You may have heard that turtles have the ability to breathe through their butts. Is it a myth, or can turtles actually breathe through their butts?
Can turtles breathe through their butts?
Yes, technically speaking, turtles can breathe through their butts. However, it is not in the same way we breathe through our mouths.
Turtles have lungs, and they do the majority of their breathing by taking in oxygen from the air through their nose and pushing it to their lungs. However, turtles do have the ability to breathe through their butts in a process called Cloacal Respiration.
Cloacal respiration in turtles
Cloacal respiration is a breathing method where turtles use their cloacal to absorb oxygen from the water into their blood stream. Turtles usually perform cloacal respiration during winter months when they spend long periods of time underwater.
Both male and female turtles have a cloacal, and it is located on their tail. It does function similar to a butt, as it is used for releasing waste from the turtle. However, the cloacal is also the turtle’s reproductive organ that they use during intercourse. This means this one body part can be used for breathing, pooping, and reproduction! Now let’s talk about how turtles are able to breathe through their cloacal.
A turtle’s cloacal is lined with a bunch of blood vessels. When they are underwater, the cloacal is able to absorb the oxygen that is in the water when it comes in contact with the blood vessels. The blood vessels are then able to push the oxygen into the rest of their bloodstream.
How much oxygen do turtles get from cloacal respiration?
It’s important to understand that cloacal respiration is very different from the way turtles breathe naturally through their nose when they are out of water.
Turtles are only able to get a small amount of oxygen through cloacal respiration. Also, the water can’t be completely still, since the cloacal would extract all of the oxygen from the water. Instead, the turtle needs new water with fresh oxygen to be regularly passed in and around the cloacal.
Now that you know turtles can only get a small amount of oxygen by breathing through their butt, let’s talk about when turtles use this technique.
When do turtles breathe through their butt?
Only aquatic turtles can breathe through their butt, and they almost always only do it while they are brumating. Brumation is essentially the reptile version of hibernation, where they stay in a sleep like state for weeks or even months. This helps keep them safe from freezing temperatures, as well as predators.
Most aquatic turtles brumate underwater, which is when they breathe through their butts. Even though the butt breathing only produces a minimal amount of oxygen, the amount of oxygen turtles need during brumation is very low. I’ll explain below.
Turtles are cold blooded animals, which means they let their surrounding temperature dictate their body temperature. Therefore, if it’s 60 degrees outside, their body temperature will sit at around 60. In the winter when they are brumating, if the water temperature is 35 degrees, their body temperature will be around the same.
When a turtle’s body temperature drops, so does their metabolism. Their metabolism also drops since they aren’t moving as much. When a turtle’s metabolism drops, they require less food because they aren’t exerting as much energy. A drop in metabolism also decreases their heart rate, which in turn decreases the amount of oxygen they need.
This is why turtles are able to survive on the small amount of oxygen that they get through breathing through their butts. While it isn’t as common, it is possible for turtles to drown during brumation if they don’t get enough oxygen.
Which turtles breathe through their butts?
It’s important to note that not all species of turtles can breathe through their butts. It’s typically only done by aquatic turtles that live in cold climates and brumate during the winter.
It’s also more popular among river turtle species, because there is still water movement in the winter which allows the cloacal to get fresh water with oxygen.
Some turtle species that are known for breathing through their butt are
- Red-eared sliders
- Wood turtles
- Painted turtles
- Musk turtles
- Spotted turtle
I hope this article helped explain how turtles breathe through their butts. Obviously, it’s not something they do frequently, but they do get some oxygen from their butts when they are brumating in the winter.