One of the out-of-the-ordinary behaviors of pet turtles is stretching its neck out and up. They can do this during basking or when inside the water. This can be confusing for many pet owners.
And you may wonder, why does my turtle stretch his neck? Your turtle may stretch its neck due to a respiratory infection which causes its neck to swell and make it hard to retract it. It may also do this to breathe or to simply stretch its body when basking before it can get in the water.
The following guide gives more details on why your turtle keeps its neck stretched out, and other helpful info you need to know about this unusual behavior in your pet.
Why does my turtle stretch its neck?
Your turtle stretching its neck could be due to multiple reasons. These could be purely a habit and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your pet.
But sometimes it could be due to an underlying health condition, mainly respiratory infection, and you should act fast to save your turtle friend.
Below, we discuss the key reasons why your turtle stretches its neck:
This is one of the most common diseases in turtles and is usually caused by a lack of vitamin A as well as poor water quality. When a turtle is suffering from this illness, its neck may get swollen and make it hard for it to retract, so it stays stretched out.
Moreover, the disease leads to the production of mucus in the eyes, nose, and mouth. This leads to wheezing and breathing difficulties, forcing your turtle to stress its neck out in an attempt to inhale more to breathe properly.
Chocking turtles stretch their necks
A choking turtle could also stretch its neck out. Turtles usually lack teeth to bite or chew food, so they gulp them down with the help of water. But sometimes the foods can present a chocking problem.
Turtles also tend to feed on gravel inside the terrarium, which can also cause a choking hazard. When this happens, the amount of air your pet is taking becomes limited, forcing them to stretch their neck to catch a breath.
Additional symptoms of a choking turtle include gasping, open-mouth breathing, frantic signs, etc. If this happens, visit a reptile vet immediately! You can also follow this CPR procedure to help your choking turtle.
Hunting for food
Long before, it was believed that the turtles’, and their cousins the tortoises, high neck tensility helped them to hide their heads from predators.
But new findings show that this flexibility also enables them to easily catch prey with their mouth.
This compensates for their sluggishness in that they’re able to pounce on their food by retracting their neck and shooting it off to catch any nearby prey.
Turtles stretch out when basking
Turtles need basking so they can take in as much UV light as possible to help with vitamin D3 production. This vitamin is crucial for continued healthy growth and the prevention of health issues like metabolic bone disease (MBD).
That said, these animals like stretching out their body when basking, including their legs and neck to increase the surface area for absorption of the UV rays. This is the cause for both wild and captive turtles.
Still at it, you’ll find your turtle stretching their neck inside the tank. This is especially helpful during cold winter months to help them take in as much heat as possible.
Remember, your pet turtles are cold-blooded animals, and their temperatures changes relative to that of their surroundings.
Natural body stretch
Sometimes your pet turtles will stretch their necks just out of habit or for the sake of doing it.
This is easy to understand keeping in mind that they use their neck for a variety of everyday activities. These include eating, swimming, hunting, etc.
For this reason, they’ll tend to stretch their necks to relax and rest, just like other animals and we humans stretch out a tired neck muscles.
Should you be worried if your turtle is stretching its neck?
No. Turtle necks stretching is mostly a natural activity for them and you shouldn’t be alarmed. They might be doing this for various reasons as we have discussed above, e.g. to increase surface area for UV light absorption, to hunt food, or to stretch put their body.
The only time you should take stretching of the neck in your turtle seriously is if they show additional symptoms that point out to an underlying illness.
For instance, a respiratory infection may also show additional symptoms like coughing, wheezing, mucus coming out of the mouth and nostrils, floating on water, etc. If you believe your pet is sick, take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Why does my turtle stretch its neck out of water?
Your aquatic turtle may stretch its neck out of the water if the temperatures are too cold or too hot, or to enjoy proper UV light absorption. It could also be due to an illness.
In the case of cold temperature, these cold-blooded animals could be stretching their neck to help them collect additional heat to keep them cool. This process is known as thermoregulation and occurs across all cold-blooded animals.
And if the water is too hot, the turtle will feel uncomfortable and try to stick its head out.
Adjusting the water temperature to an ideal range of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is all you need to do to make your little friend feel comfortable inside the turtle tank. This temperature range applies for a baby turtle as well.
They could also be stretching their neck to increase the surface area for absorption of vital UV rays. These are important for Vitamin D3 production which is key for processing vital calcium.
If you suspect your turtle is stretching its neck out of water due to a health issue, and it is showing additional symptoms, you should take it to a vet for professional medical attention.
If the turtle’s eyes are feeling irritated by the water, it could also opt to stick its head out. And this involves stretching out their necks.
Why does my turtle stretch his neck and open his mouth?
Your turtle could be stretching his neck and opening his mouth at the same time due to hunger, aggression, or uncomfortable living conditions. It could simply be eating.
If the turtle just opens the mouth and closes it after a few seconds, you need not be worried. Your turtle could be just yawning or stretching. Or it could be feeding on some food.
If something is stuck in their throat, e.g. gravels, pebbles, etc., and it is choking, your pet will open its mouth with its neck stretched out.
But if you find them opening their mouth and their neck stretched for longer, they could be suffering from a respiratory infection. They could be opening their mouth because they have breathing difficulties caused by this illness.
Checking out for additional symptoms like coughing, wheezing, excess mucus frothing from mouth and nostrils, etc., will help you confirm if your turtle is ill and take the necessary action.
Why can’t sea turtles retract their heads?
Sea turtles can’t retract their necks because their streamlined shells lack enough space for their necks and head to be retracted like other turtle species.
But they compensate for this by having a streamlined shell that enables them to swim at higher speeds to eat or to cover thousands of miles for breeding.
How does a turtle extend its neck?
To retract its neck, a turtle can either fold its neck sideways or long ways and upwards. Remember, the shell of a turtle is anchored by ribs on the inside.
Inside this shell, the turtle’s body is quite muscular and suspended from the ribcage. This means the turtle’s neck can form an s-shape sideways or vertically.
This enables them to pop out their neck in sideways or long ways and upwards manner.
Turtles can extend their necks as far as their body size. A common snapping turtle(Chelydra serpentina), for instance, can extend its neck to a length of 19 inches.
The turtle with the longest neck is the snake-necked turtle, whose neck can extend as far as 5 inches. Sometimes it can go longer than their body/shell length.
Now you know why your turtle stretches out its neck! A respiratory infection can cause your pet turtle to stretch its neck for proper breathing or due to swollen neck. Checking for additional symptoms of this infection will help you ascertain if your pet is indeed sick, and needs veterinary attention.
Other reasons for your turtle stretching its neck include hunting for food, during basking, due to a choking hazard, or a natural stretch to relax and rest their tired neck muscles after a long day of overworking it.