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Believe me or not, many turtle owners have misconceptions about their pet turtles’ lifestyle or behavior. I have been raising turtles and writing about them for several years. It has been more than once people asked me if their turtles would die due to the cold water. I want to give a clear answer and debunk all the misconceptions in this article.
The turtles are ectothermic, and they are gifted with a natural mechanism to cope with the severe cold. In most cases, the turtles do not die in cold water. They either hibernate/brumate or come out of the water to look for warmth. But in some events, pets can die if they do not receive proper care.
In this article, I will elaborately discuss what happens to a turtle in cold weather. I will also share tips on keeping the water temperature suitable for your turtles in winter.
Turtles And Cold Water
Even though the season is the same for everyone, winter has a different significance for the turtles. The period comes to them as a package of adventure and experience.
Imagine, someone is paying you to a sack of money for staying underwater for 100 days. Obviously, you will refuse because it is beyond your ability. But wait, do not most of the turtle species do that every year? Yes, you are reading it right. Let me explain it to you.
Turtles are ectothermic or cold-blooded species. It means they can not generate heat in their bodies and totally depends on the external sources. In simple words, a turtle’s body temperature will be 10 degrees celsius if the weather is 10 degrees.
During the winter, generally, the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees celsius. This temperature is too crucial for the turtles, and to cope with the environment, they brumate/hibernate. During the hibernation period, the turtles lay low at the bottom of a lake, swamp, or log. Now the question arises, how they can survive underwater for such a long period without coming out for air.
Well, it is true that turtles have lungs, and they breathe air. But the answer you are looking for lies within the biological connection between the cold water and turtle’s body metabolism. The turtles slow down their body metabolism in cold water. The colder the water gets, the slower their metabolism becomes.
A slow metabolism means more inactivity, lower energy consumption, and less oxygen demand. This state basically indicates the hibernation or brumation. Turtles spend the whole period sleeping. Though they do not eat during that time, they still need water for drinking.
Throughout the hibernation or brumation, the turtles depend on the energy stored from the previous digestions. For the oxygen uptake, the species rely on their coral respiration. It means the turtles absorb oxygen through their butt or skin without using the lungs.
That is how the turtles survive under cold water for days without coming out. If you are raising any turtle species in an indoor or outdoor habitat, do not worry. Your pet will adapt to the situation very quickly and naturally.
Can Turtles Survive Freezing Temperature?
Now you know how turtles can survive cold water. But can they beat the freezing temperature?
Even though the turtles are ectothermic and hibernate to cope with the environment, they have a certain limit of endurance. When the temperature touches the freezing point, they can not stand the temperature. You will see some exceptions at this point. For example, box turtles have the ability to survive in severely cold weather, even in the freezing environment.
The adult turtles can not survive when ice crystals get on their bodies. And eventually, they die. It only happens when the turtle is on the ground at the severe cold. On the other hand, the turtles will be safe if they hibernate underwater, even in the freezing temperature. Why?
It is because the water has high specific values and requires a lot of energy to change its temperature. Hence, the water stays stable, and the temperature can not affect the turtle much. But if the surface of the water freezes, it can be a problem for some of the turtles.
During that time, the pond becomes low in oxygen content. And so, sometimes, the turtles cannot even fulfill their low oxygen demand. But for some turtle species like painted or snapping turtle, this situation is not problematic at all. Those species can switch their metabolism in which they can survive for 100 days without any oxygen.
If you are hibernating your turtle in an outdoor habitat, then it is a concern for you. However, in an indoor hibernation, you can manage heating sources so that the pet does not freeze to death.
What Temperature Is Too Cold For The Turtle?
How will you know the water temperature is cold for the pet? For that, you must have the basic knowledge about the species you are raising. The basic water heat requirement for turtles is 75 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature drops by one or two degrees, the pet starts feeling cold.
If the water temperature falls to 39 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 3.8 to 10 degrees Celsius, the turtle will prepare to hibernate. The best way to learn the water temperature is to set up a thermometer in the tank.
I always suggest buying a digital tank thermometer. Here are some popular turtle tank thermometers:
With the thermometer, you can easily know if the water temperature is suitable for the pet or not. If the temperature is low, then take immediate action.
How To Make The Water Suitable For The Turtle?
You should learn how to maintain suitable water temperature on cold days. If you are raising your turtles in an outdoor habitat, there is not much you can do. The turtles will live upon the mercy of nature. You can bring them in an indoor habitat or set up a pond heater to keep them alive and healthy. But pond heaters are not much effective in most cases.
In the indoor habitat, the temperature should not be an issue. You can control the overall temperature by setting up a tank heater. I recommend using an automatic heater because it provides the best service to the turtles.
Turtle owners often get confused while choosing or buying the tank heater for their pets. But worry no more. Check out this article to get a complete guide on the turtle tank heater.
Can Turtles Freeze to Death?
As I mentioned, turtles are cold-blooded, which means they regulate their body temperature by the temperature of their environment. So, they can survive in extreme cold.
However, not all turtles can survive a freezing temperature, especially if the turtle has not been prepared for hibernation. Turtles can die if exposed to extreme cold for an extended period. Although turtles can survive between 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, they cannot live long below this range.
In freezing temperatures, waterbodies can become icy and freeze from top to bottom. As a result, the oxygen level gets really low. Moreover, the cold can freeze a turtle’s organs and eventually lead to death.
Therefore, you must take steps to protect your pet turtle from freezing temperatures if you live in an area where winter is harsh. Providing a burrow or hibernation box can save your precious turtle’s life.
How Cold Can Turtles Survive?
Turtles can survive cold temperatures, but even they have their limits. How much cold is too freezing for a turtle depends on its species, size, age, and health. Also, turtles native to colder climates, like the northern hemisphere, can survive low temperatures better than turtles from warmer climates.
Most turtle species can survive 50 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. They may survive for a short time below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But long-time exposure to freezing cold will surely kill them.
However, there are a few exceptions. For example, adult painted turtles can survive at 37 degrees Fahrenheit while hibernating for about 100 days. Land turtles, like box turtles, can survive at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for long. Still, they cannot live below this temperature.
How Long Can Turtles Live in Cold Water?
Again, a turtle’s ability to live underwater depends on many factors. Most turtles hibernated at 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit for several months.
If the temperature goes below 40 degrees, it becomes life-threatening for turtles. Turtles can survive only several hours to 24 hours. Prolonged exposure to a temperature below 45 degrees leads to hypothermia and, eventually, death.
Most of the turtle species are real warriors and can survive cold water. If it is winter and you are concerned about your pet turtle, ensure its proper care. With the best environment set up, the turtles will not feel the change in the temperature. And so, its lifestyle will remain the same.