How Long Can Turtles Hold Their Breath Underwater?

Some turtles are real water bugs. They dive into the water and seem like they’re never going to come out again.

But how long can a turtle hold its breath underwater?

In this article, we’ll be calculating how long turtles can hold their breath and how the different species compare.

Key Takeaway:

Active sea turtles surface every few minutes to breathe. When inactive, they breathe once every few hours. Terrestrial turtles can hold their breath for 30 minutes.

Different turtle species are able to hold their breath for varying amounts of time. To find out how long your favorite turtle species can stay underwater without drowning, take a look at the following section of this article.

Make a splash, let’s jump right to it!

sea turtle underwater

How Long Can Turtles Hold Their Breath Underwater?

Some turtles are so comfortable in the water. They ripple through it for hours on end without taking a breath.

Even a turtle that is mostly land-bound doesn’t mind getting his feet wet from time to time.

How long can turtles hold their breath?

How long turtles can stay underwater depends on what they are doing. An active turtle will need to come to the surface of the water every few minutes to breathe.

While the sea turtle rests, it can stay underwater for several hours.

How long can turtles hold their breath depends on their species. Sea turtles and semi-aquatic turtles are better able to hold their breath underwater than land turtles.

Sea turtles, like other turtles, have lungs. So they cannot technically breathe underwater.

That said, sea turtles can hold their breath for a really long time and use other methods to breathe oxygen that make it look like they are able to breathe underwater.

What methods are these?

  • Taking in oxygen through the skin
  • Extrapulmonary respiration
  • Anaerobic breathing
  • Cloacal respiration (or butt breathing)

Which species of turtles can spend long periods of time underwater?

Coming up next, we are going to check out some common species of turtles and find out how long they can spend underwater. We’ll be taking a closer look at the following species.

  • The painted turtle
  • The snapping turtle
  • The red-eared slider turtle
  • The box turtle
  • The sea turtle
  • The freshwater turtle

Hold your breath, and let’s dive straight in!

Painted Turtles

Painted turtles are freshwater turtles native to North America. They are so-called because they have colorful markings on their shells, heads, and necks.

These turtles love chilling out on rocks for hours around bodies of water. They’ll quickly scuttle into the water if they feel endangered.

But how long can these turtles stay underwater?

Painted turtles can remain underwater for 30 hours at room temperature. However, when temperatures drop below 37 degrees Fahrenheit, they can hold their breath for a phenomenal 4-month period.

4 months! Now, that’s impressive!

But how do they do it?

In the north, Painted turtles become inactive and start hibernating underwater when temperatures drop. They hibernate in a shallow end of the water no more than 2 meters deep and may dig a further meter into the mud.

During hibernation, the Painted turtle does not breathe. If its surroundings are good, it might take in oxygen through its skin.

The design of its shell, heart, and brain helps the turtle to survive and sleep underwater even without oxygen.

Here are some interesting facts about the painted turtle and its breathing capacity.

  • A baby turtle can freeze solid without getting frostbite. During this time, its heart rate slows down, and it will stop breathing.
  • 19 genes in the turtle’s brain and 23 genes in its heart become active in places where oxygen is low.
painted turtle on a rock

Snapping Turtles

Snapping turtles are given this name because of their super strong jaws that they make full use of during mating and egg-laying seasons. They spend a lot of their time underwater.

But how long can they stay below the surface?

Snapping turtles hold their breath for 40 to 50 minutes in normal conditions. In the north, during winter, they may hold their breath for 6 months.

Yes, you read it correctly! They can spend months underwater!

How on earth do they do it?

Ice covers the hibernation site of this turtle species for 6 months a year in the north. This inhibits them from getting to the surface to breathe air.

During this time, extrapulmonary respiration takes place as the turtle pushes its head out of the mud. Extrapulmonary respiration is allowing gas exchanges to happen using the membranes in the mouth and throat.

Here are some mind-boggling facts about how this turtle breathes.

  • A snapping turtle can extract oxygen from the water around it.
  • This turtle may suffer from oxygen debt if it does not get enough oxygen by the spring.

Red-Eared Sliders

Red-eared sliders are so-called because they can quickly slide off of rocks into the water. It is also because of the funky red stripe they have where their ears would be.

This turtle species likes to hang out in places where there is slow-moving or still water which is why they are commonly found in swamps, lakes, and ponds.

How long can red-eared sliders hold their breath?

Red-eared sliders can remain underwater for 30 to 35 minutes in normal conditions. During brumation, the turtles can survive underwater for weeks without surfacing.

Imagine holding your breath for weeks!

