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How Do Turtles Communicate With Each Other?

Nicole Cosgrove

For a long time, humans thought that turtles couldn’t really communicate with each other. But over time and with tons of study, we’ve come to find that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Not only do turtles express their needs, wants, and emotions through nonverbal communication, but they also have the ability to communicate through various sounds and noises. But exactly how do turtles communicate with each other?

We break down everything that we know and what we’re still trying to figure out.

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Verbal Sea Turtle Sounds

Without vocal cords or external ears, scientists once thought that sea turtles couldn’t communicate with each other through noise. But over the last few years, scientists have proved those assumptions false.

Turtles communicate verbally through noises in the water and on land. Not only are these noises used to communicate with each other, but they also stimulate eggs during the hatching process.

This is a big deal because sea turtles want all their eggs to hatch around the same time, as this improves their overall chance of survival. Sea turtles face tons of threats right after they hatch, and the more of them that there are, the more likely that some of them will survive.

The noises that they make are extremely low on the audible spectrum, making them challenging for humans to hear. Moreover, they don’t speak that often. In fact, you only will hear them make a noise like this about once every 30 minutes.

But those aren’t the only noises that turtles make. Sea turtles can make over 300 unique noises, and they are all linked to specific activities.

Keeping this in mind, there’s no reason to believe that other sea turtles listening in can’t pick up what’s going on from the sounds alone.

sea turtle swimming
Image credit: Pixnio

How Sea Turtles Listen to Each Other

But how do sea turtles listen to each other if they don’t have external ears? Even if they have internal ears, these noises are so low that they’re hard for humans to hear, and we have better hearing than turtles.

The truth is that science is still working this out, but we know two things for sure. First, we know that turtles can sense vibrations, and sounds at the lower end of the audible spectrum tend to make deep vibrations.

Second, we know that some sea turtles can actually hear low-frequency sounds that they emit to each other. While the exact way that they do this is a bit unknown, there’s little doubt that they’ve found a way.

Other Sea Turtle Communication Methods

While sea turtles communicate with each other by using sounds, they do it relatively infrequently. Instead, sea turtles have mastered the art of non-verbal communication. They do this by touching, squirting water, blinking, biting, and hissing.

Touching is used primarily during courtship, although they can use other methods as well. One of the primary displays of courtship among turtles is head bobbing. Males bob their heads up and down around females to show that they intend to mate.

Sea turtles resort to biting to let others know that they want to be left alone, although they can use hissing to communicate this as well.

However, it seems that turtles use hissing more when under duress, not when they just want a pesky cousin to leave them alone!

sea turtles
Image Credit: Thomas B., Pixabay

How Turtles Communicate with Humans

If you’ve ever owned a turtle, you know that they have a way to communicate with you. They hide within their shell when they’re extremely stressed. Not only do they pull their head in, but they also retract their legs and tail.

The more you see of a turtle, the less stressed they are. Turtles are extremely curious creatures and will investigate things when they feel safe and comfortable.

The key to understanding what your turtle is trying to convey to you is to get to know how they display different emotions. While it might seem foreign to us, it makes perfect sense to turtles.

Keep in mind that while tortoises can be a little more social than sea turtles, they are both solitary creatures by nature. Each turtle will have their own personality, but you need to give them plenty of time to adapt to their new surroundings.

This also means keeping everything in the same place. Otherwise, your turtle or tortoise might think that they’re in a new enclosure!

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Final Thoughts

There’s little doubt that turtles have spent eons mastering both their verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and we’re just starting to unlock some of their secrets.

It might take a while to figure everything out, but the more we discover, the more questions we’re left asking about these unique and wonderful creatures.


Featured Image Credit: DEZALB, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.