All About Turtle Basking
Humans aren’t the only species that enjoy sunbathing on a sunny day. Turtles sunbathe too. However, they do so for very different reasons.
While humans may sunbathe as a way of receiving a tan, turtles sunbathe (scientifically known as basking) to regulate their internal body temperature.
Unlike mammals, reptiles are cold-blooded. As such, their body temperature is determined solely by the temperature of the surrounding environment.
To regulate their body temperature, turtles alternate between swimming and basking.
Swimming cools their bodies and basking warm their bodies. Of course, there are several other benefits of basking, but regulating their body temperature is the key reason.
Out of water basking
Just as turtles at home bask, so do turtles in the wild bask. Wild turtles can be found on the shore or on barks, logs, and branches out in the water.
Freshwater turtles such as the map turtles and sliders are communal, and you can find several basking on the same log.
Freshwater turtles and terrapins aren’t the only turtles that bask out of water, sea turtles such as the green sea turtle in Hawaii are known to come to shore to bask.
This is rather odd, as green turtles and by extension sea turtles generally come to shore only to lay eggs and bask in water.
Not all freshwater turtles prefer to bask out of water. Some such as the mud turtle hardly come out of water to bask. They absorb the needed solar radiation (sunlight) by coming close to the surface of the water.
From here sunlight is able to reach the turtle. Loggerhead turtles come to the surface to bask. They float on water and receive all the needed sunlight this way.
Pet turtle basking
It’s important to know whether your pet turtle species prefer to bask in water or on land. If the species prefers to bask in water, you needn’t worry if it hardly ever comes out to bask.
However, if the species prefer to bask on logs or ashore, hardly ever coming out to bask may be a sign of ill health.
Why do turtles bask?
In the introduction, we talk a little about why turtles bask. We will further cover these reasons here.
When turtles bask, they absorb heat from both the sun and the substrate on which they bask. This can be the sandy shore or the log they bask on. Absorbing heat in water is difficult as water is a poor conductor of heat.
The heat gained from basking allows the turtle to regulate its body’s metabolism. With the needed heat, the turtle can actively go about its daily routine. When the turtle is too warm, it returns to the water to cool off.
It is important that the basking area provided to a pet turtle is warm enough for the species.
For North American turtles including painted turtles, map turtles, cooters, and sliders, keep the temperature of the basking spot between 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Exposure to UVB light enables turtles to produce vitamin D3. This is needed for the absorption and utilization of calcium.
Lack of vitamin D3 can lead to severe health complications such as improper growth and metabolic bone disease.
As such, you need to provide UVB lamps in addition to heat lamps. There are also lamps that produce both heat and UVB.
However, acquiring a separate UV lamp such as ReptiSun is the best way to go.
Drying out in the sun helps the turtle deal with ectoparasites such as leeches and fungal infections as fungus requires moisture to live. Parasites found in water do not do well on dry surfaces.
Regular basking helps the turtle also dry out algae. Dried up algae fall off the shell. While algae aren’t harmful to the turtle, it affects the aerodynamic shape of the shell.
Building an excellent basking spot for the turtle
The ideal basking spot needs to dry, stable and accessible. If the basking spot isn’t right, the turtle may not bask. The two components that make the basking spot include
- a basking platform/ramp such as the Penn Plax Reptology turtle pier and OASIS Turtle Ramp.
- a heat source such as a ceramic lamp. I recommend the Wuhostam Black Reptile Emitter Bulb.
- A lamp fixture may also be needed if the tank doesn’t have one preinstalled. I recommend the Fluker’s Repta-Clamp Lamp.
The turtle must be able to easily exit the water and get onto the basking platform with ease. The platform must be accessible by a ramp or steps that slopes into the water.
That way, the turtle can climb in and out of the water. The basking platform itself has to be above the water so the turtle is dry as it basks.
There are many different ways to provide a basking platform. However, unless you have many turtles or an experienced turtle keeper, it is best to acquire a commercially sold basking ramp/platform.
To encourage basking, make sure the basking spot is about 10 F warmer than the water.
If the basking spot is not warm enough, the turtle may refuse to bask. Similarly, the basking spot cannot be too warm.
