Last Updated on February 25, 2020 by John B. Nelson
How do turtles manage to stay under water for such a long time? Well, it’s a tricky affair but luckily we are going to try and crack it here today. If you were submerged in water for a long time, you will die.
Turtles, on the other hand, are cool. Not just amazing-cool, but cool like in cold-blooded. In addition to that, you cannot breathe through your butt…can you? Don’t be surprised, turtles do it every day.
Butt breathing is one of the many reason’s turtles have been able to survive under ice-capped oceans for months. So how does the turtle breathe? Let’s take a cursory look on a turtle breathing technique.
By the end of this post, you will understand how your turtle’s body operates. You will also know how they manage to survive under freezing ponds. Enjoy.
Turtles Are Ectotherms
Yes. A turtle is an Ectotherm. So what is an Ectotherm? Ectotherms are animals that rely on an external heat source. In short, the body temperature of a turtle tracks the temperatures of the turtle’s environment. So if the water in your pond is 15℃, so is the temperature of your turtle’s body.
This unique ability that turtles possess enables them to adapt perfectly to their environment. They won’t find any discomfort or feel shocked at all. Rather, they will be at peace in any location.
What About The Turtle’s Lungs?
Because turtles have lungs, it is true that they also breathe air. By breathing air, turtles should come over the water surface lots of times – but they don’t.
The reason here is simple. It is the same reason that enables turtles to easily survive in an ice-capped pond. It is how the turtle’s body temperature co-relates to its metabolism.
When a turtle is in a cold pond/water it has a very slow metabolism. The colder the water gets, the slower the turtle’s metabolism. When this happens, it translates into a very low demand for energy and oxygen.
The mechanism above is the same one that supports a turtle’s hibernation. Because there is a low demand for oxygen and energy, the turtle can easily rely on stored energy. It can also rely on the limited oxygen from the frozen pond water.
How Do Turtles Uptake The Oxygen?
While the water above is ice-capped, the water below the ice is in liquid form – just like in turtle aquariums.
By moving the water across its body surfaces, which flush with the blood vessels the turtle gets the oxygen uptake. The oxygen that they get here is very limited, but it is adequate for the minimal needs too.
This oxygen uptake mechanism doesn’t require the use of lungs at all. Thankfully, their butt is properly vascularized so it aids in this process, which is called cloacal respiration.
Are There Limitations to Turtle Breathing?
Yes. Turtle breathing technique has a limitation. The truth is that adult turtles hardly survive freezing temperatures with exceptions such as the box turtles. Adult turtles aren’t able to sustain iced water in their body.
This is the main reason why the freshwater turtles will hibernate in the water. In freshwater, the body temperatures of the adult turtles will remain a bit stable. It will hardly go below the freezing point and that’s good.
In other words, the water will act as a significant temperature buffer. Even so, pond water has very stable temperatures during the winter and that’s why an ectotherm that’s sitting in pond water will also maintain a stable temperature.
NOTE: Water, unlike air, has a specific heat. Once the heat is reached, the temperature is maintained and this favors the survival of the turtle. But because air has a low specific heat its temperature will fluctuate a lot and that endangers the turtle.
Thanks to The Crampy Muscles
Living under water, especially an ice-covered water will present two major problems for most turtles.
First, it doesn’t allow them to surface and breathe. Secondly, they have very limited “new oxygen” getting into the frozen water.
In addition to that, if the turtle is living in a pond, chances are it is sharing the limited oxygen with other hibernating organisms. This will lead to the levels of oxygen depleting fast. The pond will become anoxic or depleted of oxygen.
This is very dangerous for the turtle and can turn fatal easily. So what next for the turtle? Well, we have some turtles that can handle these low oxygen levels easily. However, there are other turtles that won’t be able to survive.
The snapping turtles and their painted cousins will tolerate this situation by doing the unimaginable. They will switch their metabolism into one that won’t require the use of any oxygen – yes.
This ability like I said is unimaginable, but it is also amazing. However, it can be fatal sometimes too, especially if it goes for an extended period. In case it goes for long, there will be acid build up in the turtle’s tissues.
This acid build-up can turn lethal and eventually kill the turtle. Thankfully, the research has shown that turtles that switch to zero metabolisms can go for over 100 days without oxygen. Other species such as the painted turtles also neutralize acid buildup by using the calcium in their shells.
The turtle breathing technique isn’t as complex as they say, but it is not easy either. Just so you know turtles are cold-blooded animals. Because of this, colder environments won’t affect them at all. They can easily survive and enjoy the frozen water as much as they will enjoy the warm water. Their ability to control their body temperature with that of their environment is also an amazing skill. I hope you can finally understand your turtle better. Take care of that box turtle properly and you will have an amazing experience too.
Hi, This is John B. Nelson and the author of this website. As a cute pet, I love the turtle very much. Based on my experience with the turtle, I am sharing my opinion about the turtle care and habitat tips on this blog. I think these tips will be helpful to those peoples who have eager to turtle and want to start a journey with the turtle. Find me on Twitter. Happy reading!