What Do Different Turtle Sounds Mean?

Many people assume turtles are silent creatures. However, various species make diverse vocalizations that convey distinct messages. From aggressive hissing to mating calls to cries of distress, turtle sounds provide meaningful insight into these reptiles’ behaviors and emotions.

This post will explore the noises turtles make and what they signify. You may be surprised to learn how complex turtle communication can be and the purposes their vocalizations serve. We’ll cover sounds like hisses, chirps, grunts, whistles, clucks, and more.

What Do Different Turtle Sounds Mean?

Turtle sounds convey their emotions and state of being. A hissing turtle usually signals nervousness, stress, or discomfort. It’s a way for them to communicate their unease or displeasure with their surroundings or handling. Understanding these sounds can help us provide a more comfortable environment for our turtle companions and ensure their well-being.



One of the most common turtle sounds is a hiss. This is typically an aggressive vocalization that signals a turtle feels threatened or annoyed.

Most species will hiss when confronted by potential predators, competitors, or even humans getting too close. It’s often accompanied by the turtle withdrawing its head into its shell.

Some reasons a turtle may hiss:

  • Warning perceived threat to back off
  • Showing irritation at being handled or disturbed
  • Displaying dominance toward another turtle
  • Fending off an unwelcome suitor during courtship

Hissing is particularly associated with snapping, musk, mud, and sea turtles. It starts softly but can become loud and forceful if the turtle is highly agitated. So, a strong, sudden hiss from a turtle usually means “back off!”

Cardinal Singing

Male red-eared sliders and other pond turtles make a unique sound that resembles the whistled song of a cardinal bird during the breeding season. This vibrating “sang” advertises the presence of a receptive male turtle and helps attract females.

The cardinal’s singing begins softly with a few introductory notes before becoming louder and more complex. The turtle may sing while swimming around searching for a mate or directly pursuing a female.

The ability to produce an impressive, energetic song indicates the male is healthy and fit for breeding. Females seem to be receptive to more robust singers.

Hissing With Heavy Breathing

Some turtles add deep breathing to their hisses when especially upset or exerting dominance. The additional breathy, wheezing component helps amplify the hiss to be more intimidating. This blustery hissing may happen during intense face-offs with other turtles.

For example, a male turtle might breathe hiss to scare off another male infringing on his basking area. Or an older, bigger turtle may breathe-hiss at a smaller juvenile that gets too close. The aggressive vocalization says, “Back down or else!”

Grunts and Hybrid Tone

Grunting in turtles shows annoyance but less strongly than hissing. It’s a low, guttural sound, almost like a soft growl. Turtles may grunt at each other when competing for food or basking spots. A human might elicit a mild grunt from a turtle by picking it up.

Some turtles mix grunting with high-pitched squeaking or piping. This hybrid tone contains low, grumbly grunts blended with chirp-like squeaks and whistles. The eclectic vocalization tends to indicate mild protest or distress.

Burping Noise

An unusual gurgling or burping noise is made by some species when they feel very threatened, like if caught by a predator. It’s thought to be caused by sucking air into the lungs and then pushing it back out forcefully.

The odd burping sound serves as a last-resort defensive ploy. Snapping turtles and matamatas especially make this disturbed guttural sound when grabbed by the shell or tail.

It may startle the predator just long enough for the turtle to escape. The bodily-sounding noise emphasizes the turtle’s desperation as it exerts all its effort into self-defense.


Some turtles will yelp or scream when very alarmed, distressed, or hurt. This high-pitched vocalization indicates panic and pain. It’s most often heard when the turtle is under direct attack or being handled roughly.

For example, a snapping turtle will yelp if its tail or feet are stepped on. The sharp cry punctuates the pain. Similarly, a box turtle might yelp if molested by a curious dog or raccoon. The startling noise may make the attacker loosen its grip.


Male giant South American river turtles make a unique clucking sound to attract females. They suck air into the lungs and then expel it forcefully while vibrating the throat.

This produces a distinctive, pulsing duck-like cluck during courtship. The male circles around a female, clucking rhythmically to get her attention and show he’s ready to mate.

