Why Do Turtles Need Water To Swallow? Do They Also Poop In Water?

May 24, 2021

why do turtles need water to swallow

Eating and pooping in water isn’t something turtles do out of laziness. And although the water tends to get dirty very often due to these tendencies, water is deeply tied to a turtle’s digestive process. 

Keep reading, and you’ll find all the answers you’re looking for. 

Why Do Turtles Need Water To Swallow? 

Turtles need water to swallow their food because they don’t produce saliva. And since turtles also don’t have teeth, they can’t chew down their food. That’s why they have to rely on water to push the food down their throat. 

This practice is most common in aquatic and semi-aquatic species like Painted turtles and Red-Eared Sliders. When you give them any food, they’ll quickly jump into the water and eat it. 

Usually, turtles pump a little bit of the food in, blow the water, and repeat the process. 

Do Land Turtles Need Water To Swallow? 

why do turtles need water to swallow
A Box Turtle eating greens

Like their aquatic cousins, land turtles don’t have salivary glands or teeth either. Thus, they need water’s help to chew down and digest the food. However, they don’t absolutely have to dip their head in water like aquatic turtles do. 

Terrestrial species like Box turtles and Wood turtles can eat food on land and do so on many occasions. But they do need water by their side to facilitate this process. 

In the wild, land turtles often forage food on land and drag it to the water to swallow it. 

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How Do Turtles Eat Food Underwater Without Swallowing Too Much Water?

If you’re worried about concerns like the turtle gulping too much water and overhydration, there’s good news for you. 

Turtles have a highly evolved esophagus near their throat that functions as a pre-stomach. When eating inside water, turtles fill the esophagus with food and water and then constrict the organ to expel the water and digest the food. As a result, only a tiny proportion of water enters the digestive tract alongside food. 

How To Feed A Turtle Without Creating A Mess?

Feeding your turtle in the same tank it lives in is a foolproof recipe for a dirty tank. That way, you will have to clean and replace the water every week or so. And that won’t just waste your time, money, and effort but also induce stress for your turtle. On top of that, overly frequent cleaning and water changes will wipe out entire colonies of good bacteria. So, what’s the solution?

Feed your turtle in a different container or bucket filled with water. Don’t fill the bucket all the way through. Once your pet turtle is done eating and pooping, only then take him out and place him in the original habitat. 

Since turtles also poop in the water, make sure to keep your pet in the container until it has excreted. My turtles usually take around 15-20 minutes to eat after pooping. 

This way, the water in the original tank remains pristine for a much longer time. 

That being said, a turtle tank is always susceptible to gunks and residues. That’s why it’s best to invest in a solid filter early on. 

Here’s one I use by Fluval. 

Before getting this filter, my tank used to get cloudy frequently. Turns out that was because I was cleaning it excessively and killing all the good bacteria. 

Ever since I got this filter, maintaining my turtle tank has been a piece of cake. 

Why Do Turtles Poop In Water? 

Turtles don’t exclusively poop in the water, but they sure do prefer doing it there. That is because water helps the turtle relax its bowels and release poop easily. Another lesser-explored possibility is the hygiene mechanism. 

When turtles poop in the water in the wild, the running water will instantly flush the turd away. So, we can also see this instinctive trait in pet turtles. 

Now that you know the reasons behind why turtles need water to swallow and how to feed them, let’s move on to another crucial topic. 

The Ideal Diet For Your Pet Turtle 

Turtle eating strawberry
Turtle eating strawberry

Feeding your turtle a well-balanced diet will keep several diseases at bay and contribute to his longevity. Since turtles are omnivores, there’s a wide range of options to choose from. His platter could include commercial pellet, veggies and fruits, live feed, frozen feed, and occasional nutrient supplements. 

The general practice in the turtle-raising community is feeding the amount of food your turtle can finish within 15 minutes. 

Commercially available pellets should not make up more than 25% of all the food eaten. Offer a small amount at a time to prevent overfeeding. 

Occasionally, treat your pet with live crickets, mealworms, or a feeder fish. Turtles enjoy the thrill of hunting for a good snack. 

As for fruits and veggies, you can serve them 3 to 4 times a week. In fact, leafy greens and veggies should make up around 50% of the turtle’s entire diet. Turtles love gobbling down kale, collars, mustard greens, and even celery. You can also throw in small bell pepper, sweet potato, or a small piece of squash as a reward. 

Conclusion On Why Do Turtles Need Water To Swallow

Turtles need water to swallow because they don’t have mammary glands and teeth as we do. Since they don’t produce saliva, their food doesn’t get soggy in the mouth. Likewise, the absence of teeth means they cannot chew it into smaller pieces. 

So, water helps to soften the food and push it down their throats quickly. 

Aquatic and semi-aquatic species almost always eat in the water, but land turtles can sometimes consume their food without water. However, your land turtle must have easy access to water when drinking. 

My advice would be to feed your turtle in a separate container, so the tank’s water doesn’t get messy. I feed mine in plastic buckets filled halfway. And since turtles also love pooping in water, wait until the reptile has excreted before putting it back in the original habitat! 

Keep Reading!

Can Turtles Live On Land? Reasons For Turtle Going Offshore.

Can Turtles Eat Blueberries? Does It Help Them With Shedding?

Can Turtles Eat Potatoes? How Toxic Are Potato Leaves?

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.