Where Do Turtles Go In The Winter? (& What Do They Do?)

Turtle 1: Hey dude, you look like you’re taking things slow today.

Turtle 2: Yeah, man, just taking it one shell at a time.

If you could understand turtle lingo, that’s the kind of conversation you might eavesdrop on when the mercury drops. Turtles aren’t exactly fans of cold temperatures.

But why do turtles not like cold weather?

Key Takeaway:

Turtles are cold-blooded animals. It means a turtle’s body temperature can’t regulate itself. So, when it gets cold outside, a turtle gets cold too.

Then, how do turtles survive the cold? Where do turtles go in the winter? And, more importantly, what do they do during the colder months?

We have answers to all your turtle queries. Stay with us and learn more about how turtles shell-embrace life when it gets chilly.

turtle inside its shell

Where Do Turtles Go in the Winter?

If you’re used to spotting turtles everywhere during summer walks, winter might have you feeling like there’s a turtle blackout.

Did turtles leave Earth and move to Turtopia – the planet for turtles?

Nope, they’re around. Just brumating.

Yes, most turtles brumate during winter.

Brumate? What’s That?

Brumation is when turtles down their metabolism and enter a state of dormancy. It isn’t exactly hibernation. The turtles aren’t sleeping. They might wake up to enjoy the sun when the temperature is warm.

What happens during brumation?

Generally, a turtle’s heart beats 40 to 45 times a minute. But during brumation, it slows down to 10 beats per minute. It means their body processes slow down.

Where do turtles brumate?

Well, that depends on the turtle species.

Where Do Different Turtle Species Brumate?

Freshwater Turtles

Freshwater turtles, like painted turtles, go underwater to stay warm. They dig themselves a cozy spot in the bottom of the lake where the temperature barely goes below 1°C.

But if the lake or pond is shallow and might freeze, turtles burrow themselves underground.

Snapping Turtles

Well, most snapping turtles do the same as any other freshwater turtle – they brumate underwater. But it’s not that simple. Snapping turtles are like the cool kids of the cold. They can tolerate low temperatures like a popsicle.

What does that mean?

It means that a snapping turtle may stay active even under a frozen surface. So, some might not brumate at all.

Land Turtles

Land turtles, like box turtles, on the other hand, burrow themselves underground. They use their hind legs and their claws to dig.

It’s not easy digging, so they might share the hole with some other turtle friends or other animals like a woodchuck.

How Do Turtles Breathe While Brumating?

Freshwater turtles dive underwater and burrow below the frozen surface. But there isn’t enough oxygen there.

So, how do turtles breathe?

Some turtle species have a special ability called “cloacal respiration.” It means they can breathe underwater through their butts. The area is called a cloaca. It is responsible for more than just excretion and reproduction. Cloaca also acts like a lung. It sucks in water and gathers all the oxygen from it. When done, it expels the water and starts again. And because there are lots of blood vessels in the area, it’s easier to absorb oxygen.

Cloaca is rich in blood vessels. So, the gas exchange happens easily.

But what if there isn’t enough oxygen in the water?

If the water isn’t oxygenated enough, turtles can switch to anaerobic respiration. It means the turtles don’t use oxygen for breathing. But this method can cause a buildup of lactic acid. And so, when spring arrives, turtles leave the water and bask in the sun to get rid of all the lactic acid.

How Do Turtles Survive the Winter?

Most species of turtles use a combination of brumation and adaptation. They adjust their body temperatures according to the weather and go underwater to survive. Most turtle species also use their fat reserves to keep their body temperatures from dropping too low during cold weather.

Turtles will breathe underwater through their butts to survive. They can also move to find food if the water temperature gets warm.

giant turtle sand zoo

What Happens When the Turtle Reaches the Surface?

When the warm sun arrives, many turtles will leave their underground homes. They come out to bask in the sun. It means a turtle’s body temperature rises slowly. When the turtle gets his body heat back, he’s ready to find food.

What will the turtle eat?

Just like all of us, turtles would want to munch on their favorite food once active. During the summer, it’ll be bugs, worms, and small fish.

In winter, aquatic turtles stick to aquatic vegetation like algae and roots. They also eat fallen fruits from trees that grow near the water. As for land turtles, they are good with their leafy greens, snails, and slugs.

Wait, winter?

Well, a turtle doesn’t have to wait till summer to munch on his favorite food. If he’s lucky and finds a warm spot near the surface, he can head out of brumation mode. It’s not the same as hibernation, remember?

Hibernation vs. Brumation

It’s simple. Mammals hibernate. Reptiles brumate.

The main difference is due to the animal’s body temperature.

Mammals are warm-blooded creatures. They need to lower their body temperature and heart rate to hibernate.

Reptiles are cold-blooded animals. They don’t make body heat. Their body temperatures remain the same as their surroundings.

So, don’t be surprised if you see any turtle species sunning themselves in the winter. If the outside temperature is warm, a turtle’s metabolic rate will rise. And he will be active.

Do All Turtles Brumate Underwater?

We know that freshwater turtles brumate underwater. It is because they can respire underwater.

But do all aquatic turtles brumate underwater?

No, not all.

Sea turtles, for example, don’t brumate underwater because they can’t breathe there. They prefer to migrate to warmer climates.

Other species of turtles prefer coastal areas, where they can easily access both aquatic and terrestrial environments.

How Do Turtles Know When to Wake Up?

Turtles don’t have to know when to wake up. That’s the beauty of brumation. Turtles are only resting. They aren’t sleeping.

Why are they resting?

They are resting because the cold temperature has slowed down their metabolic rate. They don’t have the energy to move. But when the temperature starts to rise again, their metabolic rate will increase. And they’ll “wake up.”

It can be on a relatively warmer mid-December day or during springtime.

It’s simple with turtles: when it’s cold, they’ll be slow. When it’s warm, they’ll be active.

front view turtle

Turtles and Their Winter Life

Winter isn’t too bad for turtles. They may not be as active and adventurous during this season, but they know how to make it through winter in one piece.

Brumating, or breathing through butts, is certainly a strange concept. But it works for these tiny tanks with built-in backpacks.

But not all turtles brumate. Some prefer migrating to a warmer area.

And when the temperatures are more in their favor, turtles come out to enjoy the sun and eat.

We hope this article has eased your curiosity about where turtles go in the winter and what they do when it’s cold outside.

If you want to learn more about other animals, we at Oddly Cute Pets are always doing our best to provide you with the most useful guides about unique pets. For more informative reads, head out to our website.

Thank you for your time.

Leave a Comment