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Why Is My Turtle Not Basking?

For most reptiles, it is essential that they bask. Turtles are not the only reptiles that need to bask. There are many reasons why your turtle is not basking.

There are some species such as softshells that hardly bask. Also, the turtle may be gravid or unwell. It could also be possible that the turtle is scared or stressed.

Basking is essential for many reasons. For starters, it allows turtles to regulate their body temperature as they are cold-blooded. Secondly, basking allows the turtles to absorb the needed UVA and UVB radiation which contributes to their health.

There are a lot of reasons why your turtle may refuse to bask. In this article, we will look at the reasons why your turtle may refuse to bask and provide solutions to this problem.

Table of Contents

  1. Possible Reasons
    1. Stress
    2. Unsuitable Temperatures
    3. Inaccessible Basking Spot
    4. Health-Related Issues and Gravidity
    5. An Aggressive or Territorial Tank Mate
    6. Disturbances
    7. Your Presence
    8. Musk or Mud Turtles
  2. FAQ
  3. Conclusion

Reasons Why Your Turtle Isn’t Basking

Here are some reasons why the turtle isn’t basking. The turtle may be stressed or scared. The turtle may be gravid, the basking temperature may be unsuitable, the basking spot may be difficult to get to.

The turtle could be scared of you and only basks when no one is watching. The turtle may have a territorial tank partner whom it is trying to avoid.

There may be disturbances such as loud noise or even a visual disturbance such as the presence of a cat or dog which is preventing the turtle from basking.

Stress

Red-eared Slider swimming in a tank
Red-eared Slider swimming in a tank.

The first reason to consider is stress. If the turtle is stressed, it may avoid basking. So what are the reasons why your turtle may be stressed?

Your turtle may just be new to the environment. Turtles prefer familiarity. Change can be a stressful ordeal for them. If the turtle just moved into the tank, then I recommend giving it time to familiarize itself with its new environment. 

There are a lot of things that can stress the turtle. It is essential to remember that the turtles generally kept as pets are usually prey to several animals in the wild.

As such, the turtles instinctively avoid things that they may perceive as stress. Things that can stress the turtle and cause it to hide include:

  • The presence of another pet such as a dog or a cat. The mere presence of a cat or a dog in the same space as the turtle can cause the turtle to not bask. Cats and dogs are generally predators of small and medium-sized turtles in the wild. 
  • Loud noise. Loud sounds from a television, or a speaker can frighten the turtle and prevent it from basking.
  • Frequent handling and interactions. Turtles aren’t like cats and dogs. It is essential to keep interaction to a minimum. The turtle may just be avoiding you as you interact with it too frequently.
  • Rough handling -if you handle the turtle roughly, the turtle may simply be scared of you. 

Unsuitable Temperatures

Baby Eastern Box Turtle hiding in its shell
Baby Eastern Box Turtle hiding in its shell

The basking temperatures need to be within the right range. If the temperatures are too low, the turtle will not be encouraged to bask as it cannot increase its body temperature enough. Similarly, the temperature within the basking area may just be too high.

This is why it is important that you do your research before deciding on a heat lamp. There are many great brands you can check out such as Zoo Med and Exo Terra.

Here are some recommended basking area temperatures for some common turtles kept as pets:

  • Pond sliders – 85 °F to 95 °F
  • Map turtles –  85 °F to 95 °F
  • Musk turtles – 90 °F
  • Softshell turtles – 90 °F
  • Snapping turtles – 90 °F

As you can see the basking temperature needs to be about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure that the temperature within the enclosure is right.

I recommend investing in a thermometer and a thermostat for the enclosure. This should allow you to properly regulate the temperature within the enclosure and at the basking spot.

I recommend the VIVOSUN Digital Aquarium Thermometer

Inaccessible Basking Spot

Red-eared Slider sticking its head out of the water of its tank.
Red-eared Slider sticking its head out of the water of its tank.

If the basking spot is difficult to access, the turtle may avoid it. There may be several reasons why the turtle may find the basking spot inaccessible, the basking platform and the slope onto the platform may be unstable. Also, there could be a lack of grip which can make it difficult for the turtle to climb onto the platform.

If the basking platform is unstable, I recommend getting a commercially produced turtle platform. These are easy to find and can be purchased at most pet shops that sell turtles and other reptiles. If you think the commercially produced platforms aren’t good enough, you can easily make a basking platform yourself.

Some excellent basking platforms that I recommend include Penn-Plax Reptology Turtle Topper and the kathson Turtle Basking Platform.

Pet Box Turtle looking into the camera.
Pet Box Turtle looking into the camera.

If your turtle is unwell, it may refuse to bask. You should watch out for other symptoms of illness. Symptoms such as refusal to eat, lethargy, wheezing, discharge from nose, nose, and eyes, sneezing, passing of undigested food, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of weight.

If you suspect that your turtle is unwell, I advise that you get in touch with a herp veterinarian. You may never know the severity of the illness unless the reptile is diagnosed by a professional.

If you have a female turtle, she may stop basking when she is gravid. A turtle is said to be gravid if she is carrying eggs.

Female turtles become gravid once or several times a year. Females do not need to mate before they develop eggs. It is essential to keep that in mind.

If your turtle is gravid, you need to create a nesting site for her so she can safely lay eggs. If you don’t create a nesting site, the female will refuse to lay all the eggs within her and this can lead to egg binding.

