Why Does My Turtle Open Its Mouth?

Watching your pet turtle/terrapin can be great fun as you get to know their routines and characteristics.

One of the most interesting aspects is the way that they use their mouths as it is for many different things besides eating! 

Why Does My Red-Eared Slider Keep Opening Its Mouth?

It is true, turtles will show you that they are hoping to be fed, or at least to enjoy a snack, by opening their mouths, but they open their mouths for many other reasons too.

It could be that they are trying to eat something that is so small, you cannot see it.

Sometimes, your turtle can be just playing and if he opens and closes his mouth quickly, it shows that he is healthy. 

Why Do Turtles Open And Close Their Mouths Underwater?

If you watch your turtle swimming underwater you may well see that he regularly opens his mouth as he moves and what he is doing is smelling and tasting the water.

If you drop some food into the water, if your turtle doesn’t swim up to the surface to get it, he will swim along the bottom of the tank with his mouth open to catch some of the food.

Turtles can successfully use this method in murky waters where they can smell food even if they cannot see it. 

Some types of turtle such as the musk turtle and razorback musks have special papillae on their tongues that help them to extract oxygen from the water.  

Why Is My Turtle Yawning?

Turtles love a good stretch and yawn as much as humans do and it is a way for them to get more oxygen into their lungs and body.

If they are swimming underwater when they are yawning, it is more likely that they are wanting to extract some oxygen from the water. 

Sometimes when turtles are basking in warm heat or sunshine, they will often have their mouths open, because although they are not moving, they actually need more oxygen.

When turtles are resting, their breathing becomes shallow so they are not inhaling as much oxygen as required so they open and close their mouth to inhale extra oxygen.

Why Is My Turtle Gasping For Air?

Sometimes, your turtle – whatever his species- is opening and closing his mouth because he is finding his living conditions uncomfortable – for many different reasons. 

Sometimes it can be the temperature of the water that is causing the problem, but it can also be because the water is dirty or because your turtle does not have enough water.

The best way to calculate the correct amount is to measure the length of your turtle’s shell (carapace) and allow 10 gallons of water per inch of shell.

Sometimes the problem can be that your turtle needs a little more light.

Can It Be a Sign Of Aggression? 

Turtles are not considered aggressive pets but sometimes they can feel threatened and they will start opening and closing their mouth as a warning that they do not want to be messed around – they often accompany this gesture with an audible hissing sound.

This is the natural way they intimidate potential predators and to mark their territory. 

Can It Mean My Turtle Is Scared?

Bringing a new turtle home or changing its habitat can be quite scary for your turtle as they are now somewhere unfamiliar.

They show that they are scared and uncomfortable by opening and closing their mouths.

It is essential to act quickly to calm them and this means talking to them in a soft gentle voice – no loud noises – and also to ease their stress by giving them some food. 

Could My Turtle Be Sick?

If your turtle looks agitated while he is opening and closing his mouth he could be having problems breathing this could be a sign that he has a respiratory infection.

If you suspect that your turtle is having problems breathing, look for other symptoms.

These include sneezing, lethargy, making noises and lop-sided swimming. 

If you suspect this, you must get your turtle to the Vet quickly, because respiratory infections are very serious for turtles and can be life-threatening.


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