Can A Turtle Flip Itself Over?

Can A Turtle Flip Itself Over?

Turtles have a hard shell covering their bodies, which protects them from their enemies. They have strong and stiff muscles. Though turtles are good swimmers, can they flip themselves?

Most of the turtle species can flip themselves up easily. However, the process might be more or less difficult for different species and sizes of the turtle. Turtles are more flexible in water than on land, so it is easier for them to flip underwater. 

Should I help an upside-down turtle? Have you seen a turtle lying on its back? Some people might find a reversed turtle to be a funny sight. But it’s not for the turtle. In fact, it’s a matter of life and death for them. When turtles flip upside down, they start panicking. Some of them will frail around endlessly until they calm down, wasting a lot of energy. They panic because now they are prone to attacks. They become easy picking for predators. Let’s find out more about the upside-down turtle and the reasons behind it. 

Related Article: Why Does My Turtle Swim Frantically?

Why is my turtle turning upside down?

Turtle can turn upside down due to several reasons. It could be a poor tank setup or a certain illness. Sometimes turtles accidentally flip themselves upside down during mating or fighting with each other. Turtles are notorious, and they love to climb on the tank’s walls. Though they are not pro climbers, they intend to jump off the tank, which sometimes results in them being upside down on their backs.

Related Article: Can Turtles Jump?

Common reasons for turtles being upside down:

Poor tank setup

Poor tank setup could be the reason for your turtle flipping over. Turtle requires large space to swim, and keeping them in a small aquarium could result in such incidences. Turtle of different ages and species have different water requirements in their tank. For baby turtles, it is important to keep the water depth twice their length so they can flip back to normal if slipped on their back. Another reason your turtle is flipping over could be that the basking area is too steep or inclined. Keeping your turtle in a large tank with an easily accessible basking area would be an easy fix in such a situation.  


When a turtle suffers from a respiratory infection, it can be seen tilted on one side. A respiratory infection could occur due to bacteria or vitamin A deficiency. In the more advanced stage of infection, the turtle develops pneumonia symptoms, which affects internal ballast, and its buoyancy will be affected. A few common respiratory infection symptoms in turtles are nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, wheezing, extension of the neck to breathe, and open-mouth breathing or gasping.

Fighting or mating

Turtles may flip over during mating or in times of fighting with each other. During the mating season, male turtle shows aggression. To impress their female partner, male turtles often fight with other males. Sometimes accidentally and sometimes, the loser turtle can flip upside down to show their defeat. Turtle may also get flipped out of excitement when doing sex.

How do upside-down turtles turn over?

All turtle species can flip themselves back over. Some turtles are flexible enough to flip over to normal. Yet certain species like flat-shelled turtles have difficulty in flipping back. Just as other turtles can flip turtles over during aggression or fights, they can also help them flip back to normal. They push other turtles helping them get back on their feet. 

The turtle pushes its head backwards on the ground and uses arms, neck, or both to flip itself back. The ability to turn them back depends upon the species. Small turtles can flip themselves up easily because they are not very heavy. Dome-shaped turtles can roll over like a ball. Large turtles have a hard time flipping themselves back. 

Can a turtle die from being on its back?

Turtles should not remain upside down for a very long time. Turtles are cold-blooded animals. They can’t regulate their body temperature by sweating as we mammals do. Since they can’t move around when they are upside down, they will likely die from the heat. 

The biggest threat is internal organs damage. When the turtles flip, it causes the internal organs to shift too. This might cause organ damage. Since its lungs are located at the outermost portion of its back, the shifting weight could apply pressure to the lungs making it hard for them to breathe. 

What to do if your pet turtle keeps flipping itself over?

If your turtle is prone to adventures or likes climbing onto everything in its tank, it will likely flip itself over more. To prevent this, keep the turtle in a larger tank where it can roam around freely. The water tank should be shallow so that it does not drown itself while flipping over. This behaviour could also be a sign of possible respiratory infection. Consult a vegetarian if your turtle has any sign of respiratory infection or it tilt while swimming. 

How long can a turtle be upside-down?

A turtle can be on its back for about 1-2 hours but not more than that. If the turtle is on its back for more than that, it can die of dehydration or organ failure. 

If a turtle is flipped underwater, it could be even more fatal. Turtles cannot breathe underwater. They come to the surface and fill their lungs with fresh air to live underwater. Different turtles have different capacities to hold breath underwater.

Due to their small lung size, baby turtles can only live for a few hours without coming back to the surface. If a turtle flipped upside down and cannot flip back to normal, then the possibility is quite high that it can die due to shortening of breath.


In conclusion, turtles can flip over, but it might be fatal for them. It can look funny to people, but turtles will be suffering a lot. Wrong tank setup or turtle fights could be the possible reason your turtle is upside down. A severe respiratory infection could also be a reason why your turtle is flipped on its back. Consulting a vegetarian for immediate medical help in such a condition is advisable.