How Long Can Your Turtle Stay out of Water

Aquatic turtles spend most of their life swimming and eating in the water. They are also creatures of the land, and require dry sunny spots to raise their body temperature. Here we”ll talk about how long aquatic turtles can stay out of the water before they start to get in trouble.

Most turtles spend about 40% of their life out of water. In a dry sunny environment, the average turtle can be out of water for 6-8 hours without a problem. In a well-shaded place with high humidity then they can stay out for potentially a month and be okay.

Turtles are cold-blooded, which means that they can not independently regulate their body temperature. The amount of heat in their bodies will be determined by the temperature of their outside environment. To keep themselves from getting too hot or cold, they vary their location from water to land and back again.

When their bodies get too hot, often around 105 degrees Fahrenheit then they slip into the coolness of the water to bring the body temperature down. Likewise when they start to get too cold then they head for a nice spot of sunny land to bask in the life-giving rays of the sun. This brings their temperature back up again. A turtle’s life consists of these endless cycles of land and water to try to maintain a temperature balance in their shelled bodies.

The amount of time spent in the sun versus the water varies based upon their species, environment, health, and perhaps whatever preferences an individual turtle may have developed. Anyone who has owned a pet turtle for some time will have noticed their varying basking and bathing habits. For some periods of time they may bask more and then at other times they will swim in their enclosure constantly, rarely basking.

How Will a Turtle Survive Outside of Water?

When turtles are on land they are generally either basking or they are migrating in search of a body of water. While a turtle may only last for a day or so in a hot dry environment, if they can find a cool moist spot to rest then they can survive on land potentially into the months depending upon their species.

Pet Turtles Need to Bask

Your pet turtle needs to bask to regulate their body temperature. If you own a turtle then you need to make sure that you provide your turtle companion with a nice dry location with UVB light and a heat lamp. UVB lights will provide them with the best replacement for the sun’s rays that modern technology can provide, but UVB lights do not produce heat. This is why it’s also important to give them a heat lamp that is focused on producing heat.

Generally, you want to keep their basking temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, if not perhaps above 85 degrees. This will make sure their tank has a nice temperature gradient so that they can keep their internal body temperature balanced.

It’s also important to note that their basking area needs to be a place that they can completely dry off. So it needs to be large enough for them to be there without having any legs or other parts of their body hanging in the water. Failure to provide this could, unfortunately, lead your turtle to develop a respiratory infection which can show up with the following symptoms.

  • Awkward swimming and movements.
  • labored or wheezing when they breathe.
  • bubbles coming out fo their mouth when they’re dry.
  • And when the infection has fully entered the lungs at its most severe disease development, then your turtle’s internal ballast that helps them to keep an even keel while swimming could be disrupted, and they”ll list and maybe even flip over on their backs.

How Long Can Red Eared Sliders Stay out of the Water

Red-eared sliders are a very hardy aquatic species of turtle. Speaking from personal experience these guys are built almost like tanks, little can phase them. They can survive for one week in relatively hot dry conditions but could go for up to a month on land if the air is humid enough and they can find some nice water puddles to drink. In fact, red-eared sliders are known for sometimes going on long overland migrations where they could be outside of the water for quite some time.

While these turtles love to bask they also love the water more. If you have a red-eared slider or are thinking of getting one then prepare for just how large they can get which requires a large tank and basking area. Their tank needs to be able to hold 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell length they posses. Also, their basking area needs to be completely dry and heated by a heat lamp as well as receiving UVB light form a UVB bulb. Be careful when purchasing it though as some pets store”s UVB bulbs which while saying so on the package don’t actually produce UVB light.

How Long Can Painted Turtles Live Outside Water?

Depending upon the humidity level of the climate painted turtles can survive several days outside of water. In water painted turtles are hardy creatures that can go for as long as 30 hours without surfacing. But outside of water there much less hardy, however.

Surviving does not equal thriving though. To be healthy painted turtles need to be able to get in and out of the water as their body temperature requires. They usually bask on average for 6-8 hours a day though this, of course, can vary depending upon the season and mood of the individual turtle.

The amount of time they stay in the water versus out of it are affected by various variables besides temperature as the oxygen level of the water. Sometimes if the oxygen level of the water is too low turtles will try to avoid getting in it and prefer to just bask.

Keeping a painted turtle requires that you provide them with good water filtration to keep the waters oxygen level up as well as a nice dry basking area. The basking area should be large enough to allow your painted turtle to completely dry off. If they can’t dry off completely then just like with the red-eared slider they could become susceptible to a respiratory infection with all of the same symptoms as with the red-eared slider.

Musk Turtles Outside of Water

Musk turtles are a bit of a different beast than the painted turtle or red-eared slider turtle. Unlike their cousins they prefer shallow swift-flowing rivers and creeks, this makes them somewhat less aquatic than other aquatic turtles. In fact, in too deep of water musk turtles can run the risk of drowning as they aren’t the strongest of swimmers.

To make up for this disadvantage however their ability to survive outside of the water is enhanced. A Musk turtle can survive for as long as a year out of the water if they can find some nice leaf litter to bury themselves in on the forest floor.

When caring for a musk turtle you need to provide them with UVB light and a nice dry basking area where they can be completely dry for as long as they require. You also have to make sure that their water is not too deep or else they might drown.

Box Turtles Outside of Water

Box turtles can survive indefinitely outside of the water as long as they can find good drinking sources. In fact, box turtles live almost completely on the land and are one of the few terrestrial turtles who chose the land in their evolution over that of the water. A box turtle is not a strong swimmer as they don’t have webbed feet. Wherewith aquatic turtles the big risk is being outside of the water with the box turtles it is reversed.

A box turtle can only survive for a few minutes underwater before drowning while on the land they can survive indefinitely.


In conclusion, most aquatic turtles can survive for 8-24 hours outside on a hot sunny day without water. If the weather is wet and humid or they can find a moist shaded pile of leaves then they can potentially survive outside of water for weeks to months. An exception to this being the box turtle and other terrestrial turtles who the land is their main home where they can survive for as long as they want.

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