Do Turtles Have Emotions? [Fact Or Fiction]

Red Eared Terrapin - Trachemys scripta elegans in the aquarium

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

When I first got some turtles, I was totally puzzled by their behavior. They spent all day hiding in their tank, hardly showing any signs of their emotions. It got me thinking – do turtles actually experience feelings?

According to scientific studies, turtles can feel a limited range of emotions. Turtles can experience stress, depression, pain, suffering, and anxiety. In addition to these emotions, turtles can feel content when provided with a clean tank and tasty food.

But how do they express their emotions? Are they affectionate to their owners? Keep reading to find answers to all of your questions. 

Key Takeaways

  • Turtles have emotions, but not as humans.
  • Their range of emotions contains fear, stress, anxiety, pain, boredom, and satisfaction.
  • They express their feelings with body language and communicate with touch and vocalization. 
  • Moreover, their love language is food.
  • Turtles stop eating when they are sad.
  • They feel pain if their shells are injured.
  • Yet, sea turtles cry due to their excessive salt intake.
  • Playing with toys, eating tasty treats, and engaging in playful acts and races can prevent the turtle’s boredom.

Do Turtles Have Emotions?

Turtles have emotions. Though their feelings aren’t intense like humans and other animals.

Turtles mostly feel stressed, fear, anxiety, pain, excitement and happiness. I’ve seen my box turtles be anxious sometimes, especially when they’re injured.

As turtles have nociceptors, they can feel pain in their body, even in shells. Yet, it makes the turtles more restless and depressed sometimes. When I notice my turtles are anxious, I try to calm them with treats or their favorite food.

However, they can’t feel the love, affection, and happiness we do. But turtles feel satisfied when they get comfort, food, and everything for survival.

How Do Turtles Express Emotions?

Turtles express emotions with their body language. In the beginning, I couldn’t understand their emotions precisely. But over time, I’ve learned their expressions of fear, anxiety, stress, anger, and depression according to their movement. 

When turtles feel anxious or depressed, they stop eating, being enthusiastic, and swimming. They pull their shells inside and wait for a good time with patience. 

Recent studies indicate that turtles possess neural and hormonal mechanisms associated with emotions, suggesting the presence of emotional processing and regulation systems within their brains. Behavioral observations also show turtles displaying changes in body language, vocalizations, and social interactions as indicators of their emotional states.

Do Turtles Get Sad?

Turtles can be sad for several reasons, such as poor quality food, dirty tubs, and uneven basking temperatures during pregnancy.

If they feel threatened for their survival, it makes them sad. Yet, my turtles feel sad when I change their tank.

I’ve noticed when my turtles get sad, they start to sleep more, eat less, become self-restrained, and their shell color keeps changing or deforming. In addition to that, I decorate their tanks with different toys and engage them in more playtime.

Do Turtles Cry?

Turtles, especially sea turtles, cry to release extra salt from their body.

As sea turtles live in the ocean, their food and drink contain seawater that includes around 3.5% salt.

Unlike other animals, turtle’s kidneys can’t discharge the large amounts of salt they intake every day through urine. They must maintain the salt level of their bodies.

Moreover, sea turtles have secretory glands known as lacrimal glands in their eye corners that help them to excrete extra salt. It seems like tears, and that’s why most people think they can cry.

The impact of the environment on turtles’ emotional health is another crucial aspect. A suitable habitat with proper lighting, temperature, and enrichment activities significantly affects a turtle’s emotional state. A clean and spacious enclosure promotes their overall well-being, and maintaining a consistent routine and reducing environmental stressors helps create a positive emotional environment for turtles.

Do Turtles Feel Pain?

Generally, turtles feel pain when their shells get injured, fractured, or hurt.

The shells are like the bones of turtles. They can feel every touch on their shells.

For instance, if you pet their shells, they’ll feel the warmth.

One of my spotted turtles was injured and in pain for some hours. I couldn’t understand the cure for his pain. So I immediately took him to the vet clinic and medicated. It takes some hours to calm my turtles.

Do Turtles Feel Happiness?

Turtles aren’t expressive like other animals. For example, dogs feel happy when you feed them with treats or go on a morning walk, and they express their happiness through jumping and enthusiastic behavior.

But it’s difficult to understand whether your turtle is happy or not. They eat more, keep hunting, swim long, travel over the tank, and bask in the light. There are the visible signs of a happy and satisfied turtle.

musk turtle filled with mud

Signs of happiness in turtles may include energetic swimming, basking, and active exploration, while stress or anxiety may manifest as hiding, refusing to eat, or withdrawing from interaction.

Do Turtles Get Bored?

I often observed turtles get bored sometimes when they aren’t entertained with toys, treats and other playful activities. If your turtles are not moving enough or lack enthusiasm, they get bored.

To entertain my turtles, I’ve got some toys like sticks, rocks, plants, rafts, puzzle feeders, and empty shells.

Also, I engage them in turtle races, interact with them from outside and take them out to explore more.

