Do Turtles Yawn? [Here’s What Research Indicates]

Image of a yawning turtle

It’s normal for a turtle to yawn in and out of the water, especially when it’s basking in a warm area. Turtles also yawn when they’re tired or just need an extra boost of oxygen. In some cases, excessive yawning could be due to a respiratory infection or ulcers in the mouth.

So, more often than not, a yawning turtle is no cause for concern. However, it’s still important to know what to look out for if you notice that your turtle is yawning more than usual. Sometimes, it could be a warning sign of a health-related issue that can be taken care of before it’s too late. We’ll cover this important information and more as you read on.

Why Do Turtles Yawn?

At this point, there’s no conclusive study as to why turtles yawn.

In fact, even yawning in humans is still a bit of a mystery, with the most common belief being that it helps provide more oxygen to our brain when it’s deprived thereof.

However, more recent studies show that temperature plays a large part in triggering a yawn than a lack of oxygen.

In a way, this is confirmed when we notice our turtles yawning more in a hot environment and less when it’s cooler.

The theory is that the yawn brings in enough oxygen to cool the bloodstream, which then cools the brain.

Of course, this doesn’t make sense if your turtle is submerged in water, but we’ll get to that later in this article.

Besides getting more oxygen to the brain and cooling down out of the water, your turtle could be yawning if it’s physically and/or mentally drained.

A turtle can be fatigued due to a variety of reasons that you can prevent by making sure it has a healthy diet and a relaxing, clean environment.

This means making sure its water is well filtrated and heated to around 80°F to 85°F.

The basking area should be a fixed object with a ramp going down into the water so that it’s easy to climb.

The basking area needs to be heated up with lights to imitate the sun (90°F to 95°F).

A respiratory tract infection can also cause a turtle to mimic the yawning action when it’s actually gasping for air.

These types of infections are usually caused by bacteria stemming from a lack of Vitamin A.

With the assistance of a prescribed course of antibiotics, infections can be eliminated, and a healthy diet will help to prevent illnesses in the future.

Other warning signs of an infection may include:

  • Wheezing,
  • Excess mucus in the mouth.,
  • Bubbling of mucus out the nose and eyes,
  • A lack of appetite,
  • Very low energy levels, and
  • A tilted position while swimming.

Combatting Vitamin A deficiency with a healthy diet can be achieved by feeding your turtle high-quality turtle pellets.

However, if you can feed them some crickets, feeder fish, mealworms, and other insects a couple of times a week, they’ll benefit from the additional protein and enjoy the variety as well.

A tablespoon of dark, leafy greens like kale and collards every second day can also be a great supplement to your turtle’s pellet diet.

Just make sure to remove any leftovers from the tank after a few hours.

Turtles that are fed only iceberg lettuce are at a very high risk of vitamin deficiency.

This type of lettuce is comprised of 96% water and not much else in terms of what a healthy turtle requires.

There’s no harm in having this vegetable as part of a turtles diet, but it definitely isn’t enough to fully sustain it.

There are also many other mouth and throat related illnesses that can make it look like your turtle is yawning. Ulcerative stomatitis and mouth rot are two of the more popular causes.

If you notice your turtle resting with its mouth open for some time, it could be that it’s trying to relieve the pain from one of these conditions.

If this is the case, it probably won’t be eating much, if anything at all.

If you think your turtle is yawning excessively or notice it resting with its mouth open for longer than usual, it’s best to take it to a veterinarian for an evaluation.

This way, you can sort out any possible illnesses before they reach a critical condition.

A simple prescription of antibiotics and other medicinal solutions will quickly rectify your turtle’s illnesses before they become fatal.

Now let’s recap of why turtles yawn:

Natural yawning triggers in turtles are:

  • A warm environment. (Especially while basking)
  • Low oxygen levels.
  • Physical or mental exhaustion. (Possible vitamin deficiency)

Health-related yawning triggers in turtles are:

  • Respiratory infections. (Possible Vitamin A deficiency causing a bacterial infection)
  • Ulcerative stomatitis or mouth rot. (Can be caused by stress or physical injuries)

Do Box Turtles Yawn?

Box turtles are no exception when it comes to naturally yawning in and out of the water.

They yawn most when they’re warm and tired but can also appear to be yawning due to the health-related issues covered above.

Most of the time, there’s no need to stress if you see your turtle yawning occasionally.

But if you notice an increased pattern of yawning, you should contact your veterinarian and request a check-up.

Why Do Turtles Yawn Underwater?

There are a number of reasonable theories as to why turtles yawn underwater. The following two theories are the most logical.

1. To Drink Water

It may look like your turtle is yawning underwater when it’s taking a gulp of water to drink.

This theory is closely related to the buoyancy theory below as the turtle sometimes releases air bubbles in the process.

2. To Decrease Buoyancy

Turtles enjoy being underwater, and yawning might assist them in doing just that.

The theory is that yawning can release some air and reduce the buoyancy of a turtle, helping it to stay underwater for longer.

Can Turtles Breathe Underwater?

We have written about this in detail in this article: Can Turtles Breathe Underwater?.

Read that article if you are curious about this question. In any case, the short answer is…

No, turtles can’t breathe underwater, although we can’t blame you for pondering this question.

The fact that pet turtles remain underwater for up to 30 minutes and sometimes more would lead most people to question their underwater breathing capabilities.

Having said this, turtles can absorb a certain amount of oxygen through areas of their bodies that contain blood vessels on the surface, namely, the rectum.

The additional oxygen allows the turtle to stay submerged underwater for longer, especially during hibernation.

But at some point, the turtle will have to surface to breathe air into its lungs.

Sea turtles can stay underwater for as long as 4 to 7 hours at a time, coming up to the surface every now and then to take another deep breath of air.

Parting Thoughts

Turtles yawn from time to time, just like most animals do.

You don’t need to worry about your turtle yawning unless you notice mucus bubbles coming out of its nose or eyes, which could be a sign of respiratory disease.

A turtle that appears to be yawning more than it usually does could be suffering from mouth rot, ulcers, or other mouth and throat illnesses.

A healthy diet of turtle pellets, crickets, worms, and dark leafy greens will decrease the chances of illnesses in your turtle.

Clean water set to a temperature of around 80°F and a basking area set to around 90°F will also aid in keeping your turtle healthy and energetic.

While it may look like your turtle is yawning underwater, it may actually be swallowing water because it’s thirsty or to decrease its buoyancy to stay submerged with minimal effort.

Turtles can’t breathe underwater, but they can absorb oxygen in the water through areas of their body that are covered with blood vessels.

The most efficient way of absorbing the oxygen in the water is through their behinds, formally known as the cloaca.

This is known as cloacal respiration.

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