Thursday, June 14, 2007

Apple #247: Turtle Noises

My latest burning question is: do turtles make noise?

They seem like such quiet creatures, but so many of the seemingly-silent ones turn out to make some sound, so I wondered if that's true of turtles, too.

The short answer is yes, they do, but the noises depend on whether you're talking about a turtle or a tortoise.

So, first, the differences between turtles and tortoises:

Some people say tortoises are a type of turtle. Other people say there really is no distinction between the two in a strict classification sense. But then they all list the following differences anyway.



prefer swimming

prefer walking

live in salt water

live on land or in fresh water

awkward walking on land

not good swimmers and could drown

have blade-shaped flippers

have legs rather than flippers

flatter shells

high-domed shells

Now, for the sounds of turtles & tortoises:


These turtles are not in the water at the moment; they're taking a break from it. You can see their webbed, flipper-like feet, which indicate their preference for swimming rather than walking.
(Photo from Snail's Tales blog about bugs, animals, and other oddities)

  • Turtles have no vocal chords, but they do sometimes make other sounds.
  • Hissing: when turtles pull their heads into the shell, sometimes they emit a soft hissing sound. This is not actually a vocalization but the sound of the air in the turtle's lungs as well as the air in the shell being expelled as the turtle's body moves into the empty space.
  • Gurgling, bubbling, whistling: If a turtle makes a gurgling, gargling, bubbling, whistling, or wheezing noise, the turtle may have a respiratory infection, and the sound you hear is the sound of fluid in the turtle's lungs. If you own a turtle and it is making sounds like these, check the humidity and temperature of your turtle's environment to see that it's appropriate for your turtle's needs.


Tortoises tooling around on land at the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo

Larger tortoises have been heard making various noises, including vocalizations.
  • Tortoises also make a hissing noise when they retreat into their shells.
  • The Radiated Tortoise, which only lives on the island of Madagascar, will make a high-pitched noise if it is caught, sometimes for hours afterwards. Most predators would be so startled by this disturbing sound, they would release the tortoise.
  • Forest Tortoises have been heard thumping their heads on the carapaces of other tortoises, as a prelude to mating.
  • Galapagos, Forest, and other tortoises have been heard grunting during mating. Others have described the Galapagos' mating cries as roaring or bellowing, loud enough to be heard for hundreds of yards. Only the male makes sounds, and only during mating.

This Galapagos tortoise lives at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galapagos Islands and is saying hello to this woman named Allison.
(Photo from Allison Webb's Travelogue on Break Fresh Ground)

Tricon Kindergarten Class, Turtles vs Tortoises
Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins
Science Museum of Minnesota, Painted Turtle FAQ
All Experts, Turtles, Russian Tortoise Noise, Noise from side neck turtle
Reptile Rooms, whistling turtle noise
Charles Darwin Research Station Fact Sheet, Galapagos giant tortoises
Galapagos Travel Blog, Tortoise Mating
Sean McKeown, Duane E. Meier, and James O. Juvik, The Management and Breeding of the Asian Forest Tortoise in Captivity, 1991
Smithsonian, Reptiles & Amphibians Fact Sheets, Radiated Tortoise


  1. One of my finest childhood memories is of a strange day when my mom took me and my little brother out of school for the day (absolutely unheard of in our family) and took us to the Detroit zoo. There was one great big enclosure that was empty, but for some really large rocks that were piled on top of one another. But, there was also a strange mooing sound coming from there. I remember my mom's embarrassed chuckle as she pointed out that the noise was coming from the rocks -- they were actually enormous tortoises, and they were in the act of mating. I didn't figure that out until years later, but thought that the funny mooos they made while they were doing their tortoisey acrobatics were fantastic.

  2. That's an excellent story. Turtles mooing on a school day.

  3. Thank you for bringing such nice posts. Your blog is always fascinating to read.

  4. You're very welcome, Ann! I'm glad you enjoy the Daily Apple.

    If you ever have any requests, please ask away. I'd be happy to oblige.


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