Are Turtles Smart? Some Unbelievable Facts!

Are Turtles Smart?

Turtles are slow creatures known for their slow pace and intelligence. It is a common fact that humans have dogs and cats to establish their relationship as pets. But the trend is changing. Many people who dislike reptiles such as snakes want to take turtles as their pets.

However, a human-pet relationship is mostly based on the intelligence of the pet they are taking. So, when you ask if the turtles are smart, we say yes! Amazed, right.

Most of the owners and researchers prove that they are smart through their actions. They are not stupid at all. Instead, they show high intellectual ability as compared to all the animal species.

However, there is not a suggested criterion in defining turtle intelligence. Turtles have unbreakable shells. Their instinctive ability helps to be alarmed in a potentially dangerous situation. They cope up the alarming situation by rapidly hiding in their muscular bodies. This type of intelligence also never let them starved in the wild. The wild turtles attack their prey and feed themselves.

When comparing to the highly intelligent Homo sapiens, they also learn from their experiences.

The numerous researches have shown that they pick up the right target after a couple of training sessions. The learning capability can be increased in these highly unsocial and content animals.

The level of intelligence can be predicted by the evolution and development of the brain. The folks are curious to know if their brain develops a lot or not, depending upon their learning response. The answer is yes, their brain is strengthened a lot. But the exception is always there.

Science, in its early age, focuses on measuring human intelligence quotient by setting different experiments and a wide range of research. However, scientists get succeeded in developing some measuring scales which help them to rank the animal intellectual capability.

These helpful tests determine how the turtles think, perceive the situation, communicate and ultimately a reason to solve the given problems and learn from the environment. The testing processes work by providing the colour-coding challenging training and passing the animals through puzzles and mazes.

Highly Powerful Brain

The IQ level varies from species to species of the turtles. The brains of birds are considered among the most intelligent brains in the animals. And to your surprise turtles, the brain is a lot similar to that of bird’s brain.

The significant difference is that they do not develop the cerebral hemisphere, which is relatively large with a lot of convulsion in mammals and birds. Cerebral Hemisphere is a part where logical reasoning and cognitive processes happen. As turtles cannot develop their cerebral hemisphere a lot; therefore, they are not intelligent at the level of mammal and birds.

But that cannot make you say that they are dumb! Some species are brilliant. Their brain size is not in the correct proportion according to their body size. It is a myth which is proved wrong by some helpful tests. The young turtles are very active and sharp as compared to older ones.

You must have heard of Wood Turtles(Scientific name Glyptemis insculpta). These have a high brain to the mass of the body ratio. The high percentage make them equal to those of birds. It is known that Wood Turtles are as smart as rats. Moreover, they have exceptional memory and observation. Wood turtles learn from their experience, store in their memory and behave accordingly in future. Therefore, they are being used as test subjects by a lot of psychologists worldwide.

Ability To Communicate

Turtles are highly solitary animals in nature. So, one might think they cannot communicate in the wild or their pet homes. This is wrong and out of character. In contrast, they do interact and share with their opposite gender during the mating season.  Most interesting fact, the pet turtles give face expression to their owners to show their love and respect after the passage of some period of realization. If you have children that do not like cuddling animals, you can go for turtles.

Turtles Ability To Communicate

Cumulative Intelligence

Turtles have instincts to deal with harmful predators. For example, they cover themselves up in their shell and stay near to the rock to blend themselves in the surrounding environment. These are the instincts of the turtles. These are inheritable and shown up by the offspring. The pioneer ones learn these by themselves, so these instincts can be the learning abilities of ancestors. But for the descendent ones, these are the results of cumulative intelligence that get better over time.

Difference Of Species

The studies have confirmed that intelligence capability varies according to turtle species. The North American turtle demonstrated their smartness through finishing and recalling mazes at a pace similar to that of rats. Nonetheless, they are also successful in remembering things for a long time.

A research was conducted in Japan under the supervision of Dr Tamar at Okinawa, Japan, to show that giant tortoises have extended brain power to memorize things for the long term. They trained six large tortoises to perform three different yet challenging tasks. The tortoises were incentivized by the ford to correctly complete the tasks during training. That’s why they remember the lessons and pass the test after three months of long practice.

The Exceptional Spatial Sense

A series of experiment was performed to observe and conclude the spatial sense of the turtle. The experiment was designed by making a hole and standing the thin glass in the spot to form a real cliff. The different kind of animals such as lizards, rats and various species of turtles like aquatic turtles and terrestrial Turtles are used in the experiment.

