Do Turtles Like Music? The Science and Myths Behind It

Dec 5, 2020

Do turtles like music?

Enjoying music isn’t just exclusive to humans. Several kinds of research have shown that birds and animals love it too when it’s tuned to suit their favored pitches and tempos. So, what about turtles? Do turtles like music?

Do Turtles Like Music? This is What Science Says..

There’s no definitive proof that turtles like music. But science shows that turtles are sensitive to low-frequency airborne waves ranging between 200 to 640 hertz. Thus, some turtles have excellent acuity in this range. So, do turtles like music? Yes, some do if it’s species-specific music.

Scientific Experiments Featuring Turtles And Sound/Music 

Many times, scientists have tried to test the turtle’s sound sensitivity in relation to training.

One such study with red-ear sliders (pseudemys scripta) was met with positive results. These turtles were successfully trained to withdraw their heads and react to low-frequency sounds. The best results were achieved when the sound was in the 200 to 640 hertz region.   

Another study involving painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) found that similar impulses could be obtained from the auditory nerve for tones ranging between 100 to 1200 hertz. The sound sensitivity was highest at 500 hertz.

What Do Real Owners Say?

A baby turtle
A baby turtle

While researching for this article, I dug through several forums to see what real turtle owners have to say about turtles and music. The result is a mixed bag.

Some turtle owners reported that they ‘trained’ their turtles to listen to music from the very start, and it helps the turtles relax. Some even shared that their turtles extend their heads and eat food when certain types of music are played.

On the other hand, some turtle parents explained that they couldn’t trigger any response from their turtles even when they played loud music with lots of vibrations.

There’s a belief among turtle keepers that their pets love classical music. But this could just be anecdotal or coincidental. There’s no concrete proof to back this notion.

So, it’s clear that we will never see turtles chilling to music as apes and dogs do. Why’s that? Are their brains wired differently? Or it’s the ears?

Do Turtles Have Ears?

It’s not uncommon for people to think that turtles have no ears at all. Turtles don’t have rounded openings like us, but they do have internal ears.

If you look carefully, you will see two small holes on each side of the head covered by thin flaps of skin covering. So, the flaps are actually covering the internal ear bones.

How Do Turtle Ears Work?

This is quite interesting and can take up the entire article’s length if we get into details.

But in short, the covering flaps allow some extents of vibrations and low-frequency sounds to enter the ear canals.

Turtles lack eardrums, but they have small bones in inner ears that differentiate between sounds and vibrations.

The inner ear transmits the sounds to the brain for interpretation. But the brain doesn’t do an impeccable job at translating it, as hearing is a secondary feature for turtles.

There is an intricate mechanical arrangement in a turtle ear that is fully effective with low-frequency range.

The large mass of fluid and tissue involved in this process is, in fact, responsible for the adeptness of ears at low frequency and stark loss of sensitivity when frequency goes higher.

This type of cochlear response to sounds is also found in fellow reptiles like snakes.

Now that the anatomy of turtle ears and how they function are clear let’s explore some more interesting questions on the topic.

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How Well Do Turtles Hear Underwater?

Air and water are two very different mediums. The molecules that make water are bonded closely than that of air. Thus, every sound is amplified underwater.

The skin flaps covering internal ear bones are much better at picking up pressure sensitivity, vibrations, and sounds underwater. Likewise, the skin and fat that make up the flaps are also good conductors of sound.

So, turtles may have a hearing disadvantage on land, but that’s not quite the case in water.

Can Turtles Hear Humans?

In most cases, the standard speech tone clocks in between 100-120 hertz. For children, the range can go as high as 300 hertz. So, yes, a turtle can pick up vibrations—not necessarily sounds—when you speak. The chances are even higher if you a deep voice.

In fact, turtles respond way better to smell than sound. So, if you take food near a hungry turtle, it’s more likely to respond.

Do Turtles Understand Music?

We can’t speak for all turtles, but most of them simply don’t understand music. If they’re accustomed to specific vibrations or tunes, they may enjoy it, but understanding music is beyond a turtle’s comprehension.

Can Loud Music Stress Turtles?

There are not many scientific studies about loud music and stress in turtles. However, like most animals, turtles can be stressed by unsolicited vibrations and sounds.

So, don’t blast speakers near turtles.

Even if they don’t hear any sound, they’ll most definitely pick up the vibrations.

Signs Of A Stressed Turtle

Here are a few signs to tell if your turtle is stressed:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Not able to raise the body from the surface
  • Raising the body and head abnormally
  • Reduced activity
  • Frequent urination and defecation

Can Pet Turtles Recognize Owner’s Voice?

Some turtle parents swear by this, but this is highly unlikely. Turtles heavily rely on smell and sight to communicate with the owner or fellow turtles.

So, if you see your turtle responding to your when you speak to it, it’s probably because they see you or recognize your smell.

However, we can’t rule out that they can or cannot spot certain vibrations and sounds.

How Do Turtles Communicate With Owners?

Turtles lack vocal cords and external ears. So, they’re neither good listeners nor talkers. If you’re wondering how they communicate with humans, it’s actually quite interesting.

They do it through body language.

Once a turtle gets comfortable with you, they’ll extend their head, tails, and limbs. Likewise, if they feel threatened, they’ll retract these body parts into the shell.

If you experience any discord in the way your turtle communicates with you, it could be a sign that he is distressed and not feeling well.

How Do Turtles Communicate With Each Other?

A pair of turtles

Turtles communicate with each other by making certain noises and displaying certain behaviors. The sounds are usually described as hoots, clucks, clicks, and grunts.

These are quite hard to understand for humans and can even seem silly, but they work perfectly fine for turtles.

Like whales, turtles communicate at lower frequencies that aren’t quite audible to humans. This is because these sounds can travel long distances underwater.

A latest scientific discovery has even shown that female giant South American turtles from Brazil communicate with their hatchlings when they reach the water for the first time. Cool, right?

Final Words On Do Turtles Like Music

Do turtles like music is itself an ambiguous question with no definite answer. Some turtles react to music by either retracting or extending their body parts, while some are entirely oblivious to it. However, researches have shown that most turtles can recognize sounds and vibrations within the range of 200 to 640 hertz. So, if it’s deep sounds with low frequency, chances are that your turtle won’t only hear it but also enjoy it.

Further Readings:

Do Turtles Jump? How High Can Turtles Jump?

Can All Turtles Swim? – Everything You Want To Know About The Turtle’s Swimming.

How Strong is A Turtle’s Shell? Are They Bulletproof?

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.