What Do Painted Turtles Do In The Winter? Can They Survive Without Oxygen?

Apr 20, 2021

What do painted turtles do in winter

We see several turtles foraging near the ponds and streams in the summer, but when it comes to winter, not a single turtle, specially painted turtles and snapping turtles, are seen. Where do all these turtles go? What do painted turtles do in the winter?

What Do Painted Turtles Do In The Winter?

Painted turtles in the wild go for hibernation during the winter. They are ectothermic, meaning cold-blooded. Unlike us, they cannot generate heat from their own body. So, their body temperature adjusts to their surroundings. To prevent freezing, they submerge themselves underwater and hibernate during the winter.

Here’s a video of a painted turtle emerging from a pond after hibernation:

Do Painted Turtles Need To Eat During Winter?

During this period, they do not eat, move or show any locomotion. They slow down their metabolism by over 90%, which helps them survive with no food.

A photo of painted turtle eating a worm
Painted turtle eating a worm

Before going into hibernation, painted turtles will consume lots of food to store energy for their hibernation. However, they won’t go into hibernation right after eating. They need to slow down their metabolism rate and won’t eat for a few days prior to hibernation. The fasting instinct comes naturally to them.

Unlike us, turtles do not require food to burn and keep their body warm. So turtles do not eat during hibernation.

How Do Painted Turtles Breathe During Hibernation?

Turtles have lungs and need to come out of the water to breathe. However, during hibernation, they can absorb oxygen from the body, and do not need to come out of the water. Turtles in the wild can go for 100 days without the need to come to the surface to breathe.

Let me explain how they can do it.

What do painted turtles do in the winter
Painted turtle coming out of hibernation

During winter, painted turtles breathe by absorbing the water’s oxygen with help of their body parts. When water passes through their body, it is absorbed by their skin, mouth, and cloaca (butt). So, yes, the talk about turtle breathing through butt is real.

However, there are cases when the oxygen in the water gets depleted too. Scientists term it hypoxic, meaning low or no oxygen in the environment.

Here’s an in-depth article that covers everything on how turtles breathe in different circumstances.

Relevant Readings:

Why Do Turtles Dig Holes? 7 Surprising Reasons Your Turtle Is Digging Holes

Does Box Turtle Bite? Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes!

Why Are My Turtles Stacked? 3 Shocking Answers and Solutions

So, Can The Painted Turtles Survive With No Oxygen During Winter?

The answer is yes. Turtles, mainly painted turtles, can survive in a hypoxic environment. They can switch their metabolism to a unique functioning, which doesn’t require oxygen.

And how do they do it?

The painted turtle stores sugar called glycogen in all organs of its body. And during the time of no oxygen, these glycogen are broken down to fuel up energy for the body organs’ functioning. But, while breaking down this glycogen, the turtle’s body also produces lactic acid, which can be toxic and life-threatening if continued to be produced for a prolonged period. However, in painted turtles, these lactic acids are absorbed and neutralized by the calcium and minerals released from their shell and bones.

What Do Baby Painted Turtles Do In The Winter?

Baby painted turtle
Baby painted turtle

Baby painted turtles also hibernate during winter. In winter, the surface of the water freezes. So they have to dive deep into the water and hibernate just like the adults do. However, their tolerance for cold temperature is slightly lower than adults. Just like adults, they can breathe with vascularized organs present in their bodies.

When there is less or no oxygen present, they will slow down their metabolism, and their heart only beats once every 2 to 3 minutes. Amazing, right?

What Do Captive Painted Turtles Do In The Winter?

Unlike the turtle in the wild, painted turtles do not need to go into hibernation. Turtles usually hibernate when there’s a lack of food and the environment is too cold for their bodies to survive. So, a captive turtle will continue their usual schedule, just like in every other season.

However, if you want to see your turtle hibernating, you need to know what you are doing. Consult with your vet and learn how to put your turtle into hibernation.

Final Words On What Do Painted Turtles Do In The Winter

Painted turtles have a better coping mechanism against the winter than other freshwater turtle species. They can decrease their metabolism at such a significant speed that it is truly fascinating to witness. However, a captive painted turtle will seldom hibernate until and unless there’s no heater to warm the tank. 

You might also like:

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How Do Turtles Breathe? Butt-Breathing to Breathing Without Oxygen: A Turtle’s Unique Respiratory Abilities

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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.