There are countless creatures in the world that we inhabit, and there are just as many odd sounds that animals make that can sometimes perplex us. While we often have a social context to explain the sounds that other humans make, the same can’t be said for the sounds that animals sometimes produce.
This is the case when turtles make sounds, and much like other reptiles, it can be difficult to decipher exactly what a turtle means when it makes a strange noise. Today, we’re going to look at some of the most common sounds that turtles make, explaining what each of them means each step of the way.
What Sounds Does a Turtle Make?Turtles don’t have vocal cords as we do, but this doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of vocalizing. There are plenty of sounds that you may hear turtles making, and they can sometimes be startling when you consider the stoic, silent air that most turtles and other reptiles exhibit on a daily basis.
One of the fascinating things about turtles and how they communicate is that we can’t hear the majority of turtle communication. This is because turtles can communicate in frequencies that human beings can’t even perceive, so we’re missing the majority of the vocal cues that turtles make.
There are many sounds that turtles can produce, including a high-pitched whine, hisses, or even clucking sounds that may resemble the sounds that chickens make. How do turtles make these sounds without vocal cords? They do so by modulating their windpipe while breathing out of their lungs.
Hissing is a sound that you may have come to expect from other reptiles, but not necessarily for turtles. In fact, it can be rather funny to hear a turtle hissing, since we, as humans, tend to associate the hissing sound with animals that are being aggressive or threatening, two things that we typically don’t associate with turtles.
However, unlike some other animals, a turtle hissing doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s being territorial or aggressive. If a turtle hisses at you, then there’s a good chance that there’s something going on that’s making the turtle scared, since hissing is an expression of fear for them.
This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that turtles don’t hiss to seem aggressive. In fact, turtles don’t mean to hiss in the first place, as the sound is fully involuntary. Most of the time, a turtle will hiss when you approach it too quickly and it isn’t expecting to see you, meaning that you startled it.
The funny part is in how the hissing sound is produced. When turtles are scared, they will hurry and tuck themselves into their shells without taking the time to breathe out first. The hissing is the sound of the air being expelled from the turtle’s lungs as its head retracts into the shell and displaces the air that was in its lungs.
Sounds That Turtles Make When They’re Stressed and Nervous
Turtles may also make noises when they have other sources of distress aside from fear. These can include being stressed or nervous, and there are a few things that can make turtles anxious. As we mentioned earlier, suddenly popping into your turtle’s field of view is an easy way to make it nervous.
This is because turtles instinctively fear for their lives when they see something suddenly come up on them because they expect a predator to attack. This sense has served turtles well in the wild as it has ensured that they have time to retract into their shells before getting attacked by the predator.
The sound that turtles make when they retreat into their shells may not always be a hissing noise. There are times when a stressed or anxious turtle can make noises that sound like exhalations or even gasps, so don’t be too shocked if your turtle makes some weird noises when it gets worried about something.
On a related note, turtles can be trained to be okay with you touching them, but it will take a long time and a large amount of practice for them to stop making noises like they’re nervous when you pick them up. Also, be sure not to let anyone else pick up your turtle if you want to ensure that it remains comfortable with being handled and you’re in the middle of training it.
Aggressive Turtle Sounds
Turtles may also make specific sounds when they’re feeling aggressive and they need to intimidate a potential target. Since turtles are opportunistic carnivores, they aren’t above being predatory from time to time, and intimidation certainly has its own value in the animal kingdom.
The turtles that most commonly make aggressive sounds include snappers. It can be a little intimidating to have one of these large turtles making noises and approaching you aggressively, and if you’re ever on the receiving end, you’ll understand why these turtles do it in the first place.
Surprisingly, turtles make the same sounds as when they’re nervous or upset when they’re trying to intimidate their prey. However, the sound is a little less like hissing and more like panting or heavy breathing. The sound is somewhat reminiscent of someone who has just run a marathon and is now winded.
Keep in mind that turtles may also make these noises at each other when they’re feeling territorial. If your turtles are hissing or making noise at each other, the enclosure may not be large enough for each turtle to feel comfortable enough that it has its own space.
Turtle Mating Sounds
Turtles also use specific sounds when they’re mating to ensure that other turtles know that they’re ready to mate. Both male and female turtles make noise when they’re ready to mate, allowing either one of the couple to locate the other and to procreate.
Turtles typically make a sound that’s a bit like an extended cry when they’re trying to mate with each other. Another thing that you may notice is that turtles adopt an amusing posture when they make their mating call. While both sexes are liable to make mating calls, only the male will couple the call with its distinctive movements.
Some turtle species will also emit mating calls in lower frequencies that human beings may be unable to perceive. However, the sound will sometimes stray into the audible frequency band, and it will sound extremely low-pitched. This kind of mating call is common in the northern map turtle.
Other Distinct Turtle Sounds
There are many other sounds that turtles can make, and this varies based on the type of turtle species that you’re working with. There are simply too many species of turtles on earth to sum up all of their sounds in this section of our guide, but let’s go over some of the most notable ones.
Amazon River Turtles tend to create noises that they can use for echolocation, almost like submarines. Compared to oceangoing creatures like whales and other cetaceans, Amazon River Turtles use a different frequency to find their way through the waters of their home river.
Also, the big-headed turtle is no stranger to odd sounds, and it will roar as an intimidation tactic when it is removed from the water. Denizens of China and Southeast Asia, where the big-headed turtle is known to live have learned this the hard way when trying to move the creatures.
Do Turtles Use Sound to Communicate With Humans?
While turtles may not be quite as vocal as other pets like dogs, they will certainly try to get your attention with the sounds that they make. What remains up in the air is whether turtles are producing these sounds instinctively or if they’re actively trying to get our attention with them.
For example, turtles will certainly hiss at you if you try to pick them up or if you get too close to their enclosures. This is also linked to how turtles perceive humans as a source of food, as they have been known to make noises when human beings are approaching them with their daily meals.
Do Baby Sea Turtles Make Sounds?
Baby Sea Turtles don’t typically make as many noises as their adult counterparts, but there are a few cases where they’ll vocalize to get another turtle’s attention. One of the more notable cases is when Amazon River Turtles are hatchlings and they vocalize to attract the attention of older female turtles.
When the older female turtles hear the hatchlings, they will come to them and bring them to an area where they can feed with ease. This keeps the younger generation of hatchlings safe and ensures that they’re able to find a food source without having to travel immense distances.
Turtles don’t produce the most varied array of sounds, but the few sounds of theirs that we can hear are typically ways to protect themselves from predators or to express their fear. As time goes by, your turtle may get more comfortable and stop making noises so frequently, but there’s usually nothing to worry about regardless.