Feeding them live insects, treat pellets, and meats can make them feel better. You can’t make these foods their natural diet list, but it can be their food of boredom.

Do Turtles Get Angry?

There’s a myth that turtles fight with each other because of anger.

But turtles fight for instinctual fear of survival and protecting their territories.

Adult turtles are afraid of survival if other turtles are in the tank.

Additionally, they fight for food and mating competition. Male turtles can be aggressive when female turtles are around due to competing with their mating partners.

Do Turtles Have Feelings For Humans?

It’s tough to find out if they like their humans or not. If your turtles are playing with you, basking in the open space and letting them pet, it means they’re enjoying your presence. In short, turtles like you if they can trust.

Along with that, they bond with humans by getting tasty foods, clean tanks and toys to play with. To gain their trust, you must be patient and consistent with their meal time. 

tortoise on owner's hand
Owner: Regina Acosta

How Do Turtles Show Affection To Humans?

As I’ve said earlier, turtles aren’t expressive like other pets. For instance, they won’t jump at you or lick you to express their love like cats, dogs and birds.

But turtles will splash water, swim and stop hiding from you.

I feel lucky when I get their warmest love and affection. They let me pet them for a long time, come along and swim whenever I am near the tank.  Besides that, they play with me and bask in front of me.

Do Turtles Bond With Each Other?

Turtles are considered as unsocial reptiles. They don’t develop teams and bond with each other. Instead, they might hate the other turtles for shielding their territories. Baby turtles can be friends until they grow up.

Mostly, the adult turtles fight with each other. They often bully other turtles.  But some turtles, such as painted, yellow-bellied sliders and river cooters, can be good neighbors and grow a connection with each other.

do sea turtles have emotions?

Sea turtles do have feelings, but not like people do. They can feel comfortable or stressed depending on where they are and what’s happening around them.

But they don’t have emotions the same way humans do, like being happy or sad.

Sea turtles mostly react to things based on their instincts, which help them survive.

It’s a bit like how you might pull your hand away from something hot without thinking about it.

That’s how sea turtles mostly experience their world.

Comparative Analysis of Turtle Emotions with Other Animals

When exploring the emotional world of turtles, it’s beneficial to compare their emotional expressions with those of other animals, particularly mammals. This comparison offers a clearer understanding of the unique ways in which different species experience and display emotions.

Emotional RangeTurtles experience emotions like fear, stress, anxiety, pain, and satisfaction, but their emotional range is generally viewed as less intense and complex compared to mammalsMammals often exhibit a wider and more complex range of emotions, including advanced feelings like empathy and deep social bonds
Expression of EmotionsTurtles express emotions through body language, changes in activity levels, and sometimes vocalizations. Their expressions are often subtle and can be challenging to interpretMammals show emotions through a variety of vocalizations, facial expressions, and body language. These expressions tend to be more overt and easier to interpret
Attachment to HumansTurtles can form an emotional bond with their owners, though this bond is different in nature and expression compared to mammalsMany mammals, especially domesticated pets, form strong emotional bonds with humans, often demonstrated through affectionate behavior
Response to EnvironmentTurtles’ emotional states are greatly influenced by their environment. Proper habitat and care can lead to contentment and reduce stressMammals also respond emotionally to their environment, with a well-cared-for habitat contributing to their emotional well-being
Social InteractionTurtles engage in social behaviors like courtship and territorial disputes, with emotions playing a role in these interactionsMammals often have more complex social structures and interactions, with emotions deeply influencing social behavior and group dynamics

Scientific Insights into Turtle Emotions

Understanding turtle emotions requires delving into scientific research that sheds light on their sentience. A pivotal study in this realm is the research essay “Given the Cold Shoulder: A Review of the Scientific Literature for Evidence of Reptile Sentience” by Helen Lambert, Gemma Carder, and Neil D’Cruze. This comprehensive review analyzes existing literature to affirm the sentience of reptiles, including turtles.

The research highlights the presence of a wide range of emotions in reptiles, contradicting the common misconception that these creatures lack emotional depth. Turtles, as part of this group, have been found to experience emotions like anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, pain, suffering, and even pleasure. This revelation is crucial as it not only alters our understanding of turtles but also has significant implications for their welfare, especially in captivity.

This study utilized an extensive list of keywords, encompassing various traits and aspects of animal sentience, to search for evidence in scientific literature. Over the past two decades, the number of studies focusing on reptile sentience has increased, indicating a growing recognition of their emotional complexity.

Before You Go…

So, that’s all. Turtles eventually don’t have a range of emotional feelings. Also, their way of showing emotions is indifferent to other creatures. If you’re expecting intense affection from turtles, then it can disappoint you.

But at the end of the day, we can love them selflessly without asking anything in return. As a turtle owner, you’ll get more ideas about their emotions with these articles below. Have a look!

10 Most Weird Things That Scare Turtles

Do Turtles Recognize Their Owners?

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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