Can Red Eared Sliders Drown Underwater?

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Red eared sliders, like the other species of turtles, are aquatic animals which means that these animals spend long periods of time submerged underwater. But, can red eared sliders drown?

Red eared sliders can drown. They don’t have the ability to breathe underwater, and so they need to come up to the surface in order to breathe in oxygen.

If red eared sliders can spend huge periods of time underwater, then why do they need air? Will they drown if they spend an excessive amount of time submerged underwater? This article tries to tackle this question and present you with a broad answer that will hopefully be able to shed more light on this topic.

Signs Of Turtle Drowning

If you have a pet turtle, make sure that there are solid surfaces near the water where your turtles can rest. Once you have ensured that your turtles are surrounded by solid and stable surfaces, then there is very little risk of your turtles drowning underwater.

If there are nets or bags near the body of water, then your turtles can drown. This is a major reason why turtles drown in the wild.

Even if the risk is low, turtles can occasionally drown. If your turtle falls on the side of its shell and fails to correct itself, then it can accidentally drown. Getting stuck inside the water tank can also enable the red eared slider to drown. When that happens, you should not panic.

Gently pushing its legs will help to get the water out from inside the lungs of the turtle. Do not try to give the turtle mouth-to-mouth as your strong breaths may damage the internal organs of the turtle.

If you suspect that your turtle has drowned, go and see the vet immediately. Remember, turtles can lay motionless for a very long time, and so if your turtle doesn’t move after getting drowned, chances are that it is still alive.

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If your turtle has drowned, do not ever turn it on its back. Put it upright on a still surface, and gently pull its neck as that will help the water to come out from its mouth. Even if your turtle is showing signs of movement after it has drowned, you need to take it to the vet. This is to ensure that your turtle doesn’t contract some nasty illness after the drowning episode.

How Much Time Can Red Eared Sliders Spend Underwater?

Even though red eared sliders are aquatic animals in nature, there is a limit to how much time they can spend underneath the water. In ideal conditions, a red eared slider can spend around half an hour submerged underwater while they are swimming.

If they are motionless, they can spend 40 to 45 minutes underwater as they are doing nothing at all. These turtles also have the ability to sleep underwater, and they can usually spend an hour submerged before going up to get air.

Turtles that are older and more matured can spend longer underneath the water, whereas baby sliders can barely spend 15 minutes submerged. Red eared sliders can spend many months underwater when they are in a state of hibernation.

Hibernating turtles utilize different techniques to breathe in oxygen and manage the air underwater, which allows them to spend almost 6 months underwater.

How Do Red Eared Sliders Breathe Air?

Most mammals breathe air through their nose, and red eared sliders do the same thing but with a different mechanism. They breathe air through their nose which enters their two lungs and then they exhale the air from their nose.

The only difference between humans and turtles is that red eared sliders do not have a flexible torso.

Humans have a torso that contracts when they breathe in air and that torso expands when they exhale out air from their lungs. Unlike humans, red eared sliders have a rigid torso that is surrounded by ribs that are fused with the shell, which takes away the flexibility of the torso.

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That is why the structure of their lungs and muscles are completely different from other mammals. This unique structure allows red eared sliders to hold air inside their lungs for extended periods of time, and breathe air in a completely different manner, and with very little effort.

The Rate Of Metabolism In Red Eared Sliders

Red eared sliders are reptiles, and like their other reptilian cousins, these turtles are cold-blooded animals. This means that red eared sliders depend on the temperature of their surrounding environment to generate their internal body heat and keep them warm.

Cold-blooded animals have a slower metabolic rate than other animals, which means that red eared sliders require a lot less air to function underwater.

A slow rate of metabolism allows turtles to stay longer underwater with a relatively low amount of air. Red eared sliders appear to be very lazy reptiles, and this is because of their slow metabolic rate. They are less energetic and are able to conserve their energy even with low food and oxygen.

Red eared sliders, owing to being cold-blooded animals, can spend long periods of time underwater. But it still does not explain the fact that they can spend 3 to 6 months underwater in a state of hibernation.

To explain that, we have to look at the structure of their internal organs. The red eared sliders achieve this with the help of their cloaca.

The Purpose Of Cloaca In Red Eared Sliders

Red eared sliders have cloaca in the bottom part of their tail. It is a kind of opening that acts as a reproductive as well as a digestive tract of the turtle. It is the only opening inside the body of a red eared slider and it also acts as the urinary tract. The cloaca can also be used to breathe air underwater.

This is the element that helps turtles to stay such long periods submerged underwater. Cloaca acts much like a pump, sucking in the water when the turtle is submerged, and then after all the oxygen is extracted from that water, it is pushed out through the opening. The cloaca acts like the lungs, and the process is repeated over and over again.

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The cloaca alone can’t help red eared sliders to stay underwater. The quantity of oxygen it derives from the water is minimal, and can only help the turtles to stay 2 or 3 minutes longer underwater. Although this is the case when the turtle is conscious, when it is in a state of hibernation, things happen in a completely different manner.

When red eared sliders are hibernating, their metabolic rate decreases drastically. Thus, the amount of oxygen that is derived from the cloaca is suitable to sustain them underwater. During hibernation, the cloaca becomes the only way to get air as the turtles are unable to come to the surface for air. Their cloaca helps them to stay underwater for 3 to 6 months without any problem.

Why Do Red Eared Sliders Stay So Long Underwater?

As you already know, red eared sliders are not the most agile mammals in the animal kingdom. When they are living on the surface, they move in a very slow manner, and this can become a problem when it comes to defending themselves against predators or catching prey.

So, when they go underwater, they are well protected from any predators that are lurking on the surface, and they can catch fish more easily.

Rivers and lakebeds are covered with vegetation and insects, which can be a source of nutrition for red eared sliders. So, as turtles are unable to move freely on the land, they choose to stay underwater in order to protect themselves and find more food.


In conclusion, a turtle rarely ever drowns underwater as its breathing mechanism is different when compared to other mammals. Most of the time a turtle gets stuck under a plastic bag or net and drowns if there is no human near it. This happens mostly in the wild, as a pet owner will almost certainly prevent their turtles from ever drowning completely underwater.

These cute little animals spend a major portion of their time submerged underwater, so you should not worry too much about it.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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