How can these turtles spend so much time underwater?

When temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, these turtles brumate. During this time, they become a lot less active and only surface every couple of weeks to breathe and find food.

During brumation, the turtle’s heart rate slows down to reduce its energy requirements, and it will survive anaerobically. During this time, the body can survive on less oxygen.

There are so many interesting things to find out about this turtle species. Some of our favorite breathing facts are listed below.

  • To reduce the need to breathe during brumation, the heart rate of the turtle will slow down by 80%.
  • The turtle will enter sopor in the winter and will stop moving, breathing, eating, and defecating. This normally occurs after October, when temperatures begin to plummet.
  • This species is most likely to brumate in water, but it may also do so under stumps, banks, and rocks on land.

Box Turtles

The Box turtle is not an aquatic turtle and will not spend much time in the water.

How long can they hold their breath?

Box turtles can hold their breath for 15 to 30 minutes.

15 to 30 minutes is still pretty impressive, but not as mindblowing as the extended periods of some aquatic turtles.

Why can’t they hold their breath for longer?

Box turtles are terrestrial turtles; they do not have webbed feet, smooth shells, or the ability to stay underwater as sea turtles do. That is, except for the aquatic box turtle.

A box turtle can swim, but it is not as strong a swimmer as other species of turtles and will normally stay near the surface.

A box turtle will only immerse itself in water when it is trying to get somewhere to escape a predator. So, if your pet turtle is spending a lot of time underwater, it may be in trouble.

The box turtle is fascinating. Here are some of its most impressive breathing facts.

  • When a box turtle hibernates, it breathes mainly through its hindquarters.
  • These turtles drown when their water level is higher than their shells.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles stay underwater for so long that it can make it look like they can breathe underwater. But that’s not the case.

Sea turtles, just like land turtles, breathe air using their lungs. They breathe using their lungs when they come up to the ocean’s surface.

They are, however, able to hold their breath for extended periods.

How often do they breathe?

How long they can hold their breath depends on what kind of sea turtle they are.

When actively swimming, most sea turtles need to go up to the surface for air every few minutes. When they are resting, sea turtles hold their breath for up to 2 hours.

Sea turtles sleep underwater.

These turtles sleep at the surface of deep water. You will also find them sleeping underwater near the sea floor in shallow water.

Not many of us would fancy taking a nap in the middle of the ocean, but sea turtles love it!

sea turtle swimming

Freshwater Turtles

A freshwater turtle spends long periods of time in and around water. It may seem like these turtles breathe underwater, but in reality, they hold their breath.

How long can a freshwater turtle hold its breath?

A freshwater turtle will hold its breath for 45 minutes to one hour during normal activity. You might find this turtle sleeping underwater for 4 to 7 hours.

The normal routine for these animals is to come to the surface to breathe for a few seconds and then continue diving underwater for 4 or 5 minutes. Many species of freshwater turtles use cloacal respiration to absorb oxygen underwater.

How Long a Turtle Will Stay Underwater

When certain species of turtles hibernate, sleep, and rest, they might go underwater. But how long the turtles can hold their breath depends on a number of factors.

Here are some of them.

  • The age of the turtle
  • The temperature of the water
  • The species of the turtle

Let’s take a look at these factors in more detail.

The Age of the Turtle

Baby turtles and young turtles do not have much experience with holding their breath underwater for extended periods. Most turtles will not develop this skill until they become older, more mature turtles.

Baby turtles will swim to the surface for air every few minutes.

The Temperature of the Water

Turtles can hold their breath underwater for longer when the water temperature is right. If it is too warm, most turtles will need to come to the surface for air more often.

Turtles hibernate when the water temperature gets cooler. During this time, their body temperature lowers, and they slow their metabolism so they do not need to come to the surface for air.

The Species of the Turtle

A sea turtle has the ability to hold its breath underwater for a very long time. When resting, most turtles spend 2 hours underwater before surfacing for air.

A land turtle cannot hold its breath underwater for a long time. Just 30 minutes is the capacity for many land turtles.

The Sea Turtle, Land Turtle, and Staying Underwater

Your turtle hasn’t surfaced in a long time.

But, is the turtle drowning?

This article has shown us that some turtles can stay underwater for a long time without breathing.

Some when active, will take breaths every few minutes. When they’re not active, some will only take a breath after several hours or even longer.

How long it will be until your turtle comes up for air depends on its species, age, and the temperature of the water.

Did you find the information in this article interesting?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we are always striving to provide you with the best guides about pet turtles and their habits. For more details about Loggerhead sea turtles, the Leatherback sea turtle, and other animals, make sure you check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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