Why Is My Turtle Always Hiding? (Vet Tech Explains)

Why Is My Turtle Always Hiding

Hiding is a behavior that turtles are notorious for. In movies and cartoons, turtles constantly vanish and hide away inside their shells. Luckily, pet turtles do more than hide and can be very social when they feel comfortable! If your pet turtle can never be found, that’s not a great sign. You’ll probably start to ask yourself;

“Why is my turtle always hiding?”

While it’s natural for turtles to hide, in captivity turtles should feel safe enough to be out and about. Your turtle might always be hiding because they’re scared, cold, or sick. Your turtle could also be a nocturnal species or a natural burrower. There are so many different reasons why turtles hide!

In this article, we’ll go over all of the things that might make your pet turtle hideaway.

10 Reasons Why Your Pet Turtle Is Always Hiding

Hiding is a very instinctual behavior for turtles. Turtles hide in their shells and hide under things rocks to avoid predators in the wild. Even though hiding is a natural instinct for a turtle, constant hiding in captivity isn’t normal. If you never see your pet turtle come out, there’s probably something wrong with their environment.

Here are a few things that might make your turtle a little extra shy and keep them in hiding.

Reason 1: They’re Feeling Vulnerable Or Afraid

Even in captivity, pet reptiles can experience fear and vulnerability. Though we try our best to give our pet reptiles, ideal, living conditions, we don’t always meet the mark.

A study in 2021 showed that many behaviors that are indicative of stress in the wild are considered “normal” in captivity.  Some pet reptiles live their lives in a constant state of stress and fear. A lot of this fear can be caused by the perception that a predator is nearby. Perhaps your turtle is afraid of you or people walking past its tank.  Maybe, your turtle is afraid of a tankmate.

In the video below, you can see a great example of a box turtle hissing and hiding when it feels threatened.

Whatever the reason for the fear, this emotion will cause your turtle to hide in order to protect itself. We’ll talk more in this article about how to get your turtle to come out of hiding.

One easy way to make your turtle feel more comfortable is to move their enclosure to a less busy spot in the house. That way, they’ll deal with fewer people walking by and experience less stress overall. Give your turtle time to get used to its new location and hopefully, they’ll start to come out more

Reason 2: They Might Be Too Hot

Just like any other reptile, turtles are ectothermic. Ectotherms or cold-blooded animals that rely on external factors to regulate their internal body temperature. Unlike mammals, the body temperature of a reptile is usually pretty close to the temperature of the environment that they’re in. Ectotherms control their internal body temperatures through a variety of adaptations, but one of the main strategies is just to move around.

Typically, captive turtles are either housed in a dry enclosure, a tank with water, a paludarium, or an outdoor pond, depending on their species. Regardless of what the enclosure choice is, there should always be a warm and cool area in every enclosure. This is called a temperature gradient and it’s essential for reptiles to thrive in captivity.

If you find that your pet turtle is always hiding, it might be overheating in the other areas of their enclosure. Either the outside sun is too hot for basking or the heat lamp is a little too low. If a turtle is hot, they’ll spend time hidden away in the dark to cool off.

If you think this is what’s happening to your pet turtle, double-check your species’ care requirements and make sure that the temperature you’re providing is appropriate.

Reason 3: They Might Be A Nocturnal Species

You might be surprised to find out that some turtles always hide during the day because they’re naturally nocturnal. Most species of turtle are diurnal in the wild, but there are a few that are most active at night.

Species like mud turtles, common musk turtles, alligator turtles, and snapping turtles are species that are known to be more active at night. In theory, these species might be seen hiding more often during the day and foraging more often at night.

Even if you have a species of turtle that is technically “nocturnal “, they’ll likely adjust to a more diurnal schedule while in captivity. Just give them some time to get used to your schedule and you’ll start to notice that they come out during the day more often.

Reason 4: It’s Too Bright

There is strong scientific evidence that bright lights affect the behavior of turtles. Our best evidence of this comes from a study of sea turtles. It’s been shown that artificial lighting tends to keep sea turtles from nesting. Turtles seem to be sensitive to artificial light, especially in the evenings. It’s disorienting and causes a lot of upset in the wild.

In captivity, the bright lights in your room may be stressing your pet turtle out. Your turtle might seem to always be hiding when you’re around because you turn on all the lights when you’re home. They feel more comfortable hiding away in their dens, as opposed to sitting under fluorescent lights.

The easiest fix for this is to keep the lights in your turtle’s room on a timer. Try to keep your lighting as close to a natural cycle as you can. That way, your turtle can expect a bright light during the day, and a softer light in the evenings.

Reason 5: Their Enclosure Is Too Big

Typically, there’s no such thing as an enclosure that is too big. But, if you have a young aquatic turtle, they might not be ready for a full-sized adult aquarium yet. It might seem like they’re always hiding in their dens just because they aren’t ready to swim big distances quite yet.

