In the same way that other animals do, turtles take oxygen in through their mouths and breathe it out through their lungs. Some species, like worms, breathe through their skin, whereas others, like fish and other animals that live in water, have gills or other feathery structures. Do you know how turtles breathe when they are submerged in water during the winter season?
There are species of turtle that can breathe using their butts. It is not something that these animals do all year long, but rather something that they do seasonally.
When you think that some species of turtles have adapted the ability to breathe through their bottoms, the term “take a deep breath” takes on a whole new sense. This one-of-a-kind skill possessed by turtles is just another compelling cause to research them.
So, if you are curious to know more about “Butt breathing,” then keep on reading.
What Is “Butt Breathing”?
In scientific terminology, this process is known as cloacal respiration, and it’s not so much breathing as it is merely diffusing oxygen in and carbon dioxide out, but the reality of the matter is that turtles get the majority of the oxygen they need during their hibernation via their butts.
Some turtles, such as the bog turtle that lives in the Appalachian mountain range in the United States, are able to draw oxygen from the water using a structure called the cloaca.
This structure is a multi-function tube and makeshift “butt” that also serves the purpose of laying eggs and reproducing in addition to releasing waste.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) states that since bog turtles dig into the muck at the bottom of bogs to depths of up to two feet, they have developed a highly unusual technique known as cloacal respiration.
Cloacal breathing enables turtles to remain hidden from potential attackers and to flourish throughout the winter, even if the ponds and bogs near their homes become iced.
Instead of having a distinct urethra and rectum, reptiles, amphibians, and birds have a single organ known as a cloaca that serves the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. This is in contrast to the majority of mammals, which have separate urethras and rectums.
Certain species of aquatic turtles, such as the bog turtle, possess vents of the cloaca that are known as bursae. These bursae are thickly lined with blood vessels.
The turtle is able to explore the murky depths of Appalachian bogs for an extended period of time because water is allowed to enter these chambers while oxygen is excluded.
Animals as different as sea cucumbers and baby dragonflies, who complete their larval phase as aquatic species, are both capable of breathing at the bottom of their digestive tracts, proving that the capacity to do so is not exclusive to water turtles.
What Is Brumation?
Brumation is the correct name for the resting time that occurs during the off-season for turtles and other reptiles. Although we are all acquainted with the phenomenon of hibernation, brumation is the correct phrase.
Cold-blooded species go into a state of hibernation known as brumation during the winter months. Reptiles enter a state of dormancy known as brumation, in which they become lesser productive and their metabolism slows down. The lack of growth continues.
Brumation is a resting phase that is triggered by the length of the day, and in preparation for it, animals will consume a large amount of food. However, hibernation and brumation are not exactly the same thing in a few important respects.
As was said before, the word hibernation is most often used to apply to mammals, whereas the terminology brumation is used to describe cold-blooded species.
Although animals do not consume food or drink water when hibernating, they still need water while in the brumation stage of their life cycle.
In contrast to brumation, which may be broken up by periods of activity, hibernation is a continuous state of deep slumber. In preparation for hibernation, animals will gain weight in order to store energy in their fat.
In addition to this, just beforehand entering brumation, reptiles will store glycogen in their muscles so that they are better able to utilize it as a source of energy to power themselves throughout their active times.
In addition to it, there is difficulty in respiration. The majority of us are aware that turtles breathe by their lungs most of the time. This is not the only means through which they are able to breathe.
They can also take in oxygen through their mouths or throats, as well as through their cloacas, which is a posterior aperture that serves intestinal, procreative, excretory, and even respiratory functions in this particular instance.
This manner of breathing, despite the fact that it could be (or not) a pain in the butt, is an efficient technique for breathing.
Why Do Turtles Breath Through Butts?
The majority of the marine turtles that call northern Illinois home pass the whole winter submerged, yet they are prepared to sustain breathing because oxygen remains present in the water.
Because of the way in which their metabolic activity is regulated by their body temperature, they are able to “breathe” even while they are submerged in water.
Turtles, along with all other reptiles, are ectotherms, which implies that the temperature of their bodies is governed by the surrounding in which they live.
If they are in water that is 60 °Fahrenheit, then their internal temperature will also be 60 ° Fahrenheit. If the temperature of the water is 32 °Fahrenheit, then their internal temperature is also 32 °Fahrenheit.
