Just like humans, animals use different sounds to communicate different things. Studying these sounds helps us understand what they are going through. Now, turtles are generally not too noisy. Nevertheless, they do make certain sounds. Hissing is one of the common sounds that these animals make. So, why do turtles hiss?
Turtles hiss when they get frightened and quickly retract into their shell for protection. While retracting suddenly into the shell, their lungs have to quickly expel air to make space for the head and limbs. This results in the hissing sound. Otherwise, turtles don’t hiss under normal conditions.
Let’s talk about this peculiar hissing sound of turtles in greater detail now.
How Do Turtles Produce A Hissing Sound?
There are so many fascinating facts about turtles. Not only are they one of the few creatures that carry a shell, but they are also cold-blooded and move surprisingly slowly on land.
Now, here is yet another interesting fact about turtles. Did you know that turtles do not have vocal cords?
Despite the absence of vocal cords, turtles still make various noises. Turtles will also vocalize during mating and social interactions.
However, hissing is a sound that turtles involuntarily produce. You will hear it when a turtle quickly retracts into its shell. To fully retract into the shell, a turtle should make space for its heads and limbs. Hence, it quickly expels air from its lungs. This sudden action pushes the air out with sudden force, which creates a loud hissing sound.
Turtles usually retract into their shells with sudden force when they are faced with some danger. So, the hissing sound can also be a natural defense mechanism that protects these animals.
Although turtles do not produce this sound voluntarily, it will still frighten a potential enemy. If you pick up a turtle suddenly, you are bound to hear this sound.
But why don’t turtles produce this hissing sound every time they retract into their shells?
To understand this, we can compare their lungs to a membrane or balloon filled with air. Gentle contraction and expansion of this membrane will not produce sound. However, when the membrane suddenly contracts, the air is expelled rapidly and produces a loud hissing sound.
Why Do Painted Turtles Hiss?
Painted turtles are a very popular variety of turtles. Although they are docile and friendly, these animals are easily frightened. Painted turtles will make hissing sounds when they retract into their shells suddenly.
At the first glimpse of danger, a painted turtle will draw itself into its shell. A sharp hissing sound will usually accompany this action. The sound is produced because of air being expelled from its lungs.
Recommended Further Reading:
- Where Do Painted Turtles Live? (In The Wild, US, Canada, Etc.)
- Do Pet Turtles Hibernate? – The Actual Facts About Turtle Hibernation
- What Do Turtles Do In The Winter? (How Do They Survive Winter?)
What Should You Do If Your Turtle Hisses All The Time?
Some turtles are easily frightened, while others are more friendly. So, some turtles will hiss more frequently than others. This reaction is directly linked to their general behavioral traits.
Turtles that are not aggressive or easily intimidated will often retreat into their shells. They will also produce hisses each time they do this. Easy-going and less fearful varieties may not hiss as often.
The hissing behavior usually indicates that the turtle is frightened. It is usual for a new pet to be easily frightened. Everything is new for them in their new home. Till they adjust to the new place and get used to their surroundings, they will constantly be on edge. So, they will pop into their shells at the slightest indication of danger. They will also flee the scene when they get the chance.
Once the turtle adjusts to the new environment and becomes comfortable, the frequency of hissing should reduce.
You can help the turtle adjust faster by addressing the cause behind this behavior. If it hisses every time you handle it, the turtle is probably scared of you. Give it more time to adjust and get used to your presence.
Create several hiding spots in its enclosure with plants, rocks, wood, and other objects. The turtle will explore its surroundings and find safe areas to retreat to when it feels threatened. Once it gets used to the environment and feels safe, it will feel more confident to venture outside and explore the vicinity.
Once the turtle realizes that you mean no harm, the hissing behavior should reduce.
Now, if the hissing continues for a long time or it is a new trait, you should observe this behavior closely. Check for any changes in their environment. The hissing could be triggered by something new that the turtle finds threatening. It could be a new pet, startling décor, or other stimuli. Identify and remove this threat to help your turtle relax.
Then again, some turtles will continue to hiss regardless of what you do to stop it. It has to do with their moods and personalities.
Docile varieties will hiss and retract into the shell at the slightest hint of danger. Meanwhile, semi-aggressive and aggressive turtles may even bite and attack when they feel threatened.
You should remember that these animals will never be like other pets that warm up to their owners. It is their nature to be frightened of humans and bigger animals. It is impossible to transform this behavior entirely.
Related Further Reading:
- Where Do Snapping Turtles Live? (In The World And The US)
- What Do Red-Bellied Turtles Eat? (In The Wild And As Pets)
- What Fish Can Live With Turtles? (Specific Breeds List)
- Why Do Turtles Bask? And Why They Don’t?
What Other Sounds Do Turtles Make?
Apart from hissing, turtles also produce a range of other sounds.
In snapping turtles, hissing is accompanied by heavy breathing when they prepare for an attack. It will also be accompanied by aggressive gestures if the turtle is trying to establish its dominance over a territory.
Mating sounds are entirely different from hissing. They are usually soft cries in spurts that last for several minutes.
Aquatic turtles use low-frequency sounds that are inaudible to our ears when communicating with each other. Low-frequency sounds travel better through water and helps turtles navigate their way to new nesting sites.
Interestingly, it is not just adult turtles that use sounds to communicate. Turtles begin communicating as early as when they are tiny embryos. Before breaking out of their eggs, baby turtles begin to vocalize and transfer messages to their siblings.
After baby turtles hatch from their eggs, they must find the nearest water source. Since adult turtles do not care for their offspring, the hatchlings are on their own. They are vulnerable at this stage and prone to being attacked and killed by predators.
Hatchlings travel towards the water in a group to improve their chances of survival. Mysteriously, nature has enabled this by allowing baby turtles to communicate with each other before they hatch. They come out of their shells around the same time and travel together to their destination.
Some varieties of turtles are also able to communicate with adult turtles. For instance, Arrau turtles vocalize with adult females who guide them towards their destination.
Interesting Further Reading:
- Why Do Turtles Slap Each Other? [And How To Stop Them]
- Why Are Turtles Slow? (Factors Affecting Turtle Speed)
- Why Do Turtles Float? + Why They Float On Their Backs & Sideways
Do Turtles Communicate Non-Verbally?
Although turtles may not be great at verbal communication, they rely on non-verbal communication to a great extent. They use touch and sight to understand and respond to their surroundings.
Turtles have good eyesight and a sense of smell. Turtles in captivity rely on these senses to recognize their owners. Over time, they realize that humans are their source of food and start to show clear signs of recognition.
It isn’t unusual for turtles to tap on the enclosure or approach their owners when they sense their presence. This suggests that they are communicative pets.