Can Turtles Breathe Underwater? | How Long Can They Stay In Water?

Yes, turtles can indeed breathe underwater but it is not real for every turtle. Bodily characteristics of every turtle species differ from turtle to turtle. Most turtles have to come up to the water surface to breathe in the air since they inhale through the outer nares which are located over their mouth. Although turtles can pause their breathing for quite some time while being submerged inside the water.

Let’s look briefly and discuss different turtle species and subspecies whether they can breathe under the water or not. Turtle age plays a vital role in breathing under the water aspect.

Does a Turtle Have Lungs Or Gills To Breathe?

Yes, Turtles have lungs that help them breathe underwater. Unlike fish that have gills which help the fish to remain and to stay underwater and breathe easily, turtles have lungs. Although, the size of their lungs is quite small. Here a question arises: is it easy for turtles to remain underwater for a long time? And, the answer is yes. 

Although turtles possess some exponentially smaller lungs, they are strong enough to help turtles remain underwater for a quite long period. Even though some turtle species can survive underwater for a more lasting time, it also clearly points out that they have even stronger lungs than other turtles.

How Do Turtles Breathe Underwater?

How Do Turtles Breathe Underwater
It’s by nature turtle can breathe underwater

By nature, turtles are aquatic creatures but some are also land reptiles. Turtles need to come up to the water surface to breathe air. When they inhale, air moves into their windpipe through the glottis. The windpipe of the turtle is long and additionally adaptable. This is the reason a turtle can move its head all through the shell. The windpipe parts into two bronchi close to the heart to convey the air to the lungs. 

It is through the lungs that the oxygen from the air is consumed into the turtle’s body.  Anyway, the turtle shell is hard, and it can’t extend to help the turtle in relaxing. However, the turtle’s shell has muscles inside it that can expand and contract. These muscles help in moving the air all through the lungs. Turtles likewise move their appendages, which helps them in breathing by changing the pressing factor in the lungs. 

Can All Turtles Breathe Underwater?

No, all turtles can’t breathe underwater. Although turtles being aquatic, still it is not true for every turtle species. 

All turtles face difficulty in breathing under the water. When it comes to the shallow part of water, they can breathe to some extent, like for a short period but not for a long period. As far as the deep water is concerned, pet turtles aren’t for deep waters and it is because of the confiscating environment in which they are grown up. They are pretty good swimmers who like to go inside the water and spend some time there which means they can breathe underwater but for a very short time.

Turtle species like Red-eared slider turtles can breathe underwater. They possess strong lungs which give them an upper hand against other turtles and they extract oxygen from the air. A study shows that red-eared slider turtles spend almost 75 % of their time inside the water indicating they have strong breathing power which helps them to stay submerged for a quite prolonged time. They are also super comfortable in the water. 

Other turtles can’t breathe inside the water because they prefer not to go underwater. Box turtles are terrible swimmers who lack webbed feet which makes them not good swimmers. If they can’t swim properly, they can’t go into the water, and ultimately the question of breathing is out of context for them. 

The same case for tortoises can’t breathe underwater too. A tortoise doesn’t go inside the water and there are more terrible swimmers than box turtles. Tortoise also lacks webbed feet which can’t help him to go underwater. 

How Long Can Turtles Live Underwater?

The below table shows how long different species and subspecies of turtles can live underwater and for how much time.

Turtle Specie Approximate time
Box Turtle 1 – 2 min
Desert Tortoise 1 – 2 min
Snapping Turtle 20 – 30 min
Red-eared slider Turtle 20 – 30 min
Map Turtle 20 – 30 min
Green Sea Turtle 7 – 10 hours
Leatherback Sea Turtle 7 – 10 hours
Kemp’s Ridley 7 – 10 hours

How Long Can Pet Turtles Stay Underwater?

How Long Can Pet Turtles Stay Underwater
Pet turtle stay a little time in water

Pet turtles can’t stay for an extended period inside the water but they can spend some time on the shallower part of the water. The pet turtles face difficulty in inhaling and exhaling oxygen and air under the water respectively. Pet turtles aren’t made for deep waters because of the captivity atmosphere in which they are brought up. However, some adult pet turtles reflect amazing characteristics including staying inside the water for up to 15 – 20 mins. 

How Do Sea Turtles Breathe Underwater?

Normally, sea turtles can’t breathe underwater, but a question arises that how can they spend hours underwater? Sea turtles possess strong lungs which help them in inhaling and exhaling underwater. They have a marginally different lung structure in comparison to mammalian lungs, however work similarly too with regards to inhaling and exhaling gases, oxygen, and carbon dioxide respectively. 

