Turtles Survive in Snow?
By the time it snows, most turtles are far underneath the water. They’re protected from the elements there.Due to the cold temperatures, turtles will have an extremely slow metabolism. They will spend most of their time lying on the bottom of the pond. You may occasionally see them swimming around underneath the water, though.Most of them will not come up to the surface. The water temperature is much more stable than the air temperature and enables the turtle to survive easier.If you see a turtle in the snow, don’t panic — they probably know what they’re doing. However, this is a rare sighting indeed.Of course, if you own a pet turtle, please do not put them in the snow. Pet turtles don’t prepare for the coming winter like wild turtles. They don’t experience the change in lighting and temperature that wild turtles do.Therefore, they are far less able to withstand these colder temperatures.
Hibernation vs. Brumation
Snapping turtles do what every other type of freshwater turtle does: They brumate.However, this species is a bit complicated. Not all of them brumate. Some remain active underneath the ice all winter long.In some cold climates, hatchlings may brumate in the nest over winter.The snapping turtle is remarkably tolerant to the cold, unlike some other species. They seem to have a far easier time getting through the winter — so much so, some individuals may not brumate at all.
Do Turtles Need to Sun After Winter?
Many turtles will sun more after the winter months. However, not all individuals will need to sun more than usual.All turtles need to sun throughout the warmer months, especially in the morning. They are cold-blooded animals, so they need the heat from the sun to start their metabolism.After winter, they will need to warm up to function correctly. If they can, many turtles will attempt to warm up in the spring. Sunning in the spring may take longer than in the summer because the overall temperature is lower. It takes them longer to warm up.If they experienced low oxygen levels over the winter, they might have a buildup of lactic acid. This can be neutralized through the turtle’s shell with UV rays. Therefore, many turtles may spend extra time in the sun to help clear their bodies of this toxin.