Do Turtles Have Lungs? The Answer May Surprise You [2023]

Have you ever heard the myth that turtles don’t need to breathe because they live in the water?

It’s a common misconception, but the truth is that turtles have lungs and use them to breathe air, just like we do.

In fact, turtles are fascinating creatures with a unique physiology that allows them to thrive in and out of the water.

So, let’s set the record straight: do turtles have lungs?

The answer is a resounding YES!

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the respiratory system of turtles and dispel some myths and misunderstandings surrounding these majestic pets.

How Do Turtles Breath?

Snapping turtle
Snapping turtle

All turtles have four-chambered hearts, but how they breathe is similar to amphibians and crocodiles. The lungs are bilateral—on both sides of the chest—but they’re also well-developed so that turtles can breathe with both their right and left lungs at once. In other words, a turtle’s respiratory system looks like this:

  • Lungs
  • Trachea (or windpipe)
  • Diaphragm (the muscle that separates the stomach cavity from the thorax).

How Do Turtles Breathe Underwater?

When a turtle is submerged in water, it can breathe using its lungs, gills, and skin.

A turtle’s respiratory system is unique because the lungs are not used exclusively for breathing.

Water ventilation through the lungs allows them to absorb oxygen from inhaled air into the blood that circulates throughout the body.

When turtles are above water and out of breath, they will rise on their hind legs so that air can enter their lungs through their nostrils and then pass over their vocal cords (to vocalize), which vibrate as they exhale through their mouths.

This is how you would get a turtle out of your pool if one fell in unexpectedly!

When turtles dive underwater to hunt or escape predators such as raccoons or cats (yes–that’s right!), they use gills behind each eye to extracting oxygen from water molecules into red blood cells.

How Long Can Turtles Hold Their Breath?

You may have wondered about this exact question if you’re a turtle owner. But do turtles breathe like humans?

The answer is yes and no. Turtles don’t have lungs but a respiratory system that allows them to breathe underwater, just like we do on land.

They can breathe through their nose or mouth, depending on what’s available.

Turtles’ ability to hold their breath for long periods is one of the reasons why they can survive in cold or dry climates without having to live near freshwater (lakes/rivers). Some species can stay submerged for up to two hours!

However, many factors affect how long turtles can hold their breath: size (smaller turtles breathe faster), the temperature of the water (warmer temperatures require more oxygen), and species (some species need more oxygen than others).

How do turtles hold their breath for so long?

Turtles have a very efficient respiratory system to stay underwater for long periods. If your pet turtle is drowning, these are some steps to rescue them.

Besides, because of staying underwater, they don’t need to breathe as often as humans, so they can hold their breath longer than we can! To put it into perspective:

  • Turtles have an average lifespan of more than 100 years.
  • A turtle may sleep for up to 8 hours each day! During this time, its heart rate slows down, and breathing becomes less frequent—but it’s still happening.

If you’re wondering how long turtles hold their breath when they’re asleep…the answer is about five minutes (and sometimes even longer).

Of course, it all depends on the type of turtle; some species take longer naps than others!

How do turtles breathe underwater in the winter?

Turtles breathe underwater but must come up for air at least once every few hours.

In the winter, when it’s cold out and the water is frozen, turtles can hold their breath for a long time because their bodies don’t need as much oxygen to stay warm.

They use their lungs for breathing underwater until they reach the water’s surface again and get another gulp of air before diving back down.

That means turtles don’t have gills like fish do—they only have lungs that work while they’re on land or in shallow water (so shallow that you could stand up if you wanted).

The respiratory system of a turtle consists of two pairs: one pair sits inside each lung cavity along with other internal organs such as the heart and liver; another set sits outside each cavity but still within body cavity space where blood vessels connect directly into them, so oxygen supply is guaranteed even though there are no valves or filters (like ours) keeping harmful bacteria out!

How Do Turtles Survive Winter?

Do Turtle Snore?

While I may not be a fan of winter, there is little I can do about it.


I take out all my winter clothes.
Set necessary heating systems.
Sealing gaps and cracks around windows.

In short, I am prepared to tackle whatever winter brings my way.

Similarly, Turtles do not hibernate during the winter but slow their metabolism down so that they require less oxygen.

Some burrow into the mud or sand to escape the cold and go into a state of inactivity, which means they’re still alive but very sluggish.

They also sleep underwater!

Most turtles can hold their breath for several hours and remain submerged in water with little effort.

The only exception is painted turtles because their shells are too heavy!

How do turtles breathe when they sleep?

Another question that comes up is how turtles breathe when they are sleeping.

