Do Turtles Yawn? Tired or Basking

Anyone who has cared for a turtle has probably noticed their little pet yawning at one time or another. It is adorable to see your tiny reptile basking in its tank yawning as it rests seemingly without a care in the world. But is this really what it looks like? Do turtles yawn?

The answer is yes; turtles do yawn just like humans do. They do this for the same reason, too, to get enough oxygen to their lungs and into the bloodstream. However, even though their gapping mouths may look like they are yawning, this may not always be the case. 

Do Turtles Yawn?

Yes, turtles do, in fact, yawn. They will yawn in the water and out but are they yawning because they are tired? Not really.

Why Turtles Yawn Under Water

As turtles swim carefully and freely underwater, you may notice they have their mouths open and close every so often, giving a look like they are tired or bored. However, they are actually doing this because they are happy. 

While swimming underwater, turtles feel comfortable and safe, so they will yawn to release some oxygen to allow their bodies to stay underwater for a more extended period of time. 

A turtle yawning underwater is never really a reason for concern, at least not as much as it is if they are yawning on land.

Why Turtles Yawn on Land

When you see a turtle out of the water and yawning, it could mean a slew of different things. It could be absolutely nothing, or it could indicate the turtle is suffering from some type of distress or illness.

It is essential to mention here that most of the time, when you see a turtle yawn, it may not be a yawn at all. A wide-open turtle mouth is often referred to as gapping and can be a sign of many different things, from injuries to anger. 

As long as the yawning is only occasional and not seen along with other symptoms or behavioral changes, and yawning turtle on land is most likely just fine.

What Does it Mean When a Turtle Yawns?

Turtles are small and cute and seem very innocent; it’s hard to imagine that could do very much harm to anything other than a fly. You might find it hard to believe that turtles can be pretty aggressive if they fear for their safety and think they are being threatened. On the other hand, they can be using that wide mouth to be the predator as well.

Turtles Will Yawn if They are Scared

If a turtle opens its mouth wide towards you or another animal, it may be scared or concerned. You may have started your little shell-covered friend, and they are gaping at you to warn you off.

If you find that your turtle’s mouth is gaping wide when you take it from its habitat and move it to a new location, or if you have just adopted it and brought it home, they are doing this because of their new surroundings and being in an unfamiliar place.

If you believe your turtle is gapping because they are scared or uncomfortable, it is essential to find a way to ease them and keep them calm. The best way to relax a stressed-out turtle is by feeding them. 

Providing lettuce leaves or crickets to any turtle will help ease their concerns about you and start to come around, creating less stress and a happier turtle.

Turtles Will Yawn if They are Hungry

If your turtle’s mouth is wide open when they are swimming through murky water, it may be an indication that they are struggling to see the dinner they can so clearly smell.

Turtles can smell and taste things while in the water when their mouths are open, so if they know there is something around for them to snack on, they are going to use these senses to find it.

Why Do Turtles Open Their Mouth When Basking?

When turtles are relaxing in the sun, basking in its warm heat, you will notice that their mouth is open and it may stifle out a yawn. While your turtle is cozy on land, they are going to require an increase in the need for oxygen which is achieved through yawning.

The reason for the extra needed oxygen has to do with the lack of movement your turtle is doing. When they are not exerting themselves, turtles are going to breathe a lot shallower, meaning that they are not bringing in as much oxygen as their body needs. Once they get in a good yawn, a deep inhalation of oxygen is sent to the lungs and then your bloodstream.

Yawning is also known for keeping your turtle’s body temperature even and normal, which is another reason for this behavior.

What to do if Your Turtle Keeps Opening its Mouth?

A turtle opening (gaping) its mouth or yawning is 100% normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate there is anything to worry about at all. However, if your turtle is opening its mouth constantly in the water on land and at all times of the day, you should definitely consider calling your veterinarian. 

Just like any animal or person, yawning is a way of filling your lungs with oxygen and maintaining the proper O2 to your body.  But if your turtle is doing this non-stop, it could mean that they are having issues with breathing or maintaining the ideal body temperature.

