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Can Turtles Hear Sound? Senses, Facts, & FAQ

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

spotted turtle

Because turtles have internal ears, rather than ears that protrude visibly from the sides of their heads, many people mistakenly believe that turtles can’t hear. In fact, turtles can hear, although they hear better at low frequencies, and they are susceptible to loud noises. However, they do not hear as wide a range of noises or as well as humans and other animals like dogs and cats.

Although turtles can hear, their sense of hearing is not great, but they make up for this with excellent senses of vision and smell.

turtle divider AH

Turtle Hearing

First and foremost, although they aren’t easily visible, turtles do have ears. While humans and other animals including cats and dogs have prominent outer ears that protrude from the sides of their heads, turtles have a different setup. They have inner ears, but these are covered by thin flaps of skin and fat. The flaps of skin vibrate against the inner ear which sends signals to the brain that are translated as noise. Typically, these noises are used to warn of predators and alert to other noises. However, the flaps are only really sensitive to lower-pitched noises.

Whereas humans can hear at a range between 20 and 20,000 Hertz, turtles can only hear at a range between 200 and 500 Hertz, which is a very narrow range on the low end of what we can hear. But higher-pitched sounds do not cause these vibrations, so turtles are unable to hear high-pitched sounds very well if at all.

All turtles, whether they are aquatic or terrestrial, hear in the same way, which is beneficial for aquatic turtles. Water moves with the vibrations created by sound, and the movement of the water causes more movement from the ear flaps of the turtle. Ultimately, this means that they hear better underwater than they do on land: beneficial for sea turtles but less so for terrestrial turtles.

Turtle Vision

Fortunately, terrestrial turtles have the benefit of a very sharp sense of sight. Most reptiles are considered to have poor sight, but turtles can differentiate colors, shapes, and even patterns and sizes of objects. This enables them to better see predators as well as potential food sources.

a turtle on a rock
Image Credit: coloursinmylife, Shutterstock

Turtle Olfactory Senses

The olfactory sense, or the sense of smell, is also important to these reptiles. They can use their sense of smell to locate food and identify predators. They even use it to locate mates and to find their way back to beaches and other locations to lay eggs every year.

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Do Terrestrial Turtles Hear the Same as Sea Turtles?

Terrestrial turtles and sea turtles have the same sense of hearing. They have inner ears that are covered by flaps of skin. The skin vibrates with sound and these vibrations create signals in the brain. Even though this type of hearing is more effective in water, terrestrial turtles, including tortoises, hear in the same way.

Many people believe that turtles have no ears because they do not have the same protruding outer ears as some other animals including humans. However, they have inner ears that are covered in flaps of skin and fat. They are very difficult, or even impossible, to see, however.

Western Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) in the flint hills of Kansas
Image By: Steve Byland, Shutterstock

Can Turtles Hear Human Voices?

Turtles can likely hear human voices or at least some parts of human voices. Adult male voices register at around 150 to 200 Hertz and female voices at 225 Hertz, both of which are within or close to a turtle’s hearing. However, it is also possible, if your turtle responds when you approach the tank to put food out, that they can feel the vibrations of your feet or see you approaching.

turtle divider AH

Conclusion

Turtles are ancient animals that were around at the time of the dinosaurs. They have shells that help protect them from predators and their slow pace means they struggle to get away from any predators they face. Their sense of hearing can help alert them to predators, although their hearing is limited, and a turtle’s vision and smell tend to be more effective in this regard.

Turtles do have ears, but they are different from human ears. They have skin flaps that sit over the inner ear and register vibrations.


Featured Image Credit: Jay Ondreicka, Shutterstock

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