When you see your pet turtle eating its tail off, it may be hard not to worry.
While this might sound like something straight out of a horror movie, most likely your reptile friend has bitten itself accidentally while attempting to escape from captivity or during rough handling by humans.
In fact, many people who have owned turtles report similar incidents where these creatures bit themselves.
However, unlike dogs and cats, we don’t usually know when our pets intend to attack us with those sharp teeth!
So what happens when your pet turtle bites itself?
And why does he/she keep doing it?
In order to answer all these questions, let’s first look at why turtles bite in general.
Then we’ll explore the reasons behind your pet turtle’s habit of chewing on his shell, head, and feet—and maybe even swallowing small pieces of flesh.
After reading through this article, hopefully you won’t feel too bad after seeing your turtle consume part of his own body.
What Causes Self-Biting In Turtles?
Most people think of turtles as slow moving animals that live stationary lifestyles away from human contact.
But just because turtles spend much of their life basking in water doesn’t mean they’re immune to stress.
Like other reptiles, turtles experience high levels of anxiety, especially when faced with potential threats to survival.
For example, when being transferred between containers, they could become stressed and lash out against themselves, which often includes biting.
Other times, turtles get caught up in the wild chasing after prey (or getting chased by predators), and end up injuring themselves.
When injured or scared, sometimes turtles try to alleviate pain by nibbling on things around them — including each other.
The same thing can happen when turtles aren’t able to move fast enough to avoid capture, whether due to weather conditions, habitat destruction, or other factors.
Signs Of Self-Biting
While few turtles actually swallow large chunks of their bodies whole, there are still certain warning signals indicating serious injury.
If you notice any of these symptoms developing, immediately take your animal to a veterinarian.
Swelling of affected areas
Lack of coordination
Vomit that looks blackish or greenish
Unresponsive to stimuli
Severely swollen eyes
Sloughing off loose scales
White or yellow discharge coming from wounds
If left untreated, these injuries can cause internal bleeding and infections, paralysis, blindness, coma, and death.
To prevent further damage, make sure you handle your turtle gently and monitor him frequently.
As always, consult a vet before beginning any remedy.
Why Does My Turtle Keep Biting Himself?
Aside from accidental self-biting, turtles also show self-mutilation tendencies.
These are behaviors where turtles attempt to relieve physical discomfort caused by various external factors.
A common practice among captive turtles is rubbing excess algae onto their shells to help reduce scaling irritation.
Another reason why turtles self-bite is related to boredom—a problem associated with captivity.
Since turtles cannot go outside to hunt for food, some owners simply put their aquatic pets into aquariums and leave them alone without interacting with them.
Unfortunately, turtles confined in tanks lose interest in swimming and begin spending time idle and bored.
This leads to excessive scratching and biting, which can result in severe cuts and sores.
Even worse, turtles accustomed to living inside aquarium glass cages tend to break the glass trying to reach freedom.
Once free, turtles are less interested in returning back home since they no longer need to rely on tank walls for protection.
They then chew on themselves until they die of starvation or dehydration.
Similar cases occur when turtles are kept in indoor shelters, particularly during winter months.
Some turtles will turn to cannibalism to survive.
Although rare, it’s best to follow turtle experts’ advice to ensure proper care for your pet.
Do turtles eat their own skin?
So far, we’ve learned that turtles bite themselves for two main reasons: to protect themselves from harm and combat boredom.
However, another important factor contributing to self-biting is natural shedding.
Most adult turtles naturally shed their skin once every year.
During springtime, females lay eggs and start growing new skins.
Meanwhile, males continue mating and also produce viable sperm.
Both sexes will eventually grow old and die, leaving bits of dead skin stuck to their bodies.
Shedding helps remove parasites, bacteria, fungi, etc., which otherwise would infect the turtle’s new skin.
Therefore, turtles use self-scraping to cleanse themselves thoroughly.
However, if you observe your turtle performing this task repeatedly over a period of several days, chances are good it means its under extreme distress.
How Can You Stop Your Turtle From Biting Himself?
Since turtles bite themselves unintentionally, it’s very difficult to determine what exactly triggers the behavior.
Many breeders suggest limiting access to dark places, cold temperatures, and dry surfaces, and keeping lights low or turned off entirely.
Doing this is helpful in preventing accidents.
Also, make sure you provide sufficient amounts of fresh water and shelter in case your pet becomes dehydrated.
Keep the cage covered to deter escapes, and check regularly for broken glass.
Make sure food is abundant, nutritious, and properly balanced.
Finally, consider adopting your pet turtle yourself rather than buying a readymade “pet.”
Captive breeding programs offer great alternatives for individuals looking to save money.
Although unintentional self-biting occurs commonly in both species of turtles, there are ways to discourage the behavior.
By knowing what drives your turtle to bite, you can act accordingly and better manage your pet.