Do Turtles Recognize Their Owners?


Turtles are amazing pets to own and are so cute to watch when they swim around and play. But can they recognize you as their owner, do you have a special place in their heart?

Turtles recognize their owner as their primary means of food and care. You’re the main creature that they interact with in their day to day life and this makes you special to them. They can recognize you by your looks, smell and the unique sounds and vibrations that you make.

Now it is true that turtles won’t acknowledge you at the same level as a dog or cat might. A dog for example will get super excited when your around and will wag their tail and might even bark. Making all sorts of other happy noises along the way.

Turtles have tails but they don’t wag and the only sound you’re likely to hear from your turtle is a hissing sound they sometimes make when they’re scared and unhappy.

But they have their own special turtle ways of recognizing your presence and showing their appreciation and love.

You are literally the light of their life. You are the creature you see when their light is turned on (meaning the basking and heating lamps) and the one who brings them food. The niceness of their water depends upon you to keep it clean. While it might be somewhat questionable whether they know it’s you keeping their water clean, you never know, and you can know they will be all the happier with the clean water.

Turtles can surpise you with just how smart they are and the many strange ways they might interact with you.

Why do turtles recognize their owners?

Nature made turtles, like most creatures, to be highly attuned with their environment. It’s essential to their survival. They need to know their key sources of food and whether something is a threat or not. In the past people thought that reptiles like turtles didn’t have a whole lot going on in their heads.

But as our scientific understanding has grown reptiles like turtles are constantly surpising us with how much they can be like other animals. They enjoy attention and to be petted, at least some turtles do.

Turtles recognize their keepers for three main reasons.

  • Food: Turtles need food to survive so their food plays one of the biggest parts of their life. In the wild they are constantly searching and fighting for their next meal. But with you their owner around they don’t have to do that. It’s brought to them daily practically on a silver platter. Yet those survival instincts still remain so they are completely tuned into you and your habits and movements. So that they can predict and ensure their next tasty meal.
  • Recognizing friends and foes: Turtles have many predators in the wild. There are also creatures who they know wont generally harm them. If you treat your turtle kindly and don’t do anything to unnecessarily frighten them, they put you into the friend column. Through countless interactions over the years they come to trust you and know that you are no threat to them.
  • Turtles love novelty: Many creatures like new and interesting things. They get curious and want to explore places and the creatures and things those places contain. You are probably the most interesting creature that they see in their daily life. Yours habits and the way you do things are strange to a turtle. This makes them immensely curious about you so they study you and realize the difference between you and other things.

How do turtles recognize their owners?

Your turtle can recognize you through the use of three of it’s primary senses. While some senses that turtles posses are less developed than that of people others could be argued to be superior.

No matter how good or bad their senses might be, they are definately sophisticated enough to tell you their caretakeer from other creatures and even from other people.

Some turtles owners have reported that their turtles will follow them around and pay attention to their actions while pretty much completely ignoring other people who they don’t know.

I know with myself my red eared slider turtle loves for me to handle her, but if anyone else tries to handle her (like the vet for example) then it’s all fighting and biting for them. She once tried to bite off the top of a flash light.

They recognize you by sight

Sight is one of the senses that turtles have that might be considered superior to that of humans. I dont know how far turtles can see but i do know that they can see more colors then we can.

They can see partially into the ultraviolet spectrum and see shades of red invisible to the human eye. It’s possible due to their increased visual palette that you might look somewhat trippy to a turtles, colored with hues you didn’t even know that you had.

Depending upon the type of relationship you have with your turtle and if their tank and water are clear enough they can see you on the other side of the room. They might try to swim towards you and beg you for some yummy turtle food!

They can smell you

A finely tuned sense of smell goes along with being a turtle as well. They can smell their food as well as telling what type of food it is by their smell. In fact a turtles with broken sense of smell can run the risk of starvation because they dont know food is around when they cant smell it.

My red eared slider turtle for example knows the smell of shrimp from her ordinary turtle food and will gobble it up with relish. I think that shrimp might be her favorite food.

So it’s certain that turtles smell you as their owner. And that you have a unique smell that the turtle has registered as belonging to you. They might not have the insanely powerful nose of a dog, but turtles get by with their weaker sense of smell anyway.

Hearing your vibrations

Hearing is probably one of turtles weaker senses. Turtles can only hear sounds lower in frequency. Higher pitched sounds they can not hear.

It’s possible they don’t pick up sounds so much as sensing the vibrations in the air and changes in air pressure.

Never the less many pet turtles have been reported to be able to tell when someone walks into a dark room by the feel of their vibrations. Of course it’s also possible that this was the turtles smelling people as opposed to hearing them, but it[s difficult to tell.

I have personally not experienced this with my turtles, but some turtles owners say that their turtle will awnser to their name and come when their called. I do think it’s entirely possible that if the sound of a turtles name and positive reinforcement are practiced enough that a pet turtle might come to recognize their name.

How to grow your bond with your turtle

Turtles do not naturally bond with their owners as easily as dogs and other pets do. But they still can form strong emotional bonds with their owners. It will take a lot of patience and a gentle touch.

The most important thing to do to ensure a strong bond with your turtle is to make sure that they have plenty of food, clean water in their tank, and a tank that is large enough to properly accommodate them. The tank should have 10 gallons of water for every inch of straight turtle shell length. Anything less is just too cramped.

Doing these things properly will ensure that your turtle is living a happy life. Happy turtles are much less stressed and are more likely to be affectionate and friendly towards you.

Once the basics are covered you can also provide your turtle with some fun extras like plants and various rocks and caves that they can both hide in and hide behind. This helps to give them something to do, keeping them well entertained so that they don’t get bored.

Gently handling and petting your turtle from time to time will acclimate them to you and building up trust between you two. It’s important that you only do this on the turtles timeline however. If there is any hissing or biting actions then these tell you that you need to leave your turtle alone for the time being.

The exception to this of course being those times when you have to handle them either for an emergency or important cleaning tasks.

Any handling or petting session with your turtle should be followed or accompanied by food preferably one of their favorite treats. This provides positive reinforcement for the social interaction. Making your turtle more likely to play along happily later.

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