It is just as important to watch out for other symptoms that may accompany a yawn, including a stuffy nose, acting lethargic, no longer eating, or swimming in an odd fashion. These can all indicate serious issues that should never be ignored.

Reasons Why Turtles Open Their Mouths?

Turtles are well known for having their mouths gaped wide open or showing off the occasional yawn. This is a common behavior for turtles and can mean many different things. It can be a sign it is sick or something as simple as it is enjoying life. Here are a few of the most common reasons turtles open their mouths, good and bad.

Turtles Use Yawning for Oxygen and Temperature Regulations

As we have previously discussed, turtles will open their mouths and yawn for the same reason we all do, to get extra oxygen into their lungs and bloodstream. Once oxidized blood enters the bloodstream, it pushes out poisonous carbon dioxide out. 

The theory that yawning also helps regulate body temperatures in turtles could also help explain the reasoning for their open mouths. This theory states that when yawning, the new oxygen coming into your turtle’s body cools their bloodstream and, in turn regulating your hot turtle. 

If your turtle is yawning a lot and their environment seems very hot or humid, you may want to consider turning down the temperature a bit.

Turtles Opening Their Mouths May Indicate an Injury

If your turtle is opening its mouth more frequently than normal, you may want to check around the opening skin of the mouth, inside the mouth, and the throat. If your turtle is suffering from an injury to any of these illnesses opening their mouths may be something they are trying to do to relieve the pain.

All turtle owners should keep an eye out for any behavior changes in their turtle or other indications of pain. You may notice other signs from a turtle in pain, including aggression, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Opening a turtle’s mouth to look for any type of injury or problem is not an easy task. If a turtle doesn’t want its mouth to be open, it will fight you. The easiest and safest way to open your turtle’s mouth is by gently pulling his head all the way out of his shell and carefully prying his mouth open.

If the turtle refuses and you find yourself using a lot of force, take it to the vet instead to avoid any further injury or harm.

A Respiratory Infection Will Cause a Turtle to Yawn Frequently

Any turtle that is unable to breathe properly is going to have its mouth wide open frequently. This is because they are struggling to inhale the proper amount of air they need to oxygenate their bodies.

If your turtle has its mouth wide open frequently and also shows signs of blowing bubbles, swimming sideways or lopsided, and wheezing, it might have a respiratory infection

Luckily if caught in time, this can be easy to treat and may not even require a visit to the vet. Simply keeping your turtle warm and comfortable, as well as giving them a dry area to rest, can help rid a respiratory infection quickly.

If the infection seems to be spreading or getting worse, a trip to the vet will be required in order for them to administer the proper antibiotics and other medications to keep your pet relaxed while they recover.

Mouth Rot Can Cause Your Turtle to Open its Mouth A lot.

Anyone who has ever owned a reptile as a pet knows the scary truth about the possibility of mouth rot. This is a horrible name for an infection that can develop in and around the mouth of snakes, lizards, and yes…turtles.

Mouth rot is caused when a turtle’s immune system is weakened, and bacteria builds up around the mouth, causing red, irritated tissue inside the mouth, dead tissue and puss inside the mouth, and leakage from the turtle’s nose. 

If you suspect your turtle has any symptoms of mouth rot, it is imperative you get them to a veterinarian right away to be treated with antibiotics and other medication to prevent this infection from progressing and entering the turtle’s lungs and digestive tract.

If mouth rot is not caught in time, it could affect not only the tissue in the turtle’s mouth but also the bones. This area may need to be removed through surgery if it gets too severe.


As you can see, turtles do yawn and for simple reasons. But, just because their mouths are wide open doesn’t necessarily mean they are yawning and could be an indication there is something more serious going on.

 If your turtle has its mouth gaping frequently or you have noticed a change in its behavior accompanied by what looks to yawn, a simple trip to the vet can put your mind at ease and stop a potentially serious medical issue from progressing. 

Do Turtles Yawn? Tired or Basking

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