The clucking advertises the male’s suitability as a partner. If the female is receptive, she will stop and allow him to approach and mount her shell.


Chirping indicates friendliness and comfort in many small turtle species. For example, box, mud, and musk turtles may chirp lightly while basking or when content after a meal. The cheerful peeping vocalization sounds akin to songbird chirps.

Pet turtles often chirp when their owner approaches to show they’re happy to interact. Chirping can also break out among a group of turtles basking together to signal calmness. It reinforces group harmony and peaceful coexistence.


Certain river turtles whistle by blowing air forcefully through the nostrils, creating a high-pitched piping sound. It typically serves as a contact call between mates or group members who have become separated. The whistling helps the turtles find each other again.

Male northern map turtles whistle eagerly when pursuing females across river waters during mating season. The whistling helps the male stay on the female’s trail and may also stimulate her to stop fleeing and mate.

Continuous Cry

Some turtles emit a continuous cry or scream when severely stressed, distressed, or dying. This mournful wailing indicates the turtle is in grave turmoil and intense pain.

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It may occur if the turtle is drastically overheated, dehydrated, critically injured, or captured by a predator. The continuous cry represents a final release of energy and psychic tension as the turtle succumbs.

It expresses the sheer misery and hopelessness of the turtle’s situation as death seems imminent. The haunted scream means the turtle is in its final throws.

Other Sounds

Turtles also make assorted clicking, tapping, thumping, popping, and rattling sounds by expelling air and moving their limbs. These miscellaneous noises may happen during aggressive encounters as turtles jockey for position facing each other.

Biting down hard with the jaws can also produce a loud clicking or crushing sound if the turtle bites another shell or hard surface. Vocalizations vary based on species but generally serve communication purposes related to rivalry, courtship, or panic responses.

How Do Turtles Make Different Sounds?

Turtles produce a variety of vocalizations using several biological mechanisms. A common sound is hissing, created by a turtle forcefully exhaling air from its lungs. Hissing often signals aggression or irritation.

Turtles can also modify airflow by contracting muscles in the larynx to generate chirps, whistles, and other high-pitched sounds. These softer vocalizations may function as contact calls or communication between mates.

Some species incorporate throat vibrations into their vocal repertoire as well. For example, male giant South American river turtles make a duck-like clucking sound by vibrating their throat while expelling air from their lungs.

This serves to attract females during courtship. Turtles can also vocalize by gulping air into their lungs and forcefully pushing it back out to produce an odd burping or wheezing sound in defense.

Moving the turtle’s jaws or shell makes other noises like grunts, clicks, and rattles. Turtles rely on their respiratory system, larynx, throat, and jaws to produce the diverse vocalizations that enable communication.

Why Do Turtles Make Sounds?

Turtles make sounds for several important reasons:

  • To attract mates. Some species, like red-eared sliders, use courtship vocalizations like singing to draw the attention of potential partners during mating season. These sounds help coordinate breeding behaviors.
  • To signal distress or pain. Turtles can cry out, scream, or yelp when extremely stressed, injured, or threatened. These noises communicate a need for help.
  • To warn off threats. Hissing, grunting, and aggressive biting sounds scare away predators or competitors. They signal, “Back off!”
  • To defend territories. A resident turtle claims that loud vocalizations help deter intruder turtles from entering a territory or basking area.
  • To establish social dominance. Intimidating hisses and other sounds reinforce status and hierarchy within turtle groups.
  • To locate other turtles. Whistles, clicks, and other contact calls help turtles find each other if separated.
  • To convey contentment. Softer chirping indicates a turtle is calm, safe, and happy in its environment.

Making sound enables turtles to express needs, feelings, and intents that aid their survival. Vocalizations are an important part of turtle communication and social functioning. They help organize turtle communities.

The Sounds of Different Turtle Species

While all turtles can make some hissing and grunting sounds when threatened, specific species have additional unique vocalizations:

Red-Eared Slider Turtle Sounds

Red-eared sliders are famous for their “cardinal singing” courtship routine. Males generate chirpy whistles through their nostrils to draw the attention of females during mating season. They also hiss, grunts, and chirp.

