What Color Are Turtle’s Eyes?

The eyes of the windows of the soul, the old saying tells us.

We’re meant to look even in the eyes of animals that we otherwise can’t communicate with and be able to reach some kind of understanding.

You are able to sense who is a threat and who is a friend with a glance. 

If you thought human eyes were complex in both biological structure and symbolic meaning, then you’ve never looked a turtle in the eye.

Reptile eyes are traditionally cold, but turtle’s are special creatures.

what color are turtle eyes? A turtle’s eyes are generally dark brown or yellow brown.

That’s the short answer, but it turns out there’s a lot more that goes into a turtle’s eyes.  In this blog, we’ll go over the variations that exist within a turtle’s eyes that make them so fascinating and surprisingly hard to catalogue. 

What Color Are The Eyes of a Turtle? 

The color of a turtle’s eyes, much like human beings, varies greatly from turtle to turtle. The standard turtle eye color is yellow or yellow-brown, with black pupils. Another common variant is brown, or dark brown. 

But it does differ greatly from species to species. Certain species of turtle have different colors than others. 

Male spotted turtles and box turtles, for instance, often contain different shades of red in their eyes.

Their female counterparts, on the other hand, usually have the traditional brown-yellow or yellow. 

While there’s no discernible biological advantage to eye colour, most biologists assume the red is there to attract females during mating season. 

False map turtles, or turtles endemic to North America, have some subspecies that have very distinctive eye colors and patterns.

The Mississippi subspecies has especially gorgeous eyes, a white iris with a black pupil.

But perhaps the most interesting false map turtle eye is the midwestern subspecies, which has a yellow-brown iris with a black bar running along the pupil. 

Light-colored irises are more common to species found in India and Southern Asia, such as the mangrove terrapin. 

Then there are the blue eyed turtles such as the brown roofed turtle in India. Blue eyes can also be found in Spanish terrapins should you ever see one travelling Morocco. 

The way the iris and pigmentation interact with one another also varies drastically from species to species.

Usually, it’s a black bar or circle, but there are species that have other shapes in their eyes as well.

An alligator snapping turtle’s eyes are star-shaped, for example. And Malaysian giant river turtles  have brown eyes with a blue outer circle around their iris. 

Does A Turtle’s Eye Color Change?

For most of a turtle’s life, their eye color will remain the same.

However, just like a human’s hair darkens over time, it’s not rare for hatchlings and juveniles to have much more pronounced, vibrant colors that will fade as they age. 

And just as it’s been seen in human babies that their eye color changes as they develop, a turtle’s eye color can change.

Though this is much more rare than the standard fading that comes over time. 

Does Eye Color Affect Turtle Vision?

Currently, no scientist has ever bothered to study the effect that having different color eyes can have on a turtle’s vision. It’s a reasonable question, but perhaps it’s one that science cannot provide the answer to easily.

Fortunately, we have similar studies performed on humans to fall back on.

Human eye color seems to have little effect on our vision.

It can, however, affect how easy and comfortable it is to see in some situations.

This has to do with how much melanin is in your iris. The melanin is what decides what colors are absorbed and reflected in the eye. 

To state it more simply, the more melanin pigment in your eye, the darker it will be.

From these basic facts, we can assume that a turtle’s eyes, while slightly different, still work on the same principles. 

But to better understand how vision and color interact with each other, let’s first examine how turtles see colors. 

How Turtles See Colors

Until recently, scientists and researchers thought turtles had lousy eyesight.

Some thought they were unable to see colors. Recent research contradicts that, and we’ve come to learn turtles can absolutely see colors. 

Turtles have a gene that is also found in birds known as CYP2J19. We’ve also found this gene in animals as far back as the dinosaur age, specifically in the Archosaur.

As you may have heard, dinosaurs have much more in common with the modern bird as they do reptiles, and the Archosaur was no exception. 

The Archosaur had the scaly skin of a dinosaur, but its head was more like a bird’s, with a snout instead of a beak.

The gene common to all these creatures is also known as the red gene, as it allows animals to see more shades of red than we are capable of seeing. 

Each animal has color receptors in their eyes called cones. Humans have three, detecting colors and sending messages to the brain to decipher them. 

Turtles see more colors, and therefore have more cones. 

The eyes are more than just the windows to the soul, they’re often our connection to nature.

If you’ve ever looked any animal straight in the eyes, you’ve felt a connection with them, and turtles are no exception.

Their humanity comes out, and they can be great lifelong friends. 

F.A.Q.

Why Are My Turtle’s Eyes Red?


Some species of turtles, such as the male Eastern box turtle, naturally have red eyes. However, if you have a turtle who doesn’t traditionally have red eyes, there may be something wrong with it.

Examine the area around your turtle’s eyes. If it’s both puffy and red, then your turtle may have a health problem. 

Are Turtles Deaf?

Though turtles don’t have ears, they are not deaf. Thin flaps of skin lay over internal ear bones. These bones allow them to hear low-frequency sounds and vibrations. 

Keep Reading

Do Turtles Have Eyelids?

Why Is My Turtle Blinking So Much?

Is My Turtle Underweight or overweight?

Sources and references

Turtle eye and ears – austinturtlepage.com

Turtle eye muscle adapts to deal with obstructed vision – Sciencedaily.com

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