If it is, the turtle can suffer hyperthermia or burns.
Lastly, don’t bother the turtle while it basks. Some turtles may be uncomfortable with your presence and return into the water, some may think you want to feed them and start begging for a meal.
If you must, you can cover the sides of the tank to encourage the turtle to bask.
Ideal positioning of the basking lamp
Where you place the basking light will determine how useful it is to the turtle. With the help of a lamp fixture position the lamp right overhead the turtle’s basking spot.
The lamp should be out of reach so the turtle doesn’t accidentally burn itself. Some turtles may climb onto other turtles to better access the basking lamp.
Ensure the lamp is far away enough that the turtle has no way of touching it. Also, some lamps may shatter when splashed with water that is cooler than it is. To prevent this ensure that splashes cannot reach the lamp.
In addition to heat lamps, you may also have a UVB lamp. This lamp can be placed next to the heat lamp.
Both the heat lamp and UVB lamp need to be on during the day (for about 10 to 12 hours) and off during the night (for about 10 to 12 hours). This ensures that the turtle sleeps.
If you cannot turn the lights on and off fastidiously, you can use an automatic timer such as the BN-LINK 7 Day Heavy Duty Digital Programmable Timer to do that.
Is my turtle basking too much?
Knowing how long your turtle needs to bask can put you at ease. Turtles generally bask between 2 to 8 hours each day.
Most turtles such as map turtles and sliders follow this basking routine, and isn’t an issue as far as the turtle returns to the water each day and stays there for significant amounts of time.
Excessive basking dehydrates the turtle. Also, excessive basking can be a sign of ill health.
When to worry
- If you feel your turtle basks too much, place it in water. You should be worried if the turtle is struggling to swim, or doesn’t submerge itself, or gets out of the water immediately.
- Also, if you notice that the turtle never returns to the water even at night, you should be worried. Turtles are aquatic creatures and as such spend most of their time in water.
A turtle that is always basking may suffer from health complications such as respiratory infection. Also, the water temperature may be too low (this problem can be common in winter). The turtle may be bullied by others, carry parasites, be gravid or have septicemia.
RI is the most common reason why a turtle may bask too much. Symptoms of respiratory infection include mucus discharge from nose, mouth or eyes swollen eyes and eyelids, difficulty breathing, and trouble swimming.
Low water temperature
When the water temperature is too low, the turtle may avoid the water. Water temperature needs to be in the 70s for adults.
For juveniles, the temperature must be 75 to 79 F. while these temperatures can be achieved without a water heater, you still need to check the water temperature regularly.
If the water temperature is below 70 F, invest in a water heater. Water temperature can be quite low during fall and winter.
The best submersible water heater to get for your turtle aquarium is the Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater.
Wrong water conditions
The water chemistry must also be optimal.
- pH levels must be 6 to 8.
- The ammonia level must be 0.
- The chlorine level must be 0.
- The nitrate level must be 0 to 40 ppm.
- The nitrite level must be 0 to 0.5 Ppm.
If the water conditions aren’t right, the turtle may bask more than usual and you should look at cleaning the tank and correcting the levels.
Although turtles live relatively peacefully with one another, lack of space can make them territorial.
To avoid an aggressive housemate, a turtle may spend all its time at the basking spot away from the aggressor, to prevent this ensure the tank is big enough, and there are several hiding spots.
Different turtle species may be aggressive towards one another. Similar males of the same species may harass females during mating season, or even when it isn’t mating season. Get a separate tank for the aggressor before it’s too late.
Basking is very important to turtles. Not only does it dry off the turtle and prevent fungal and parasitic infection, but also it ensures they get the required amount of UV rays.
Additionally, basking ensures the turtle can regulate its internal body temperature.
To ensure the turtle basks properly, ensure conditions are right. These include a dry, warm and accessible basking spot. Some turtles such as musk and mud turtles hardly bask.
Know if your pet turtle’s species are prolific baskers or hardly bask. If your turtle basks too much, it may be a sign of respiratory infection, unbalanced water chemistry, or overly cold environs.
Try and tackle the issue and your turtle will bask regularly and enough. If you have any questions or additional information, kindly leave a comment.