Why Do Turtles Bask in the Sun?


All turtles need to bask in the sun, in fact, they love just soaking in the sun. So why do turtles bask in the sun?

Turtles bask in the sun so that they can warm their bodies up. When they get too cold from the water they need to raise their body temperature. They also need UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun so that they can produce vitamin D3 and keep their shell and bones healthy.

Turtles can’t self regulate their body temperature like warm-blooded animals can. So when they get too cold they need to get out of the water and warm up in the sun. This also dries them out which helps them from getting a respiratory infection and prevents the development of various bacterial infections.

Likewise, when their body temperature gets above 105 degrees Fahrenheit, they need to get out of the sun and dive in the water to cool off. Their ability to metabolize food and energy levels are dependant upon their body temperature. Basking becomes an essential activity for a turtle so that the turtle can remain active and healthy.

In the wild, the sun and nature provides everything turtles need to bask. But indoors in a tank or an enclosure, they can’t get the UV rays they need from the sun. They require their turtle keeper to make sure to give them UV basking lights to simulate sunlight so that the turtle’s body can function in a healthy fashion.

Basking in the Water

Not all turtles have access to land for sun-basking. So some turtles have developed an alternative method. Sea turtles like the loggerhead sea turtle and the leatherback sea turtle may be out at sea for long periods of time with no land easily accessible. Fortunately, mother nature has provided them with ways to bask as well.

One does not necessarily need to be out of the water to receive sun rays. Sun rays can penetrate into shallow depths of water. So for sea turtles, they will do their basking by floating on the surface or just below the surface of the water. This allows the sun to reach their skin and gives them all of the benefits of basking without ever having to leave the water.

Sea turtles are not the only kind of turtles that do water basking. River turtles like mud turtles will do a similar method as well. But this time it’s not in the ocean but instead is performed in rivers and small streams.

Water basking is not appropriate for species of pond turtles like various types of slider turtles and painted turtles. While they, of course, can get sun rays through the water, often the water of ponds is so muddy that not as many sun rays can penetrate through. In addition to this, their bodies have evolved in such a way that they require a period of being completely dry in order to stay healthy.

Without this drying period, they can develop a respiratory infection which can be quite deadly for a pond turtle.

Turtle Basking on Land

Most pond turtle species will do their basking on land. They will find a nice dry location on land like a rock or log. And then just sit there allowing their body and shell to dry off completely while their body temperature steadily rises.

Once their body gets warm enough usually when it gets over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or so then they will promptly plop back into the water so that they can cool off and eat and swim.

Basking for Pet Turtles

Pet turtles that live indoors can not access the life-giving rays of the sun. So for these little guys to get the necessary sun rays their keeper must provide them with an alternative. Artificial UV basking lights can give these turtles all the UV rays they need for a healthy happy life.

Pet aquatic turtles like painted turtles and slider turtles need both UV-A and UV-B light just like all turtles do. The UV light gives their body what it needs so that they can synthesize vitamin D3. Without vitamin D3 their bones and shell will become increasingly unhealthy.

In fact without UV light they can develop a terrible disease called metabolic bone disease. Turtles with this disease will have malformed bones and a shell that won’t be in the proper shape. Such a shell may be too tight in some areas and too open in others. Life for such a turtle can be very painful and unpleasant. There are people who have taken in such turtles and these turtles can still have a happy life but the damage caused by the disease doesn’t ever go away.

So if your a turtle keeper make sure your turtle has a UV light so that they never have to go through that. In addition, your turtle will need a heating light, UV lights generally do not produce the necessary heat for your turtle to have everything it needs for basking.

To give your turtle the complete basking experience you will need a place for them where they can completely dry off and soak in the heat and UV rays. This will be your turtles basking spot. This could be in the form of a log, bridge, or rock. For larger turtles it also popular to build a basking area on top of the tank. This gives more space for the turtle to swim as well as making sure the basking spot stays dry.

It’s important that the basking area be in the light of the UV and heat lamp. The spot also needs to be large enough that your turtle’s entire body can completely dry off. This can be difficult for larger turtles as sometimes their basking area may not be large and as a result, their legs or some other part of their body might be hanging in the water. That’s not good if that’s happening then then will need a better basking area as they need to be able to completely dry off.

Otherwise they could get very sick.

Why Is My Turtle Basking Too Much?

Pet aquatic turtles like to bask a lot. And the time they spend basking can vary greatly based upon the environment, the season of the year and the turtle’s own individual personality.

Depending upon these factors your pet turtle may bask just a couple hours a day all the way up to 8 or more hours each day. If their basking much more than this then things may be okay but there are some problems that might have occurred that will need to be addressed.

The water may be too cold. While water temperature needs do vary for different species of aquatic turtles generally the water temperature needs to be about 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water temperature is below this range then they may be basking all the time because the water is just way too cold for them to be comfortable.

The best way to solve this problem is to get your turtle a nice water heater. A water heater will have a temperature that you can set it too that it will then heat the water to that level. This will make your turtle much happier in the water and may allow them to take a break from basking for some nice swims. If your tank is on the larger size you may need two water heaters in order to be able to heat the entire body of water in an effective way.

Another reason that your turtle might be basking on the time is that the water quality may not be quite where it needs to be. Some of the factors involved in a turtles water quality are the levels of ph, chlorine, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

Some species of turtles are more particular then others but generally, it should be okay if the levels are not exact but if they are way off then you may need to do some adjustments to your turtle’s enclosure.

  • PH level: 6 to 9
  • Chlorine level: 0
  • Ammonia level: 0
  • Nitrite level: less than 0.5
  • Nitrate level: less than 40 ppm

The final and most dangerous reason that your turtle may be basking all the time is a turtle respiratory infection. This is a dangerous infection that turtles can get, which is somewhat comparable to pneumonia in humans. Just like a person getting pneumonia is a serious issue for a human. It’s a big deal for turtles as well.

When your turtle has this infection they will bask a lot in order to try to raise their body temperature to help them fight the infection. You could say they induce a fever in themselves to help strengthen their antibodies.

The things you need to watch out for that could be a sign that your turtle is basking because it has a respiratory infect are the following.

  • Swollen eyelids: If you notice that your turtle’s eyelids are swollen, red, or have any kind of discharge coming from them then this could be a negative sign for their health.
  • Wheezing sounds when they breathe: If your turtle has any wheezing or noisy breathing this is another possible sign they could have an infection. Also, watch out for any bubbles coming of their mouth when they breathe, this could mean that the infection has reached deep into their lungs.

If you notice your turtle basking all the time and they are displaying these symptoms then you’re going to need to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Too great of a delay could be fatal for your loved shelled companion.

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