How Long Can A Softshell Turtle Stay Underwater?

Image of freshwater exotic Chinese softshell turtle

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

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As the softshell turtle is a fully aquatic species, it prefers to stay underwater. It comes to the land area for basking and dives back to the water from time to time. As a newbie or a turtle keeper, you may ask how long a softshell turtle stays underwater. Or how long it can stay out of the water.

A softshell turtle can stay underwater for a longer time than most other species. Experts claim that softshell turtle can remain underwater for more than one hour. The softshell turtle uses its neck, nostril, and skin as an aid to breathing in the water.

In this article, I will discuss how a softshell turtle manages to stay underwater for a longer period. I will also talk about how long it can stay out of water. In simple words, you will get to know the softshell turtle’s living behavior.

How Long Can A Softshell Turtle Remain In The Water?

Despite being an aquatic species, the softshell turtles can not stay underwater forever. It is because they have a physical limitation. In general, a softshell turtle can stay underwater for more than an hour. The timeframe may seem insignificant to you, but it is huge compared to the other species.

Depending on the age and physical capability of the softshell turtle, the timeframe can vary. According to some researchers, some subspecies can remain in the water for several hours.

In the night time, the turtle sleeps underwater for hours. Their sleep cycle is not like humans. They need to come to the surface for breathing air. However, during the cold season, the species hibernate at the bottom of the water. At that time, the softshell turtles can remain underwater for more than 7 months.

How Does A Softshell Turtle Survive Underwater?

Now you know how long a softshell turtle can stay underwater. But how does it manage to remain in the water for so long? Well, this is because the species is bimodal breathers.

Bimodal breathers mean the softshell turtles have the capacity (to some degree) to exchange respiratory gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) in both air and water. This is one of the rarest turtle species that can fulfill its 100% oxygen requirement even in the water.

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They absorb 70% of the total oxygen through their skin. And for the other 30%, they depend on the pharynx. The pharynx or throat has many little projections of tissues with blood vessels.

These vessels or villas work as a great surface for oxygen absorption. So, the softshell turtles pump water in and out of the throat, which eventually fulfills their oxygen requirements. You can call this system by pharyngeal breathing.

During the night time, the softshell turtles slow down their metabolism rate to a certain degree. It limits their oxygen absorption rate. And so, the pets can sleep underwater for hours at a stretch without coming to the surface.

In the hibernating period, they can stay up to 7 months in the water. It is because of their metabolism, heart, and cardiac rate decreases by 80%. Their oxygen and energy consumption rate also get reduced, which helps the turtle stay underwater for months.

Softshell Turtle Not Coming Out Of Water-Why?

Softshell turtles not coming out of the water is a common scene. Before taking any action, you need to determine its cause. Here are some of the probable reasons why your softshell turtle is staying underwater:

  • Naturally, the softshell turtles barely come out of the water. Even they like to eat and swallow their food in the water area. For breathing, they use their long neck and nostril as a snorkel and skin as support. So, if the water temperature is perfect (74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit) and your pet is not coming out of the water, it is normal.
  • If the water temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, then the pet will slow down its metabolism. It will start preparing for the hibernation process. As a result, it will not come out of the water.
  • Even though the softshell turtles barely come to the basking area in a day, you must provide a suitable dock temperature. If the temperature is too high or low and the dock is dirty, the pets will prefer staying underwater.
  • Softshell turtles do not like noise. If you are raising your pet in a room where people often come and go, this can stress the turtle. When the pet feels stressed or panicked, it will not come out of the water.

Though staying underwater for several hours is normal for the softshell turtles, sometimes it can affect the turtles’ health. For example, a pet can suffer from the shell or cold-related problems. So, now the question arises on how to make the softshell turtles leave the water. Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure the basking dock is clean and suitable for the softshell turtle.
  2. Cover the land and water area to protect the pet from any predator.
  3. Place the tank in a serene place, and do not disturb it.
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If your softshell turtle does not come out even after providing it with everything, do not force the pet. You can consult with a vet to determine if there is anything to worry about or not.

Can A Softshell Turtle Get Drown In The Water?

Like other turtle species, the softshell turtles are excellent swimmers. They can stay underwater for a long time and swim in the swift water. But as I have said earlier, the breathing process underwater has some limitations.

From time to time, the pet must come to the surface to breathe and soak its shell. If you can not provide the pet with a proper shallow area to rest and breathe, the turtle can drown in the water.

However, the physical ability and development of a softshell hatchling are not like an adult one. If the water is too deep, and the baby turtle runs out of oxygen, it can drown.

So, what can you do? First of all, build a perfect dock in the softshell turtle’s habitat. If you are raising hatchlings, make sure the water level is not deep for them. However, install an air stone in the tank for a better oxygenation system.

How Long Can A Softshell Turtle Stay Out Of Water?

This is another basic question that can come to your mind while raising the softshell turtle. Softshell turtles are aquatic species and prefer staying underwater. In spite of being an aquatic species, they need to come to the surface for breathing and soaking.

The species can stay out of the water for up to several weeks. But it depends on the weather of the region. If the area is moist and humid, the pet can survive more than one week. But in a dry area, the turtle will die quickly.

how long can softshell turtles hold their breath?

In general, softshell turtles can hold their breath from 30 minutes to several hours when they are active. During hibernation or periods of low activity, they can potentially hold their breath for much longer, even up to several months.

How? Because softshell turtles have adaptations that allow them to absorb some oxygen through their skin and the lining of their throat, which helps them to survive in low-oxygen environments.

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Softshell turtles, like other turtles, can hold their breath for extended periods, especially when they are inactive or during hibernation. The exact time can vary greatly depending on various factors including the species of softshell turtle, their age, their health, and the specific environmental conditions they are in.

can softshell turtles breathe underwater?

Softshell turtles, like many other turtle species, primarily breathe air through their lungs. However, they have some adaptations that allow them to extract a limited amount of oxygen from water, particularly when they are in environments with low oxygen levels or during hibernation.

Their skin, and especially the lining of their throat (pharynx), is vascularized, meaning it has a network of blood vessels that can absorb oxygen directly from the water. This is often referred to as cutaneous respiration. This method of respiration is not as efficient as breathing air, but it can supplement their oxygen intake in certain situations.

During hibernation, or brumation, which occurs in cold weather, their metabolism slows down significantly, reducing their oxygen requirements, and they rely more heavily on this method of oxygen absorption.

So, while they don’t “breathe” underwater in the traditional sense, they do have adaptations that allow them to survive underwater for extended periods without coming up for air. It’s always necessary for them to eventually surface and breathe air, especially during active periods.

Do softshell turtles need air?

Softshell turtles, like all turtles, do need air to breathe. They are equipped with lungs and need to surface periodically to breathe air. While they have adaptations that allow them to extract some oxygen from the water through areas like their skin and the lining of their throat, this is not sufficient for their oxygen needs over the long term, especially during active periods.

It’s important for them to have access to areas where they can surface and breathe air easily. In captivity, it’s essential to provide them with an environment that allows them to access air easily to prevent drowning or other respiratory issues.


Like other aquatic turtle species, the softshell turtles are also fond of swimming and staying in the water. But how long they can survive without coming out depends on their ability and habitat set up.

In this article, I have discussed how long your softshell turtle can stay underwater and their breathing mechanism. I hope this will help you to understand your pet better than before.

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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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