If the female does not lay the eggs they can calcify inside her or break inside her. If the egg calcifies inside the female, she will need surgery to remove the eggs. Either way egg binding, also known as dystocia, normally leads to death when not taken care of.

In the early stages, the gravid female will eat more than usual. As the process progresses the female will eat less. The turtle will be restless and try to dig around in search of a suitable nesting site.

The turtle may also try to climb out of the tank. The turtle may even lay a few eggs in the water.

Provide a nesting site for your gravid turtle and after she lays the eggs, she will return to her normal routine.

An Aggressive or Territorial Tank Mate

Eastern Long-necked Baby swimming in a vegetated tank at Princess of Wales Conservatory
Eastern Long-necked Baby swimming in a vegetated tank at Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Turtles can be territorial or aggressive. There are many factors for this but it is best to give each species their own turtle tank of its own. Some species are aggressive and territorial in nature.

These turtle species are better housed alone. A species that is territorial is the common snapping turtle and Softshell turtles.

Do not house two or more territorial turtle species in the same enclosure as one turtle will end up killing the other eventually. Also, if a turtle is territorial, it should not be housed with a turtle that isn’t as the other turtle will always have to avoid the territorial turtle. This includes avoiding the basking spot.

Even turtles that aren’t territorial such as map turtles, sliders, cooters may get aggressive if the enclosure isn’t large enough. Ensure that the enclosure is large and that the basking area is large enough to house all the turtles within the enclosure.

Also, it is essential that you provide adequate hiding spots, and objects that the turtles can use to avoid one another. This ensures that no turtle is stressed and that they bask as required.

Disturbances

Baby Russian Tortoise in its enclosure
Baby Russian Tortoise in its enclosure.

If there are disturbances around the turtle will not bask. If the turtle is basking and suspects a threat, the turtle will retreat back into the water where they feel safe. Remove any and all disturbances within the enclosure.

These include objects that make noise, the presence of cats, dogs, children that may lean onto the glass, and such. When there are no disturbances, the turtle will then feel safe to bask.

Your Presence

Baby Map Turtle being held by a human
Baby Map Turtle being held by a human.

Some turtles will not bask if you are around as they don’t feel safe basking in your presence. The turtle may just be basking when you are not around. If you have exhausted the list, then that might just be what is happening.

The turtle may not be avoiding you, the turtle may just bask at a time when you are occupied and not around. Some turtles may even bask while you are asleep.

Musk or Mud Turtles

Razor-backed musk turtle in its water enclosure
Razor-backed musk turtle in its water enclosure.

Musk, which is an aquatic turtle, and mud turtles, which are semi-aquatic, are infrequent baskers. These turtles hardly ever come out of the water to bask. If you have a musk or mud turtle, you may see them basking maybe once every three months.

Several people with musk turtles have not seen their turtle bask out of water for over half a year. It is common for musk turtles to come out of the water to bask.

These turtles may bask simply by floating near the water’s surface. Just make sure that you install a basking lamp and have it on during the day so the turtle can float on the surface of the water and bask that way.

Also, have a basking platform just in case the turtle wishes to dry off.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is bad about my turtle refusing to bask?

Refusal to bask is a huge issue. Turtles bask for several reasons. Basking allows turtles to regulate their body temperature as they are cold-blooded. Secondly, basking allows the turtles to absorb the needed UVA and UVB light which contributes to their health.

If the turtle doesn’t bask…

  • It can lead to metabolic bone disease which causes the shell, limbs, and skeletal structure of the turtle to become disfigured. When left untreated, it leads to death.
  • Refusal to dry itself each day can lead to shell rot.
  • Apart from receiving UVB which is needed to synthesize vitamin D3, basking also provides the turtle with UVA radiation. This radiation aids in digestion and prevents lethargy.

Do all turtles bask?

While all turtles bask, not all turtles emerge from the water to bask. Some also rarely ever bask. The species that do not bask often include mud turtles, musk turtles, softshell turtles, and common snapping turtles.

These turtles are rarely seen basking on dry areas or basking platforms. They may bask simply by floating near the surface of the water.

Some turtles such as painted turtles and red-eared sliders bask often and can spend hours basking each day.

It is essential to know your turtle and the behaviors that they exhibit. You may be under the impression that your turtle won’t bask but you may be wrong. It may simply not bask as often as you expect.

How do I encourage my turtle to bask?

As far as you buy a proper basking platform with the right lighting and heating needs, the turtle will bask. If the turtle is new to the enclosure, give it time, it will eventually bask.

If your turtle is refusing to bask and there are none of the reasons given or you cannot determine the cause, I recommend seeing a herp veterinarian.

There are some tricks you can use to encourage your turtle to bask:

  • Increase the basking area. This will make the basking spot more enticing.
  • Place food in the basking area. You can place some food on the basking area. This can entice the turtle to come inspect the food. These foods can be treats that you offer the turtle. Most turtles can only swallow underwater so they may not eat the food on the platform.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why turtles need to bask. Basking allows the turtle to regulate its body temperature and remain warm. Since reptiles are coldblooded, they need the warmth of basking.

Also, basking allows the turtle to absorb the needed UVB radiation which it needs to synthesize vitamin D3. Turtles also absorb UVA when basking. This stimulates the turtle to be active.

There are a lot of reasons why a turtle may refuse to bask. Reasons include the turtle feeling stressed, the turtle being unwell, the turtle being gravid, or the temperature being produced being unsuitable for basking.

Once you have identified the reason why your turtle isn’t basking, you can provide a solution to the problem.

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