You can find the appropriate enclosure measurements for both aquatic turtles and terrestrial turtles in our article about 30-gallon tanks here. An enclosure that’s too big might initially discourage a nervous turtle from exploring.

Reason 6: They’re Just Sleeping

Another reason why your pet turtle might be hiding is that they’re just taking a nap.

We already talked about how turtles feel more safe and secure when they’re hidden and protected. Some captive turtles may be comfortable enough to take a nap on their basking rock in the full sunlight. Others might feel more cautious and need to retreat to their hide in order to sleep soundly.

If your turtle is hiding away during the day, or all night, they might just be taking a little nap. The amount of sleep a turtle needs per day varies by species, and remember that these little reptiles don’t have jobs and can really nap any time they please.

Reason 7: They’re Natural Burrowers

For some turtles, hiding might be confused for burrowing. Eastern box turtles are a great example of a pet turtle that burrows. These turtles go through brumation in the wild every winter. They take shelter by hiding in up to 2 feet of dirt or mud and may stay in brumation for months.

In captivity, it’s natural for turtles to exhibit burrowing behavior. This might make it seem like your turtle is always hiding, but in reality, you’re just digging out a comfy den to spend the cold months in.

Brumation can be avoided or instigated in captivity. You should talk to your turtle’s veterinarian and see what choice is right for your pet.

Reason 8: Their Enclosure Is Too Dry

Hides and dens are naturally more humid than the outside air. If your pet turtle spends a lot of time hiding, it could be a sign that their enclosure is too dry. Providing adequate humidity for reptiles is so important because they can lose and gain hydration through their skin.

While visibility isn’t as pronounced as it is in amphibians, reptiles can quickly become dehydrated if the humidity is low in the enclosure. While it’s great that your pet turtle has a natural instinct to move to a more humid area of its enclosure, it really shouldn’t have to.

Try addressing the problem by getting a hygrometer and using some techniques to raise the humidity if needed. Hopefully, once their environment is more comfortable, they will always be hiding in their humid den.

Reason 9: They’re Getting Ready To Mate

In the wild, certain turtle species exhibit unique behaviors related to meeting and reproduction. Female turtles, often seek out quiet and secure nesting sites to hide the eggs. This instinct can also carry over the captive turtles. If you have a female pet turtle, she may hide in anticipation of egg laying.

And before you ask, yes, female turtles will still lay eggs even if there isn’t a male around, they just won’t be fertilized. So, don’t be surprised if your female turtle hides away for a few days, and then emerges after laying a clutch of eggs.

Male turtles might also go into hiding during mating season to seek out potential mates, or to establish their territories. Remember that mating season is different for every species of turtle, so make sure to do your research to find out if this applies to your pet or not.

Reason 10: They Might Be Sick

It’s typical for animals to hide and isolate themselves when they’re feeling ill. This is a survival instinct that helps keep them away from predators or competition when they’re not at their prime.

Many pets will also exhibit this hiding behavior when they’re sick. Cats, dogs, as well as lizards, and even snakes tend to keep to themselves when they’re not feeling well.  Hiding may be one of the only ways that your pet turtle is able to tell you they’re not feeling well. Reptiles aren’t as expressive as we are, and obviously can’t tell us directly that they’re sick.

So, if you notice your pet turtle hiding away, be on the watch for other changes, like lethargy, changes in appetite, or changes in physical appearance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we’ve provided a few explanations for why your turtle is always hiding, here are answers to frequently asked questions on the topic.

Why Is My Turtle Hiding In A Corner?

If your turtle is specifically hiding in a corner of their enclosure, they are probably terrified. Hiding in a corner is a defense mechanism so that your turtle can keep an eye on everything going on in its enclosure. Try giving your turtle a safe place to hide and some time to adjust

Why Is My Turtle Hiding In Its Shell?

Usually, when a turtle hides away in its shell, it’s acting defensively. Who is in the wild and in captivity, turtles use their shells as a form of protection. Your turn all might be hiding in its shell because it’s scared of a tankmate, something in its environment, or you.

How To Get My Turtle To Come Out Of Hiding

While you can’t force a turtle to come out of hiding, you can encourage it. The best way to get your turtle to come out is to make its environment comfortable.

Take away anything that might be stressing them out like bright lights or heavy traffic. Perfect the temperature and humidity and their enclosure so that they won’t feel the need to retreat to their den. Make sure there isn’t any aggression going on between tank mates. And, of course, just give your pet time to adjust.

Final Thoughts

Turtles hide, it’s what they do. But, if your turtle is always hiding, it’s a pretty good sign that something is wrong.

Pay attention to your turtle and try to figure out when and why it hides. Once you do, you can take the appropriate steps to fix whatever is causing it to retreat so often.

Hopefully, this article has given you a good starting point to figure out why your turtle is always hiding.