Why Do Turtles Bask? And Why They Don’t?

Image of a turtle basking in the sun

Turtles bask in the sun because it helps them soak up the UV rays. The UV rays help turtles produce Vitamin D and synthesize calcium for the healthy growth of their bones and shells. Basking also helps them regulate their body temperature, improve metabolism, kill parasites, and keeps them healthy.

Now, you might be wondering…

What Happens If Turtles Don’t Bask?

Turtles are cold-blooded animals. It means they do not have an internal mechanism to regulate body temperature.

They depend on the environmental sources of heat to stay warm.

Basking is essential for turtles to stay healthy and fit. When turtles bask, they absorb heat from the surroundings.

It not only keeps the animal warm but also allows it to maintain a healthy metabolic rate.

Turtles also need UV rays from the sun to synthesize calcium.

Turtles use UV rays to produce Vitamin D, which helps them synthesize calcium.

If turtles don’t bask, it affects their ability to absorb calcium. Calcium keeps their shell and bones healthy. The lack of calcium will make their shells and bones weak.

Basking in the sun will also help turtles keep parasites and germs away.

Sunlight destroys small infection-causing pathogens, bugs, and other microorganisms.

It helps the turtle stay healthy and free from infections.

In their natural habitat, the sun is the only heat source available for turtles.

So, these animals find basking spots on logs or rocks to expose their bodies to the sun.

In captivity, turtle owners should ensure that turtles have access to sunlight.

If their enclosure is not exposed to sunlight, they should use a basking light to ensure the availability of UV radiations.

How Long Do Turtles Bask?

We cannot specify the number of hours that a turtle should bask each day.

It will depend on the availability and intensity of light as well as the health conditions of the turtles.

Aquatic turtles usually spend most of their time in the water and bask for a few hours. Terrestrial turtles may spend more time in the sun and less time in the water. At times, these turtles may spend more time than usual in the sun or under a basking light.

Interestingly, turtles know when they get enough sunlight.

Nature has designed these animals in such a way that they know when they need sunlight and when they have received enough.

Nonetheless, there may be situations when you notice significant changes in their basking behavior.

If a turtle seems to bask too much or too little, you should investigate the cause behind this behavior.

It may be a temporary deviation from normal behavior for no apparent reason.

However, it could also indicate an infection or illness.

Why Do Turtles Need Basking Lights?

Lighting is very important in a turtle’s life. Turtles need continuous exposure to UV rays to stay healthy.

In the wild, these animals depend entirely on the sun for basking.

Pet turtles may not get enough sunlight in an indoor enclosure.

You should use a basking light in such conditions.

The light should deliver both UVA and UVB components. It should also offer warmth to help them regulate their body temperature.

When you place basking lights in their enclosure, aim them at a log or rock.

It will help to create a space where the turtle can climb out of the water and enjoy the light.

By adjusting the area where the light falls, you can create a range of temperatures.

It will allow the turtle to choose the most comfortable space to bask in.

How Do Turtles Bask?

When turtles bask, they stretch their heads and stay still. They look very peaceful and relaxed.

However, it isn’t unusual for turtles to do some interesting and rather peculiar things while basking.

Let us find out what they are.

Why Do Turtles Bask With Their Legs Out?

If you observe a basking turtle, you may notice it lying on its stomach.

Its head will stick out in this position, and the limbs will be extended in the air. It may look like it is trying to fly.

Notably, this is a common basking position. When turtles lie in the sun, their shell radiates heat to the rest of their body.

However, these animals will also stretch out their limbs to collect additional heat.

It helps them to absorb more UVB rays and improve thermoregulation.

Why Do Turtles Bask On Top Of Each Other?

Turtles basking together are an interesting sight.

When a number of them bask in a common spot, they will often pile up on top of each other.

Funny enough, there is an explanation for this weird behavior.

In the wild, turtles do not have access to many high spots where they can enjoy more access to sunlight.

So, these animals make do with what is available. They may climb on a rock or log and pile up to increase their height.

To receive more heat while basking, they climb on top of each other.

Each of the animals competes for the ideal basking spot, which is at the bottom of the pile.

Why Do Turtles Bask With Head Down?

Turtles will usually bask with their head stuck outside and raised towards the light.

However, they may sometimes also bask with their heads facing downwards.

Most of the time, such turtles are just adopting a lazy position and relaxing in the heat.

However, if a turtle always basks with its head down, it could be ill. A respiratory illness could cause this problem.

Check for any accompanying symptoms like sneezing or discharge from the nose or mouth and difficulty in swimming.

If any of these accompanying symptoms are present, get your pet examined by a vet and promptly administer suitable treatment.

Why Do Turtles Bask At Night?

In the wild, turtles will only bask during the day when sunlight is available.

However, pet turtles may bask at night if a basking light is present in their enclosure.

