Do Turtles Make Sounds?
While turtles don’t have vocal cords, they are still capable of producing a wide range of noises and sounds.
While some of the sounds produced are audible to humans, most aren’t even in the range of human hearing – as such, we don’t hear them. These sounds serve different purposes.
Turtles communicate with each other and even express emotions such as fear through sounds. Some turtles cluck like chickens, hiss and even produce high-pitched whining sounds.
So at this stage you are probably wondering how turtles produce sound if they don’t have any vocal cords? It’s pretty simple really, they make sounds by expelling air out of their lungs.
Table of Contents
- What noise does a turtle make?
- Nervous/Stressed Turtle Sounds
- Aggressive Turtle Sounds
- Mating Turtle Sounds
- Red-eared Slider Chirping Sounds
- Other Distinct Turtle Sounds
- Sea Turtle Noises
- Sound Communication With Humans
- Types of turtle sounds
What noise does a turtle make?
The most common noise a pet turtle makes is the hissing sound. Hissing is generally an indication of fear and not of hostility.
This involuntary sound is produced when the turtle is scared. As such, if your pet turtle hisses when you approach it, it’s not because it’s getting ready to attack or is being hostile, rather it is an involuntary response to a perceived threat – you.
The hissing sound is produced when the turtle rapidly tucks its head into its shell. This causes air to be expelled from its lungs. The expulsion of air results in the hissing sound.
As already mentioned, turtles use sounds to communicate, expect turtles to produce sounds when they are aggressive or when they mate.
Nervous/Stressed Turtle Sounds
Turtles, unlike other pets such as dogs, cats and even other reptiles such as ball pythons, don’t like to be touched. Snakes just as an example can be trained using a hook to tap them when they are being fed. This signifies a difference to them from when they are being handled.
Turtles and tortoises alike can also be trained with time to get used to you by handling them for small amounts of time and gradually increasing it.
Doing this helps to build trust between both you and your pet.
Still, this can cause the turtle a lot of stress. It is not uncommon for a pet turtle to hiss when keepers are first attempting to handle them.
Below is a video with a hissing turtle to give you an idea.
Hissing Turtle Video
Aggressive Turtle Sounds
A belligerent turtle uses sound to intimidate before attacking. Turtles such as the snappers are notorious for making aggressive gestures and sounds.
This sound is a combination of heavy breathing and hissing. Other territorial turtles also produce these sounds.
If you plan on housing several turtles in a single enclosure it is important to have enough room and several hiding spots for them to feel they have a safe place.
This ensures each turtle has enough space for themselves which in turn reduces aggressive behavior.
The video below shows the sound produced by an aggressive common snapping turtle.
Aggressive Turtle Video
Mating Turtle Sounds
Turtles make distinct sounds when mating. While this sound is rather hard to describe, it resembles a continuous cry.
If you breed large turtles such as land tortoises, then it’s likely you have heard this sound. Interestingly, when coupled with the male’s mating movements, many people find this mating sound amusing.
The video below shows a pair of mating tortoises. The mating sound is quite distinct in this video.
Map turtles may also emit low-frequency sounds when mating. This sound may just be low-pitched and as such humans are unable to perceive it.
Red-eared Slider Chirping Sounds
The red-eared slider turtles make a distinct chirping sound. Not only is it specific to this species of turtle, but they also make this sound for different purposes. Sometimes it’s because the water temperature is not suitable, and sometimes they chirp because of an underlying respiratory problem, although this is less common.
So, if your red-eared slider is making chirping noises, you don’t need to panic. Observe and check whether there are any other symptoms. White residue on the body, decreased appetite, and softness of the shell can be symptoms of potential diseases.
Other times, these turtles make chirping noises simply because they’re fatigued. If changing water temperature doesn’t stop the sound, go to a vet to get your turtle examined.
Other Distinct Turtle Sounds
The giant Amazon River turtles of South America are known to use sounds to navigate the dark and murky waters of the Amazon River.
This form of echolocation is unique to the giant amazon river turtle, also known as arrau turtles.
The low-frequency echolocation is also used to communicate during communal nesting and when they migrate to nesting beaches.
The big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum) found in southeast Asia and southern China.
When removed from water, the big-headed turtle will produce a sound similar to a roar. This is a defensive sound and is meant to scare off predators.
Sea Turtle Noises
Turtles, including sea turtles, produce a lot of low pitched sounds which humans are unable to pick on.
Low-frequency sounds are favored as they can travel better and further underwater.
While a lot of research hasn’t been done when it comes to sea turtle sounds and noises, significant data has been collected on leatherback turtle vocalization especially among mothers and hatchlings.
This data has led to the dismissal of previously accepted information on the notion that turtles are deaf and do not communicate with one another using sounds.
Several babies of aquatic species including Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Arrau turtle (Podocnemis expansa), yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle (Podocnemis uniﬁlis), and six-tubercled Amazon River turtle (Podocnemis sextuberculata) are known to vocalize before and during the hatching process.
Near term Arrau turtle embryos start to vocalize 36 to 8 hours before hatching. Leatherback turtles start to vocalize about after 51 days of incubation.
Sounds produced include grunts, chirps, and several others. In all herpetologists have grouped these sounds into four categories.
Mothers also vocalize to attract the attention of hatchlings.
Baby Sea Turtle Sounds
There are many varying reasons why near term turtle embryos and hatchlings vocalize. Herpetologists have hypothesized three reasons for vocalization from near term embryos and hatchlings.
1 Embryos Vocalize to Synchronize
Near term embryos vocalize to synchronize hatching and thus induce communal digging.
