Can All Turtles Swim? Your Guide To Turtle’s Swimming Ability

Nov 2, 2020

can all turtles swim

Apart from a nutritious diet and adequate heating, a turtle needs ample swimming space to be happy and healthy. Turtles are primarily aquatic creatures who spend most of their life in water. However, there are numerous turtle species that can be kept as a pet in your aquarium. Hence, it begs the question, Can all turtles swim?

Can All Turtles Swim?

Yes, all turtles can swim. All you need to provide them is enough area for swimming and clean water. Turtles from aquatic and semi-aquatic species are great swimmers. However, terrestrial breeds are not very adept at it.

Popular pet turtle species don’t swim for that long and do come out to rest on land after 4-5 minutes of diving. But they can dive without the need to come out of the water for 40 minutes in a single breath.

Let’s see how do some of our beloved turtle species fare.

Thanks to their webbed feet, strong limbs, and streamlined bodies, red-eared slider turtles are excellent swimmers. They often live near creeks and ponds in the wild, where they love swimming and hunting down critters.

However, box turtles prefer shallow swimming areas. If kept in a deep aquarium, they might drown.

Terrapins are another breed of turtles, a mix of both land and water-loving turtles. They dwell both on land in brackish, swampy water in the wild. They are smaller in size when compared to other turtle species. And they swim with their webbed hind feet.

Here’s a heartwarming video of a box turtle swimming in a shallow tank!

Wanna learn how to raise a turtle? Check out this complete guide now.

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How Fast Can Turtles Swim?

Turtles can swim about 0.9 to 5.8 miles per hour. However, the speed depends upon the breed of the turtle. Also, when frightened or being chased by predators, they can swim up to 22 mph.

Sea turtles are considerably faster than freshwater turtles. It is mainly because the sea turtles have flippers, which helps them paddle easily. Freshwater turtles have webbed feet, which they use for propelling while in the water.

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How Long Can Turtles Swim?

a red eared slider turtle swimming
a red eared slider turtle swimming

Turtles can easily hold their breath underwater for more than 45 minutes while they are swimming. However, they usually dive for 5 minutes and come to the surface for breathing. As for swimming, they can swim for several hours.

Can A Turtle Swim In A Chlorinated Pool?

Turtle in pool
Turtle in pool

Yes and No. Just because your turtle can swim in a chlorinated pool doesn’t mean you should put him in there in the first place. First, the chlorine will irritate your turtle’s eyes. The eyes are one of the most vulnerable parts of their body.

Likewise, your turtle might drink chlorinated water, which deteriorates your turtle’s health.

Also, swimming pools don’t have a ramp where your turtle can bask after a swim. Searching for a ramp to rest will only make him tired and put him in frantic mode after a few moments. He might eventually die.

Can You Use Tap Water For Turtles?

You can use tap water for turtles, but first, you have to decontaminate them from certain chemicals. Tap waters might contain chlorine or chloramine, which are generally added to city water supplies to eradicate harmful bacteria in the drinking water.

Turtles can swim in tap water, but your need to dechlorinate the water before filling the tank. As for drinking, it would be best to provide filtered water to your turtles.

How Do Turtles Swim?

Turtles have a streamlined body, which makes them naturally buoyant in water. Freshwater turtles have webbed feet, which they use as a paddle. They use all four feet the same way as dogs when paddling in the water. Their limbs are stocky and robust, especially the hind ones they use as thrust providers when accelerating.

Their shells are streamlined, which makes them skilled swimmers. The webbed feet might make them slower than sea turtles, but their hard shells protect them when chased by predators.

Most turtles have webbed feet. Like pig-nosed turtles, some turtles have flippers, which lets them swim like sea turtles.

Can Turtles Breathe Underwater?

No, turtles cannot breathe underwater. They have to come to the surface to breathe in air through the external nares, which then go into their lungs. When hibernating under frozen ponds, turtles use other breathing techniques – and one of them is breathing through butts!

Breathing through the butt, also known as cloacal respiration, is a common way of breathing for reptiles and amphibians. The butt, aka cloaca, has abundant blood vessels, which absorb oxygen when metabolism is low.

