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Home > Turtles > Turtle Basking Explained: What It Is & Why It’s Necessary

Turtle Basking Explained: What It Is & Why It’s Necessary

Florida red-bellied cooter basking

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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If you ever caught a glimpse of turtles in the wild, it was probably while a group of them were sitting on a rock or a log. We often refer to this as turtles “sunning” themselves. But turtles come out of the water and sit in the warm sun to do more than just relax and spend time with their fellow reptiles. This instinctual behavior is called basking. It’s an activity turtles have to do to stay healthy, including pet turtles.


How Does It Work?

Please Note

The term turtle often refers to fully aquatic sea turtles, which aren’t kept as pets. Pet turtles are in fact terrapins, which are a subgroup that spend time in both land and freshwater. In nature, they are found near lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. They shouldn’t be confused with tortoises, which do not swim well and spend almost all their time on land.

Turtles need to spend time on a dry surface each day for several reasons.

As cold-blooded reptiles, the primary reason turtles bask is to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, turtles come out of the water during the day to warm up by basking in the sunlight. However, researchers recently discovered that turtles in tropic and subtropic areas also bask at night, too. It is thought that their nighttime basking is a way to cool off, not warm up.

In addition, turtles need sunlight to synthesize vitamin D3. This vitamin is necessary for turtles to properly use calcium and other nutrients. Turtles that don’t get enough light may develop weak shells and bones. Painting a turtle’s shell can hinder the absorption of vitamin D3, and that’s why painting or decorating a turtle’s shell is a cruel and outdated practice.

turtle inside tank
Image By: Manuel Manteiga, Pixabay


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do Tortoises Also Bask?

Yes. Like aquatic turtles, tortoises also bask. However, unlike aquatic turtles, tortoises don’t alternate between a dry surface and water, as they aren’t made for swimming. They prefer to stay on land and will retreat to shade if they feel too warm.

Do I Have to Teach My Pet Turtle to Bask?

No. Basking is an innate behavior that pet turtles will do on their own. What you do need to do is give your turtle a safe, dry, and comfortable basking platform near their UVB lamp.

If your turtle isn’t using their basking platform, you’ll need to do some troubleshooting. Are they having difficulty climbing onto or staying on the platform? Is the platform too small for them? Is the lamp too hot or too close? Is their water too hot or too cold?

Turtles need to bask for a few hours every day. Call your vet right away if your turtle isn’t basking, loses their appetite, or has any changes in behavior.

What Makes a Good Basking Platform for a Pet Turtle?

As far as your turtle is concerned, they need a basking platform they can easily access and spread out on. All other details such as price and aesthetics are up to you.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of poorly made basking platforms on the market. You want to avoid any painted platforms, as the paint will eventually wear off in the wet environment of your tank. Worst case scenario, your turtle will eat floating paint chips and get sick. At the very least, paint chips will dirty your tank and be a headache to clean up. The same is true for any platforms with fake grass or plants.

A good rule of thumb for turtle tanks is that they should be ⅓ dry basking area and ⅔ water. You can place multiple basking platforms in your tank to achieve this ratio, if needed.

baby turtle in the tank
Image Credit: Kantije, Pixabay

How Long Do Pet Turtles Bask For?

There isn’t one widely agreed-upon answer to this question. Most pet turtles will bask between 2 to 8 hours each day. You should leave your turtle’s UVB lamp on for around 12 hours each day to allow your pet ample time to bask.

Remember that basking is an instinct. As long as the environment is right for basking, a healthy turtle will do what it needs to do. You may notice that your turtle basks longer on some days than others. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns about your turtle basking.



Turtles need to bask in the sunlight or under a lamp each day. This behavior regulates their body temperature and helps synthesize vitamin D3. When setting up your pet turtle’s tank, you should devote ⅓ of the area to a basking platform and ⅔ to water.

Featured Image Credit: M.E. Parker, Shutterstock

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