North American Box Turtle Noises

Box turtles make chirping sounds when content but shift to high-pitched yelping cries when distressed. Their beaks may click together during confrontations with other turtles.

Snapping Turtle Sounds

Snappers are known for loud, sustained hissing. They may grunt, yelp, or scream when bothered. Pushing air forcefully through their lungs and throat creates a unique burping vocalization when grabbed.

Tortoise Noises

Most terrestrial tortoises are fairly quiet but can hiss loudly if bothered. They may grunt or make odd piping or popping sounds by clicking their jaws. Some gopher tortoises emit a distinctive “whoop” cry by forcing air through their nostrils.

Other Species

Musk turtles, mud turtles, map turtles, painted turtles, and sea turtles all vocalize with some combination of hisses, grunts, whistles, chirps, cries, clicks, clucks, and hoots, depending on the situation and species. River cooter species perform courtship songs.

Tortoise And Turtle Sounds - Noises

Can Turtles Hear Sound?

Most turtles can detect sound vibrations, though their sense of hearing is likely not highly acute. Turtles lack external ear flaps (pinnae) that collect sound into the ear canal. But they have a middle ear bone called the columella that transmits vibrations inside the skull.

Sound waves travel through a turtle’s jaw bones to the inner ear. Turtles can pick up low-frequency vibrations well through these bone conduction pathways.

This allows them to tune into other turtles’ soft rumbling sounds during courtship and aggression displays. Their hearing range is estimated to be around 200-1000 Hz.

Aquatic turtles may be responsive to underwater noises and vibrations through specialized cells in their skin and shells. Some research also indicates many turtles sense sound pressure through their lungs.

Turtles seem to rely more on vision and chemical cues than hearing to perceive their surroundings. But sound still plays an important communication role.


Turtles use sound in sophisticated ways to interact with each other and convey information. Different species have distinctive repertoires of hisses, grunts, hoots, sings, cries, whistles, clucks, and other vocalizations.

These noises communicate moods from distress to contentment and facilitate courtship, defense, and group coordination behaviors.

Sound enables turtles to survive and thrive in their environments despite their physical limitations. Paying attention to the variety of turtle sounds reveals the complexity of these captivating reptiles.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the sounds turtles make:

Why do turtles hiss?

Turtles hiss as a defensive behavior when they feel threatened. The hiss signals “back off” to potential predators or other turtles encroaching on their space. It’s a warning sound that conveys the turtle’s irritation and readiness to bite if provoked further.

Do turtles make noise when mating?

Some turtles vocalize extensively during mating. Male red-eared sliders sing underwater whistles to court females, while male giant South American river turtles emit clucking sounds when pursuing a mate. Other turtles may hiss or grunt when jostling over mates. Vocalizations help coordinate breeding interactions.

What does it mean if my turtle is screaming?

A screaming or crying sound from a turtle indicates extreme distress and pain. It may be caused by overheating, dehydration, significant injury, or predator attack. A screaming turtle needs immediate help and treatment, or it could die.

Why do pet turtles chirp?

Chirping in pet turtles usually signifies contentment. It’s a happy, cheerful vocalization that means they feel relaxed and safe, similar to a cat’s purr. Pet turtles often chirp when seeing their owners as a friendly greeting.

How do turtles make different sounds?

Turtles vocalize by forcefully expelling air from their lungs, vibrating the throat, clicking the jaw, and contracting laryngeal muscles to modify airflow. Different aerobic and muscular mechanisms produce chirps, whistles, hisses, cries, songs, grunts, and other sounds.

My name is Shayan Mondal, and I am a passionate turtle owner and enthusiast who enjoys sharing my knowledge and experience with fellow turtle lovers. As a proud owner of several turtle species, I understand the importance of proper care, habitat setup, and nutrition for these delightful creatures. This website regularly updates the latest insights into turtle health, diet, and conservation efforts.

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