8 Reasons Why A Turtle Is Upside Down

  • By: Reptilia Planet
  • Time to read: 8 min.

If you’ve been around a lot of turtles then there’s a good chance you’ve seen one upside down at some point. Although this can be very strange there are in fact a number of reasons why a turtle might be on its back all of which we will explore below.

A turtle’s shell is its most important body part. They use it to protect themselves from predators when they are on land or in water. It’s also the main thing that helps turtles swim giving them buoyancy.

But what does it mean when you see a turtle upside down? Well here are 8 reasons why a turtle might flip onto its back! So let’s get started…

 1. Respiratory Issues

If you see a turtle upside down they could have issues with their respiratory system. Usually, this means that they have a respiratory infection or are suffering from some kind of respiratory disease.

Respiratory infections can be very serious and, if left untreated, can lead to death. So if you see your turtle with any of these signs below take it to a vet immediately!

Signs Of Respiratory Issues In Turtles:

  • Excess Mucus In Their Mouth
  • Open-Mouth Breathing
  • Gasping For Air
  • Loss Of Appetite
  • Nasal Discharge

Respiratory diseases are usually viral in nature meaning antibiotics won’t work but there are treatments available depending on the severity of the case.

In turtles, most respiratory infections are caused by bacteria and are often secondary to vitamin A deficiency!


If left untreated however these conditions could lead to pneumonia and death! So always consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible for your turtle’s sake.

2. Their Environment

If you’ve just changed your turtle’s environment and they are not used to it yet then they can end up on their back by accident. This is because maybe the turtle was climbing a small rock or tree log and fell off.

In cases like this, all you need to do is provide your turtle with a more comfortable environment until it gets used to its new surroundings.

Turtles are naturally curious creatures and like to explore their surroundings. But, at the same time, they are also clumsy reptiles!

So, if you have just brought home a new turtle, make sure there are no high places where they can climb and fall off.

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3. The Turtle Is Old

Some turtles can live for a long time and as they age their muscles tend to weaken. This can sometimes lead to them flipping onto their back unintentionally.

If you’ve had your turtle for a long time it could be because they are old.

If this is the case with your pet then take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible so they can treat any issues that might arise from their age.

As turtles get older they become more susceptible to respiratory infections which can cause further health problems!

4. Strong Ocean Currents

Another reason turtles can end up on their back is because of strong currents or waves. When turtles are in the water they use their legs and flippers to propel themselves through the currents.

If a turtle ends up pushed against something like rocks or coral, it can get stuck leading to them flipping onto their back unintentionally!

Strong currents and waves can also knock over young turtles meaning if you see your turtle upside down on the beach and it’s ok then this is the reason why.

In this case, if you do see a turtle upside down on the beach then gently push them back over and lead it back to the ocean if possible!

5. Fighting With Other animals

If you have multiple turtles in one tank and they are fighting then this can lead to them getting stuck on their back. This is because when turtles fight they will use their shells as a form of protection.

If your turtles are fighting, try to separate them and give them each their own tank. This will help reduce the chances of them getting stuck on their back again.

Fighting between turtles can also lead to serious injuries including shell fractures!

They can get very aggressive with each other and will sometimes bite each other’s legs and head and when the turtle tries to avoid this sometimes they can end up on their back.

turtle upside down

6. Unhealthy Turtle Shell

If a turtle’s shell is unhealthy then it will be more prone to flipping onto its back. This can be due to a number of reasons such as:

  • Bacterial Infection
  • Fungal Infection
  • Parasites
  • Broken Shell

All of these issues can make it difficult for the turtle to stay upright and can lead to them flipping over on their back unintentionally.

In most cases, an unhealthy shell is a sign that the turtle isn’t healthy and needs veterinary attention. So if you notice any changes in your turtle’s shell, take it to the vet immediately!

7. They Are Injuried

If the turtle is injured then this could be why it’s on its back. Sometimes when turtles fight they can injure each other which leads to them getting stuck on their back.

Injuries are very common between turtles and should always be taken seriously by owners because without treatment injuries can become fatal.

So keep an eye out for anything unusual about your turtle’s behavior.

When a shell injury occurs, there might also be internal damage too! So get checked over before putting the reptile back into the water after an injury has occurred.

