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Can Turtles Flip Themselves Over? (And How Does it Happen in the First Place?)

Can Turtles Flip Themselves Over? (And How Does it Happen in the First Place?)

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The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Turtles are animals that so many people love, and there are even those who keep pet turtles. There’s something undeniably appealing about turtles, and they can be very fun companions.

These animals have been around for a very long time, but they have certain weaknesses that can make life tough for them. For instance, when turtles get flipped over on their backs, it’s somewhat difficult for them to get back up again.

Just the way that turtles are makes it physically tough for them to do much about being flipped over. Can turtles flip themselves over at all, though?

Keep reading to learn more about turtles and whether they can flip over when they fall on their backs. Some turtles might be different than others, and you can learn all about it below.

Some Turtles Can Flip Over Nicely

Turtles with a dome shaped back flip over easier

The answer to this question is really that it depends on what type of turtle you’re talking about. There are turtles out there that can flip back over and get on their feet again without it being a big hassle.

In fact, there are turtles that have shells that make it easier to flip back over when they wind up on their backs. Turtles that have dome-like shells will naturally start to roll back toward being in an upright position.

There are turtles that have enough muscles to flip over using their own power, too. For example, some turtles have very strong necks that will make it easier for them to twist and turn to get back on their feet.

So you have to understand that different turtle species will have different luck when trying to flip over. Some of them are going to have a hard time while others won’t have much of a problem getting back to an upright position so that they can go about their business.

Flat-Shelled Turtles Usually Have the Toughest Time Flipping

Turtles with a flat back don't flip over easy

Generally, flat-shelled turtles are going to have the toughest time flipping over and getting back on their feet. When a turtle has a flat shell, it’s not going to be able to rock back and forth to get back to its feet properly.

Some turtles with flat shells have muscles that allow them to get back to their feet, but not all of them do. Many turtles will be stuck in a dangerous position when they flip on their backs like this.

Many wonder why there are turtles that have flat shells since it’s such a vulnerability that makes life tough for turtles. If an accident occurs and a turtle winds up on its back, then it could be in big trouble.

You might think that evolution would help turtles to develop better abilities to flip over. This has indeed occurred with many turtle species, but there are many turtles on the planet that still have issues.

A Turtle Being on its Back Could Be Deadly

Sadly, turtles being placed on their backs could have the potential to kill them over time. Eventually, a turtle could starve to death or die due to being exposed to too much heat.

In fact, some turtles can die quicker than you might expect after being put on their backs. Young turtles might be especially vulnerable to heat, and this is something to look out for when you’re caring for turtles.

It’s also notable that turtles have died due to being flipped on their shells underwater. Turtles can’t breathe underwater, and this means that if a turtle gets stuck underwater it could drown.

This is all quite sad, and you likely want to be able to protect turtles that have been put in this unfortunate position. It’s just something that happens to many turtles in the wild, though, and it can happen for a number of reasons.

Some Turtles Fall on Their Backs During Sex

Copulation isn’t necessarily easy for turtles, and it can even be kind of dangerous. Male turtles have to mount female turtles so that they can mate, but this action is inherently risky.

You see, it’s possible that the male turtle could fall backward and wind up on its back. If this occurs, then the male could be stuck for a long time, and it could even die if it isn’t able to flip back over.

Depending on the turtle species that you’re talking about, this could be very tragic for the turtle. The simple act of mating is riskier for turtles than it is for many other species.

Many actions that turtles perform run the risk of making it easy for them to fall over. Even navigating certain types of terrain could be perilous for turtles that can’t flip over easily.


Turtles on their back have a disadvantage to predators

Many types of tortoises are going to be endangered by being on their backs. The soft underbellies of the tortoises will be exposed to predators, and this can get tortoises killed.

A predator could easily come by while the tortoise is in this state and take advantage. Many predators will see this as an opportunity for a meal, and there won’t be a lot that the tortoise can do to stop it from happening.

This is why tortoises seem so scared when they get put on their backs. It’s a terribly vulnerable position, and the tortoise likely realizes that it could easily die.

Even if a tortoise is able to flip itself over, it might take some time and effort to do so. The tortoise will be vulnerable for at least some period of time due to being on its back.

Turtles Fight Each Other

Did you know that male turtles will fight each other due to competing for females? This probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since many species will have the males fight for females like this.

