Unlike a dog, cow, or cat, when you think of a turtle, it’s likely you don’t think of the sound it makes. You’re wondering, do turtles even make sounds? Do they hiss? Do they squeak?
In reality, turtles do make various noises despite having no vocal cords. Many of their sounds are on a spectrum that we, humans, can’t hear properly. We break down how, why, and what sounds different turtles make.
Previously, there hasn’t been much research on the sounds of turtles. For a long time, scientists thought they couldn’t make any noises at all. However, in recent years and with amplified modern equipment, we’ve learned that some species of turtle do use vocalization.
Turtles don’t have vocal cords, so all sounds they make come from air squeezing from their lungs and out of their throat. This can produce an array of sounds ranging from hisses, croaks, grunts, honks, moans, or even squeals.
All turtles can make a hissing sound. This hiss comes from when they retract into their shell, and the air whooshes out of them. It produces that hissing noise, even though it is more of a wheeze.
Many aquatic turtles use low vibrations to communicate, and one species was discovered to use a sort of sound echolocation. Just because humans can’t hear it on their own doesn’t mean turtles are limited with how they interact with each other and the world.
Why Turtles Make Noise
Turtles can make noises for various reasons, from fear and intimidation, while they are catching food, and even sometimes when they are playing with turtle toys.
Do turtles make noise when they mate?
Turtles use low grunts, and other low frequency sounds to attract mates. Often the only times a human can hear a turtle make noise is during mating. Many times, turtle mating sounds are the only sounds we can detect with our naked ear.
These are some of the most common types of pet turtles, and what sounds you might expect to hear if you listen closely or catch them unaware.
Red Eared Sliders
Red eared sliders are the most common type of pet turtle.
They are primarily aquatic and known for their red stripes where their ears would be (they have no visible ear canal). They really enjoy basking in the sun, and often if you’re on a North American river, you will see a group gathered with their legs stretched out, catching rays.
Sliders have been noted to make low-frequency sounds underwater and a quacking sound on land. Quacking? Yes, though it could be heard closer to a honk. Here is an example.
While mating, the red eared slider males use their long front claws to cause vibrations in the water as they wiggle their claws in front of the female’s face. They open and close their mouths during this process and emit a low sound.
Most aquatic turtles that can be kept as pets are in the same range as red eared sliders. They can produce hisses of air when out of the water and low noises when in it. It’s rare to hear a turtle make anything more than a hiss, though.
North American Box Turtle
This is a very common turtle, and you may have encountered one in the wild or as it was trying to cross the road. Box Turtles are peaceable animals who enjoy a slow-paced life in the underbrush eating various types of bugs.
They make the hiss when they retract into their shell, usually when frightened.
While mating they make grunting noises that are similar to a honk. This sound can be made outside of mating too, but it isn’t common to hear a box turtle make sounds a human can hear.
Snapping turtles are one of the more aggressive turtle species. They can make a variety of hissing, clicking, and honking noises. Sometimes they can make a sound that’s been called close to a roar when really agitated.
It isn’t wise to approach a snapping turtle, especially if it is hissing at you. They have tremendous jaw strength and can take off a finger if you aren’t cautious.
There are many, many species of tortoise. They make alarmed wheezing and hissing, and often their breath is a wheeze by itself in normal conditions.
Tortoises grunt and groan, often to attract a mate and in the actual act of mating. There isn’t a wide range of sounds they are capable of creating besides the highs and lows of air going through their throats.
And, as an aside, if you have a tortoise, is your home suitable for him or her? Check out these top tortoise enclosures for ideas on how you can improve your current setup and keep your pet safe and in good health.
Sea turtle sounds haven’t been fully explored yet. They seem to use different low-frequency vibrations underwater to communicate to some degree.
While in the egg, sea turtles and a type of Amazon River turtle harmonize in a hum to communicate to their clutch when to hatch. It helps their survival when they push to the surface in a group.
The Amazon River turtle, also called the arrau, uses its sounds as echolocation and navigates the murky Amazon River. Their offspring have a certain call that attracts grown females to the hatch site so they can migrate the river together rather than on their own.
Do Turtles Make Noise?
The sound a turtle makes isn’t a well known one, but they can and will make their own quiet noises when they need to.
Unlike other animals, turtles aren’t the most social and don’t need to alert us to things. They are content living in their own quiet, peaceful world. And while you do need to get some equipment set up to keep them, suck as a hygrometer and possibly a reptile humidifier, their fun personalities make it all worth it!