Why Do Turtles Stick Their Legs Out? 4 Reasons Behind This.

May 23, 2021

why do turtles stick their legs out

Turtles do all kinds of weird things. Sights of a turtle wiggling its bum and sticking out its leg are familiar to a seasoned turtle keeper. But have you ever wondered why turtles stretch like that? Has it gotten sick? Or, is it just a normal thing turtles do?  So, let me cover the primary reasons behind a turtle sticking its leg out.

So, why do turtles stick their legs out? Turtles stick their legs out to absorb as much light and heat as possible. By sticking out and spreading their legs, they increase their body’s surface area and absorb more heat during basking. 

Though this is the primary reason, you shouldn’t rule out other prevalent premises that are causing your turtle to stick out its legs frequently.

We shall further discuss this in detail.

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Turtle’s Way Of Absorbing Heat

Turtles are cold-blooded animals. They need to bask and absorb vitamin D to maintain their optimal body temperature.

During summer, they can absorb enough heat from the sun. However, they cannot enjoy the same privileges in the winter. Heat gained from the winter sun won’t be enough to keep your turtle warm. So a turtle will stretch its body by sticking its leg out to absorb more heat from its environment.

Also, a turtle’s shell is a bad conductor of heat. Thus, turtles require a much higher temperature to warm up the whole body during winter. Therefore, sticking their legs out to increase their body surface area helps them absorb the additional heat.

Furthermore, sticking out legs help turtles in thermoregulation along with heightened metabolic functions.

Research has also shown that turtles improve their efficiency in digesting foods by stretching their body. This could also be another deduction on why turtles stick their legs out.

Here’s a cool time lapse video on how turtles stretch their legs while basking.

What Can You Do About It?

The tank’s placement is crucial for your turtles to thrive. A properly placed tank gets adequate natural light as well as fresh air. So, if your turtle tank isn’t getting any heat or light all year round, you need to relocate it to a favorable place. Find a well-ventilated area where sunlight falls for at least 6 hours.

All year round, turtles require UV heat lights above their basking area. They need it for warming their body. In the market, there are several kinds of heat bulbs available. It can get confusing to choose the perfect one when presented with too many options.

Let me eliminate your confusion.

If you have housed your turtle in a tank of at least 40 gallons, a 50-watt bulb will meet the lighting qualifications.

However, if you have a shared tank housing more than one turtle, you will need a 100-watt bulb to warm the basking area.

The bulb’s placement is another crucial factor to consider. If you put the heating bulb too close to the basking area, it will burn off the scutes on your turtle’s shell. And if you keep the bulb too far, it won’t give off sufficient heat.

So, to help you correct bulb placement, here is a guide you can follow:

·        For a 25-watt heating bulb, keep it about 5 inches away from the basking spot.

·        For a 50-watt heating bulb, keep it about 8 inches away from the basking spot.

·        For a 75-watt heating bulb, keep it about 9 inches away from the basking spot.

·        For a 100-watt heating bulb, keep it about 11 inches away from the basking spot.

It can be cumbersome to find a perfect heating light for your reptile. I have also faced this daunting task of searching for a quality, durable lamp. And I finally got one, a ceramic heat emitter, perfect for my turtle. It has already been a year since I got this light. If you want a durable heating light, this is the one. You can get it with the link below.

A Pregnant Turtle Also Sticks Her Legs Out

A matured female turtle will lay eggs even if there are no male turtles to mate. And just like a hen’s eggs, these eggs won’t hatch.  

Box turtles can lay 3-8 eggs per clutch. Semi-aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders can lay about 2 to 30 eggs in a sitting. Carrying this many eggs in their womb does affect their body. Spasms in muscle are often seen in pregnant turtles. So, to relieve the contractions, they stick their legs out and stretch during pregnancy.

How Can You Help A Pregnant Turtle?

A pregnant turtle has her own way of dealing with pregnancy. You can often see them kicking, squealing, and sticking out legs.

Pregnant turtles don’t need hands-on care. Fortify their diets with essential nutrients and help them get to a safe place to lay their eggs, and that should be all. Trying to interrupt will only make matters worse. Just let her be when she is acting like that. Do not try to change anything which might raise her stress level.

Signs Of A Pregnant Turtle

A pregnant turtle will show the following signs:

·        Basking and eating habits will change immensely

·        Kicking and pacing around in the tank

·        Physical signs like the frontal part of the stomach get plumpy

·        The inner side of the arms and legs turns white 

A turtle needs a warm and safe place to lay her eggs. Help her be comfortable by making a suitable dry habitat in her living area.

If you would like to know more on how to help your turtle lay eggs, you can check out this nugget-filled article.

How to Tell if a Turtle is Pregnant? Guide For Turtle Breeding.

Lack Of UV Rays In Tank

Lack of UV source in a tank is also a reason for your turtle sticking its legs out. As a cold-blooded reptile, your pet will stick his legs out and increase body surface area to replenish the UV deficit.

Why Do Turtles Need UV lights?

For turtles, UV lights are a vital source of Vitamin D3. These vitamins help in formation of calcium in their body. Calcium aids in the shell development of the baby and juvenile turtles. As for adults, the presence of Vitamin D3 prevents shell rot.

Therefore, the lack of vitamin D3 results in poor shell growth, weaker bones, and poor health.

UVA Lights And UVB Lights

While getting a UV light for turtles, you can opt for a  2-in-1  full-spectrum light. You can find lights that emit both UVA and UVB rays online.

Here’s one by TEKIZOO that emits heat, UVA and UVB light from a single bulb. 

Apparently, each bulb is strictly tested for quality assurance to ensure best working condition. Maybe that’s why this product has thousands of raving reviews on Amazon. Check for yourself! 

What Is A UVA Light In Turtle Tank?

It is a standard light that illuminates the tank and helps a turtle see inside the tank. However, turtles do not get vitamin D3 from UVA light.

What Is A UVB Light In Turtle Tank?

UVB light emits rays similar to the sun. These emitted UV rays are a source of Vitamin D3 for your turtles. Often, this type of light is usually placed above the turtle’s basking area.

Your Turtle Might Be Resting And Stretching

Turtles like to dive inside the water, swim for a while, and come up to the surface to rest. While resting, they will stretch their legs and relax to rejuvenate their energy.

Just like us, they also need rest after heavy exercise. This is why you can see them resting and stretching their legs after a deep dive excursion.

So, you don’t need to worry when you see a turtle just floating while sticking its legs out in the water. It just means that your turtle is having the time of his life.

Final Words On Why Do Turtles Stick Their Legs.

Often you will find your turtles stretching their legs. You don’t need to worry because this is an expected behavior displayed by most turtles.

Some do superman pose, whereas some relax and act like the dead in the basking spot.

However, findings have shown that sticking legs out has its benefits. Increased metabolism, effective digestion, heightened immune systems are some benefits and the reason why turtles display such behavior.

Relevant Readings:

Do Turtles Eat Shrimp? A Tasty Snack Or An Eco-Friendly Pal?

Are Turtles Poisonous? Or Are They Venomous?

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli? Are Broccoli Leaves Poisonous?

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.