Why Is My Turtle Hissing?

Hissing Turtle

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Hissing Turtle

A hissing turtle is usually nothing to worry about. Turtles don’t hiss to intimidate or to threaten. Hissing is down to an involuntary action – retracting into their shell.

The hissing sound is produced when the turtle retracts its head into its shell. While the hissing sound itself is involuntary, the action that produces the sound isn’t always involuntary.

A turtle may retract into its shell because it is scared or feels threatened. If your turtle hisses a lot when you handle it, then you need to be patient with it.

Let it to get used to its environment and your presence. If the turtle is scared or feels threatened, you can try to make it feel more comfortable within its enclosure.

How Is the Hissing Sound Produced?

Unlike many other animals, turtles do not have vocal cords. Therefore,  the hissing sound isn’t produced vocally. Rather, the hissing sound is produced by air being expelled from the lungs.

When the turtle tucks its head into its shell, the air in the lungs is expelled rapidly. This exhaling action produces the hissing sound. While the hissing sound may sound menacing, it isn’t harmful to the turtle.

Why Do Turtles Hiss?

Hissing may just be that – hissing. However, if a turtle hisses whenever you approach it or try to pet it, then it doesn’t want to be touched. If your turtle doesn’t want to be petted, it may be because it isn’t used to you or just wants to be left alone.

In general, turtles are display pets and do not like to be touched or handled. Handling should be kept to a minimum. Examples of times to handle it would be when you need to bathe it or inspect it for injuries or signs of sickness.

However, as the turtle grows accustomed to you and the environment, it should hiss less. As such, it is normal for new pet turtles to hiss a lot. They may simply not be used to the new environment and the new faces.

Try giving the turtle the time to settle into its new home. As it gets used to you, it will hiss less and less as it stops retreating into its shell whenever you approach or handle it.

To ensure that the turtle feels comfortable and safe, provide it with several hiding spots. These hiding spots can be created with aquatic plants, logs, and other objects.

Just make sure, the object isn’t one that can trap the turtle underwater. Also, try not to change the locations of objects within the enclosure. Captive turtles struggle to adjust to constant changes.

With patience, the turtle should be able to acclimatize itself to its environment and you (the new owner), and will eventually stop hissing.

That being said, turtles are display pets and they may never warm up to you as other pets such as a dog would.

Why Is My Snapping Turtle Hissing?

Some turtles are notorious hissers. Snappers are one of them. As you may know by now, all turtles can produce the hissing sound which is caused by the turtle retracting the head into the shell.

Different turtles have different temperaments. While cooters, map turtles, and several others warm up to owners much quicker. Some species such as the common snapper and the alligator snapping turtle are more aggressive as they are easily threatened.

Snapping turtles are known to hiss more often as they are more easily threatened. In addition to this, snappers are notorious for producing an intimidating sound which is a combination of heavy breathing and hissing.

Why Is My Red Eared Slider Turtle Hissing?

Another turtle known for hissing a lot is red-eared sliders. The red-eared slider hisses the same way all other turtles do by rapidly expelling air out of their lungs when they quickly extract into their shell. The hissing of the red-eared slider basically means that something scared it.

So, when you pick up a red-eared slider don’t be surprised to hear hissing sounds. This sound can also mean that you’re hurting it.

In the wild, the red-eared slider can use this sound to not only frighten potential predators, but it also creates attention and attracts other turtles.

Red-eared sliders do not only hiss when they are scared or threatened, but they also do this when tired. The red-eared slider tucks its head in the shell when resting. Hissing sounds may be heard when they exhale.

Other Common Sounds Turtles Make

While hissing is the most common noise/sound made by pet turtles, there are other sounds you may hear your turtle make. These include clicking noises and gurgling sounds.

Clicking Sounds

Aquatic freshwater turtles make clicking sounds when out of water. This is normal. However, if you notice the turtle is basking way too much, you need to check the water.

The pH level, chloride level, and ammonia levels may not be balanced. Similarly, the water may be too cold. Check that the water temperature and conditions are correct.

If you have several turtles in the same tank, check to make sure that the turtle who’s basking and producing clicking sounds way too often isn’t being bullied.

Gurgling Noises

Gurgling noises are a classic symptom of lower respiratory tract disease. If the gurgling noise is coupled with foamy mucus discharge from the mouth, contact your vet as soon as possible.

Other symptoms of lower respiratory tract disease include holding the head at an unusual angle, lethargy or hyperactivity, and increased movement in the front limbs.

Respiratory disease is generally down to low temperatures. Make sure that both the temperatures of the water and the basking area are correct.

The temperature needs of turtles vary from species to species, however, most turtles are most comfortable in an enclosure with an ambient temperature of about 75 °F, a water temperature of 75 to 80 °F, and a basking temperature of  85 to 95 °F.

You can check our turtle species page to find the care sheet for your specific pet turtle.

Conclusion

Turtles generally hiss because they are scared. Since turtles do not have vocal cords, the hissing sound is produced when air is expelled rapidly from their lungs when they tuck their head into their shell.

If your turtle hisses a lot, it may mean that it isn’t comfortable. Try to make it feel as comfortable as possible. Ensure there are enough hiding spots, the temperatures in the enclosure are right, and objects in the enclosure are kept in the same location.

Additionally, do not handle the turtle until it settles in. Other sounds such as clicking, gurgling, and even wheezing can be signs of a respiratory infection.

Get in touch with your vet, if your turtle is gurgling and foaming at the mouth at the same time.

If you found this article useful, feel free to leave a comment below.

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.

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