This ensures that siblings nested together can easily dig their way out to the surface and out of the nest.
This is the reason why baby turtles in a nest seem to emerge from their nest at the same time.
2 Embryos Vocalize to Reduce the Risk
Near term embryos vocalize to reduce the risk of predation. As you can imagine, baby turtles are quite helpless and are more prone to predation than adult giant turtles are.
The journey from the nest to the nearby water body where the hatchlings will live out the rest of their lives is the most dangerous.
The ward off predators, all the hatchlings from a single nest have to hatch together and leave for water together.
The sounds produced enable baby turtles to synchronize their emergence from the nest to dilute predation pressure.
3 Vocalize to Attract Females
Arrau turtle hatchlings vocalize to attract adult females. As hatchlings scampered to the Amazon River, they vocalized.
This attracts female arrau turtles who then guide the babies to the flooded forest floors where the turtles feed.
According to research by Richard Vogt, these turtles can migrate over 38.5 miles (62 km) with female adults in just 16 days.
As low-pitch communication is vital to the survival of baby sea turtles, noise pollution (such as shipping noise, vehicular noise, and other anthropogenic sounds) can have a detrimental effect on turtles.
Sound Communication With Humans
Although it is accepted that turtles are not as communicative as other pets, they still do communicate.
As already established, your turtle may hiss when humans approach them. This sound tells human keepers to back off as the turtle is nervous.
As turtles become familiar with their human keepers, most pet turtles hiss less and come to see keepers as a source of nourishment.
However, if you pick them up, expect several angry hisses.
Pet turtles may also knock on the glass of their aquarium when they see you.
Since pet turtles see humans as a food source, the turtle may be trying to approach you for food. Turtles also tap on the enclosure wall when hungry.
Types of Turtle Sounds – Why Do Turtles Make These Sounds?
Turtles make different types of sounds to express various emotions, but how and why do they make these sounds? Their neck is relatively small, yet they can produce a variety of sounds, some of which aren’t even audible to us!
Here are some of the common sounds turtles make:
Turtles hiss for different reasons, with the angry hiss being the most distinct. They do so by pushing the air quickly out of their lungs, which also happens when they retract their body into their shell.
There’s not much space inside the shell, and if they want to retract their body completely, they need to keep the air out of their lungs to make space, thereby generating the hissing sound. Sometimes a hissing sound can also indicate difficulty in breathing.
Grunting is shorter than the hissing sound. It’s also caused by the emptying of the lungs. If the turtle allows more air to escape the lungs at once, that generates a grunting sound.
If your turtle is facing respiratory problems, it might make a crying sound. If there’s a lot of mucus in the airways, the usual sound changes to crying.
A roaring sound is very unusual and is specific to big-headed turtles (Platysternon megacephalum). When disturbed, they make this roaring sound, which is similar to a hiss.
Most commonly, baby turtles make these chirping sounds due to stress, although changed water temperatures and sometimes even excited eating can cause turtles to chirp.
These chirps can also be due to illness, so look out for any symptoms.
Although uncommon, turtles can make a gurgling sound when hungry. Some turtle owners have recorded their turtles while making the gurgling noise. However, the exact mechanism or reason behind this sound still continues to puzzle researchers.
This is another very distinct and unique sound a turtle can make to navigate and find their way through muddy conditions.
This sound can be heard only with the Arrau river turtles native to South America. The study of the social behavior of these turtles led to the discovery of this echolocation sound, which is common with bats and some marine animals.
While turtles aren’t the most sociable creatures on planet earth, they do communicate vocally and non-vocally. When it comes to vocal communication, this is usually related to panic and fear.
Several freshwater turtles hiss when threatened. If you witness your pet turtle hissing, it’s best to leave it alone. Unlike other pets, turtles are quite uncomfortable with most human interaction.
Turtles also hiss when aggressive. In addition to the audible sounds produced, turtles also produce low-frequency sounds. These low frequency (low-pitched) sounds are favored as they travel farther.
Near term embryos and hatchlings use low-pitched communication to synchronize hatching and digging out of their nest. This is why baby turtles are usually witnessed leaving for the ocean at the same time.
Baby arrau turtles also communicate with mothers through low pitch sounds. This ensures the mothers can guide newly hatched arrau turtles to food.
Does your turtle hiss at you? Have you noticed any noises it makes? Let us know in the comments below!
More first aid topics
Wednesday 15th of February 2023
My 6 month old baby Selcata tortoise makes a little clicking sound or snap with his beak when he’s hungry and he’s so much more intelligent than people even realize he knows who I am, and even bobs his little head up and down when I talk to him! he’s an absolute joy, and I just love him!
Tuesday 29th of March 2022
My juvenile sulcata tortoise squeaks at me. She also makes high pitched sounds, that my husband can’t hear. I’ve learned to interpret most of them. She doesn’t much likes baths and squeals. So fun!
Friday 3rd of July 2020
I found this helpful, so thank you; however, I'm not sure if turtles are quite so uncomfortable with interaction as you've stated here. The three turtles I have encountered and been able too keep with me for a bit loved to be held by me, walk around on my lap, eat from my hand, and so on from the first day I met them. Two of them actually have slept on my belly while I was watching a movie on TV. The current one that I have that is now my official pet likes to crawl up my chest and burrow his head under my chin and take naps. He also will do the hissing noise as well I think(he makes more of a heavy breathing in noise) when I pick him up on occasion and will let me know when he wants to be left alone(like raising his head with his mouth opening as my finger approaches), but he's generally a pretty friendly guy, as were the other two.
I wonder if there are any noises they make indicating illness.