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Can Turtles See Color? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Patricia Dickson

By Patricia Dickson

painted turtle close up

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles are popular pets among adults and children. Not only are these reptiles gorgeous and entertaining to watch, but they are also quite interesting to research. Many people think that turtles are color-blind, but studies suggest that they can see colors.

The eyes of the turtle are still mysterious to researchers, and little is known about them. Questions such as what colors turtles see, what they can see in the dark, and how far a turtle can see have not been thoroughly answered. In the article below, we’ll discuss which colors turtles see and answer some frequently asked questions.

Can Turtles See Color?

It’s thought that the colors a turtle sees are on a wider spectrum than the colors humans see and that they react to various colors differently. We’ll discuss a few of those colors and how turtles react to them in the next section.

Western painted turtle Close up
Image Credit: reptiles4all,Shutterstock

Orange and Yellow Colors

Pet parents and researchers who have spent time with turtles say they seem to be attracted to the colors orange and yellow. It’s unclear why pet turtles would be attracted to the colors, but sea turtles seem to be attracted to yellow light and blue-green light that is practically ultraviolet. The sea turtle’s vision helps them detect bioluminescent prey but also makes them vulnerable to light pollution. If a beach is illuminated by unnatural light, some turtles will not lay their eggs there and will search for a darker location.

The Color Red

Research has also shown that turtles carry a gene called CYP2J19. This gene allows the turtles to see different shades of red that even humans can’t see. In fact, the gene allows them to see shades of red that are almost identical in color, with just a slight difference, something we can’t ever do.

For example, the colors crimson and scarlet can be seen better by turtles than humans. To us, crimson and scarlet just look like red, but not to a turtle’s eyes.

female painted turtle close up with soft focus background
Image Credit: Debra Anderson,Shutterstock

FAQs About a Turtle’s Eyes

Now that you know that turtles can see colors, just not in the same way that we do, we’ll try to answer some of your most common questions about turtles and how they see below.

Can My Turtle See in the Dark?

The amount of light that enters the turtle’s eye is limited to stop the light from damaging the reptile’s eyes, just as with humans. So, a turtle’s pupils shrink just as ours do to protect them. However, a turtle’s pupils get larger in the dark to allow the turtle to see clearly. Turtles can see in the dark, but like humans, they see better in natural light.

Can My Turtle See Underwater?

You might already know that turtles are semi-aquatic, so they do need to be able to see underwater in order to escape from predators and survive in the water. Not only do they need to see to get away from predators, but they also need to be able to see to catch their prey. Since turtles do need to come up for air, it’s critical that they can see well underwater and on land.

close up portrait of a pet turtle face
Image Credit: Nature’s Charm, Shutterstock

Can My Turtle Develop Eye Problems?

It’s important to note that turtles can develop eye problems like any other animal. If your turtle has an eye problem, they must be treated by a vet right away. Any eye problems that your turtle suffers from could affect the turtle’s chances of survival in and out of the water if left untreated.

Eye infections and swelling are the primary eye issues that a turtle can suffer from. Eye infections also can be linked to respiratory infections in your little friend. Swollen eyes in your turtle can also lead to an eye infection. However, the swelling could also be from a vitamin A deficiency, so make sure to get your turtle treated if you see any swelling. Here are the signs to look out for if your turtle has an eye infection:

  • Eyes puffier than normal
  • Obvious swelling
  • Redness around the eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing

These are signs that your turtle has a respiratory infection:

  • Difficulty keeping their balance or swimming
  • Mouth and nose discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing

Final Thoughts

According to research, turtles can see colors but see them differently than we do. Turtles can get eye infections and swelling that can be caused by various issues, such as a vitamin A deficiency. If you’re going to give a turtle a forever home, it’s important that you know what to look for when it comes to eye infections and swelling in your reptile friend so that you can take care of them the right way. If you maintain regular veterinary appointments and provide a sanitary environment for your pet, your turtle will be happy and healthy for many years.

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Featured Image Credit: 631372, Pixabay

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