If you’re lucky enough to own a turtle then you already know what fantastic pets they can be. You’re here because yours has started making strange hissing noises. If you’re new to keeping turtles it could be understandably concerning. You may not have even been aware that they had the capability.
So is this behavior normal, or is it indicative of a problem? Is it similar to when other animals such as cats or snakes hiss? We’ve done the research and put together this article to answer all your questions.
Why is My Turtle Hissing?
The explanation behind turtles hissing is they’re scared. Because they lack vocal cords, they are able to produce this sound by exhaling air quickly from their lungs and tucking their head into their shell.
Don’t force them to interact with you, especially when they’re first getting settled into their new home.
Your turtle hissing could be quite distressing for you, and you should know they’re unfortunately feeling the same thing. A hiss is never going to be indicative of an animal having a good time.
If you have to pick them up, say to inspect them or clean them, always be slow and very gentle. If they hiss out of the blue when you do so and they’ve been okay before, then it may be because you’ve inadvertently hurt them.
If you find that your turtle is hissing very often, they’re probably doing so because they’re not comfortable for one reason or another. Perhaps their habitat is too hot or cold, or maybe they’re lacking in suitable hiding places.
Do all that you can to make the turtle feel at home, and make sure they have everything they need.
It’s important to get the correct temperature and to ensure access to food and places to hide and rest. If they’re properly comfortable then they’re less likely to be scared, and hopefully, you won’t hear that hiss the next time you need to pick them up.
If you have done everything you can to make your turtle happy and give them the perfect habitat but still find that they are regularly hissing, consider taking them to a vet. There’s a good possibility that they need more time to warm up to you, or that they’re just not sociable and never will be.
That’s fine, but there’s an outside chance that they have a medical issue that’s causing them discomfort that you’re unaware of. This could make them more sensitive and fearful and should be watched for if it’s a newly developed behavior when seemingly nothing has changed about their lives or routines.
How do Turtles Produce a Hissing Sound?
It’s worth pointing out that this ‘hissing’ is not technically what it seems to be. It may sound like the hiss of other animals, but it’s actually something unique to the turtle. The noise is caused by them retracting their heads into their shells.
When they do this quickly, as they do defensively when they perceive a threat, the air is forced out of their lungs and the hissing sound is produced.
Just because the noise is a byproduct of another action as opposed to an intentional warning, what we said above still stands. It may be a coincidence, but it is still caused by the same instincts as the hiss of other animals.
You’ll probably be able to notice them pulling in their heads while making the sound. If they’re doing this, then put them down and give them their space.
Other Sounds That Turtles Make
Hissing is not the only sound turtles make that could give you cause for concern. They may not have vocal cords, but that doesn’t stop them from making all sorts of noises. A lot of these can’t even be heard by us.
Some sounds are clearly linked to certain actions. Mating turtles may produce a sort of cry that is almost similar to something a human baby would do. Like the hissing, this is to do with the release of air more than anything else.
There is also evidence of them making low-frequency sounds to communicate which are difficult for the human ear to detect.
Some noises can point to health problems. If your turtle has been clicking, wheezing, or gurgling, then it’s possible they have a respiratory tract infection. If you hear these from your pet, it’s time to take them to the vets to get checked. Another symptom of this is them frothing at the mouth.
Turtle Species That Hiss
There are a wide variety of turtle species, and different ones have different behaviors. Some may be a lot more likely to make the noise than others. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Red-eared sliders hiss, and they may do so for reasons other than fear. They will also hiss when they’re feeling tired. They like to tuck in their heads when they want to sleep and in doing so could make the hissing noise.
If you have a Snapper, you’re more likely to hear them hiss. This is because they’re more easily threatened and can become quite aggressive.
The opposite is true for other species. Some are likely to warm up to you in far less time. Red-eared sliders are actually an example of these friendlier turtles, and Cooter Turtles are also known to be similar.
Keep in mind that this is not guaranteed. Each turtle will have its own personality, and just because you get a species that often warms up to people more quickly that will not always be the case. Have patience when acquainting yourself to them, and respect your pet’s boundaries.
While hearing a hiss is fairly normal and not something to be too concerned about, it does show that your turtle is scared which is never something we want to see in a pet.
Perhaps we need to do something to improve their environment, or maybe we need to make some adjustments to our interactions with them so they’re less fearful.
Sometimes they’ll stay that way no matter what we do, but that does not mean we shouldn’t try to make changes to put them at ease. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility as good pet owners to make sure our beloved animals are as comfortable as possible.