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Why Does My Turtle Try to Climb the Wall? 9 Likely Reasons

Gregory Iacono

By Gregory Iacono

turtle in aquarium

If you’ve recently adopted a turtle, you’re probably still getting used to their interesting behaviors. One thing many turtles do is try to climb the walls of their tank or enclosure. But why do they do this?

The answer is that turtles try to climb the walls of their tank for several reasons, including to escape to what they might need or want outside the tank. If you’re curious, read on to discover the nine likely reasons your turtle is trying to climb the wall!

The 9 Reasons Your Turtle is Climbing the Wall

1. Your Turtle’s Tank Is Too Small

Turtles grow rather quickly, and within a few months, the tank you purchased might be too small for them to be comfortable and happy. If that happens, climbing the walls to try and get more space to move around might be your pet’s only option.

2. Your Turtle Is Seeking Warmth

Turtles are cold-blooded animals and, although they can handle the cold well, often look for a space to warm up. That’s why you often see them sunning themselves on logs in the wild. If your turtle’s environment is too cold, they may try to get to a warmer area and, to do that, climb the walls. It doesn’t work, of course, but you can’t blame them for trying. You can, however, provide a UV light to warm your pet and help them make essential Vitamin D.

Pet turtle. Red eared turtle in the aquarium
Image Credit: Mark Leung, Shutterstock

3. Your Turtle’s Tank Water Is Filthy

Most turtles kept as pets are aquatic, meaning they spend time in the water in their tank or enclosure. Not only do they spend time there, but they also eat, poop, and urinate in the water. If the water is filthy, your turtle will notice and try to find better water, often by climbing the walls of the enclosure. It’s vital to note that, according to veterinarians, almost all illnesses a turtle can have are related to the water they live in. Changing, aerating, and filtering their water with a high-quality filtration system is vital!

4. Your Turtle Is Trying to Go Back to Its Normal Environment

Turtles, unlike dogs and cats, have never been truly domesticated. Even turtles born in captivity are more or less “wild” turtles, so they innately look for the correct environment to live in. To get there, they will climb the walls to try and get from their tank to what they consider “greener pastures.” This is one reason a large tank filled with plants, water, and the correct substrate is critical. The closer it is to “home,” the happier your turtle will be.

5. Your Turtle Has Nowhere to Bask Under UV Rays

Turtles need the sun’s rays because the UV light they contain is what they use to make Vitamin D. Turtles instinctively know they need sunshine, and if they don’t get it, they will climb the wall of their enclosure if necessary. To prevent this and give them the UV rays they need, your tank must be outfitted with a UV light inside the tank rather than behind glass. UV rays can’t pass through the glass, which is why you can’t get a sunburn sitting in the sun behind a picture window in your home.

turtles in terrarium
Image Credit: Katerina Schweizer, Shutterstock

6. Your Pet Is Scared of Something and Trying to Escape

Turtles are easily frightened and stressed by many things, including you, for the first few days and weeks after you adopt them. They can also be scared by your other pets, strangers, children banging on the glass of their tank, and more. When they are, most turtles will look for an escape and may climb the walls to get away. To avoid this situation, place your turtle’s tank or enclosure where they will have fewer stressful surprises and go about their day in peace.

7. Your Turtle Is Curious About What’s Outside the Enclosure

Turtles are curious animals and, while not on the level of cats, it occasionally gets them into trouble. Climbing the walls of their tank to try and get closer to what they see outside is something your turtle will likely do at one point or another if only to get a better idea of what’s on the other side of the glass.

8. Your Turtle Might Be Sick

An injured or sick turtle might resort to climbing the walls of their tank to try and relieve the pain or try and get some help. For example, turtles often suffer from respiratory infections, skin conditions, hearing problems, and a lack of proper nutrition. All of these things could possibly make your turtle start climbing, so if you see them doing so, be sure to check and ensure they’re physically okay.

vet holding a turtle
Image Credit: Goldfish Studio, Shutterstock

9. Your Pet Is Bored

Like almost all pets, a bored turtle will do almost anything to relieve their boredom, including trying to climb the walls in their enclosure. To prevent this and a possible accident that could injure your turtle, give them some toys made for turtles. Shells, something they can float on, plants, sticks, and even a sturdy child’s toy will all work and keep your turtle from becoming bored and climbing the walls.

Is Climbing Walls a Health Risk for Turtles?

Unlike cats, turtles don’t have claws, and unlike frogs, they don’t have sticky feet, either. This means that turtles don’t exactly climb but, instead, attempt to climb. The good news is that they can’t get very high. Some can’t even get off the ground!

The bad news is that, while trying to climb, your turtle could fall over on their back and drown or fall and injure themselves. In other words, you should do everything possible to prevent your turtle from trying to climb.

male and female Himalayan box turtles on top of each other
Image Credit: Masterpoofdula, Shutterstock

How to Prevent Your Turtle From Climbing the Walls

Here are a few tips to keep your turtle happy and prevent them from trying to climb out of their tank or enclosure:

  • Provide your turtle with toys to play with.
  • Keep your turtle’s tank and water clean.
  • Give your turtle enough space to move around and explore their environment.
  • Provide a UV light and basking area if your turtle is inside and a basking area if you keep your turtle outside.
  • Place your turtle’s enclosure away from people and other pets.
  • Provide high-quality food for your turtle every day.

Final Thoughts

Your turtle might try to climb out of the tank for several reasons, as we’ve seen today. If they do, the best recommendation is to look at our list and determine why they want to escape. Once you figure it out, you can make the necessary changes to their environment so that your precious pet is satisfied, happy, and won’t want to leave! It might take a little detective work, but it will be well worth the effort and help your turtle stay happy and healthy for many years.

Featured Image Credit: norberto, Shutterstock

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