Turtles are a very common aquatic household pet and they are relatively easy to take care of, once you have their enclosure set up and everything you need. But have you ever taken a moment to think about how your turtle interacts with the world?
Many people question whether turtles have ears. Whilst they do not have protruding ears like humans and many other animals, turtles certainly have ears and can hear.
In this article, we are going to be looking at the ear anatomy of the pet turtle, and how good your pet’s hearing really is.
Do Turtles Have Ears?
In short, yes, Turtles do have ears but they may not be in line with what you and I first think of when we think of these auditory organs. Where most mammals are concerned, the ears are quite obvious features either on the sides or the top of the head; these external ears act as a funnel for sound to enter into the ear canal, where the sound is then processed and sent to the brain.
However, in turtles, there is not this outer portion of the ear but rather just an internal ear. Many pet owners may have studied the side of their turtles head searching for their ear holes but truth be told, it is unlikely you would ever spot these as they are so tiny.
Turtle Ear Anatomy
In order to fully understand how turtles hear, we must first understand their anatomy. On the sides of the head, turtles have skin flaps, these are there to prevent water getting in as they swim around but will still let sound waves through.
Behind this flap of skin is the turtle’s middle ear and located here are small bones which serve to move sounds, or vibrations down the ear canal and on towards the eardrums.
Once the sound hits the eardrums, a series of nerves send the signals on to the brain. However, in turtles hearing is not one of the main senses so whereas our hearing centre in the brain would be significant, that of the turtle is much smaller.
Hearing In And Out Of Water
Of course, turtles are semi-aquatic animals and as such, they will spend time both on land and in the water. When in the water, a turtle can hold its breath for up to half an hour but this will depend on the health of the animal as well as the current conditions.
However, even if they are underwater for just a few minutes, they must be able to hear to avoid becoming lunch for a hungry shark or other water-based predators.
When they are under the water, the turtles will sense vibrations and are incredibly adept at picking up on low frequencies. These sounds are further amplified by the water allowing the turtle a good sense of hearing when submerged.
Whilst many animals might use their hearing under the water as a way of navigating the world around them, turtles do not do this. In contrast, underwater, their hearing serves as a way to detect if a predator is nearby picking up on subtle changes in water pressure.
There are some terrestrial turtles whose hearing functions in the same way as sea turtles and this might suggest that, to begin with, all species of turtle were purely aquatic.
When on land, the hearing capabilities of a turtle are different again. When in the water, they will use this as a way of amplifying any sounds but on land, they do not have this luxury.
Therefore, a turtle who is on land would sense vibrations on the ground and this would help them to avoid being eaten by land predators.
However, what is quite extraordinary is that these amazing creatures have the ability to sense even the smallest changes in the air and this further allows them to sense when a threat may be approaching.
Hearing As A Secondary Sense
As we have mentioned, the turtle’s hearing is not as powerful as other animals and as such, is not a primary sense. They will use it, as we have discovered but their main senses include smell which they use to detect a threat and when combined with their hearing, is a pretty potent combination.
Unfortunately, because the turtle can generally only pick up on lower frequencies, he might never be able to fully enjoy the sounds of nature such as the sound of the dawn chorus – so does this mean that they cannot hear their owners when in captivity?
Does My Turtle Recognise My Voice?
One of the most common questions asked by turtle owners is whether their pet will recognise their voice. Humans voices do fall within the limited range of frequencies that turtles can hear so it is entirely feasible to wonder whether they would get to know what you sound like.
There have been many instances where turtles will swim up to their owners as they hear them approaching, demonstrating that despite popular opinion, these are exceptionally intelligent animals.
It is most likely that a turtle will learn the sound of her owner’s voice because she will associate it with food. This is the case for many animals so don’t feel disheartened thinking that she only wants you for one thing.
Despite not being able to physically see them, turtles do have ears; they are just rather different to those of a human or other mammal. Instead of external ears, the turtle has small flaps of skin on the side of his head. Behind these lies the internal ear.
The hearing of turtles is not excellent but it is sufficient to prevent them from becoming prey and they have the ability to amplify sounds when underwater and detect vibrational changes in the air when on land – that’s pretty impressive.