Can Tortoises Hear? Facts You Should Know


One of the perks of owning a pet is having a close companion, one you can talk to and bond with overtime. The tortoise is not your ordinary pet as they are not as cuddly as others. In fact, many pet owners are not even sure whether their tortoise can hear them.

Tortoises hear through vibrations from the ground. These vibrations transfer from their feet to their ears. However, their hearing is not so clear, and in most cases, they perceive faint sounds better than loud ones. They also tend to hear better underwater than on land.

We conducted detailed research on these fascinating creatures to find out their hearing ability. We intend to give you more information as we bust the myths related to this. Read on as we enlighten you. 

Can Tortoises Hear

Where Is the Tortoise’s Ear Located?

At a glance, you cannot see a tortoise’s ears. You may have to look closer to find where they are located, unlike humans and other mammals whose ears are readily observable. 

The tortoise’s ear lies at the sides of its head under some scales. You can find it by looking for the darkest spot at the sides. On the inside, it has eardrums which are also covered. Interestingly, the tortoise is the only animal with an otic capsule, a rigid box surrounding the ears. Secondly, tortoises are sensitive to vibrations. They can feel the ground’s vibrations, which then move through their bodies to the ears. They are also known to hear low voices clearer than loud ones. 

Similarly, research has shown that they could hear better underwater, than on land. However, the sea turtles are better at it. Like the tortoise, their ears are also not easily observable. Lastly, tortoises are susceptible to ear infections. This condition appears like a lump or wound at the head’s sides, where the ears are located. In case of any abnormalities with their ears, it is best to consult a vet before administering any home treatment. Most likely, the only way to salvage the situation will be immediate surgery.

Can Your Tortoise Hear You?

What a milestone is it to call your pet and see it crawl towards you? There have been reports from tortoise owners that their pets know their names, and respond when you call them; however, is this possible?

Tortoises don’t hear as you do; they can only discern some distinct sounds and respond to them. Although they do not react to most sounds they hear, they have a knack for frequencies synonymous with their world. They will immediately recognize mating sounds, and those made by two male tortoises when fighting. The mother tortoises will also hear when eggs are hatching. Their hearing is not as elaborate as that of other animals. They hardly communicate with each other; thus, it isn’t one of their strengths. 

To make up for their hearing, tortoises have advanced senses. Their sense of smell and feel of vibrations compensate for what they can’t hear. They can feel it when someone is approaching since they are known to perceive footsteps coming towards them and smell whether food is near. They are also brilliant, able to memorize time, especially when it’s time to feed. When they know it’s time to eat, you may find them slowly approaching you. Perhaps this time concept is what makes them come towards you. Thus, when you call them, they are not responding to the sound, but the time! 

They use frequencies to hear; hence, they can easily get irritated by tremendous vibrations such as loud basses. It could be that they associate the audible vibrations with sounds made by large predators. You may find them hiding or restless when they hear such deep sounds. The good news is that some researchers have discovered that they can recognize their owners by their face, smell, and vibrations. Therefore, if you walk towards them, they may realize the pattern of your footsteps. 

Furthermore, these intelligent creatures can learn some tricks; it may take a while, but it’s not impossible. It can take months, but eventually, a tortoise may know its name. If you keep calling them and using techniques such as giving them treats, the name will catch on. The tortoise will recognize the vibration patterns and begin to respond accordingly.

Can Tortoises Respond To Music?

Some pet owners love to play music for their pets, and some even leave recorded music playing when they aren’t at home, specifically for their pets to enjoy. What is the case with the tortoise? Does it love music?

Science cannot confirm or deny that tortoises love music. However, some tend to respond to music that they often hear, similar to other sounds or vibrations. It also depends on a lot of factors. First, some tortoise species can listen and respond, while others can’t. Secondly, their personalities also play a role; some tortoises appreciate calmness more; thus, music may be a nuisance to them, especially when it’s too loud. Their age also matters, younger tortoises are more active, and their hearing is much better than their old counterparts. 

Tortoises’ hearing is quite complicated; sometimes, they do, other times they don’t respond at all. When it comes to music, you may find them responding, but this may not prove that they love it. Probably they are responding to the vibrations they feel. Depending on the factors mentioned above, you may find them reacting when you play certain songs. Similarly, if it’s too loud, they may get restless since they feel that the vibrations are excessive. The trick is to try different melodies or instruments, and at different pitches, eventually, you may know how they like it. 

Some owners recommend playing nature sounds. The reptile may feel more at home, especially if you obtained it from the wild. You can try sounds such as streaming water or rustling leaves. On the contrary, playing sounds such as those made by predators may stress your pet. It may believe that there is impending danger and start showing signs of uneasiness. 

Notably, tortoises are known to keep memories. If you accustom it to music while feeding it, it will emerge to eat whenever they hear it. Similarly, when they get used to specific sights and sounds from an early age, they are likely to get attached to the environment. Consequently, if you take such a turtle to a different place, it may be timid for a while, but it will get used to it. 

Can Tortoises Hear Underwater?

The tortoises’ hearing is not as good as other reptiles’. However, there are chances that the tortoise and its close cousin, the turtle, can hear better while underwater than on land. Let’s have a look at this fascinating fact. 

Studies show that tortoises are adept at underwater hearing thanks to a cavity scaling in their ears. This feature also reduces their ability to hear sounds in the air. The ear morphology is also seen in turtles; hence, these findings show that the two are of similar aquatic ancestry.

Experts had also revealed that if the tortoise sticks its ears underwater, there are high chances that it will hear sounds that were otherwise inaudible when it was on land. They came up with these findings by closely studying the inner ear. These organs vibrated more than usual when underwater, meaning that the sound waves reached them faster in water than on land.

The hearing process begins as soon as the eardrums vibrate. Afterward, the brain can interpret the sounds. If the sound waves are of a high pitch, an animal’s eardrums vibrate, enabling it to recognize the sound. This case is what happens with the turtle. Scientifically, water is not a suitable medium in the transfer of sound, but this is disputed by what we have noted in tortoises.

One explanation is evolution. Since the tortoises have the same origin as the turtles who spend a large part of their lives in water, the notion is that, their ears are best suited to receive sound waves faster in the water. Humans hear better on land, because it is our natural home; the same applies to tortoises.

Tortoises Can Perceive Sound

Tortoises hear differently from you. While you hear distinct sounds and tell them apart, they rely on vibrations. Moreover, they can perceive faint sounds better than loud ones, contrary to how humans react. They are also known to perceive sounds such as mating calls, dueling grunts, and egg-hatching sounds. However, with time, they can recognize vibrations in their surroundings, such as footsteps.

Tortoises are sensitive creatures, with a heightened sense of smell and sight. Thus, they are still able to find food and be wary of impending danger. Although their hearing is not so great, some tortoises are known to like music, especially soothing ones typically found in their natural habitats. With more research, there are high chances that the tortoise can hear better underwater than on land.  For them, the sound waves travel faster through the water.

Read more: Tortoise Body: 11 Facts You Should Know (Explained)

Harvey Wells

I am an intense cool pets lover. I have tortoises, tarantulas and a few other exotic pets. And I would love to share what I have learned.

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