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8. Turtle Has Passed Away

The last and most heartbreaking reason a turtle might be upside down is that it has passed away. This can be due to old age, an illness or even being attacked by another animal.

When a turtle passes away, it will often be found on its back. If you find your turtle like this then make sure to give them a proper burial or give it to your local vet so they can dispense it properly.

So these are the eight reasons why a turtle might be upside down. If you have any more questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact your local veterinarian!

Should You Help A Turtle Upside Down?

Many people think that when a turtle is turned upside down, it will right itself and return to an upright position and although this is true. This is not always the case.

Turtles can stay upside down for extended periods of time if they are comfortable in that position.

However, as before, you should always approach a turtle with caution and check for any visible injuries. If the turtle doesn’t appear to be injured and is just upside down then there are a few things you can do:

  1. Use A Small Shovel Or Spade
  2. Use Your Hands (Recommended)

If you don’t want to use your hand you can try and use a small shovel or spade to flip the turtle over. A much quicker way would be to use your hands and gently flip them over.

However, you should ensure that the turtle’s head is facing away from your hand! This will prevent any injuries. If you’re using this method, be careful not to get too close as they might snap at your fingers with their sharp claws.

How Do They Unflip Themselves?

If a turtle is upside down, there are lots of different reasons why this might be as mentioned above. However, some turtles can correct themselves and flip back into their natural position.

For those who can’t do it themselves of course they will need to help them out as stated above.

If you’ve never seen this before then check out this video below showing you exactly how a turtle is able to get back on its feet. See what think!

How Long Can A Turtle Survive Upside Down?

This is a question that doesn’t have a definitive answer as it depends on the individual turtle and the circumstances they are in. In general, however, most turtles can only survive upside down for a few hours before they run out of energy and die.

If you see your turtle in this state, try to turn them over and get them back into the water as soon as possible. If you’re unable to turn your turtle back over then try and get the attention of a wildlife rescue center.

If you’re unable to turn your turtle back over then try and get the attention of a wildlife rescue center. They might be able to help you!

Remember – always approach a turtle carefully to ensure there are no injuries before turning it back over.

Can A Turtle Breath Upside Down?

Turtles can breathe upside down, but it is not an ideal situation for them. When a turtle is inverted, the blood flow slows and pools in the head and extremities.

This can lead to a number of problems such as gill clogging, infection, and even death.

If you find your turtle inverted, try to turn them back over into a more natural position as soon as possible. If they are unable to right themselves, get help from a wildlife rescue center.

Remember not to touch the turtle’s shell if it is injured – this could cause further damage!

Can A Turtle Sleep Upside Down?

Similar to the question above, there is no definitive answer to this as it depends on the individual turtle.

In general, however, most turtles sleep in a curled-up position and therefore would not be able to get into a comfortable enough sleep if they were upside down.

Not only that, but, staying upside down for long periods of time can cause a number of problems for the turtle so it’s very unlikely they would sleep in this position.

Can They Eat In This Position?

No, a turtle cannot eat upside down. Trying to eat upside down will be extremely difficult for the turtle and not to mention it’s not natural to do so!

If they were to try it the turtle could chock on the food which could also lead to their death.

However, it’s very rare to see this and if you were to give your reptile some food while they are upside down the turtle will always try to correct themselves before trying to eat.

What If You See A Turtle Upside Down In Water?

If you see a turtle upside down in the water and it is not injured, then there’s no need to worry. The turtle is most likely just resting and will swim away when it’s ready.

Another reason why it might be upside down in the water is if it is a hatchling. Hatchlings often rest in the water upside down as they are still getting used to their surroundings.

Of course, another reason would be because they are injured and cannot right themselves – in this case, you should approach with caution and see if you can help!

To start it’s best to lift it out of the water and put them on dry land and then give them some space if the turtle isn’t moving then call a vet! However, if they are happily moving along then there’s nothing to worry about.


So these are the eight reasons why a turtle might be upside down. If you have a turtle that ends upside most of the time, contact your veterinarian.

They will be able to help you determine the best course of action for your pet!

If you want to know more about turtles or any other reptiles for that matter don’t forget to check out our other articles where you can find all the information and tips about your favorite reptiles!

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