It’s shocking to find your pet turtle not moving and cool to the touch. You might be wondering if your turtle died? Or is it hibernating? There are some signs to look for if you wonder if your turtle is dead or just hibernating.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to tell if your turtle has died or if it has gone into hibernation. Then, we’ll give you some signs and symptoms of each so you can tell if your turtle is ok! But first, let’s take a quick look at a video of a turtle that may be hibernating.
Can You Tell if This Turtle Is Hibernating?
In this video, Cole M. is checking to see if his turtle is in hibernation or if it has died. He mentions that the turtle has an odor. The turtle isn’t responding to stimulus and it looks like its limbs are floppy. Could this turtle just be hibernating?
Keep reading to find out more about hibernation in turtles before we move on to the signs and symptoms of hibernation and death.
What Is Hibernation?
Technically, turtles don’t go into hibernation. Instead, they go into a state called brumation, which is similar to hibernation, except that hibernation happens to mammals and brumation happens to reptiles. Reptiles go into a state of brumation because they can’t keep their body temperature warm enough in cold weather. When they go into the state of brumation, their digestion, breathing, and heart rates slow down dramatically. According to Pet Health Zone, this could save a turtle’s life in the wild because it might not otherwise survive the cold weather conditions. Since the ideal conditions for brumation are 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, pet turtles may or may not hibernate.
Not all turtles hibernate, according to AnimalWised. However, only species of turtles that are accustomed to colder climates will go into this dormant state. Also, turtles under the age of three probably should not be put into a dormant state.
So How Can I Tell if My Turtle is Dead or Hibernating?
There are some tell-tale signs that your turtle is hibernating or bromating and is still alive.
Does your species of turtle go into brumation or hibernation?
It’s important to know what species of turtle you have. Since only turtles that are accustomed to cold climates will hibernate, there are some species that don’t. For example, Arrau and American Wood turtles are tropical species that don’t go into brumation. On the other hand, Red-Eared Sliders, Snapping turtles, and spotted turtles do.
Is your turtle inside its shell?
Typically, a turtle will tuck up inside its shell when it is hibernating, sleeping, or hiding to catch food. So, if you find your turtle splayed out flat and not moving, it might have passed because turtles don’t tend to sleep like that. However, if it is tucked up tight in its shell, it is probably still alive.
Pick your turtle up.
If you think your turtle is hibernating or maybe has died, the easiest way to tell is to pick it up. A turtle that is dormant will still have control of its muscles. So if you pick your turtle up, its legs should still have some muscle control and be able to keep its head and legs tucked inside its shell. On the other hand, if its legs are loose and floppy, your turtle may have died.
Try turning your turtle on its back. This may cause it to move if it is still alive.
Does the turtle feel cold?
One way to check if a turtle has died is to feel its temperature. A hibernating turtle will feel cool to the touch, but a turtle that has passed will feel even colder. A dead turtle will feel as cool to the touch as its surroundings. If it feels slightly warmer, it is probably in brumation.
Does the turtle respond to stimuli?
If a turtle is asleep and you touch it, it will react to your touch. A turtle that is hibernating or in brumation will also respond to stimuli, although it will respond much more slowly. For example, if you gently pull on the turtle’s leg (please don’t hurt your turtle!), it will probably respond by pulling its legs up into its shell. A lifeless turtle won’t react.
If your turtle didn’t react to pulling its leg, you could try to stimulate the area between its tail and cloaca. Gently prodding this sensitive area should make the turtle move, even if it is dormant. If the turtle does not react at all, it may have died.
Does the turtle have an odor?
A turtle’s body will start to decompose within about a day of death, depending on the heat and humidity. Once the decomposition process has begun, the turtle’s body will begin to emit a foul odor, similar to the smell of roadkill on a hot day. Keep in mind that a sick or dying turtle can suffer from shell rot, which can also cause a bad smell. Get it to the vet immediately if your turtle has a bad smell but is still alive.
A hibernating turtle won’t have a foul odor; it will smell just like it does when it isn’t hibernating.
Is your turtle breathing?
A turtle’s breath rate slows dramatically when it is in brumation. So you’ll need to watch your turtle for at least 10 minutes to see if it is breathing or not. You can try holding a feather or something feathery in front of its nose and watch it to see if the feather moves. Also, according to PetKeen, a hibernating turtle can also breathe through its cloaca, so you’ll also need to check this area to see if it is breathing.
Does your turtle have sunken eyes?
When a turtle has died, its eyes may look sunken in. This is just one symptom of death, however. Keep in mind that a dehydrated turtle may also have sunken eyes, especially if it has been hibernating for a long time.
Try bathing your turtle.
If your turtle feels cold and appears to have died, you can try warming it in a bath. Put some warm but not hot water in a safe container. Place your turtle in the water no deeper than about halfway up its shell. Make sure your turtle’s head is above the water. If your turtle is hibernating, it should start to wake up in about 15 to 30 minutes. It may move around or even have a bowel movement in the water.
Does your turtle float?
When a turtle dies, its body fills with gasses which can make it float, according to Jaljeev. Carefully put your turtle in water and see if it floats. If it floats, it may have passed or it may just be choosing to float! On the other hand, if it doesn’t float, it might not have enough gasses to make it buoyant.
Move your turtle to a warmer area.
The Turtle Hub says that if you think your turtle is just hibernating, you can put it in a warmer area for 24 hours. As it warms up, it should become more active. Make sure it has plenty of fresh water and food.
Loss of skin tone.
If your turtle has died, its skin may look shriveled and saggy. The Aquarium Guide says that this is just one of the changes a turtle goes through when it dies.
Ask the vet.
If you really can’t tell if your turtle is hibernating or has died, you should take it to your vet. Then, your vet will be able to know for sure.
Symptoms That Won’t Help You Know if Your Turtle Is Dead or Hibernating
There are a few symptoms that probably won’t help you tell if your turtle has died. For example, if your turtle’s eyes are open or closed and even your turtle’s heart rate.
Do turtles die with their eyes open?
Some turtles die with their eyes open, and some die with their eyes closed. While turtles typically will sleep with their eyes closed, it isn’t a reliable means of telling if your turtle is hibernating or has died.
Generally, a turtle will keep its eyes closed while hibernating. However, Smithsonian Magazine says that even when they are dormant, turtles are aware of what’s going on around them. This helps them wake up and respond to stimuli in their environment for protection and so that they know when to come out of brumation.
Will my turtle’s heart stop when it is hibernating?
According to Ontario Turtle, a turtle’s heart rate is about 40 beats per minute when resting. But when it is hibernating, it can slow its heart rate dramatically, down to once every ten minutes! So although you may think your turtle’s heart rate has stopped, it may just be very, very slow, to the point that it is hard to tell if the heart has stopped completely. Also, because a turtle’s heart rate gets so slow when hibernating, this may not be a reliable way to tell if your turtle is dead or just hibernating.