How Long Can A Snapping Turtle Hold Its Breath?

Jan 16, 2022

How Long Can A Snapping Turtle Hold Its Breath?

Snapping turtles have a peculiar habit of lurking and hunting food in muddy lake bottoms. And when prey comes close – unaware of the camouflaged reptile – the snapping turtle will snap the poor thing with its powerful jaws.

The alligator snapping turtle is even known to wiggle its tongue, using it as bait for catching fish and amphibians.

Once the prey falls for this trap, it is only a matter of seconds before it becomes a meal for these half-starved reptiles.

So, to conjure such devious plans, how much time do these turtles need? Surely, they need to be adept at holding their breath for the long haul in the water, don’t they?

In this article, we will find out how long a snapping turtle can hold its breath inside water.

Let’s dive in.


How Long Can A Snapping Turtle Hold Its Breath?

Snapping turtles can hold their breath and stay underwater for about 20 to 30 minutes. However, the timing can shorten up to 10 minutes if they perform tenacious activities like diving, chasing prey, or escaping predators.

And when at rest, snapping turtles can hold their breath for 4 to 6 hours. This is because their heartbeat reduces drastically while at rest (goes from 25 beats to 10 beats per minute) – thus, helping them stay underwater for a prolonged period.

And during hibernation, the heartbeat can scale down to 1 beat per minute. The turtle will be alive and healthy no matter how low the heartbeat drops.

How Does A Snapping Turtle Breathe?

Like every turtle, snapping turtles also have external nares above their mouths. The air passes through these nares from the glottis, trachea, and bronchi and reaches the lungs.

However, they opt for a different breathing method when underwater, technically termed cloacal respiration. Also, this method is popularly known as butt-breathing.

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How Does A Snapping Turtle Breathe Underwater?

Snapping turtles breathe underwater through their cloaca (butt). Using this technique, the turtle diffuses oxygen in and carbon dioxide out with the help of dense blood vessels present in the butt.

However, there are instances where even cloacal breathing techniques won’t suffice a turtle’s oxygen requirement. One such condition is when the lake’s surface freezes during winter.

Suppose the winter is particularly long and harsh. In that case, the oxygen content in the pond is limited and eventually not enough for the snapping turtles to intake.

This means that the snapping turtles have to breathe without oxygen. So, how do they do it? Can they survive?


Can Snapping Turtles Breathe Without Oxygen?

Snapping turtles go for anaerobic respiration, which literally means to respire without oxygen. In this course of action, the glucose in the turtle’s body breaks down even in the absence of oxygen. Furthermore, the chemical reaction transfigures energy from glucose to the cell.

When the snapping turtle resorts to using anaerobic respiration, it leads to afflictive accumulation of lactic acid instead of carbon dioxide and water.

However, this method can inflict more harm than good when turtles rely on it too much. It can cause lactic acid buildup, which cramps the muscles and can even result in drowning.

The good thing is that snapping turtles are among the enduring ones who can quickly adapt to this technique compared to other turtle species. They can survive for more than 100 days on anaerobic respiration alone.


Breathing During Hibernation

A snapping turtle’s metabolism will significantly slow down when the surrounding temperature drops low.

Due to this, the heartbeat will also cut down from 25 beats per minute to 5 beats per minute. And if the temperature plumps even low, the snapping turtle will begin to prepare for hibernation.

During this preparation, the turtle’s heartbeat will plunge down to 1 beat per minute.

Lower metabolism translates to lower needs for oxygen. Consequently, the snapping turtles will require substantially less oxygen.

If the temperature isn’t too cold (not low enough to freeze the lake), snapping turtles will breathe through their butt. The dense blood vessels on their butt will help them soak in oxygen present in the water.

When a pond’s surface freezes due to low temperature, oxygen can get trapped beneath. As a result, the snapping turtles will not have any oxygen to breathe inside water in such dire conditions.

However, thanks to evolution, snapping turtles can survive on anaerobic respiration. Therefore, there won’t be any need for oxygen to break down the glucose required by their body.

However, prolonged use of this breathing technique can be counterproductive. This type of breathing results in the lactic acid buildup.


Can Snapping Turtles Drown?

Yes, snapping turtles can drown if they are stuck in a net that restrains them from reaching the surface. The oxygen levels deplete even quickly when they are stressed.


Final Words On How Long Can A Snapping Turtle Hold Its Breath

Although not as good swimmers as other semi-aquatic turtles, snapping turtles still like foraging underwater.

This means they have to stay underwater for a longer duration to trap their prey. On average, snapping turtles can remain underwater for over 20 to 30 minutes.

However, if they have to chase down their prey, they will require more energy, and as a result, the underwater course will shorten.

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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.