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Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Q: Do turtles burrow in the ground for winter?

Lewis – Lincoln, VT

A: One of the oldest reptile groups on planet earth, cold-blooded turtles are distinguished by a bony shell that acts like a super-powerful shield to protect them from predators. Like birds and reptiles, turtles lay their eggs on land and breathe air—but they can spend long periods of time underwater, surfacing at regular intervals to fill their lungs with oxygen.

These terrapins do a great job taking care of themselves (and have been for the past 200 million years!), but if you have turtles in your pond or lake, you can be a gracious host by understanding some basic facts about them.

Wintertime Signs

They don’t use a calendar, but turtles know when it’s time to cozy down for the winter. They use the air and water temperature as a gauge, which triggers their instinctual behavioral and physiological hibernation. Typically, this happens when temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

Holing Up for the Season

Though they carry a home-sweet-home on their backs, certain types of turtles do hole up for the winter season—literally. Depending on the turtle type, some species, like box turtles, will burrow in the sediment in the bottom of your pond and hibernate for the winter, while others will swim to lower pond levels to escape ice cover. This innate behavior keeps them safe, in most cases, until temperatures warm again.

Slowed Metabolism, No Appetite

Like fishes and other cold-blooded critters, turtles’ metabolisms slow when temperatures get cold. This physiological change means that they require very little oxygen and food. In fact, their hearts will slow to just a few beats every few minutes! They are also able to take in miniscule amounts of oxygen through specialized skin cells.

Privacy, Please

To keep your turtles under cover and safe from predators during the long winter, you can add some pond dye, like Pond Logic® Pond Dye, to your pond. The blue or black coloring not only camouflages the turtles, but it also shades the pond, eliminates cloudy water, and cuts down on excess nutrients and odor.

Pond Talk: What do you do to support the turtle population in your lake or pond?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - Pond Logic® Pond Dye

4 Responses

  1. I think that a predatory large turtle in my pond may be responsible for the disappearance, one by one, of the baby cygnets hatched by our swans each spring. What can be done to protect them? No one has actually seen any turtle. But iIf a hawk were responsible, I think we might have seen feathers floating..

  2. I have a lot of bull frogs, and they go up into my waterfall , instead og going down under the ground. Its a mystery why they do this but sad to say they usually freeze during the winter. One year 6 of them were there in the spring… Dead… 😦 We live in Maryland and the winters can get very cold here. my yard is a wildlife habitat and they could go any where else to spend the winter, under the brush pile , in the ground, but they go up in the rocks in the waterfall. Haven’t attracted any turtles yet … do turtles eat the koi ?????

    • Depending on the size and type of the turtle, yes, they may eat your koi. We do have some smaller painted turtles that peacefully exist with the large koi in our store ponds however. It also helps to make sure both parties are fed once in a while so they feel less inclined to make a snack out of their friends.

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