What’s interesting about turtles fighting over potential mates is that some turtles will try to flip the other male turtles on their backs. If the male turtle gets put on its back, then the turtle that is still upright will be the winner.

It’s possible that the male turtle that was put on its back could die due to this exchange. However, you already know that many turtles are able to get back on their feet after some time has passed.

You might think it somewhat cruel that turtles would do this to their own kind, but it’s not much different than any other type of animal competing during mating season. Turtles cannot kill each other directly, but they can ram into each other to try to establish dominance for the sake of attracting mates.

Animal Cruelty

Disturbingly, there are people out there who do terrible things to turtles that they come across. Some people might see turtles and decide that it would be funny to place them on their backs.

There are cruel people out there who would do such things and feel amused by it. It’s definitely not amusing to the turtle, though, and the turtle could die if left in that state.

Of course, many types of turtles are good at flipping back over eventually, but that doesn’t mean that every turtle is. There are turtles out there that have died due to being placed on their backs by cruel humans.

This is definitely an act of animal cruelty, and turtles should be protected from such people. Thankfully, most people know that it’s wrong to treat turtles like that.

Helping Turtles Out

If you see a turtle on it's back help it out and turn it over

There are actually some ways that you can help turtles out if you like turtles and want them to thrive. If you ever notice that a turtle is stuck on its back, then you could carefully approach the turtle to try to help.

Turn the turtle over gently so that it will be able to get its bearings. Many people will do this when they see turtles struggling, and it definitely has the potential to save the turtle’s life.

If you ever see a turtle on the side of the road and notice that it’s stuck on its back, then stopping to help is noble. You will want to be careful how you approach the animal since some turtles can bite, and you can understand why a turtle might be wary of humans.

There are some other ways that you can help turtles out that are having a tough time. For instance, many turtles get killed trying to cross the road each year.

Many people will stop for turtles and try to help them cross the street when they see them trying to cross a road. So long as you’re careful and handle the turtle gently, it should be a good thing to get the turtle out of the road.

You want to gently pick the turtle up by grabbing its shell by the sides. Once you have a firm grip, you can carry the turtle across the road in the direction that it was trying to travel.

Helping Pet Turtles

Pet turtles can also fall on their backs and encounter problems. Many types of pet turtles are capable of moving around and getting back on their feet when they are on their backs, but you’ll still want to be careful.

Turtles could drown if they fall on their backs in a tank that has water. Some turtles might be better at getting back on their feet than others, and this means that they might run out of energy to keep trying to flip over.

If a turtle runs out of energy and can’t keep holding its neck up, then it could drown in the water that is present in the tank. Thankfully, situations like this aren’t common, and you really have to watch baby turtles much more than you do adult turtles.

You could also choose to only keep things in the turtle’s tank that will be safe for it. Some types of rocks and other structures that people place in turtle habitats can actually make it easier for turtles to wind up on their backs.

For example, a turtle could try to climb a rock that you’ve placed in the tank with it. If the turtle falls down off of the rock, then it could wind up on its back.

Many turtle owners don’t have problems with such things, but you could choose to err on the side of caution. It’s also good to check on your turtles regularly to see how they’re doing.

If you have a turtle that isn’t good at flipping itself over, then you might be able to recognize this early on. It gives you a chance to look out for it and to mitigate the likelihood that the turtle will get flipped on its back.

Final Thoughts

Knowing more about turtles and whether they can flip over or not should help you to appreciate how tough things can be for these animals. Turtles are smart and many of them are capable of flipping over to get back to their feet.

However, some turtle species will have a more difficult time than others. When a turtle flips on its back, it’s very possible that the turtle could die because of it.

Not all turtles will be able to flip back over before something bad happens to them. Some will even get killed by drowning due to being in the water when they flipped on their backs.

Turtles have to worry about predators, the elements, and so many other things when they’re in a vulnerable position. If you ever see a turtle struggling on the side of the road, then it makes sense to want to help them out and get them back on their feet.

Appreciate how unique the many different types of turtles are. Some have developed great methods for being able to get back to their feet, and you’ll even find turtles that can use their necks in interesting ways to get back into an upright position.

Hopefully, you feel like you know everything that you need to know about turtles and whether they can flip over now. Be mindful of watching out for your pet turtles so that you can avoid any major issues moving forward.

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