Do Turtles Need Sunlight? (Why, How Long, And Which Ones?)

Image of turtles basking in sunlight

Turtles are lovely pets. However, they have specific requirements to stay healthy. One such requirement is light. So, do turtles need sunlight?

Yes, turtles need sunlight to regulate their body temperature. Besides, they absorb UVB rays from the sunlight to produce Vitamin D3, which is required to process Calcium for the healthy development of their shells. Also, sunlight helps absorb other essential nutrients and regulate their metabolism.

Just like a healthy diet, sunlight is crucial for turtles. So, let’s delve deeper to understand the importance of sunlight in a turtle’s life.

Why Do Turtles Need Sunlight?

Turtles need sunlight for the following four main reasons:

1. Sunlight provides heat to warm the turtle’s body.

In the wild, aquatic turtles bask every day in the sunlight. Since turtles are ectothermic, they cannot regulate their body temperature. So, they rely on the surrounding environment for heat.

The warmth provided by the sun raises their body temperature and assist in maintaining their metabolism.

Raised body temperature also helps turtles combat dangerous diseases. In addition, the heat helps turtles deal with harmful bacteria that may be present in their body.

2. Sunlight helps dry out the turtle’s skin and shell.

One of the primary reasons that turtles need sunlight is to dry out their shell and skin. Different turtle species spend varying amount of time in the water.

Staying too long in the water increases the chances of contracting harmful bacteria and fungi on their shells. If left untreated, this can lead to shell rot and prove fatal.

Basking in the sunlight is a way to combat such diseases.

3. Sunlight helps absorb UV rays.

The most crucial advantage of sunlight is that it allows the turtles to absorb the UVA and UVB rays, which are essential for absorbing the needed nutrients and regulating their metabolism.

UVA light is vital for turtles as it helps to improve their appetite, physical activity, and breeding behavior. On the other hand, UVB light helps in processing Calcium.

Turtles need Calcium for the healthy development of their bones and shells. And to process and utilize Calcium, turtles need Vitamin D3. When turtles bask in the sun, their skin absorbs the UVB rays. Their body then creates Vitamin D and converts it into Vitamin D3.

Turtles can utilize the Calcium from their daily diet only after Vitamin D3 forms in their body. Without UVB rays, turtles will not be able to produce Vitamin D3 and subsequently cannot utilize the Calcium received from their food.

Lack of adequate amount of Vitamin D3 can lead to:

  • Bone decay,
  • Shell decay,
  • Limited growth, and
  • Premature death, in the absence of UVB rays for a prolonged duration.

4. Sunlight helps maintain circadian rhythm.

Just like humans, turtles also follow the day and night cycle. Sunlight helps turtles maintain their circadian rhythm.

Due to light, turtles can differentiate between day and night. As a result, they follow their daily rhythm in terms of activity levels.

The absence of light can disrupt the turtle’s daily routine leading to tremendous anxiety and stress.

Recommended Further Reading:

How Long Do Turtles Need Sunlight?

Turtles love to bask in the sunlight. In the wild, you can often see aquatic turtles basking on the logs or rocks to dry their bodies and absorb the UVB rays from the sun.

In captivity, turtles should bask in direct sunlight a couple of times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes in addition to the indoor artificial UV lights. However, if artificial UV light sources are not given to turtles, they should be exposed to direct sunlight for 2 to 4 hours daily to meet their requirements.

If you are taking your turtle out in the direct sunlight for the first time, the time of basking should be less, say about 10 minutes. After that, you can gradually increase direct sunlight exposure every time you take your turtle outside.

Although turtles need sunlight for healthy shell growth, they also need shade if the climate is sweltering. Hence, a balance of sunshine and shade is advisable.

Also, when you take your turtle outside in the sun, ensure that there are no predators around. Never leave your turtle alone if there are predators.

Which Turtles Need Sunlight?

Sunlight is easily accessible to all the turtles in the wild. As a result, we can often see turtles having a good time basking in the sun.

Given below are some of the common turtle species that need sunlight:

  • Sea turtles,
  • Eastern pacific green turtles,
  • Baby turtles,
  • Box turtles,
  • Painted turtles,
  • Red-eared sliders,
  • Yellow-bellied sliders,
  • African sideneck turtles,
  • Mud turtles,
  • Snapping turtles,
  • Common musk turtles,
  • Map turtles, and
  • Wood turtles.

Alright! So far, we have seen the importance of sunlight. But what if your turtle doesn’t have access to sunlight? Is there an alternative? Let’s see.

Do Turtles Need UV Light?

Wild turtles get ample sunlight in their natural environment by basking. Unfortunately, in home aquariums, it’s not always possible for owners to bring their turtles out in the sunshine. As we already know, UV rays are essential for turtles. So it’s crucial to find an alternative for sunlight.

Here, artificial UV lights come to the rescue as they provide the same benefits. In addition, you can provide UVA and UVB lights to your turtle through specialized and specific lamps designed for reptiles.

While selecting the UVB lamps, you need to look for the UVB concentration since it’s the vital ultraviolet element that acts as a replacement for sun rays.

Also, you need to keep in mind the specific needs of your turtle species and accordingly choose the type of bulb as each bulb has its distinct features.

There are three main types of UVB lights available for turtles:

  • Mercury vapor bulbs,
  • Compact bulbs, and
  • UVB tube bulbs.

Care needs to be taken while installing any electrical equipment near water, as your pet’s safety is of utmost importance. If required, you can consult an electrician regarding safety measures.

Related Further Reading:

What Happens If Turtles Don’t Get Sufficient UVB Light?

In the wild, basking on the sunny logs and rocks helps the turtles produce Vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3 is required to metabolize Calcium for strong bone development and healthy shell growth. In captivity, artificial UV light provides the same benefits.

Without sufficient UVB light, turtles will be unable to absorb the Calcium via Vitamin D. Their bones and shells will become weak, and they can become lethargic or may even lose their appetite.

As turtles’ immune system weakens, they become prone to various diseases and infections.

Besides, turtles can develop serious health issues like Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and stunted shell growth, among other issues. Moreover, if the turtles are deprived of UVB light for a prolonged duration, it can also lead to their untimely death.

Related Questions

How much sunlight do baby turtles need?

Baby turtles need ample sunlight in their growing years. They need sunlight to absorb the UVB rays that help synthesize Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for optimum shell growth and bone development. Without sufficient UVB light, baby turtles can develop Metabolic Bone Disease, which can be fatal for their health.

Can turtles die from sunlight?

Turtles usually don’t die from sunlight. This is because they are used to basking. However, excess heat can harm a turtle. Hence, while placing a turtle in direct sunlight, you need to have a shaded area for turtles to escape the heat. Excess heat can kill the turtles.

Interesting Further Reading:

Do turtle eggs need sunlight?

Turtle eggs don’t need sunlight. Average summer room temperature is ideal for turtle eggs. However, turtle eggs can get spoiled if they become too warm. Overheating can be fatal to turtle eggs. Hence you need to avoid placing turtle eggs in direct sunlight. It’s better not to handle the turtle eggs once they are placed in the incubator.

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