How Long Can Red Eared Sliders Hold Their Breath?

When it comes to pet turtles, red eared sliders are by far the most popular. Red eared sliders are very resilient, and most can live up to 20 years in a tank. While red eared slider babies can be as small as one inch and fit in the palm of your hand, an adult red eared slider can reach a length of up to 12 inches long. Check out this wild transformation of my first red eared slider.

baby red eared slider next to adult red eared slider
baby red eared slider next to adult red eared slider

Baby Red Eared Slider vs Adult Red Eared Slider

Here is a picture of my red eared slider Arnold on the first day I got him, and here is what he looks like at 12 years old. 

If you have read my other article on caring for a red eared slider, you saw that red eared sliders spend around 75% of their life underwater. Red eared sliders love the water so much that some of them that live in colder environments hibernate underwater for the winter. Red eared sliders love the water because it is natural for them. It regulates their body temperature, and also helps them swallow and digest their food. I am frequently asked can turtles breathe underwater? The quick answer is no, which means turtles must come up to the surface of the water to get air.

How long can red eared sliders hold their breath?

On average, red eared sliders can hold their breath for up to 30-35 minutes. The amount of time they can hold their breath does depend on the temperature of the water. Red eared sliders can hold their breath a lot longer in cold water because their body requires less oxygen.

That being said, most red eared sliders won’t spend that amount of time underwater without coming up for a breath. Red eared sliders usually spend around 5-7 minutes underwater before coming up for a breath. 

While red eared sliders can drown, it is very rare, especially if the turtle is living in a tank. The only way this can happen is if something shifts or falls in your tank and somehow blocks your red eared slider’s access to reach the top of the water. Check out this article if you are wondering can turtles drown?

How do red eared sliders breathe?

Red eared sliders primarily breathe through their lungs, which extracts oxygen from the air (just like humans). This is in contrast to fish and other aquatic animals that have gills and are able to extract oxygen from the water with their gills. However, I did state that they “primarily” breathe through their lungs. The only exception is when red eared sliders brumate.

Do red eared sliders hibernate?

Red eared sliders that live in a cold weather environment undergo a process in the winter called brumation, which is pretty similar to hibernation. During this period, the red eared slider usually goes and rests at the bottom of the river or pond. The turtle enters a sleep like state, but still drinks water and might move a little. While a red eared slider is brumating, their heart rate and blood pressure significantly decreases. This means that their heart needs a lot less oxygen than usual. This is where the crazy part comes in.

While a red eared slider is brumating, they are able to extract oxygen from the water through their blood vessels on their scales. While they don’t extract much oxygen, it is enough to keep the turtle alive and breathing. These blood vessels intake only around 10% of the amount of oxygen that a fish’s gill intakes from the water. 

What turtle can hold their breath for the longest?

By definition, turtles are semi-aquatic animals. This means that although they spend a lot of time in the water, they still need to come on land, or at least come up to the water surface in order to breath. Since they spend so much time under water and swimming to the top, turtles are great swimmers. As you would expect, sea turtles have adapted to living in the sea and can hold their breath a lot longer than turtles that primarily live in ponds and rivers. 

Loggerhead sea turtles can hold their breath for the longest. They can hold their breath for up to 10 hours. For comparison, the world record for the human who held their breath underwater for the longest is 11 minutes and 54 seconds. 

Which turtle can hold its breath for the shortest amount of time

A Sulcata tortoise can only hold its breath for 2 minutes. This makes it the shortest time out of all turtles/tortoises.

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