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Can Turtles Climb Trees? Facts & FAQ

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

turtle lying on timber

The vast majority of turtle species cannot climb trees. However, there are a few species that may climb trees occasionally, including Musk Turtles, Map Turtles, and Snapping Turtles. These species have very sharp claws and powerful limbs, which allow them to grip the tree and push themselves upwards.

However, even for these species, climbing trees is rare. Most people never see a turtle climb a tree and for good reason. Climbing trees is a rare occurrence that happens in very specific circumstances.

Furthermore, climbing trees is always a risk. The turtle may fall and become injured, especially if they are high in the tree. They only climb trees if the benefits outweigh the potential injuries, which doesn’t happen all that often.

Why Might Turtles Climb Trees?

If climbing trees is risky, why would turtles ever want to do it? Well, there are a few reasons a turtle might decide that climbing a tree is worth it, such as:

  • Finding food. Trees can provide a turtle with food if they can reach it. Ripe fruits and vegetation can be an excellent food source for many turtles, especially if they’re having trouble finding food on the ground. Sometimes, the only place they can get a decent bite to eat is up on a tree.
  • Regulate body temperature. Turtles are reptiles, so they don’t produce their own body heat. Instead, they have to bask in the sun to warm up and make everything work correctly. If the forest floor is too cold, a turtle may have to climb a tree to get some sun.
  • Escape predators. If the turtle notices a predator nearby, climbing a tree may be a reliable escape plan—if they can climb it fast enough. Plus, spending time in the trees may prevent some turtles from coming into contact with their common predators, so they may use it as a preventative strategy.
  • Avoid competition. If there are many turtles in the area, some may take to the trees in an attempt to avoid the competition. For instance, even if they can find food on the ground, other turtles may have gotten to it first.
Turtle eating kale
Image Credit: cooky_luvs, Shutterstock

Can Tortoises Climb Trees?

Tortoises can climb trees sometimes, but not nearly as well as some turtles. Tortoises are terrestrial animals, meaning they spend much of their time on land. On the other hand, turtles are semi-aquatic. Therefore, these two animals are built differently, even if they do look very similar.

For instance, tortoises tend to be heavier and more dome-shaped. Turtles tend to be more streamlined with flatter shells. These differences make it much harder for a tortoise to climb trees than the average turtle.

As you might expect, climbing is also dangerous for them. They’re likely to get injured if they fall and are more likely to fall. Therefore, the benefits rarely outweigh the risks.

Can Turtles Climb Walls?

Some species of turtles can climb surprisingly well, which makes building enclosures a bit more challenging than you might expect. For instance, red-eared sliders are well-known to climb fences, so walls aren’t completely out of the question.

However, the turtle still needs something to grab onto. A completely flat wall won’t provide enough grip for the turtle to climb. You probably won’t find a turtle climbing drywall inside a house! Textured, outside walls may be a different story, though.

If you’re keeping your turtle outside, it’s vital that you consider the wall texture and your turtle’s climbing ability. You should also consider that many turtles can burrow under walls much faster than many people think. Therefore, you’ll need to have some sort of underground portion of the barrier, too.

turtle divider AH


Some species of turtles can climb surprisingly well. Some are even reported to climb fences and textured outdoor walls, like those made from stone. Red-eared Sliders are particularly good at climbing, as are several other species.

However, turtles climbing trees is a rare occurrence and not usually optimal. Most turtles are much better at swimming and walking than climbing. Climbing trees can also lead to falls and other problems. Therefore, the benefits have to outweigh the risks for the turtles, which isn’t all that common.

Featured Image Credit: Independent birds, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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