Their lungs are found right under the carapace and the vertebral section. Lung ventilation is accomplished by both movement and development of the muscles joined to the pelvic and shoulder supports and the plastron. It’s noted that sometimes turtles shake their shoulders when they are not submerged. It is because this movement of the bulls around the shoulder assists them with breathing by changing the pressing factor inside the lungs.

Sea turtles can hold their breath under the water even for a longer time. But this holding largely depends on the activity that they are doing under the water. Sea turtles can remain underwater for roughly between 4 to 7 hours. When they come up to the surface, they inhale oxygen and hold their breath when they are beneath the water. When turtles pause their breathing, their pulse eases back altogether to preserve oxygen as long as nine minutes might pass between heartbeats.

Can Painted Turtles Breathe Underwater?

Painted turtles show extremely extraordinary characteristics while being submerged under the water. Painted turtles can spend almost 30 hours inside the water if the water temperature is kept at room temperature. The temperature of the water is the only factor that matters highly for the painted turtles. If water temperature significantly falls below the room temperature, submerging time for them will be sorted out. 

How Long Can A Box Turtle Stay Underwater?

How Long Can A Box Turtle Stay Underwater
Box turtle stay in water 15 to 30 minutes

Box turtles can stay submerged under the water for approximately between 15 – 30 min. Although box turtles are terrible swimmers who lack webbed feet, except for one sub-species aquatic box turtle, it is true for every other. This subspecies is an aquatic box turtle. Aquatic box turtles have a pretty good webbed foot with a good smooth and streamlined body helping them to go and swim under the water. 

But like other subspecies of box turtle, the aquatic box turtle likes to remain and swim in the shallow part of the water and avoid entering deep water. For sure, box turtles irrespective of subspecies, can’t spend all their time under the water nor on the surface of the water because they naturally aren’t made for this. 

Can Freshwater Turtles Stay Underwater?

Freshwater turtles can stay underwater but some spend merely 20 – 30 mins and some can spend more time under the water. In winters mostly they hibernate under the water on the layer of sand taking oxygen from it and exhaling air then. 

But after some time they have to come to inhale oxygen because only sea turtles can spend a long time under the water. Freshwater turtles can spend a short period below the water. Additionally, these turtles are fond of the shallower part of the water. Naturally, they live in shallow water where their movement can become easy.

How Long Can A Turtle Stay Underwater?

Well, the answer to this particular question can’t be given straightforwardly. The time of submerging inside the water varies differently from species to species and the turtle’s age and location also come into issue. 

Red-eared slider turtles as discussed earlier like to spend most of their time inside the water. They can spend approximately 60 – 70 min inside the water without taking a breath. They come up the water, inhale the oxygen, and then go back under the water. That slowly exhale the air while being submerged in the water and then at the end again come up the water to inhale oxygen and go back. When they are in the hibernating period, submerging time under the water may slightly increase depending on the age of the turtle. 

Sea turtles can remain under the water for a longer time. Sea turtles are made up for sea and ocean life and spend most of their time beneath the surface of the water. The approximate time they can spend under the water is 4 to 7 hours. But this figure is in non-hibernation mode. When they are hibernating underwater, time may slightly go up. 

Can A Tortoise Breathe Underwater?

No, tortoises can’t breathe underwater. Tortoise isn’t made for water. They are land reptiles. They go in the water just to either cool themselves or to drink it. Tortoises’ habitat island. They don’t have legs that are good enough for swimming just like other aquatic turtles do. Tortoises can float on water but just for some time but they can’t swim.


World of water is for aquatic and semi-aquatic creatures. Turtles like to spend their time beneath the water and for this surely, they breathe underwater as well. Some species spend more time underwater and some less but mostly turtles like to stay underwater. all the time.  All species can’t breathe underwater but they exhale air through them while being submerged inside. Their breathing power in the water also depends on their age, water’s internal and external temperature, and whether water is shallower or deep. 

If you want to learn more about pets visit us at petshoods

{ "@context": "", "@type": "Article", "mainEntityOfPage": { "@type": "WebPage", "@id": "" }, "headline": "Can Turtles Breathe Underwater? | How Long Can They Stay In Water?", "description": "No, Turtles can not breathe underwater. Turtles Come On The Water Surface To Breathe Air Like Other Water Species. Not All Turtle Species Do The Same Because They Have Natural Adaptations To Stay Underwater For Several Hours.", "image": "", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Jeremy" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Petshoods", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "" } }, "datePublished": "2021-08-31", "dateModified": "2021-09-18" }