Do Turtles Get Cold? Guide To Ideal Water And Basking Temperatures

May 24, 2021

Do turtles get cold

In winter, turtles can survive cold weather conditions for several months that would kill a mammal within a few minutes. Turtles are some of the hardiest, resilient creatures we know. But sometimes, seemingly small and harmless could lead to life-threatening situations. 

One such factor is cold. Turtles can live under frozen ponds for a prolonged period in winter. Still, sometimes, something as minute as an inefficient basking lamp can take their lives. 

In this blog, we will discuss all there’s to know about turtles and cold temperatures. 

Do Turtles Get Cold?

Yes, turtles get cold. As ectotherms, they cannot generate their own heat. Their body temperature changes with the change in environmental temperature. Thus, if the surroundings are cold, they will feel cold. As a result, their heart rate and metabolism will decrease, making them lethargic. 

Constant and consistent exposure to cold often leads to conditions like pneumonia, shock, and frostbite. If not intervened on time, it can easily take your turtle’s life. 

Can Turtles Live In Cold Water?

Do turtles get cold
Turtle swimming underwater

During hibernation, turtles often stay under frozen water bodies with frigid temperatures for months. During that period, their bodies go through several changes to adapt to the cold. 

However, under general circumstances, a turtle’s body isn’t well-prepared to be exposed to cold temperatures consistently. Lowered temperature around 40 to 50°F causes the turtle to become sluggish and eat less – prompting him to go into forced hibernation. Thus, turtles shouldn’t live under cold water, although most can survive it for a certain period. 

In cold water, a turtle’s heartbeat and blood circulation slow down quite dramatically. Likewise, the metabolism and immune system decline. As a result, a turtle’s health can get seriously compromised – making its body a perfect host for several fatal pathogens and viruses. 

But just like cold water, hot water can also kill your turtle. I recently came across an article that chronicled the death of 3 pet turtles due to nervous shock after plunging into hot water clocked in around 194-199°F (90-93°C)

So, what’s the ideal temperature for turtles? Let’s find out. 

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The Right Water Temperature For Turtles 

The ideal water temperature ranges between 72- 82°F (22.2-27.8°C) for most turtles. Usually, sick and younger turtles need slightly warmer temperatures. The water should be around 80-82°F (26.5-27.5°C) for them. In addition to boosting the immune system, this helps to increase swimming ability. Turtles that swim in warm water have a faster stroke rate. 

However, the exact answer depends on many things like the turtle species, age, size of the tank, and your area’s climate. 

Achieving the correct water temperatures is not something you should be worried about as long as you have a reliable heater and thermometer in place. Whatever heater you use, make sure to create barriers around it to avoid contact burns. 

The Right Basking Temperature For Turtles 

A basking turtle
A basking turtle

Once again, the correct basking temperature should be at least around 10-12°F warmer than the water for most turtles. For most North American turtle species like Sliders, Painted Turtles, and Box turtles, the ideal basking temperature registers around 90°F. 

However, don’t go overboard with basking temperature. If it’s too warm, it can hamper a turtle’s swimming ability. 

Here’s a list of tentative basking temperatures for some popular pet turtles. 

Turtle Species Ideal Basking Temperature
Red-Eared Slider 85-95°F
Painted Turtle 85-95°F
Box Turtle 95-90°F
Mud Turtle 85-95°F
Map Turtle 80-85°F
Musk Turtle 80-90°F
Snapping Turtle85-90°F
Wood Turtle85-90°F

Now that you know the answer to whether or not do turtles get cold, let’s move to another interesting question. 

Can Turtles Survive Frozen Water? 

Most aquatic and semi-aquatic species in the wild can survive frozen water as they do year after year. However, captive turtles aren’t used to such extremities. They possibly won’t make it alive if they’re ever put in such situations. 

In the wild, turtles often plunge below the frost line of the pond, where the water is relatively warmer and consistent. Their metabolism drops to such low levels during this period that they only need minimum oxygen to keep ticking. 

And for their oxygen needs, they count on cloacal respiration – a technique of absorbing oxygen through the butt. 

In fact, Painted turtles are masters of frozen temperatures. 

Adult Painted turtles can survive temperatures as cold as 37°F without oxygen or food for up to 100 days! 

Choosing The Best Heater For Turtles 

If mishandled, heaters can cause many mishaps for both you and your turtle. From painful burns to electrocution, the risks are many. Thus, always efficiently gauge its safety measures, design, and heating efficiency. 

If you will use the heater inside the tank, I would strongly recommend getting a non-glass aquarium heater. But if you want to use a glass heater, don’t forget to buy a protective cover as well. 

Safety 

When it comes to heaters, you shouldn’t be cutting corners. I have seen way too many tragedies inflicted by heater accidents in the tank. Thus, when buying heaters, always check for features like auto shutoff, shockproof design, shatterproof material, and so on. 

Design 

Design is just as important when choosing heaters. Submersible heaters are the most popular, but you can also opt for external heaters depending on your tank setup. 

My Favorite Heater 

The ones that I use in my tanks currently are from Cobalt Aquatics. I absolutely love this heater. 

To put it simply, this heater is robust, accurate, and safe – the 3 most important qualities I look for in heaters. 

The one-touch system allows easy and accurate temperature calibration. 

And in terms of safety, the makers haven’t compromised anywhere. The integrated circuitry prevents the heater from overheating, while the shatterproof exterior keeps accidents at bay. 

Choosing The Best Basking Light For Turtles 

Just like with heaters, you’ve to be very careful when choosing the basking light for your pet turtle. Cheap quality lights often explode and put the turtle’s life at risk. You need to ensure your turtle has access to heat, UVA, and UVB lights in his basking area. 

I often see turtle owners skip UVB lights. But I can’t stress enough how important it is for turtles. UVB lights help to produce essential vitamin D3, which turtles need for healthy bones and organs. 

When choosing basking lights, you can either go for the classic two-bulb setup consisting of a basking light and a UVB light. 

Alternatively, you can also use a mercury vapor lamp that can provide heat, UVA, and UVB at the same time. 

For the longest time, I used the two-bulb setup, which is absolutely fine, but I recently switched to mercury vapor lamps in my quest to achieve a more minimal look for the tanks. 

My Favorite Basking Light 

The one I use in my basking area right now is from TEKIZOO. So far, I’ve had wonderful experiences with this light. This full-spectrum light imparts both UVA and UVB light crucial for reptiles. 

This particular product also enjoys thousands of great reviews on Amazon. I guess I’m not the only one who loves it. 

A solid, balanced, and adjustable bulb holder is just as important. 

Here’s one from REPTI ZOO that I love. 

What I love about this holder is that it gives plenty of space around the bulb. And when lit for several hours a day, bulbs do get crazy hot. This stand makes it a lot safer for my pets. 

Conclusion On Do Turtles Get Cold

Do turtles get cold is a no-brainer. Of course, they do. And they can’t even regulate their body temperature as we do. 

If their environment is cold, naturally, the turtle’s body will also get cold. 

While turtles are built to survive extreme colds in winter, their water and basking area temperature should never go beyond the standard. 

For most species, the ideal water temperature is 72- 82°F, while the basking temperature should be around 10-12°F higher. 

Using the right equipment and channeling a bit of caution is all you need to take care of your turtle’s heat and light needs. Make sure to invest in a reliable heater and basking light – cutting back in these departments can backfire quite badly. 

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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.