Do Turtles Have Gills? – If No, Then You Do They Breathe

Turtles usually spend the most time in the water, but some species spend their whole life underwater. You might be wondering, do turtles have gills? So I did long research on it and came up with many things to answer your question. 

Turtles do not have gills. Instead, they have to get cloaca that works like gills. Cloaca is similar in structure to gills that absorb oxygen in the water. It can not provide them with the absolute need for their oxygen. 


Do Sea Turtles Have Gills?

As we know, fish use gills for breathing underwater, but turtles have no gills. Turtles will need to come to the surface for some time because, during this time, they fill oxygen in their lungs and are then again submerged in the water. 

Sea Turtles have shells instead of diaphragms, which prevent them from being contracted. Moreover, they have muscles under their covers that help them to push air in or out of their body. Fish use gills to take oxygen, but turtles can use papillae to get oxygen from the water.

Do Turtles Have Lungs?

Turtle respiratory systems are different from fish like other reptiles. Sea turtles also have lungs. The structure of their lungs is slightly different than the lungs of lungs but works similarly to other creatures’ lungs when they exchange gases. So, they use their lungs to intake and expel air.

Sea turtles have to live in the water for a long time, but their cloaca does not provide them with sufficient oxygen in the water. Therefore, to meet their oxygen needs, they must come to the surface, where they store oxygen in their lungs to stay underwater. 


How Many Lungs Does A Turtle Have?

Turtles have two lungs, one on each side: the right side is the right lung, and the left is the left lung. In turtles, the right lung is attached to the ventral mesopneumonium directly to the liver. Several connections connect the left lung to the stomach, which connects to the liver through the ventral mesentery.

Like fish, turtles do not have gills, so turtles breathe through their lungs. Turtles cannot expand or contract their rib cages, so they have thin muscles inside them that they use to expel air from their lungs. In other words, turtles breathe through their lungs. 

What Is Cloaca?

Sea turtles contain something known as the cloaca, which is their butt. It has many blood vessels and helps the turtle to get oxygen in the water, allowing some turtles to hibernate underwater for a long time. If you talk about it as practical, you can consider it a pump that permits them to take oxygen while expelling water. 

Unlike the anus of a dog, the functions like breathing, reproduction, urination, excretion, etc., perform through the turtle’s cloaca. Sea turtles contain only one hole for doing all these activities, also known as their butt. They can breathe with the help of their butt and use cloaca for laying eggs as well. Some people call it a superpower that helps them remain in the water for a long time by giving them oxygen. 

How Do Turtles Breathe?

Turtles can breathe through their nose in everyday routine and have two small holes known as their nose. The respiration process of turtles is similar to humans and many other mammals and reptiles. When they inhale, carbon dioxide and oxygen enter the body, while during exhalation, carbon dioxide and water go away from the body. 

Just because the lungs are filled with oxygen helps them live like humans. Besides this, sea turtles can also go to the land where they use their lungs to survive. They do not do that because of their aquatic nature, but if push comes to shove, it would not be impossible. 

When a terrestrial turtle goes to water, its nose becomes ineffective, just like humans, because we drown when pushed into the water. That thing is common for humans and land turtles. Some turtl;e species can remain in the water for 7 hours, but you will never guess why.

turtle lungs

How Long Can Sea Turtles Stay Underwater?

Some turtle species can remain underwater for 1-2 minutes, snapping turtles can stay underwater for 20-30 minutes, and some have outstanding ability and can stay underwater for 7-10 hours. It is the reason that the different species of turtles have other butts. The performance of cloaca differs from species to species. Some cloaca gathered more oxygen in water than others. 

The more the cloaca concludes, the more the turtle remains in the water. But all the turtles can stay in the water during hibernation for months. When the winter season arrives, all the sea turtles go to the bottom of the pond or river. It is known as hibernation, and it consists of 100 days. During this long period, their butts rescue them. 

They slow down their usage of energy and metabolism during this period. We know that cloaca of turtles provides their oxygen in the water for a shorter period. We know you think if cloaca gives them oxygen for a shorter time, how can they survive in the water? Hibernation is a completely different thing in which a turtle remains inactive.

They can survive the hibernation period with low oxygen because they reduce the usage of energy and metabolism, and naturally, the oxygen the cloaca gives is enough to survive. When turtles have to remain in the water for a long time, their butts save them.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Final Words

After thoroughly reading this post, you knew that turtles do not have gills, so a turtle’s respiratory system consists of two lungs. They use their lungs to inhale and exhale oxygen inside their body. As sea turtles are aquatic animals, they can breathe through their butts as well.

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Hey, I've done my Ph.D. in Marine Biology. I'm a turtle enthusiast and have been owning turtles for the last 22 years and dedicated to sharing my experience to help you in pet turtle upbringing.