Turtles get oxygen in water by moving the water over their body surface, where there are many blood vessels.

If you’re interested to know more on this crazy topic, don’t forget to check out this article.

Can Baby Turtles Swim?

Yes, they can. Once hatched and adjusted to a new world, baby turtles use cues to reach the water from the sandy shores. Turtle hatchlings will then ride on the surf and go for a swimming frenzy, which lasts for several days.

In the sea, hatchlings are relatively safer from predators and dehydration.

Watch this adorable video of sliders and painted turtles swimming!

Can Turtles Drown While Swimming?

Yes, turtles might drown while swimming as they need to swim to the surface to breathe. Turtles are intelligent enough to know that they need to maintain oxygen levels by floating just below the surfaces. Only when they see their food, they are known to dive deep to hunt.

Sometimes, turtles, when tangled in deep-lying plants, cannot reach the surface and get enough oxygen. When in a frantic state, the level of oxygen in their body can deplete faster than usual. This will cause asphyxiation, and they might die within minutes.

Turtles need land to bask. If they don’t have adequate basking opportunities, they might suffer from several health problems. As ectotherms, turtles rely on the external environment for warmth.

Also, you need to be aware of the water quality that your turtles swim in daily. While inside a tank, your turtle will excrete and feed in the same water, so you need to clean your tank regularly.

To avoid that, make sure to transfer the turtle into a smaller container when feeding. And only after he’s done eating and defecating, move him to the original tank.

Can Box Turtle Swim?

Yes, box turtles can swim too, but unlike other turtle breeds, they don’t have much affinity towards water, especially swimming. Most turtles have webbed feet, but box turtle has shorter legs and have individual toes just like humans. The individual toes don’t help them much while swimming.

Also, their shell isn’t too flat like other turtles have, so it is hard for a box turtle to maintain buoyancy. Yes, they can swim when pushed in the water, but they can drown when the water is rough and deep.

So if you are wondering how deep your tank needs to be for a box turtle, make sure it is only a few inches deep. Just like every other turtle, the box turtle also needs water for feeding. Putting their food in the water helps them digest food quickly.

Can Red Eared Slider Turtle Stay in Water All Day and Night?

red eared slider coming out of water
red eared slider coming out of water

Yes, they can, but coming to the surface every time they need to breathe is a tiring task. They like basking under the heat lamp. Make sure you have a basking place where they can rest when they don’t feel like swimming.

Also, the basking area should be warmer than the water temperature. 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit will be appropriate for sliders. If the basking spot is not warm enough, your turtle won’t bask.

How Far Should The Heat Lamp From The Turtle’s Basking Area?

As for the placement of heat light, if you want to place a 50 watt light, put it 7 inches away from the basking area. If it’s 75 watts, then put it 9 inches away from the basking area.

The more the watt, the more the distance should be maintained between heat light and basking spot.

Related Article:

Do Turtles Need a Heat Lamp? This is What Happens if They Don’t Have One

How Big Should A Turtle’s Aquarium Be For Swimming?

Here we will be talking about aquatic turtles, so you need to have at least a 20-gallon tank for a baby turtle. For adults, the standard rule is to offer 10 gallons per inch of the turtle’s length. Each turtle species grows at a different pace, so think about the potential size your turtle can be in a few years.

It’s better to go for a wider tank than a deeper one when buying a turtle tank.

Lastly, Can All Turtles Swim?

Every turtle needs water. Some like it more than others. It all depends upon the species. Most turtle keepers keep turtles such as red-eared sliders and painted turtles, who require ample space for swimming. Terrestrial turtles like box turtles need shallow water to keep themselves hydrated.

All in all, every turtle type needs water for feeding, but they need land for basking. Water has played an essential role in every life on earth, and it can be seen in your pet turtles too.

Keep Reading!

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How Strong is A Turtle Shell? Are They Bulletproof?

Do Turtles Get Lonely? 6 Tips To Keep Your Turtle Happy

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.