How Turtles Communicate With Each Other

You may not realize it, but your pet turtle may be trying to communicate with you. Many owners believe their turtles show affection and are capable of communication. They’re not wrong.

In fact, turtles communicate with each other in the wild, too. Turtles communicate with each through a variety of complex ways. They communicate with each other through vocalizations, physical contact, body language, and pheromones.

This article explores all the ways turtles communicate with each other.

Key Takeaways

  • Even though they don’t have vocal cords, some turtles use vocalization to communicate with others.
  • Physical contact is an important form of communication between males and females of some species to initiate mating.
  • Turtles also communicate through reading others’ body language and behaviors.
  • Although not as significant as other reptiles, turtles have a vomeronasal system to detect pheromones of both the same sex and the opposite sex.

How Turtles Communicate With Each Other

Woodturtle on the ground
Woodturtle on the ground | image by Ltshears via Wikimedia Commons

Despite being mostly solitary, turtles communicate with each other prior to mating and establishing dominance. They use vocalization, physical touch, body language, and pheromones to communicate.

Vocalizations

Two turtles floating
Two turtles floating | image by Brian Evans via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Despite being loners in the wild, when turtles of the same species do come into contact, they have sophisticated communication methods to either court a mate or fend off a rival for territory. You wouldn’t think it, but turtles actually have a voice! They use vocalization to communicate with other turtles.

Turtles do not have vocal cords, so the sounds they make are produced in different ways. Some turtles produce low-frequency grumblings, and others hiss. Sea turtles actually sense the sounds of other sea turtles in the water.

Since they don’t have external ears, they feel the vibrations in the water. When sea turtle eggs are ready to hatch, baby turtles inside the eggs communicate with each other through a variety of vocalizations. Interestingly, they coordinate their hatching.

Scientists have recorded at least 300 unique sounds produced by leatherback embryos days before hatching. Some sounds included chirps and grunts coming from eggs. Land tortoises and freshwater turtles also make sounds when mating.

Many let out a high-pitched squeal or scream while mating to express pleasure or happiness. Whether or not the sounds are communication between male and female turtles during mating is still being studied. Unlike other animals, turtles don’t attract a mate by calling.

Male common snapping turtles are extremely territorial and not at all social creatures. They hiss at each other and will fight each other if cornered. Vocalization is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of turtle communication.

However, turtles do use sounds to communicate with each other.

Touch and Physical Contact

Two turtles at rest
Two turtles at rest | image by Krabiman via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Turtles also communicate by touch. They are sensitive to rubbing or bumping from another turtle. For example, some species will rub necks together as a mating ritual.

Other types of turtles touch noses, almost like they are giving each other a kiss. This type of communication is meant to show affection and initiate mating. Another form of touch communication is head butting.

Some species of land turtles and tortoises will head butt to communicate aggression towards another turtle. Territorial male turtles fight over females by ramming each other. Physical aggression communicates to the intruder to leave.

In a fight, land tortoises try to flip their opponent onto their back. By rendering their rival helpless, the winner communicates his dominance. Some species of freshwater turtles use their claws for communicating, and gentle biting can show a mate they are interested in.

Green sea turtles also communicate through biting. Since they’re so solitary, sometimes they don’t want to be around other turtles, so they bite to say, “leave me alone.”

Turtles communicate with each other using touch and physical contact. Since they’re solitary animals, this form of communication occurs during mating and fighting.

Behaviors And Body Language

Spotted turtle resting
Spotted turtle resting | image by Chiara Coetzee via Flickr

Turtles are masters at reading the body language of others. Turtles display a variety of behaviors to communicate with each other. Some don’t have to do much to convey their message.

Like some turtles simply stare at each other. Staring each other down communicates aggression and is meant to intimidate. Staring contests equate to a turtle argument without sounds.

Red-eared sliders perform mating rituals in the water. They flutter their claws in the water in front of their mate. Males are usually the ones who do this, but females also flutter their claws.

Male sliders also flutter their claws to communicate their dominance over another male. They use the behavior to establish that the intruder has entered their territory. Turtles also use their neck and head to communicate through body language.

Some species extend their neck and bob their head to initiate a mating ritual. Sea turtles sometimes communicate by squirting water at each other. They have also been observed blinking to communicate with other turtles.

Chemical Communication

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle | Image by Dede from Pixabay

While not as prominent as in other reptiles, there are some turtle species that secrete musky fluids and pheromones. These can be a defense mechanism and communication for mating. Turtles possess a vomeronasal system to detect other turtle pheromones.

In some turtles, their courtship behavior is triggered by the presence of pheromones. Male pheromones detected by another male turtle often trigger a combat response. Males seek out the source of the pheromones to battle for territory and breeding rights.

Male turtle pheromones attract females during mating season but drive them away outside of mating. Aquatic turtles can detect the pheromones in the water. Studies show female freshwater turtles avoid ponds where male pheromones are present.

The presence of these pheromones communicates to females there’s a male nearby. These female turtles preferred ponds with other female pheromones. They’re likely communicating that it’s a safe space.

Pheromone communication, while not as significant as in other species, does play a role in turtles communicating with each other. Turtles are territorial and use pheromones to find a mate.

Conclusion

Turtles are solitary animals, so communication may seem nonexistent. However, turtles communicate with each other using different methods. Pheromones, body language, physical contact, and sounds are all ways that turtles communicate with each other.