Can turtles hear sounds and if they do how well and what do they sound like to a turtle?
Turtles can indeed hear but not very well. People once thought that turtles were deaf due to the fact that they do not have visible ears like humans or dogs do. But they do have ears, they are internal rather than external. Using small external holes on the side of their head they gather sound waves to their middle ear which is located inside their head. There they can detect low-frequency sounds and pick up the vibrations of their environment.
Turtles hear much better under the water than they do on land. This is true for even terrestrial turtles or tortoises. A desert tortoise who spends most of his time far from water would be able to hear much better if he could simply stick his head into some water. This has led scientists to conclude that all turtles both aquatic and terrestrial have a common water origin in their evolutionary past.
Turtles’ other senses are much stronger than there hearing. While they most likely can hear you they will probably smell and see you long before that. The vision of turtles is quite well and even is believed to be able to pick up light frequencies outside of the range of humans, meaning that for turtles it is true that there are more colors to the rainbow. Their sense of smell is the true king of their senses however and turtles smell faculties are quite adept.
Turtles’ ears are located internally within their body rather than externally like ours. This gives them superior aerodynamic function when they are swimming in the water, this is true for land turtles and tortoises as well even though they don’t really swim. Imagine how much slower of swimmers turtles would be if they had to drag these long floppy ears while doing their breaststroke. Olympic swimmers sometimes shave their body hair to add speed to their swimming, turtles evolution decided to trim their ears to do the same.
Turtles hear through small holes on the side of their heads that are cover by equally small flaps of skin. The holes lead through a layer of fatty subcutaneous skin that keeps water out but it also hurts there hearing when on land. Once the sound has traveled through the subcutaneous layer then it goes into an interior canal that leads not to a middle eardrum but rather instead a middle ear bone. This middle ear bone can not differentiate between sounds with the finesse of an eardrum but it can tell the difference between sound and air pressure.
From there, it travels to a section of the turtle’s brain which can then interpret the sounds and their meaning. This part of their brain is somewhat small as turtles don’t spend as much of their brain’s computational capacity on their hearing. Most of it is dedicated to their other senses such as their sense of smell and eyesight.
Scientist’s understanding of turtle hearing has come along way. From once believe that they were deaf to some of the latest studies which are showing that turtles’ hearing is much more developed than previously thought. Now it seems that turtles may even communicate with each other to some extent through various primitive vocalizations.
To learn more about scientists growing understanding of turtles hearing check out this scientific study.
How They Hear on Land
On land, turtles use their hearing to be aware of both predators and prey. There land hearing is nowhere near as good as there hearing underwater but it does help their survival somewhat. On land, they don’t so much listen to the sounds of their prey or a dangerous predator but instead differences in air pressure and vibration. They cant hear higher-pitched sounds but low sounds they can hear decently well.
As an example, they wouldn’t so much hear the music of birds chirping but instead would be listing to the subtle differences of air pressure of them flapping their wings or the whoosh of bushes and tree limbs as the birds take flight.
How They Hear Under the Water
Under the water turtles, hearing is much more developed. Their ears were developed internally to give them greater aerodynamic speed while swimming. Hear their sensitivity to air pressure serves them well. As they can use it to sense a nearby predator attempting to come in for the kill. Or likewise, a tasty fish who is swimming nearby. They would pick up on the changes in water pressure caused by the fishes fins as they speed them through the water.
Picking up on these changes in water pressure with their ears allows them to quickly evade predators and track down prey.
When turtles hear underwater their range mainly consists of the lower frequencies of sound. Sea turtles as an example have been found to hear well between 200 and 750 Hz but their hearing turns poor for anything above 1000 Hz. However, based on a scientific study done by researchers it was found that green sea turtles specifically have a much shorter hearing range of 200-500 Hz and sounds higher than that frequency were not picked up well.
All of these studies were done based upon adult specimens much less is known about juvenile and baby turtles hearing.
Turtles Other Senses
While the hearing of turtles is not the greatest, their sense of smell and sight are excellent. They rely much more upon these two senses than they do that of their ears.
With visions, turtles can see colors, shapes, and patterns. Unlike humans, they see much better under the water than above it. The exception to this are terrestrial land turtles who see just as well out of the water as in it.
In fact, it is believed that many species of turtles can see spectrums of light outside of the range of human vision. While humans can not really see ultraviolet lets except under very specific circumstances the same is not true for turtles. Turtles can see well into the ultraviolet spectrum.
This means that many turtles actually see colors that you and I do not. What these colors look like no human knows but it is thought that the closest way to explain would be as some odd variant of the color red, except not red just something like it. Turtles hold many more great mysteries that have yet to be unlocked by science.
Turtles’ sense of smell is very acute as well, perhaps even more so than their sight. They use smell to find each other as well as food. If you keep turtles and experience them eagerly awaiting you when you come in this is most likely due much more to them smelling you coming rather than hearing or seeing you approach.
Can Turtles Hear Music?
Turtles will definitely be able to hear music, at least the lower frequencies. The higher frequencies like the voice of a soprano singer or a violin they would most likely not pick up. Nor would they probably pick up the sounds of even singers and instruments below that register.
Bass sounds like that of a cello or a double bass they could possibly hear or the singing of a deep baritone voice. Turtles when it comes to music, for them it is definitely all about that bass.
Their experience of this music would not be in the same way as that of humans of course. For them, they would be paying more attention to the changes in air pressure caused by the music than most likely the sounds of the notes themselves. There is much still about turtles that is not fully understood.
An interesting experiment that you could do if you own a turtle or tortoise is too play some different kinds of music for them. Some calm music, some music more erratic. Play them music low in register and some music higher pitched and see how they respond. Just make sure you don’t play too loud for them and don’t place speakers right next to them we don’t want any turtles hearing to become damaged. If you have any interesting results please comment below.