From what we know, turtles can slow down their heart rate and metabolism during hibernation, but there have been no studies on whether they can do this while asleep.

It seems likely that they use some respiratory system while resting or sleeping, but it would be interesting to see exactly what kind of breathing patterns they exhibit.

Does your turtle need its lungs?

In short: yes! Even though you may think your turtle’s organs may differ from other animals because it lives in water, those organs still need oxygen like any other animal.

How many lungs does a turtle have?

Turtles have two lungs located on either side of the heart.

The lungs are connected to the windpipe and throat via the trachea (a tube that carries air from your mouth to your lungs).

Most turtles also have a nasal sac connected directly to their mouths, allowing them to breathe through their nose or mouth anytime.

What is Turtle Lung Capacity?

Do Turtle Snore?

While turtles do have lungs, they also have a system of air sacs that helps them breathe underwater. These air sacs are connected to their trachea and help them get more oxygen into their bloodstream.

In addition to using their lungs to breathe, turtles can also use their skin for breathing.

This is called cutaneous respiration.

Cutaneous respiration allows them to absorb oxygen through the skin when there isn’t enough in the water or when resting on land.

However, this method does not work well for long periods because it isn’t very efficient at bringing oxygen into the bloodstream (like breathing through your nose).

When it comes down to it, turtle lung capacity is about 2 liters (0.53 gallons) in most turtle species—except for giant tortoises, which can hold up to 10 liters (2 gallons).

So even though turtles don’t have lungs like humans, they still need plenty of room for breathing!

Turtle Respiratory System Diagram

                     Bronchi (2)
                       /   \
                      /     \
                     /       \
                    /         \
                   /           \
                  /             \
                 /               \
                /                 \
               /                   \
              /                     \
             V                       V
       Lungs (2)                  Cloaca

When turtles breathe underwater, the process is a little different than with other animals.

Instead of using lungs to extract oxygen from the environment, turtles extract oxygen from water via a hole called a cloaca (a standard opening for waste).

In addition to this opening, they have branchial notches on both sides of their neck that expand when submerged in water to allow air exchange with the water.

These branchial clefts have been found to have many functions, including respiration and buoyancy control.

If you’ve ever seen a turtle sleeping, you might have noticed that it holds its breath for quite some time!

Turtles can hold their breath for up to two hours at one time but only do so if there isn’t much activity around them or they’re asleep.

They may also need more oxygen than usual if they’re swimming fast or under intense heat conditions—in those situations, they’ll take several deep breaths after surfacing before going back under again!

Turtles have a unique adaptation that helps them survive and thrive in cold temperatures.

This adaptation is called the carotid rete, an internal “thermometer” that monitors blood temperature changes and adjusts circulation accordingly.

When the turtle is in a cold environment, the carotid rete increases circulation near the lean body parts, such as the feet and claws, while reducing circulation near the fat deposits in the tail.

This helps prevent frostbite and maintain overall body warmth without affecting the turtle’s swimming ability.

The muscles underneath the fat deposits can still function normally, allowing the turtle to swim without problems.

Overall, the carotid rete is a vital adaptation that enables turtles to survive and thrive in cold temperatures.

Turtle Lung Infections and Their Fix

Do Turtle Snore?
Turtle Snoring

Turtles, like all pets, can get lung infections. However, the same types of infections can be caused by different organisms. The most common germs behind respiratory problems in turtles are bacteria and fungi. These organisms will likely travel to a turtle’s lungs if it has been poorly treated or cared for.

Suppose your pet turtle has a pulmonary infection caused by either a bacterial or fungal infection.

In that case, you’ll need to take it to an exotic veterinarian so they can prescribe an appropriate course of antibiotics (or antifungals).

Several respiratory infections can affect turtles, including:

  1. Respiratory tract infections: These can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi and can lead to symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
  2. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms can cause. Symptoms may include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.
  3. Mycoplasma: This is a type of bacteria that can cause respiratory infections in turtles, leading to symptoms such as coughing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing.
  4. Herpesvirus: This virus can cause respiratory infections in turtles, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing.

It’s essential to seek veterinary care if you suspect your turtle has a respiratory infection, as these can be serious and lead to more severe complications if left untreated.

What’s Next

Are you thinking about bringing a pet turtle into your home?

If so, you’re likely full of questions and concerns about taking proper care of them.

Well, fear not!

I’ve taken the time to compile a list of answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about pet turtles.

So if you’re ready to dive into the world of turtle ownership, keep reading for all the information you need to get started.

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Are Turtles Lucky or Unlucky?

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