Why Is My Turtle Standing Up

Aquatic pets like fish, frogs, lizards, salamanders, newts, etc., can be kept in containers with lid but turtles need to be housed in tanks because they require more space than other aquatic animals.

So, if you bought one then there must be a reason.

Question is – Why is my turtle standing up?

The most likely explanation could be that he wants to get into water which is inside the container/aquarium but cannot reach it due to low walls or too high ones.

This makes him try to find another way by using his forelimbs which leaves only two options – either to crawl towards the exit (of the enclosure) or walking upright along the wall.

Can a Turtle Stand Up?


It does indeed seem impossible for any animal to walk on land without getting tired.

However, turtles are different creatures altogether.

They possess unique abilities and characteristics which enable them to survive even under extreme circumstances.

One of those special traits is that turtles enjoy the ability to change their body position quickly and easily.

For example, turtles can stand on their hind-legs and pull themselves across the surface of the pond.

Similarly, they can also swim backward while dragging their heads and tails behind them.

They can also bend sideways just enough to get access to narrow spaces.

All of these actions take place within seconds.

And yes, it seems difficult to believe but turtles actually prefer doing all of that rather than staying submerged deep in the muddy pond floor.

What are the reasons for this unusual behavior?

Let’s explore some possibilities.

Possible Reasons Why Turtles Stand On Their Hind Legs

1. To Get Into Water From Low Level Exit Points

One of the major reasons why turtles stand up is to escape from enclosures or aquariums that were built with very short walls or no upper boundary.

If a turtle tries to push himself out of the enclosure with his snout or nose, he risks hitting the side of the tank and falling back into it.

When this occurs, the turtle becomes trapped and eventually drowns.

Therefore, it is necessary for the turtle owner to provide adequate room for movement inside the enclosure.

By providing sufficient depth, the turtle can simply step out of the cage and enter the pool.

2. Avoid Being Eaten Alive by Predators

Another reason why turtles stand up is to avoid being eaten alive by predators.

Since turtles are slow moving and immobile reptiles, they are easy prey for birds and mammals.

These animals wait patiently for hours outside the turtle’s home hoping to catch something tasty.

Thus, turtles sometimes decide to come out of their tanks to see what’s going on.

Sometimes, they fall victim to these attacks since they lack protective armor plates covering their backsides.

Usually, turtles who show signs of distress try to hide under rocks or vegetation.

But unfortunately, this kind of hiding places are few and far between in nature.

Most times, turtles end up completely vulnerable to attackers.

3. Explore New Territories

Many species of amphibians and reptile babies begin to practice locomotion skills by crawling and climbing on surfaces before venturing further.

Like humans, young turtles learn to walk and run early in life.

While running, they develop muscles that allow them to carry their weight and propel them forward.

At first, baby turtles mostly race on top of soil or loose gravel.

Later, as they gain strength, they progress to racing on sand, rock, bark, wood, grass, leaf litter and similar habitats.

Young turtles also playfully chase each other and engage in contests of speed and agility.

With increasing experience and skill, hatchling and juvenile turtles travel farther and longer distances.

Also, they perform better stunts such as jumping from higher elevations or diving into shallow areas.

These activities give them exercise and keep them mentally stimulated.

All these behaviors serve to increase fitness and improve survival chances.

Adult turtles continue exploring unknown territories until they die.

We call this phenomenon ‘exploration’ or ‘range expansion’.

4. Find Food and Drink Nearby

When turtles attempt to get out of the tank, they normally search for food and drink within a certain radius.

For instance, if the turtle doesn’t find any nearby source of food, it would swim to find some edible material to eat.

Likewise, if the turtle encounters a large object such as log, stone, plant or concrete block, it would climb atop it to view the surroundings.

Then it would look for food around it or possibly dive into the water below.

Obviously, the distance traveled increases proportionally to the amount of effort involved.

Normally, turtles return to their homes after eating.

If they fail to find their way back, they drift aimlessly until they find a resting spot.

5. Escape Predator Attacks

Sometimes, turtles that are confined to small spaces in captivity feel unhappy or stressed.

Such situations cause them to behave erratically.

Many captive turtles try escaping the confines of their enclosures and seek shelter elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the process requires them to walk on land.

Hence, they risk injury and death due to predator attack.

There are many ways to prevent this occurrence.

First, ensure that the enclosure provides ample space for mobility.

Next, build the enclosure with well constructed walls.

Finally, install barriers designed specifically to deter unwanted visitors.

6. Hide From Intruders Or Attackers

While turtles may appear passive or boring, they respond aggressively to threats.

Because of their limited vision and hearing, turtles rely heavily on smell, touch and taste sensations in identifying potential dangers.

Some turtles react strongly when approached by larger animals.

Others display aggressive behavior when threatened or attacked by smaller animals.

Still others freeze in fear whenever they perceive danger.

Whatever the response, it should be immediate and appropriate to the situation.

7. Communicate with Other Animals

In addition to warning signals, turtles communicate with each other using visual displays, vocalizations and chemical secretions.

Visual signals are made mainly by coloration and patterning.

Vocalization includes clicking sounds produced by snapping turtles and grunts emitted by muskrats.

Chemical communication involves secretion of waste products such as ammonia or carbon dioxide that act as deterrents or attractants.

8. Attract Prey Species

Since turtles seldom feed on solid foods, they depend largely on living organisms for sustenance.

Consequently, they consume various types of insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, annelid worms, algae, fungi, bacteria and detritus.

Generally, turtles capture these items by probing substrate with their front limbs and scoop them up with their mouths.

Alternatively, they swallow whole earthworms, mosquito larvae or freshwater shrimp.

They also regurgitate partially digested matter, which helps them recycle nutrients.

Besides hunting, turtles obtain essential minerals by consuming nutrient-rich organic materials such as fallen fruit peels, decayed vegetable debris, dead leaves, and other forms of decaying matter.

9. Help Each Other Survive

Like other members of the Animal Kingdom, turtles exhibit altruistic tendencies.

They assist each other in finding good habitat and avoiding enemies.

For instance, if a turtle comes face to face with a snake, it will immediately alert other members of its community.

Upon seeing this signal, other turtles flee as fast as possible.

Even though snakes rarely harm turtle populations, they pose a threat to individuals whose movements are restricted by fences or ponds.


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