Why Does My Turtle Stretch His Neck?

why does my turtle stretch his neck

As per scientists, the earliest known turtle ancestors were not able to retract their necks. On the contrary, turtles can now easily retract their necks. Turtles are classified into two groups- Cryptodires and pleurodires. These turtle groups can retract their necks, but they do it differently.

The cryptodires include sea turtles, box turtles, and alligator snapping turtles. They retract their necks back into their shells by folding the muscles vertically. Pleurodires include species mostly found in South America, Australia, and Africa, for example, the snake neck turtles and matamata. They bend their muscles horizontally to pull their necks back to the side and tuck them next to their shoulder.

Now, as a turtle owner, you must be curious about why the turtles stretch their neck and what is the significance of it? Let us find out more about it in this article.

Related Article: How Long Can Turtles Stay Out Of Water?

Why does my turtle stretch their neck?

The turtles stretch their neck for basking, hunting, or just for stretching purposes. However, excessive stretching for a long period is due to respiratory infections. When the turtles have respiratory infections, they struggle to breathe and try to inhale more air by stretching their neck.

Let us understand the probable reasons for the turtle stretching its neck.

1. Basking 

Turtles bask in the sun to absorb UV rays and heat to regulate their body temperature. The turtles require UV rays from the sun, which provides them with vitamin D3. It is a very important activity in their daily life to keep themselves healthy and safe. Hence the turtle stretches its neck to increase body surface area to intake an abundant amount of UV rays. The pet turtles also stretch their neck during basking to absorb the UV rays coming from the UVB bulbs or lamps.

2. Hunting

The turtle is a very slow reptile, but their neck plays an important role in catching their prey when they are hungry. Turtles are mostly omnivorous and love to eat plants and meat. Especially when it comes to living food, they stretch their neck to catch it abruptly. Since their body is slow, the stretching of its flexible neck helps them catch the prey. Their prey includes worms, fish, crickets, etc. They completely depend on their neck while catching their prey.

3. Stretching

Like any other animal, turtles stretch their neck to complete their day-to-day activities. Turtles neck is very flexible, and they love to stretch it while eating, basking, swimming, hunting, etc. Turtles utilize their neck to the best of their ability. So next time when you see a turtle stretch its neck, you know the reason.

Why does your turtle stretch its neck all the time?

Although it’s not a cause of concern if the turtle stretches its neck, you need to pay attention to your turtle when it stretches the neck for a long period, along with some other symptoms. Sometimes, when the turtle has any respiratory illness or infection, it constantly stretches its neck to inhale more air. The turtle also has mucus in its mouth, eyes, and nose if it has a respiratory illness. 

Respiratory illness is most common in turtles, and hence you need to keep an eye when you find such symptoms in your turtle. The main cause of it can be vitamin A deficiency due to an unbalanced diet. To learn more about this infection, check out our article: Do turtles sneeze?

Why do turtles stick their head out of water?

The most probable reasons your pet turtle sticks its head out of the water are to breathe, explore the environment, or beg for food. This is a normal behavior of turtles wherein they stretch their neck to make their head visible outside the water.

Turtles being semi-aquatic, still needs oxygen to breathe. Hence, they sometimes have to stick their head out of the water to get enough air to breathe. The turtles also stick their head out to beg for food. It is a kind gesture from them to give them food when they see you coming near the tank. The turtles also stick their head out to explore the environment. They look out to see if there is any threat to them. They are explorers and love to check what is outside of the tank.

Which turtle has the longest neck?

Australian snake-necked turtle, also known as the eastern long-necked turtle, consists of the longest neck. This turtle can grow up to 11 inches, and its neck can be more than half the length of its shell. They are semi-aquatic species spending time both in the water and land. They are mostly found in swamps or wetlands.

The eastern long-necked turtle has a very fast and flexible neck. They wrap their neck sideways under the shell as they move towards their prey. When they reach closer, their neck strikes out very fast, catching their prey like a snake.

Why do turtles retract their head?

Turtles have protective shells, and they hide inside them by retracting their head and limbs. The cryptodires pull their heads straight inside the shells, whereas the pleurodires pull their heads sideways. The hard shell protects them against predators.

Nowadays, turtles have far more predators to contend with than they did millions of years ago, so the head retraction tactics probably evolved to become defensive over time.

Why can sea turtles not retract their head into their shells?

Sea turtles cannot retract their head into their shells because they have smaller and flatter shells. But the advantage of this shell is that it can move very fast and quickly inside the water, which most land turtles cannot.

So, sea turtles may not be the most equipped to defend themselves from the threats and predators as other turtles, but they have evolved to be speedy to make up for it. However, even if the sea turtles have the advantage of not hiding in their shells, it does not mean there are no dangers involved.

The sea turtles are more vulnerable to predators because they cannot retract their heads, shells, neck, and limbs into their bodies when they are scared. Also, not retracting their limbs makes the sea turtles more susceptible to becoming entangled in marine debris or fishing nets.


Turtle stretch their neck for basking, hunting, or just stretching purpose like any other animal. However, extensive stretching and other symptoms for a long period can be a cause of concern because it can be due to respiratory illness or infection. In that case, the turtle keeps stretching its neck to inhale more air as it finds it difficult to breathe. The other symptoms include mucus in the eyes, mouth, and nose. Turtles often stick their head out of the water, stretching their neck to breathe, beg for food or explore the environment. Turtles retract their head to hide from predators. However, sea turtles cannot retract their heads due to their smaller and flatter shells.