A few years back, I remember being amused and perplexed at the sight of a smaller turtle circling a bigger one and occasionally slapping with its flipper. Why do turtles slap each other? I had so many questions but not a single answer.
I came to know the reason behind that much later in life. But as it turns out, there’s more than just one reason! Turtles are indeed complex animals. And the science between this ‘play-fight is even more complicated.
Let’s dig in!
Why Do Turtles Slap Each Other?
For turtles, slapping is a springtime ritual where a smaller male occasionally slaps a bigger female with its flippers in hopes of mating. Other common reasons could be territorial aggression or a show of dominance between two turtles of any sex.
How Do Turtles Slap Each Other?
Turtles usually use their two front legs or flippers and slap multiple times on both sides of the face. It is often accompanied by mating dance and antics to woo a female. However, sometimes, a turtle will give just one big slap and move around.
In this video, you can see a red-eared slider slapping a fellow turtle using both legs.
And here’s a clip of a sea turtle giving its friend a single slap and swimming away like nothing!
The videos above are definitely amusing to look at. But the reasons behind these slaps run deeper than that. As a turtle parent, it’s imperative to know why do turtles slap each other.
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4 Reasons Turtles Slap Each Other
The mating ritual among turtles is quite impressive. A male turtle has to put on a show to get a female to dance with him. It goes on for anywhere between a few minutes to an hour or so. And a part of that show is to slap a female turtle with its claws.
Don’t worry – the slaps are usually gentle and consensual in most cases.
In addition to these tender slaps, a male will also resort to slowly nipping the female’s neck, legs, and tail.
If the female turtle isn’t interested, she’ll discard the advances and even snarl. But the male will be back once again after some time.
When the female turtle is ready to mate, she will go to the bottom of the tank, and a male will follow her happily.
If you see your male turtle constantly pestering the female, it’s best to keep them away from each other for some time. If the female is furious when slapped, maybe she’s hurt by the long claws.
Nonetheless, slapping is a common mating ritual that usually happens during springtime.
Despite their modest, unassuming nature, turtles can be quite territorial with each other. This kind of animosity is most common between 2 males, but we can’t rule out a male-female and all-female feud.
The rule of thumb here is to provide at least 10 gallons per inch the length of the turtle. However, many times I see multiple turtles housed in one big tank. This might seem okay to us, but you’ll never know if there’s a tension brewing among these water babies.
With territorial aggression, slapping is also often accompanied by biting, hissing, and snarling. This wouldn’t just inflict physical injuries but also increase stress levels by multiple folds.
Thus, if you find your turtles slapping each other, don’t forget to reevaluate the tank conditions.
With baby and juvenile turtles, slapping or fluttering is a common playtime ritual. These are harmless slaps. Since, at this point, they’re not mature enough to mate, no other complication that needs slapping would rise.
However, if you notice a particular turtle almost always at the receiving end, it could mean he’s being bullied by others. This kind of behavior is unusual in turtles, but one never knows, right?
Show Of Dominance
If you have multiple male turtles, a show of dominance is inevitable. Although turtles don’t have a very complex hierarchical order like some animals do, aggression between 2 male counterparts is commonplace.
The domineering behavior is often shown by the older or a bigger turtle towards younger males. It is often triggered by mating frustration, territorial aggression, or limited resources.
And this time, the dispute stretches far beyond just slapping. The ‘alpha’ turtle will have his monopoly over the basking spot and the food. As you can imagine, this can profoundly impact the living quality of other male turtles in the tank.
If a turtle is deprived of basking and eating, naturally, he will fall sick. As a result, the turtle will become prone to different ailments.
And that takes us to our next section. There’s got to be a solution, right? Of course.
How To Stop Turtles From Slapping Each Other?
Slapping or fluttering between male and female turtles is a natural, instinctive behavior in turtles that shouldn’t be intervened. However, suppose your male turtles are slapping each other or resorting to violence. In that case, you can upgrade the tank to ensure ample space for all parties and feed separately.
Upgrade The Tank
The tried and tested method to stop turtles from slapping each other is providing sufficient room for all turtles. As I wrote above, the rule of thumb is to offer 10 gallons per inch of the turtle’s length.
Newcomers in the hobby often add new turtles without making proper provision or don’t upgrade their tank as the turtle grows. In turn, this will stress out all the turtles involved, and no wonder they’ll resort to ‘violence.’
Even as babies, turtles need at least a 20-30 gallon tank. But I always recommend getting a bigger tank in the first place, so you don’t have to shell out money on upgrades later. As your pet grows, the smaller tank will be pretty much useless.
Ideally, the tank’s length should be at least five times the turtle’s length, and the width should be around three times the turtle’s length.
Provide Separate Basking Spots
Basking is imperative to turtles since they don’t produce their own heat like us. Basking provides UVA light to speed up metabolism, boost mood, and facilitate breeding. On the other hand, UVB lights help with the production of vitamin D3.
Turtles love to bask. If there’s not enough space to sit quietly and soak in the sunlight, turtles can get agitated quite easily – resorting to slapping orbiting.
