Are Turtles Nocturnal? What About Pet, Sea, And Box Turtles?

Image of a turtle swimming at night

Turtles are fascinating animals to observe in the wild or captivity. You may have noticed turtles active in the day as well as at night. So, are turtles nocturnal?

Most of the turtle species are not nocturnal, except Asian Box Turtles. Turtles are not nocturnal because they do not have night vision or other sharp senses to safeguard themselves from predators in the darkness. Turtles are diurnal animals as they are active during the day and sleep at night.

Let’s now see in-detail why turtles are not nocturnal animals and all the factors related to it. But first, let’s understand the difference between diurnal and nocturnal animals.

Difference Between Diurnal And Nocturnal Animals

The primary difference between diurnal and nocturnal animals is that the former is active during the day, whereas the latter is active during the night. Environmental factors such as high temperature, scarcity of food, and predation risk are some of the factors that determine whether the animals are diurnal or nocturnal. Besides, some animals have enhanced senses that enable them to thrive well at night.

Let’s now talk about diurnal or nocturnal animals in detail.

Characteristics Of Diurnal Animals

Diurnal animals are the ones that are active during the day and are fast asleep at night. Most of the animal species are diurnal. These animals do not have superior eye vision or night vision to search for food in the dark for survival.

It is said that initially, all animals were diurnal. Due to this, the predators had an added advantage. The predators used to be active all day long, and because of this, some animals suffered as they were unable to protect themselves at night. So, there was an imbalance.

Due to this, as time passed by, some of the animals adapted themselves to be nocturnal. This brought a balance as all the animals now had an equal opportunity for survival.

Some of the best examples of diurnal animals are dogs, elephants, squirrels, lizards, butterflies, and many more.

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Characteristics Of Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal animals are the ones that are primarily active at night. They sleep during the day. One of the reasons for animals to be nocturnal is the soaring temperature. Most of the nocturnal animals are found in the deserts where the temperature is very high. So, these animals find it difficult to cope with the heat. They lose their energy in the soaring heat.

These animals cannot hunt or scavenge for food during the day. So, they have adapted themselves by finding a suitable spot to sleep during the day. Also, by sleeping during the day, these animals conserve energy. Nocturnal animals wake up at night when the temperature cools down and is manageable.

Another reason that some of the animals have adapted themselves to be nocturnal is that many predators are awake during the day. So, the timid animals become easy prey to these predators, and survival becomes difficult for them.

Besides, these animals cannot roam freely to search for food due to the fear of being attacked and killed. So, they prefer to hide and sleep during the day. At night, when there is darkness, these animals hunt for food and attack the prey.

In addition, nocturnal animals have some enhanced senses like night vision, sharp hearing, and smell senses that give them an added advantage at night.

Some of the best examples of nocturnal animals are bat, black rat, hyena, owl, red fox, scorpion, and many more.

Now that you know about diurnal and nocturnal animals, let’s understand why turtles are not nocturnal.

Why Are Turtles Not Nocturnal?

Turtles are not nocturnal as they are active during the day. They cannot sleep during the day as most of their activities need to be done in daylight. Turtles also have certain limitations in the darkness and hence cannot live their life being nocturnal.

Following are some of the important reasons why turtles are not nocturnal:

  1. UVB light for basking: Turtles need sunlight to bask. They need exposure to the UVB light for the development of their bones and shell. The UVB light helps in processing the calcium in their body, resulting in sturdy bones and a healthy shell. Turtles absorb UVB light in their body from the sunlight during the day. Basking is essential as it helps strengthen the shell and reduces the algae growth on the turtle’s shell. A healthy shell is always free from any bacterial infection. If turtles sleep in the day and are active at night, they cannot absorb the UVB light. This will adversely hamper their overall growth. Hence, turtles sleep at night and are awake and active during the day to bask.
  2. Can’t see in the dark: Another reason why turtles are not nocturnal is that they cannot see in the dark. Turtles do not have peripheral vision. Like humans, turtles can see in the dark once their eyes get adjusted to the darkness. Though turtles can see in the dark after adjusting their eyesight, they still cannot see as clearly as they can see in broad daylight. Animals need to have tapetum lucidum in their eyes for having night vision, which turtles do not have.
  3. Senses are weak: All senses need to be sharp for nocturnal animals as they need to hunt for food and protect themselves from potent predators. Turtles do not have the best of the senses, though their senses are not too weak either. As turtles do not have night vision, they are not able to search for food at night. Besides, the hearing sense of turtles is not sharp compared to some of the other animals in the wild. Turtles cannot hear very well as they lack the eardrum or the tympanum, which is essential for hearing. If we talk about other senses, turtles can smell, taste, and feel. For animals to be categorized as nocturnal, they need to have certain adaptation such as night vision, sharp hearing, and smell to survive in the wild. Since senses such as eyesight and hearing are not finely developed in turtles, they are not nocturnal animals.