In contrast, humans and the vast majority of other animals are endotherms, which means that their metabolic activity enables them to keep their core temperature stable irrespective of the temperature of their surroundings.
For instance, the average temperature that people keep their bodies at is around 98.6 °Fahrenheit, but the average temperature that horses keep their bodies at is between 99 and 101 °Fahrenheit.
The rate of a turtle’s metabolism is directly proportional to the temperature of its body. Their metabolism slows down in tandem with their decreasing core temperature when the temperature outside declines.
This results in a slower heart rate and respiratory rate, as well as a reduced need for both air and energy to maintain life.
Turtles go into a stage of dormancy known as brumation as the weather becomes chilly. The amount of oxygen that turtles need is lower while they are in brumation, but they are unable to get it by inhaling in the same manner that they do when the weather is warmer.
Cloacal respiration sometimes referred to as “breathe with their butts,” is the alternative method of breathing that these animals employ.
Turtles get oxygen from the water by a process called cloacal respiration. This process involves flowing the water over their bodies, which are coated with blood vessels.
Because the cloaca of turtles, which is basically their butt and contains a lot of blood channels, is the most effective route for them to get oxygen, this method of obtaining oxygen is referred to as “cloacal respiration.”
How Do Turtles Breath Through Butts?
The bursa are readily expandable sacs that are located adjacent to the cloaca. Blood vessels cover the inside of these sacs’ walls from top to bottom.
The cloacal aperture enables water to enter chambers known as the cloacal bursae. These pouches are coated with minute extensions that resemble fingers, which help to enhance the surface area.
After oxygen has been taken in by an organism, whether by breathing or some other process, it is delivered to the tissues, where it undergoes a chemical reaction with glucose, which is produced from food, to make carbon dioxide and water.
As a result of oxygen traveling via the blood arteries, the sacs are eventually forced to burst. The process as a whole requires very little energy from the turtle, mostly due to the fact that turtles don’t even have any extra to waste.
After that, byproducts are discharged from the system via the skin, the lungs, the cloaca, the gills, or another mechanism of respiration.
Even though cloacal respiration is not so much like inhaling as it is merely diffusion of oxygen in and carbon dioxide off, the fact that turtles get the majority of essential oxygen via their butts while they are hibernating is nevertheless a well-known fact.
Types Of Turtles Capable Of Cloacal Respiration
This one-of-a-kind method of breathing has proven to be so beneficial to a variety of different species that they have adapted it for usage in a range of diverse ways. These were some of the ones that are more widely recognized:
The Eastern painted turtle:
They are one of the most successful species of turtle in North America, with a habitat band that works its way out from the eastern coast of Canada to the state of Georgia in the United States.
They must depend on cloacal breathing in order to hibernate, and must even take calcium from their shells in order to prevent themselves from becoming poisonous as a result of the low quantities of oxygenation in their blood.
White-throated snapping turtle:
One of the biggest turtles in the world is an Australian species called the white-throated snapping turtle. This species is native to Australia.
Although it is threatened with extinction, the Queensland turtle has the ability to remain underwater in fresh water for up to 3 hours at a time.
It is estimated that roughly half of the oxygen that this turtle needs when it is submerged originates from the bursae in its cloaca.
Fitzroy River turtle:
The Fitzroy River turtle may be found in Queensland, however, it is only located in the considerably more restricted environment of the river and its branches.
Cloacal breathing may provide these turtles with up to 70 percent of the oxygen they need throughout their lifetimes since they spend practically their entire lives in the water.
Hibernating or brumating turtles draw on their reserves of stored energy and absorb oxygen from the surrounding pond water by transporting it through exposed skin that is flush with blood vessels.
Without having to make use of their lungs, they are able to take in the necessary amount of oxygen to satisfy their requirements. The blood vessels in the turtle’s dorsal fin are particularly dense in one particular location. And there is the bottom of their butts.
This peculiar strategy, which is used by a small number of other varieties of turtles and fish, has provided the turtles with a survival benefit for millennia since it has enabled them to remain disguised from potential threats below water bodies for days on end.
Some of us, when we see birds, can’t help but wish that we had wings and could fly. Others see dolphins and wish they could surf so smoothly, elegantly, and fast.
And I don’t know about you but when I see a bog turtle I wish I could breathe through my butt along with my nose and mouth, that too underwater.
How cool is that?
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