Can Turtles Die From Being Upside Down?

turtle in water

Turtles are slow creatures that are not known to be athletic, and this feature has always endangered their lives, even to the point of their death. One such danger is the probability of them turning themselves over when turned upside down. 

However, a few healthy ones have been discovered to be athletic, though it all depends on their species, age, and environment. While turning a turtle upside down is a popular way to torture small animals, could it also be a way to put their lives in danger or kill them?

There is the possibility of turtles dying from being turned upside down. Still, it all depends on the species of the turtle, as some turtles have shells that will push them back if they are turned upside down, just like most aquatic turtles have flat shells and long, muscular necks that enable them to flip themselves back if they accidentally turn upside down. Besides, the wave of the water will flip them right.

However, some turtles have flatter shells, which makes them unable to flip back as their shell balances themselves in their upside position, and terrestrial turtles have shorter legs and necks, which makes it difficult for them to flip over when turned upside down. These two species have a greater tendency to die of starvation, harsh weather conditions, stress, and predators if no one is around to help them.

According to an aquarist, aquatic turtles also tend to be turned upside down as most of them, especially the young ones, lose their breath easily and drown while underwater or freeze to death when stranded in cold weather. 

The young land turtles die in a matter of time due to being scorched to death when stranded in the sun in this position.

Can Turtles Reposition Themselves?

Yes, most turtles can flip themselves over, but it all depends on the turtle’s species and its health status.

How Do Turtles Reposition Themselves?

Self-repositioning is limited to healthy turtles without deformity and aquatic turtles who can use the tide of the water to reposition themselves.

They will tilt back over first with their heads, enabling their body to sway somewhat due to sticking their head out to one side, and then push off against the ground with their feet to raise themselves sufficiently to roll back onto their side.

Should You Help Them Flip Over?

Yes, as it is dangerous for them to be in that state, and delay could cost you the life of your pet. However, this has to be done gently as your pet would have undergone stress already, and if you’re not careful, you might damage the internal organs while rescuing.  

How Long Does It Take An Upside-Down Turtle To Reposition Itself?

Based on practical research, it takes a turtle to reposition within 30 minutes though it all depends on the specie, age, health status, and the current environment of the turtle.

What Makes Turtles Die When They Turn Upside Down?

see turtle on land

Turtles can survive being turned over for hours before getting help, but most do not last up to 40 minutes before dying due to some factors we will discuss.

1. Starvation And Dehydration

Turtles are known to be voracious animals, and when they turn upside down within 30 minutes to an hour, they begin to use up energy due to struggling to gain their rightful position.

They begin to get hungry and dehydrated and need food and water to regain energy. Failure to get this within one hour will result in death.

2. Overheating of the shell

Turtles have a high tendency to die when turned upside down due to dehydration due to the shell being heated up, which will result in dehydration and death of the turtle.

3. Pressure

Turtles get their respiratory organs tampered with or ruptured due to the pressure mounted on the organs, especially the lungs, while struggling to gain balance, which will result in their death.

4. Insect Attack

Insects, especially fireflies, cause a lot of havoc on an upside-down turtle when they decide to turn its body and shell into their new home, thereby nipping on it and causing injury to the body part, including the shell.

5. Predators

Turtles are much more vulnerable to predators like snakes, birds, raccoons, sharks, dogs, and killer whales when upside down. They have less energy to fight predators, especially when tampering with their internal organs.

6. Breathing Issues

Turtles still get hold of their breathing when turned upside down, though it becomes difficult for them, especially when they have a respiratory problem that might result in death before the rescue team arrives.

What Causes a Turtle To Keep Turning Upside Down?

Turtles know they are in danger if they are in an upside-down position and will not love to be in that state, so they need all the help they can get if you keep finding them in this position. This could be happening because of certain conditions.

1. Predators

Turtles are slow creatures and cannot run faster than their predators. They would rather draw into their shell, which frustrates the predator so much that they might kick them to a position of being left upside down. Protect your turtles against predators to protect their lives.

2. Respiratory Illness 

Turtles with respiratory infections will flip over at will, even in the water, as the lung is affected by its internal load in charge of buoyancy. Still, there are signs to look out for to know if flipping over results from this.

Such signs include loss of appetite, open-mouthed breathing, nasal discharge, cloudy eyes, wheezing, an extension of the neck to breathe, and mucus in the nose and mouth. Once you notice the signs, make sure you contact the vet immediately.

3. Fight Among Males

Male turtles trying to mate might get highly aggressive and fight to win the female over. Male turtles engage in aggressive behaviour toward rival males during mating season in response to the scent of the female turtle and turn the loser upside down in the process.

4. Wrong Aquarium Setup

Turtle can flip repeatedly if the aquarium is wrongly set up. Poor platform, small swimming space, and imbalanced decorations and plants can cause the turtle to flip over. Even in the aquariums, they are poor climbers. 

5. New Environment

Turtles love to explore, and in their quest for new things and places, they tend to slide and flip over as they do not know their way around the new environment. Most turtles always in this trouble are the wild ones and do not survive this as no one is always around to help them.

6. Wind

This mainly occurs to turtles in the wild as large waves tend to turn them upside down and leave them in that position until they eventually die.

However, in rare cases, this can also happen to pet turtles,, especially those wandering away from home or pet keepers living close to the shore or beach.


Turtles are creatures that are bad at taking care of themselves, so do well to keep an eye on them every time, especially when there are limited female turtles among male turtles or when any is suffering from respiratory disease to prevent them from dying due to being turned upside down.

Written by Justin Michaels