Ask a Vet

Does A Turtle Have Ears? (How Do Turtles Hear?)

Photo of author
Updated on

Turtles are known for their long lives but they are not particularly well known for their senses. Turtles have very poor hearing compared to other animals.

Turtles do have a good sense of smell though. They can detect the slightest scent in the air.

Red-eared turtle

This is why you will often find them basking on logs or rocks where they can get some sun and also keep an eye out for predators that might be lurking nearby.

We take a closer look at a turtle’s hearing, and we find out if a turtle has ears and how it can hear its predators approaching.

Do Turtles Have Ears?

Yes, turtles do have ears.

When you look at a turtle, you will notice that it does not have external ear openings like cats or dogs, instead, they have internal ears.

They are almost impossible to see when you don’t know what you are looking for.

How Do Turtles Hear?

As turtles don’t have external ears, they cannot hear certain sounds. The ears of cats and humans, in comparison, are shaped in a way that draws the sound into the inner ear.

Turtles only have thin flaps that cover the inner ear. These flaps are called cutaneous plates.

These flaps catch sound waves and vibrations which are transferred to the middle ear, and then to the inner ear.

Turtles use the same type of hearing mechanism as other reptiles and amphibians. The inner ear is connected to the middle ear by a small tube called the Eustachian tube.

The inner ear processes the sound and then sends the signal to the brain. The brain processes the sound further and the turtle starts to react to the sound.

You can hear this process happening for yourself if you put your finger over an open window while listening to loud music. You will feel the vibration of the window frame.

If you cover up the window with your hand, the vibrations stop.

This is exactly how turtles hear.

Why Is Hearing Important For A Turtle?

Turtle listening

Hearing is important because it helps turtles to avoid predators and protect themselves.

It is very easy for a predator to sneak up on a turtle without being noticed. If a turtle can detect danger before it happens, it can escape or hide.

In addition to escaping from predators, a turtle’s hearing is also essential for them to detect prey, as well as communicate with others.

Sounds are part of the mating ritual where males often make a low-frequency noise to attract females.

They also use their ears to check their surroundings and create a better picture of their environment. This is particularly important for wild tortoises.

What Sounds Can A Turtle Hear? 

Unfortunately, turtles aren’t great listeners. They can only hear sounds between 100Hz and 1,000Hz. The majority of sea turtles can only hear between 200-700 Hz.

This is not a great range when you compare it to the human hearing range from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz.

Sea turtle species are the turtles that hear best.

Most turtles only hear low-frequency sounds which are associated with navigation and communication.

What Are Some Common Sounds That Turtles Listen To?

There are many common noises that turtles listen to.

Some of these include:

  • Roar made by large mammals such as tigers
  • Rumble made by thunderstorms
  • Humming made by bees

Can Turtles Hear Underwater?

Turtle underwater

It’s hardly a surprise that both sea turtles and freshwater turtles can hear better underwater than on land. This is thanks to a fatty layer that sits underneath their ear flaps.

While this layer makes it difficult for turtles to hear on land, it is an advantage underwater because it’s much more sensitive to the pressure changes in the water.

Can Your Pet Turtle Hear You?

Many pet owners love to play tricks on their pets. One trick that is commonly used is to whisper into the shell of a turtle.

Although most turtles cannot hear anything below 700 Hz, they can still pick up some of the lower frequencies.

When whispering, try to keep your voice at around 30dB. A turtle’s hearing is very sensitive.

However, there are no studies that show that a turtle responds to human speech. It’s more likely that it associates certain sounds with certain types of experiences.

Your turtle will be able to hear your footsteps when you approach the tank for feeding time. It will associate this sound with a positive experience.

How Does A Turtle Compensate For Its Bad Hearing?

Turtles have a good sense of balance and are quite agile. They are also very flexible, so they can bend their necks to face the direction of the sound.

For example, if a turtle hears something coming toward it, it may turn its head to face the threat.

However, to fully compensate for its bad hearing, a turtle uses its sense of smell and sight.

Both these senses are much better developed than the turtle’s hearing. For example, a turtle’s sense of smell is very sensitive.

Turtles use their sense of smell to navigate their environment and find food. Smells also help them find the right mate.

