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Turtle On Its Back

Can a turtle flip itself over?

A turtle on its back or tortoise on its back is one of those things that seem like an unfixable thing. Tortoises will generally have a harder time flipping themselves back over but it is possible.

In case you’ve ever wondered how a turtle can manage to get off its back check out the video below of a red eared slider turtle flipping itself back over on dry ground.

It should be noted that aquatic turtles such as sliders, painted turtles, map turtles, mud turtles and others alike with flatter shaped shells flip themselves.

Turtles with other shell-shapes have other physical characteristics (e.g. side-necks) and so don’t flip themselves in exactly the same way.

If a turtle is in water then so long as they have the proper tank size and are able to swim in the water they will be able to correct their position. If the water is too shallow for the turtle or tank too small then there is a high risk of the turtle drowning.

Things that impact a turtle being able to flip itself back over

turtle on its back
turtle on its back trying to flip over

The pet turtle in the video shows us that when he is on his back he takes advantage of his:

Shell shape – Since turtles aren’t always flat on their backs and are usually tipped over to one side they use the leverage of the shell shape and can flip toward the side that is on the floor

Neck – The neck is another trait which is key in adding some extra leverage to push with.

Tail and legs – Additional limbs that help are obviously the legs and tail. Each part may not have the strength on its own, but with combined effort it can be just enough.

All of these factors affect each turtle species differently since some have longer legs than others and others have longer necks.

Tortoise on its back

So all makes sense for water turtles, but what about tortoises on their backs? Tortoises and let’s just include other land turtles like box turtles can also flip themselves over.

The below video shows how the tortoise similarly to the water turtle uses its legs and neck to move around until it finds the wall to push itself off of.

How to prevent a tortoise from flipping over

The simple answer is don’t put them on their backs, but the other includes making sure their enclosure doesn’t have anything that they could climb that is too steep or has too small of a perch for them.

If the climb is steep the may roll over to one side which could also result in other injuries like a cracked shell.

Substrate is another consideration. As you can see in the video the substrate for this tortoise is quite soft making it harder to flip itself back over.

Check the tortoise setup guide to learn more about how to create a great safe space for your tortoise.


Wrapping up it is possible for your turtle to flip back over from being on its back. Prevention as with any husbandry is the key for this so make sure their space is setup properly.

If they are on their back make sure the water turtles tank is large enough to where the turtle can freely swim and turn in the water. The minimum depth should be two times the length of the turtle carapace.

For tortoise enclosures, just make sure there aren’t objects that are too steep or too small for the turtle to be on.

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