Thus, to get rid of this territorial aggression, it’s best if you create two different basking areas for your turtles. And if possible, keep these spots as far as possible from each other.
I have created separate basking spots for both my turtles. I know it takes double the effort to set up two different spots, but in the long run, it really pays off.
A healthy turtle means less frequent visits to the vet, right?
Thanks to mercury vapor bulbs like this one from Lucky Herp, all of a turtle’s basking requirements are fulfilled with one single bulb. It takes up so much less space!
This one is a full-spectrum bulb that emits both UVA and UVB lights. Also, it comes with an average lifespan of 6,000 hours and a six-month guarantee! Personally, I haven’t run into any problems with these bulbs.
Create Separate Areas Within The Tank
This one might sound tricky. You don’t need to place a divider or anything like that. Just try to create two different sides in the tank by strategically placing rocks, decors, and plants.
This won’t just give the vibe of two different departments but also provide a safe refuge for the bullied turtle.
This idea may seem far-fetched, but it did work for me. When resting, my turtles often sleep on the opposite sides of the tank.
A fight for resources, especially if it’s scarce, is quite common among turtles. As a result, the dominant turtle may bully and slap the weaker ones. The best thing to do here is to feed the turtles separately – simple as that!
Deriving from my own experience, I think turtles get very snappy when they’re hungry. I’ve often had my finger bitten on multiple occasions.
Feeding separately also helps you gauge who ate what and how much. When feeding in groups, it’s often difficult to ensure that your pets’ nutritional requirements are met.
For instance, my younger slider will eat literally anything offered while the older one likes to fiddle and take his sweet time.
Providing food daily can also help to curb resource guarding behavior among turtles. However, if you’re giving food daily, don’t forget to moderate the amount. You definitely don’t want your turtles to become obese. It comes with its own set of cons.
A Good Tank Environment
If you were to live in a dirty, cramped room, wouldn’t it affect how you feel? The same goes for turtles. Turtles living in an inhospitable will often be stressed and unhappy – resulting in fights and slapping, of course!
Given their messy nature, a turtle tank can get dirty in no time, no matter how much elbow grease you put. If they eat and poop in the same tank, you’ll have to spend a good chunk of your every single day cleaning the mess.
Thus, it’s best to put the turtles in separate, small containers to eat and poop. And only after they’re done eating and pooping, transfer them to the original tank. My turtles usually take around 15-30 minutes to defecate after eating.
Also, make sure to add a robust filter to help get rid of all the gunk produced daily. Filtration is one department where you shouldn’t be cutting any corners.
Here’s a filter by Penn-Plax that I use for my turtle tanks, and I love it.
What I love the best about this filter is that its flow valves rotate 360 degrees, which helps to clean up residue stuck in every nook and cranny.
Plus, it has large capacity media baskets that give plenty of room to customize media needs and see what works the best.
Well, now it’s settled that turtles slap each other to channel their aggression (partially). But if they’re capable of getting angry, does it mean they can also get happy?
The answer is yes!
How To Know If A Turtle Is Happy?
A happy mood equals a happy meal. A happy turtle will not just eagerly eat his food but also show happiness by pulling his head from the shell or looking up to you when the food arrives. Over time, when the turtle establishes you as the food giver, he will even beg for treats like dogs do.
A happy turtle also loves to bask and play in the sun. If you see your turtle isn’t basking as usual, it’s definitely a red flag. A turtle will become hesitant to bask if the temperature of the basking area isn’t high enough. Likewise, if the water is warmer than the standard recommended, a turtle will not come out to bask.
But since basking is quite critical to health, ensure that the temperature balance between the land and water is properly maintained for your pet.
This one’s quite obvious, but a happy turtle will play and swim around quite a lot. My turtles love to play with these colorful ping pong balls. And I love watching them move the ball around with their flippers.
Ping pong balls are inexpensive, aesthetic, and definitely my turtles’ favorite.
Doesn’t Mind Handling
When your pet turtle is happy with you and trusts you, he will be very generous with handling. Turtles aren’t too fond of being held and cuddled, but if a turtle is fond of you, he won’t retract back into the shell, hiss, or bite you!
Clear Eyes And Smooth Breathing
A healthy turtle translates to a happy turtle. In fact, that applies to everyone, doesn’t it?
If your turtle is in good health, he will have clear eyes and a nose free of any kind of discharge.
Cloudy, weepy eyes, discharge from the nose and mouth – all of these are signs of underlying illnesses in turtles. And a sick turtle is never happy, right?
Why Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Slap Each Other?
The most common reason behind red-eared sliders slapping each other is that they’re gearing to mate. It’s part of their mating ritual and usually happens from late spring to early summer. Other reasons could be aggression or play-fighting.
Final Words: Why Do Turtles Slap Each Other?
Turtles slapping or stroking each other with the front limbs are part of the springtime mating ritual, where males try to woo females. If the female is receptive, she’ll return the gesture.
However, male turtles also often slap each other to show dominance over another. If you believe that’s the case with you, make sure that your male turtles have ample space and feed them separately.