In addition, a turtle’s sight is reasonably good. A turtle can distinguish between different shapes, sizes, patterns, and colors.

So, together with their sense of smell, sight is an important sense for turtles.

Health Issues Related To A Turtle’s Ears

If a turtle has a problem with one or both ears, it might not be able to hear properly.

One of the main causes of problems with a turtle’s ears is infection. If a turtle gets an infection near its ears, it could cause inflammation.

This would make it harder for the turtle to hear.

Another possible reason for a turtle having trouble hearing could be an injury. An injury to the ear flap area could prevent the flap from working correctly.

Ear Infections

An ear infection is caused by bacteria getting inside the turtle’s ear canal. The bacteria then multiply and form pus.

The pus collects behind the eardrum. As the pus builds up, it pushes against the eardrum. This can damage the eardrum and make it hard for the turtle to hear properly.

The best way to treat an ear infection is to clean out the ear canal with cotton wool soaked in warm saltwater.

You should do this twice a day until the infection clears. If the infection is left untreated, the pus will harden and form an abscess.

This is called an aural abscess and should be treated by your vet immediately. 

As a rule of thumb, if you notice an infection in your turtle, you should take your pet to the vet instantly because infections often quickly spread to other parts of their bodies.

You should never attempt to remove an aural abscess yourself. Doing so could result in serious complications, such as permanent loss of hearing for your turtle.

It is a good idea to keep track of any changes in your turtle’s behavior over time.

If your turtle starts acting strangely or seems to be in pain, it is probably a good idea to get it checked out by a veterinarian.

Causes Of Ear Infections In Turtles

A common cause of ear infections in turtles is a weak immune system and poor hygiene. Sometimes a lack of vitamin A in your turtle’s diet may also cause ear problems.

In addition, an injury to the flap or your turtle’s inner ears may also be the cause of an ear infection.

These injuries may be caused by other turtles or objects in your turtle’s environment.

Symptoms Of Turtle Ear Infections

Some of the symptoms that you may see in a turtle with an ear infection include:

  • Discharge around the base of the ear
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eye inflammation
  • Weight loss

How To Prevent Ear Infections In Turtles

To help prevent ear infections, it is important to ensure that your turtle’s diet contains all of the essential nutrients that it needs, including vitamin A.

Your turtle’s diet should contain high levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals. It should also have enough calcium and phosphorus to build strong bones.

Your turtle’s diet shouldn’t contain too much fat or sugar. These ingredients are easy for bacteria to grow on.

If you feed your turtle a commercial diet, it should contain the right levels of vitamin A.

Another factor that can lead to ear infections is poor hygiene. You should ensure that your turtle’s aquarium is always clean, and the aquarium filter works.

Regularly cleaning and changing the water of your turtle’s tank helps to reduce the risk of ear infections.

Treatment For Ear Infections In Turtles

When your turtle has an ear infection, you should best take your turtle to a vet who knows how best to treat the infection.

Your vet will likely examine your pet turtle properly. He may even check its blood levels.

Depending on the severity of the infection, your turtle may need to have surgery to remove any of the hard pus.

If your turtle has an aural abscess, your vet will need to drain the fluid from the infected area. This will allow the infection to heal more easily.

After your turtle recovers, you will want to make sure that he gets plenty of rest. Your turtle’s body will need time to recover from the surgery.

Your vet may also recommend using a topical treatment to help ease some of the discomforts your turtle feels.

It will take a few weeks for your turtle to recover from an ear infection.


Although a turtle’s hearing isn’t great, it’s still a sense that your turtle depends on it in the wild as well as in captivity.

Ear infections are not uncommon in reptiles. They can be very painful, especially if they become infected.

However, if your turtle develops an ear infection, there are luckily many things you can do to help your turtle to recover as quickly as possible.

Photo of author
About the author


Kerry White is an avid dog lover and writer, knowing all there is to know about our furry friends. Kerry has been writing for PetDT for three years now, wanting to use her knowledge for good and share everything she can with new dog owners.Kerry has two dogs herself - a German shepherd called Banjo and a chocolate labrador called Buttons. Kerry knows more than anyone how adjusting to new life with a puppy can turn your life upside down, and she wants to ease some of the burdens through her articles.