Skip to Content

Why Do Turtles Attack Black?

You may have seen videos on social media showcasing peculiar behavior where turtles exhibit aggressive behavior towards black items, particularly footwear, while non-black shoes like white shoes remain unscathed. This behavior, of course, isn’t limited to footwear only — anything black will do –but why do turtles attack black objects? Can turtles even see colors?

While turtles may not have excellent eyesight when compared to humans, they can still see color and easily distinguish between similar objects of different colors. They even seem to have a preference for particular colors, such as yellow, red, and orange, which they seem to think indicates a potential snack.

The extent of this preference hasn’t been well studied. but today we’ll explain why turtles object so violently to the color black, as well as what colors they can see, and which ones they seem to prefer. Let’s talk about turtles, color, and what it might mean for these amazing reptiles!

A terrestrial turtle gets defensive
A terrestrial turtle will bite just about anything is it’s frightened

Reasons turtles attack black

While there has been limited research on how turtles react with various colors, they definitely seem to have a problem with the color black. So, why might that be? Well, while we don’t have concrete data, there are some theories and we’ll look at those in this section.

If you are researching turtle eyesight today, why not find out more about what turtles can see and what issues they have? The link opens in a new window so it will be ready when you are!

They mistake it for another tortoise

A video online by turtle enthusiast ‘Dan the Turtle Man’ shows one of his tortoises attacking a black shoe and Dan believes that his tortoise attacks the black object because it believes it to be another tortoise.

The darker shade of black shoes and their size relative to the turtle makes this a feasible theory and turtle and tortoise behavior seems to support this. Tortoises can be aggressive towards other tortoises and will often attack one another.

Mind you, this is dependent on the species, as well as the individual turtle, and whether or not it’s mating season – which is when aggressive behaviors are most likely to make an appearance.

Males are generally more aggressive than females, but both genders may attack if they feel threatened, territorial, or a mate is involved.

Tortoises and turtles are generally solitary creatures and interactions between tortoises in particular are generally limited to mating and aggressive behaviors. Some pond turtles, such as mud, musk, and especially snapping turtles are quite aggressive towards any other turtles in the area.

Another theory that some have posited is that the turtle may be trying to mate with the black shoe, as one of the mating rituals of turtles is the bumping of heads.

The objects these turtles seem to be bumping into in the videos are generally shoes and if the tortoise is a male, this is usually the relative size of a mature female. Unfortunately, until further study is done, all we have is speculation but these theories do make a lot of sense!

Red-bellied black snakes coiled together
Some believe that turtles don’t like black because many predators are this color.

They mistake the black object for a predator

It could be possible that turtles attack black objects because there are a lot of dark-colored predators in their natural habitats. Some of these predators include birds such as crows, ravens, and black snakes.

This reason may not be best explanation, though. Logic dictates that the turtle should run and hide from predators, instead of running straight at them, but in all fairness in the videos someone has surprised them with a black shoe and the turtle’s reaction is quick and aggressive.

Still, even very aggressive turtles like Snapping turtles tend to hide and wait to get the advantage in encounters such as this, while less aggressive turtles tend to try and hide or otherwise escape. As such, the ‘dark predators’ theory may not be the best answer.

To further support this, consider that other predators of turtles aren’t necessarily black at all. Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and otters are just a few examples but you get the idea.

We tend to agree that Dan is probably on to something or perhaps it is indeed a mating thing, but until we get more data we simply can’t say either way.

Colors turtles can see

Turtles aren’t color blind at all, but rather see a full spectrum of vibrant colors. They can even see some that we can’t see, including certain shades of red that human eyes simply don’t process the same. They can see these colors thanks to a gene known as CYP2J19, commonly referred to as the “red gene”.

So, what is the use of wider red spectrum vision?

Well, females use this ability to pick the brightest red males when it comes time to mate.  This is essential with species such as the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta), which has bright red markings, so it’s a practical adaption for these turtles.

Turtles can also see with green-yellow, green, blue-green, and ultraviolet visual ranges. All in all, you can say with confidence that turtles have excellent tetrachromatic color vision and you’d be 100% correct!

Understanding Turtle Behavior: A Dive into Color Theory and Animal Behavior

Exploring the realm of turtle behavior, it becomes evident that their perception of color plays a crucial role in their daily survival. Scientific studies indicate that turtles’ preference for brighter colors over dark colours can be attributed to their evolution amidst natural predators and food sources in their natural environment.

