Do Tortoises Have Ears

Do Tortoises Have Ears? How Do Tortoises Hear?

Tortoises are considered great pets and these reptiles tend to respond to various sounds you make, even when owners call them by names. But, the absence of visible ears can make you confused about their hearing abilities.

So, do tortoises have ears? Yes, tortoises have ears. But their ears aren’t external like other animals. They have internal ears beneath the scales. And their auditory system can pick up low-frequency sounds better.

I will put light on their ear anatomy to confirm whether tortoises have ears and how they hear different sounds. Let’s get started.

Do Tortoises Have Ears? Detailed Explanation


Of course, they have ears but it’s a little different as I said in the introduction. If you look closely at a tortoise, you will see a dark marking below the eye level and behind the jawline. 

This layer of scale is known as the cutaneous plate. It covers the internal ears of tortoises. The plate also receives the vibration from the environment and conveys the vibration to the internal ears.

Tortoises or turtles have an otic capsule or container, which is similar to a bony box. This is distinct in tortoises and other animals don’t have this structure. There is no hole on the scale, but you might notice a slight dip.

Do Tortoises Have Ears

The auditory system of tortoises consists of the following parts.

  • Tympanum
  • Middle Ear
  • Inner Ear

The scale covering the cavity is known as the tympanum, which is roughly 0.25 mm thick. Then comes the middle ear and the inner ear. The middle ear receives the vibration from the tympanum and sends it to the inner ear.

You can check the middle ear morphology of extant turtles and tortoises to see how the cavities are positioned in their skulls. Overall, it is beyond reasonable doubt that tortoises have ears and they can hear sounds. In the next section, I will talk about how their auditory system works.

How Do Tortoises Hear?

Unlike humans or other animals, tortoises can’t process the vibration in the air so efficiently. Instead, they depend on touch sensation to hear. These reptiles receive vibrations from the ground. The vibration travels through their legs and gets to the upper scale of the ears. 

Then, the vibration goes into the eardrums and tortoises process the sound. This is the most basic working principle of tortoise ears. The cutaneous plates have an important role in the auditory system of tortoises. 

How Do Tortoises Hear

These plates transfer the vibrations from the legs to the middle ear, which then forwards the vibration to the inner ear. The inner ear is responsible for processing the vibration. After processing the signal, the brain interprets the sound.

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Due to a different working principle than other reptiles or animals, tortoises possess a different hearing capability. They are more responsive to low-frequency sounds and can’t hear high-pitched sounds very well. For example, tortoises may not hear a bird chirping nearby because their ears aren’t suitable for high-frequency sounds.

But if there is a vibration in the surrounding environment, tortoises can capture that very well. For example, if you approach their rooms, they will sense that through your footsteps.

What Sound Frequencies Do Tortoises Hear?

According to studies on the auditory sense in tortoises, the hearing range of tortoises is limited. While humans can hear sounds ranging from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, tortoises can hear sounds from 10Hz to 200Hz. This is an average range and some tortoises seem to hear frequencies as high as 500-700 Hz. 

SpeciesLower Auditory RangeHigher Auditory Range
Land Tortoises10Hz200Hz
Water Turtles10Hz700Hz

But anything higher than that will not be highly audible to tortoises. As a result, tortoises won’t hear high-frequency noises like your other pets do. On another note, tortoises can hear and respond to sounds with a very low frequency. 

What Sound Frequencies Do Tortoises Hear

So, they might hear sounds that aren’t audible to humans or many other animals. Especially because of their other sensory organs, tortoises can hear ground vibrations much better than other animals.

Can Tortoises Hear Human Voices?

There are debates about whether tortoises can hear human voices. In many cases, tortoises respond to human voices. Especially when it is feeding time and you approach the tortoise by calling its name, it seems to be eagerly waiting for you.

But the chance of perceiving your footsteps is higher in this case. It is probable that the tortoise didn’t hear your calling. Instead, it processed the vibrations from your footsteps and associated them with you. 

Can Tortoises Hear Human Voices

In some cases, tortoises seem to respond to sounds you make. If you talk to them in a low voice while being close to the ground, tortoises can hear your voice. The closer you are to the ground, the better your pet tortoise can receive the vibration. 

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Its ability to hear low-frequency sounds better will help the tortoise to listen to human voices. But if you are yelling at the tortoise, it might not listen to the voice so well.

Tortoise Ear Infection and Deafness

Even though the tortoise ears aren’t visible, they are prone to infections. Ear infections commonly happen due to Vitamin A deficiency, bad sanitation, or injuries. If your pet tortoise has ear infections, you will see the tympanum and surrounding areas will be swollen. 

If you press the area lightly, you will feel a hard puss beneath the tympanum. Frequent infections or long exposure to infections can lead to deafness. Ear injuries can also make tortoises deaf. So, you should consult a veterinarian quickly to treat tortoise ear infections.

Tortoise Ear Infection and Deafness


The answers to the following questions may inform you more about tortoise ears.

Q: Do tortoises like music?

There is no concrete study that proves tortoises like music, but nothing disproves it either. Tortoises are seen to respond to low-frequency music, such as bass guitars.

See this video to know what type of music tortoises like:

Q: Can tortoises separate different sounds?

Yes. They can categorize the vibration associated with a sound and remember that. So, they will know when you approach them with food by hearing your footsteps.

Q: Are tortoises afraid of noise?

As tortoises can’t hear high-frequency sounds that well, they might not be sensitive to loud noises. But if there are low-pitched noises, tortoises will feel stressed or scared.

Final Thoughts

The auditory system of tortoises is totally different from what you see in other animals. Instead of processing sound waves in the air, they rely on ground vibrations to hear. And this induces the question, do tortoises have ears?

Of course. Tortoises have internal ears that are covered with cutaneous plates. Vibrations from the ground reach their eardrum through these plates. And tortoises are more sensitive to sounds with a low frequency. This makes them detect the presence of predators nearby from vibrations and evade the area.

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