Are Turtles Smart Or Dumb?

are turtles smart

Turtles are the most humble pet one can have. These little creatures are shy and solitary. Turtles may not be the smartest pet, but they are not dumb too. Studies show they have natural instincts that help them survive in the wild. 

For humans, we measure intelligence by conducting IQ tests. However, there is no such way to evaluate the IQ of the turtle. Thankfully researchers have performed some studies, and they have found interesting facts about turtle’s intelligence. 

This article will discuss if turtles are smart or dumb? We will see what researchers have to say about turtles and their brains.

Related Article: Do Turtles Have Tails?

How smart are turtles?

A Turtle’s brain can be compared with a bird’s brain. However, turtle’s brains don’t have enlarged cerebral hemispheres like birds or other mammals. The cerebral hemisphere is responsible for reasoning and learning ability. Since turtles lack enlarged cerebral hemispheres, they do not share the intelligence like a warm-blooded animals. 

Though turtles are not as smart as mammals, they do have learning and problem-solving abilities. Some species of turtles have a better brain to bodyweight ratio. The wood turtle is one such species. These turtles show a better IQ than other types of turtles. Researchers found that wood turtles can solve maze problems as quickly as a rat with a controlled environment and food rewards. This is evident enough to conclude that turtles can be good learners.

Turtles show both instinctual and learned intelligence. Instinctual intelligence contributes to their ability to survive in the wild, and it protects them from predators. Though instinctual intelligence differs from species to species, it does help them survive. Sea turtles return to sea at night as they know that they will be safe there from predators.  

Can you train turtles? 

Yes, you can train turtles as they can learn things. Turtles have brains and show learned intelligence. With proper training, it is very much possible to teach your turtle to do certain things. Turtles don’t have enlarged cerebrum hemispheres, which is why they can not learn like dogs or cats. However, they can be trained by repeated exercises and experience. 

Turtles with some training can respond when calling their name. These little creatures relate to their owner with the food. You can use food for their reward every time they do a certain thing. 

If given food every day at a fixed time, pet turtles will learn when it is the time for their food. Turtles follow a routine for sleeping and waking up as per their internal clock cycle. This way, they keep themselves healthy and stress-free.  

Turtles with proper training can recognize their owner. They come to you when you go to their tank and show their excitement for food. Keep feeding them in small chunks so they can feel motivated to learn. Remember, turtles can only learn by experience, so keep repeating things until they get used to it. 

Can turtles learn their name?

Though turtles are not as smart as dogs or cats, they still are smart enough to react when you call their name. Turtles only care about their survival. When you train them with food rewards, they start responding to your voice. I have personally seen turtles responding to their names. However, they can’t hold their memory for long, and you need to keep calling by their names; otherwise, they will forget it. 

Can a turtle recognize you?

Yes, turtles can recognize their owner. They can remember things for a very short period. That means if you stop seeing your turtles, the chances are that they might forget you. Turtles relate food with their owner, which is the best way to develop a bond with your turtle. 

Turtles can also feel and recognize your touch. Some species of turtle-like box-turtles show a better learning tendency over other types of turtle. 

How good is a turtle’s memory?  

Turtles are smart, and they show signs of good memory too. The turtles can remember things that are associated with their benefits. They have a habit of selfishness, I know it is harsh for you, but it’s true. Turtles don’t have enlarged cerebral hemispheres, making it difficult to remember as like dogs or cats. However, turtles can learn things by experience. With proper training, the turtle can easily identify and respond to its owner’s voice. They also show familiarity to your touch once trained.

Do They Have Feelings?

Turtles do have feelings. Though it is not very complex like mammals, it does help them feel various emotions. Turtles have survival instincts. They hide in the shell if they feel danger. Turtles feel frustrated if they don’t find food for a long time. Turtles feel loved and pampered if rubbed gently over their head or shell. Turtles can not show anger, but they do fight with each other for mating and food. 

Turtles have nerves attached to their shell. These nerves enable them to feel when someone touches their shell. Similarly, these nerve endings will trigger extreme pain if their shells get broken. 

Related Article: Can Turtles & Tortoises Feel Their Shell?

Do turtles feel the love?

Turtles like to live alone mostly. They are intelligent animals, but they are not very affectionate. Turtles don’t like to be held, cuddled, or picked up. They do like gentle rubs on their shell and head, but you have to win their trust to do so.

They are intelligent enough to identify their owner by their voice and touch. This is because they associate them with food. However, with strangers, they behave differently and hide in their shells. 

Turtles are not very social. They don’t like other turtles around them. The only time when you find them in a group is during mating season. 

Can turtles understand Human Language?

Turtles don’t understand human language. However, they can identify different voice tones and also can recognize their owner. Turtles show an inability to hear high-frequency sounds. Their hearing frequency limit is from 250 Hz to 500 Hz only.  

Related Article: Can Turtles Hear?

Are box turtles intelligent?

Box turtles are more intelligent as compared to aquatic turtles. In research conducted on wood turtles, scientists found that with food rewards, these turtles could solve maze puzzles as quickly as a laboratory rat. Box turtles have a better brain to body ratio, meaning they show better intelligence.  

In a study conducted on turtles where glass is placed over a hole, turtles are placed at the edge of the glass. Reptiles like lizards walk through the glass without worrying about the cliff; however, wood turtles avoid moving on the glass. Researchers concluded that box turtles have a better spatial sense as compared to other reptiles and sea turtles. 


Turtles are not stupid; rather, they are smart creatures. Turtles show both instinctual and learned intelligence. Turtles don’t have very long memories. This means they may find it difficult to recognize you if you have stopped seeing the turtle. Training a turtle is more or less similar to training a cat or dog. Giving them food rewards for completing tasks is the best way you can train them.