This unique behavior underscores the importance of further research in animal behavior, particularly in how captive turtles, like red-eared sliders and black marsh turtles, interact with specific colors, suggesting a deep-rooted instinctual response shaped by their natural habitats. has a great article on the ‘red gene’ that you can read here if you would like to learn more after you’ve finished here. We’ll give you a hint about it – Dinosaurs had this cool innovation first!

Turtles and tortoises seem to have some color preferences
Turtles and tortoises seem to have some color preferences

Turtles may have color preferences

We have established that turtles can see colors and are more likely to attack the color black, but they also seem to be attracted to certain colors as well. While research is limited, we do know that sea turtles have a preference for the color blue due to some testing that was done to establish this.

When presented with food attached to blue, yellow, and red plates, sea turtles were more likely to choose the blue-plated food. In fact, they chose the blue plates 66.1 percent (two-thirds) of the time!

By contrast, they only chose the yellow plate 18 percent of the time and red seemed to be their least favorite, being picked at a frequency of 16 percent in testing scenarios.

If your turtle’s eyes are swollen, that has nothing to do with their super-eyesight and may be a sign of vitamin deficiency. Check out our article on this subject to learn more!

Video of tortoise attacking black shoes

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why do turtles always seem to attack black shoes?

While there is not enough research to establish a clear reason, it is believed that the turtle may think that the black shoe, being of similar size and dark, might be another turtle.

Also, since they attack or headbutt the shoe, it may be related to mating as headbutting is a part of this ritual with many turtles.

Finally, some have theorized that black is a common color of predators, but turtles have predators across the color scale, so take this last theory with a grain of salt.. as of yet, we simply cannot know for sure until more research has been done on this subject!

What colors do turtles like?

Research with green sea turtles has shown us that they like some colors more than others. Hatchlings, for instance, seem to be attracted to blue, green, and red lights.
Of these 3, they are most attracted to blue light.

Research has also shown that adult green sea turtles are more likely to approach food attached to a blue plate than food attached to plates of different colors. Why this is the case, we haven’t determined yet, but it definitely establishes a preference!

Which turtles have black coloration?

Most turtles are dark in color, typically olive to dark green, but there are a lot of turtles with black coloration. For instance, adult green sea turtles are olive and black. They are referred to as green turtles because of the green fat found underneath their shell, rather than their shells.

Some other black turtles include the Indian black turtle, the West African black turtle, the black river turtle, the black softshell turtle, and the black pond turtle.

Do turtles exhibit defensive behaviors towards specific colors?

Yes, turtles display unique defensive responses when encountering dark colored objects, which can be seen as an extension of their survival instincts.

This instinctual reaction to perceived threats, possibly mistaking them for natural predators or competitors, highlights the intricate relationship between turtle vision, their aggressive behavior, and their natural environment.

Pet turtle owners, especially those with species like softshell turtles and aquatic turtles, should note these behaviors to maintain a safe distance and ensure a peaceful coexistence.

Wrapping up

While we don’t know for sure why it happens, turtles sure seem to dislike black objects. When presented with an assortment of items, if one is black then turtles will almost always attack it or give it a hearty headbutt. This has spawned a lot of videos demonstrating this behavior and a lot of speculation.

A few reasons have been postulated for this, but we simply don’t have enough research to say for certain why the turtles do this. It is believed that perhaps the turtle may think the black object is another turtle and as they are solitary and territorial, they believe they are driving the intruder away.

One prevailing theory suggests that the natural instinct of turtles to defend against potential threats could misinterpret dark colors, especially black things, as potential predators, leading to an instinctual response of turtle attacks.

Similarly, turtles bump heads before mating, so it may be a very different type of aggression that is being displayed.

A final reason usually given is that turtles hate the color black because several of their predators are black but this one is probably the thinnest theory – after all, colorful coyotes and foxes eat turtles too and they don’t seem to react to brownish red the way they do to black.

As we delve deeper into scientific reason behind turtles’ aversion to dark colours, we remain hopeful that further research will unveil the real reason behind such behavior. Until then, the secret of this unique behavior remains guarded within the protective shells of these peaceful creatures, challenging us to explore the fascinating world of turtle species and their instinctual responses.

Does your seem to bite anything that gets close? Find out how to train your turtle not to bite in our handy guide!

Click to rate this post!
[Total: 0 Average: 0]

Sharing is caring!