Why Do Turtles Dig Holes? (3 Main Reasons)

Image of a turtle digging a hole

You might have seen turtles digging holes from time-to-time and always wondered why do turtles dig holes?

Turtles usually dig holes for hibernating during winter, to lay eggs, and sometimes when they are hunting for food such as insects and shrimps. You won’t always be able to guess why a turtle is digging a hole. However, if the turtle is digging a big hole, it’s usually to lay eggs or for hibernation.

There are other telltale signs you can look for to know why a turtle is digging. So, read on to discover the different types of digging a turtle will do and how to guess what it is doing.

3 Main Reasons Why Turtles Dig Holes

Given below are the 3 main reasons why turtles dig holes.

1. Turtles Dig Holes To Hibernate

Turtles are in the reptile family. They don’t warm their bodies by themselves. So they need to regulate their body temperature by digging in the mud, sand, or the ground to survive.

According to the University of Georgia, when the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C), turtles stop eating, become sluggish, and start finding places to hibernate until the weather gets warmer.

Their instincts will tell them to start looking for places to hibernate when the temperature begins to drop. So, they will start digging if they can’t find a good spot to hide.

Their body functions such as digestion and breathing will slow down as the weather gets colder. So they need to move slower to conserve energy. That is why they start digging so that they can hibernate and survive the cold weather.

But if it is a particularly hot day or you notice a turtle digging in the summer months, then it’s a sure sign that the turtle is digging so that it can lie down to cool itself. However, turtles also lay eggs in the summer.

Recommended Further Reading:

2. Turtles Dig Holes To Lay Eggs

Apart from digging a hole for hibernation, the other main reason why turtles dig a hole is to lay eggs. Sea turtles come to the shore to dig a hole and lay their eggs.

Turtles also dig decoy holes to confuse predators when they lay eggs. Wolves or rats tend to smell the scent of mother turtles and start digging to find their hatchlings. Decoy holes give more time for the baby turtles in the real nest to hatch.

You can tell the difference between this type of decoy digging and other diggings by observing if the female turtle is digging with her rear legs, as it usually does. However, you can be entirely sure only after the hole is finished, and she has laid her eggs.

When the mother turtle is happy with the hole, she will put her rear quarters into the hole and lay an egg or multiple eggs, depending on the turtle species. Once she has laid her eggs, she will cover up the hole.

Here’s a great video from BBC Earth that shows how sea turtles lay eggs:

Box turtle eggs, sea turtle eggs, and red-eared slider turtle eggs take around 2 to 3 months to hatch. Depending on the species, turtles will lay eggs once a year, twice a year, or once every few years. And only in the spring and summer.

So, if a turtle is digging in the fall and winter, it’s a sure sign it is digging to hibernate or digging for food rather than digging to lay eggs.

Related Further Reading:

3. Turtles Dig Holes To Find Food

If a turtle senses some bugs in the ground, such as worms, they can dig to eat them. However, this is very shallow digging.

In our opinion, turtles very rarely dig to find food, unless it is on the ocean floor where it is very sandy and easy to dig.

Sea turtles only come on land to lay eggs. They spend the rest of their life in the ocean.

As turtles spend almost all of their time in the water, you will only see them digging on land to lay eggs or for shelter.

For example, when the water becomes too warm, turtles dig into the sand to take shelter from the sun. But, their first option to take shelter is underneath some coral or a rock ledge.

Interesting Further Reading:

Final Thoughts

Turtles dig holes so that they can hibernate when it is too cold. They also dig holes to lay eggs. And on rare occasions, turtles dig holes to find food.

Turtles usually dig a hole with their back legs to lay their eggs. They will also dig a deeper hole for laying eggs compared to the holes they dig for hibernating.