When scientists put the different animals near the brink of the supported cliff, the lizards and aquatic turtles quickly pass off without considering the suspected fall. The other terrestrial turtles did not pass the peak as they guessed the alleged fall. Some species of the turtles have an exceptional ability to sense the alarm by seeing the shape of the things. Spatial sense is a very sensitive indicator of any animals intelligence.

Aquatic turtles usually have to jump and dive deep into the water, so they never get to develop such spatial sense. However, when it comes to terrestrial turtles like box turtles, they have unique spatial sense. This shows that they can indicate what is the surrounding around them, how to protect themselves, and which is good and evil. You must be surprised to know that your brainy little turtle can easily stay in your house with lots of hurdles!

The Higher Learning Capability

Pet turtles can quickly learn new things over time. For example, the young, as well as older pets, remember to come up at the same spot for food if they are consistently fed at the same place. They recognize their owner and give various facial expressions to react to different situations. They can respond to the sounds and tones of humans.

The turtles are long-lived, charming and smart pets. They need a large space despite their size, need dry space in addition to aquatic zone, and can differentiate their owner. There comes a lot of responsibility when you decide to bring the turtle in their home as a pet. They can be your partner in learning cool and creative things. They were on earth million years ago, so their mental capacity is evolving day by day. One day it will be possible the turtle will do the same tasks as the furry companions do today.

Instinctual Smartness

Natural instincts help the turtle to protect themselves from predators and find food and shelter. Natural instincts do not come in genes frequently in all the species. These instincts are a lot different in different species.

For turtles, they have natural instincts similar to birds. Aquatic turtles tend to migrate thousands of miles away in case of unfavourable environmental conditions. Moreover, in case of shortage of food and potential mate, they move and are not reluctant to travel miles away from their origin.

You will be surprised to know that the turtles tend to leave a mark on the spot they are born. It is kind of marking it as a safe zone where they can get shelter in case of danger. They think it of place where the survival rate is maximum. So, even if the turtle has travelled miles from the original spot, they return to a safe zone without mistake.

There are also other incredible natural instincts which indicate the intelligence of the turtle. Sea turtles have the sense that their predators are not present in the night time, so they come out and move to sea only at night. All this is done to increase the survival rate of the specie.


You know you can train your turtle! Moreover, it is not difficult at all. You do not need any unique method or gadgets for it. Just like other pets, positive reinforcement is the best way to train a turtle. You can motivate him with the food he enjoys. It is the same as for dogs and cats. However, you have to accept the fact that mammals have much higher intelligence level and tend to learn things much quicker than turtles.

You can make them recognize you. Just make yourself appear as a food source, so it will be transcribed in turtle’s memory with a bit of proper training. So, you will enjoy seeing your turtle getting berserk at your sight. It is one of the most enjoyable moments. The way turtle is responding you is actually asking for you.

Let me highlight one of the exciting facts about the turtles. Turtles are famous as food beggers. They will ask for food even when you have just fed them. So, they will cherish you a lot as their food source. Do not provide them with a lot even if they ask repeatedly. It is for their good, remember.

Pet turtles get very smart while living with their human fellows. One of the most exciting things is that they never run away from medical check-ups. They voluntarily participate in blood withdrawal for tests, nail clipping and moving freely into the crate when you need to transport them.

Some turtles of the most intelligent kinds also respond to their name. Moreover, if you are regular with their food timings and train them to eat at a specific time, they learn that too. When it is time, they start to ask for the food and getting prepared to have it!

Solving Problems

Turtles have good behavioural, observational and memory instincts. So, when it comes to problem-solving, they behave like all the other pets. Turtles learn a lot through try and error method whenever they face anything. It is like the learn from mistakes, store in their memory and avoid such behaviour in future. Moreover, when they are in a difficult situation, they not repeatedly try the same move. Turtles try to experiment with new solutions every time to get out of the difficulty.

Should I show you an exciting way to play with your pet? Arrange a maze for him! You will be surprised to see that at first, it will be difficult for him. However, with time he will learn where the hurdle is and never move to that again. Even after a few tries, he will successfully start coming out of it quickly without any hindrance!


Turtles are usually thought to be one of the dumbest creatures. However, it is a bit harsh to call your little turtle so. Now you know these are intelligent in their own way. Their primary focus is on survival. Obviously, turtles cannot cuddle and play with you like a dog or cat, but they are a lot more interesting. Every day you will discover new behaviours and unusual details about your pet. And when they start recognizing you as their owner and get excited when you come, there is nothing happier than that. So, do not compare your turtle with other pets. They are exceptional in their way. So, understand them and treat them accordingly.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top