Alright! So, most of the turtle species are diurnal. But what about pet turtles? Do they exhibit any of the nocturnal behavior?

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Are Pet Turtles Nocturnal?

Pet turtles are not nocturnal. Turtles exhibit diurnal characteristics in captivity. This is because they resemble the routine that their owners follow.

Pet turtles are active during the day and sleep after the sunset. In captivity, turtles cannot sleep during the day anyway as their habitat at home is very noisy. We perform most of the activities during the day, and hence the environment at home is very active. People often drop by during the day, and this disturbs the turtles’ sleep.

Another reason that pet turtles are not nocturnal is that feeding is done during the day. Pet owners feed their turtles during the day when they have their meals. So, turtles in captivity adapt to the home environment.

Also, pet turtles tend to bask during the day in sunlight. Most of the pet owners have a separate basking area for their turtles. They may also have the UVB lamps installed in the basking area so that their pet gets the all-important UVB light for their shell and bone growth.

Another reason for pet turtles to be diurnal is that the pet owners take care of their turtles during the day. If the turtle is sick or has any illness, owners take their turtle to the Veterinarian for treatment only during the day.

Are Sea Turtles Nocturnal?

Sea turtles are not nocturnal. They are primarily diurnal as they are active during the day and sleep at night. Sea turtles spend their night either floating on the water surface or sleeping under a rock.

Juvenile sea turtles sleep during the night on the surface of the sea. They rest at night by folding their front flippers over the shell.

Sea turtles are active during the night only while laying eggs. Female sea turtles come to the shore during the night for laying eggs. Sea turtles lay their eggs in the night to keep their eggs safe from predators. Once the egg-laying activity is completed, sea turtles march back into the sea.

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Are Box Turtles Nocturnal?

Like other turtle species, box turtles are also not nocturnal in general. However, some species of box turtles are nocturnal. The Asian box turtle is one such species that is nocturnal. On the other hand, North American box turtles are primarily diurnal and are active during the day.

Box turtles have eyelids, unlike other reptiles like snakes. They close their eyes while sleeping at night and when they are happy. Box turtles have superior eyesight even in darkness. They also have color vision at night.

Though the majority of turtles are diurnal, it does not mean that they do not do any activity at night. They sleep for a few hours at night and then become active. So, what activities do turtles perform at night?

What Are The Night Activities Of Turtles?

Turtles do not have any specific activity to be done at night. Turtles are active during the night once they have completed their sleep. Turtles in the wild sleep for 5 to 6 hours, and once they are awake, they usually search for food or prefer to hide.

In the wild, the night activities of the turtles depend on the environment around them. If they live in a habitat where big and scary predators are roaming around, turtles prefer to hide for protection.

You can find sea turtles active during the night when they are about to lay the eggs. Female sea turtles come to the shore and find a suitable place for laying eggs. They then dig a hole into the ground with her flippers to lay eggs. The egg-laying activity is primarily done at night to safeguard the eggs from being eaten by predators. Once the eggs are laid, the female sea turtles return to the sea.

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Final Thoughts

Turtles are unique creatures. Most of the turtle species are diurnal, while some species, such as Asian box turtles, are nocturnal.

Over the years, turtles have adapted themselves to being diurnal as they do not possess the night vision and other senses to thrive well in darkness.

Though turtles are active during the day, they lay their eggs at night. They do this to protect their eggs from being eaten by predators.