It is not abnormal as your turtle is probably making the best use of the available heat and UV rays.

Nonetheless, experts recommend that you train your turtle and get it used to a regular day-night cycle.

Keep the basking light on during the day and switch it off at night.

It will ensure that the turtle’s biological clock matches the day-night cycle.

It will then rest at night and be active during the day.

Why Do Turtles Bask So Much?

Turtles need sunlight or UV lights for various needs.

Firstly, they need external heat to maintain their body temperature and metabolism.

UV radiations also help them synthesize Vitamin D and calcium that keep their shell and bones healthy.

Sunlight will also kill parasites and infection-causing germs.

Turtles bask for several hours each day. However, they will also swim in the water between basking sessions.

Although rare, there are times when a turtle may seem to bask for too long.

If your turtle is basking all the time and spending very little time in the water, it could be due to the following conditions.

Respiratory Illness

If your turtle is basking for too long, check for the following symptoms as well.

  • Any discharge from the eye, nose, or mouth,
  • Discoloration or swelling of the eyes,
  • Difficulty swimming. The turtle may be unable to submerge itself or swim for a long time.
  • Unusual sneezing or coughing

Any or all these symptoms could indicate a respiratory infection.

If your turtle does not resume its normal behavior in a few days, have it examined by a vet.

Low Water Temperature

If your turtle does not have any illness but basks for too long, it could be because of the water temperature.

When the water is too cold, the animal will have to warm itself more often.

If it is too warm, the turtle may not be able to stay in it for too long.

Change In Water Chemistry

Turtles are sensitive to changes in water chemistry.

They will come out of the water frequently if the chlorine or ammonia levels are too high.

You can find out if this is the reason by using a pH testing kit to check the hardness of the water.

If the pH level of the water is beyond the permissible limits of 6 and 8, you should address it promptly.

Other Illnesses

Turtles with digestive conditions are unable to stay in the water or swim continuously.

When they suffer from intestinal blockage or overeating, they find it difficult to swim.

They may end up spending more time in their basking spot.

You can suspect a digestive problem in your turtle if you notice any changes in its appetite.

Take your turtle to a vet since such conditions will often need medication.

Your vet can also check for other potential causes. A blood infection like septicemia can also cause this behavior.

Incompatible Tankmates

When you keep more than one turtle in the same enclosure, there are chances that the two animals are incompatible.

If one of these turtles is aggressive, it can make the other one stressed.

If fights happen in the water, the weaker turtle may avoid going into the water.

It will spend more time basking on land in such a situation.

Compatibility issues may also arise if you keep males and females together.

Males may harass the female and force her to stay out of the water. A bigger enclosure should help you prevent this problem.


A pregnant turtle will spend less time in the water when it is about to lay eggs.

Most turtles climb ashore and travel inland to build nests and lay eggs.

So, they try to stick close to the shore when they are ready to lay eggs.

If your turtle is unusually inactive and you suspect it to be pregnant, pick it up and feel under its hind legs.

If there are small, hard protrusions, they are most likely eggs.

Why Don’t Turtles Bask?

It is abnormal for turtles not to bask.

Since this behavior can affect their overall health and well-being, you should not take it lightly.

Here are some of the reasons why your turtle may not be basking.

It Is Frightened Or Stressed

Turtles are shy creatures. They are easily frightened and take some time to adapt to a new environment.

If you have just brought your turtle home, give it some time to adjust. Place it in a low-traffic and quiet area. Handle it gently.

Once the turtle adjusts to the environment, it will feel more confident and come out to spend time in its basking area.

If your pet turtle suddenly seems to avoid basking, check for any changes in the background.

Noisy pets or people, frequent and rough handling, and loud sounds near the tank may trigger this behavior.

Eliminate the source of stress, and your turtle should return to normalcy.


Just like pregnancy can cause a turtle to bask excessively, it can also cause the opposite.

A pregnant turtle may display a range of weird behaviors. Her entire schedule may change during pregnancy.

In this case, you cannot do much. She will either figure it out herself or become normal after she lays her eggs.

High Basking Temperature

Turtles are susceptible to extreme temperatures. If their basking light is too hot, the turtle may not be able to handle it for too long.

Since it does not have any internal thermoregulation, the animal may quickly go away from its basking area.

Before you conclude that your turtle is not basking, check if it is basking when you are not around.

Sometimes, turtles will bask only for a few hours a day.

You may not be aware of it if this happens when you are away. Your turtle may be fine, but you just don’t know it.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Basking?

Your turtle can go for a long time without any access to sunlight or UV light. Although it will survive, it is not good for them. Access to sunlight or basking light is essential for the health of their bones and shells.

In the absence of sunlight or UV light, the animal may end up with a weak bone or shell.

During the growing stage, lack of lighting can also cause deformities in the shell development of a turtle.


About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *