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Snapping Turtle Hiss: 3 Causes, Meaning And How To Deal With It

Snapping turtle hiss! It’s very important that you understand why snapping turtles hiss, how they make the sound, and what it means. For some species of turtles such as the red-eared sliders and box turtles, they make a hissing sound when they are retracting their heads into the shell. 

Snapping turtles on the other hand do not have a shell to which they can retract their long necks and big heads in. Rather, they have tubercles which they used to retract their necks in with some part of their heads still exposed. So, why do they make a hissing sound? 

Hissing to snapping turtles is more a thing that happens without their knowledge to show fear. Although snapping turtles do also make some hissing sounds when pulling back their necks into their tubercles, hissing sounds to them are involuntarily produced when they are frightened. 

This article seeks to address every concern you have on snapping turtles hiss, what it means, how the sound is produced, and what you should do when this happens.

Read on to learn more.

This article has been reviewed by Dr. Gospel. Read more about our knowledge control process here.

Does A Snapping Turtle Hiss?

Yes, snapping turtles do hiss. They hiss when they feel threatened or when they are scared of something. This hissing sound oftentimes is an involuntary action and does not in any way mean sickness, unless the hissing sound is accompanied by other symptoms or behaviors that are abnormal.

Why Do Snapping Turtles Hiss And What Does It Mean?

When a snapping turtle makes some hissing sounds, it’s more to tell you that it’s very frightened, and at that moment it’s best to leave the turtle alone.

Snapping turtle hiss
Snapping turtle hiss

How Do Snapping Turtles Produce A Hissing Sound?

Two things bring out a hissing sound from snapping turtles. One which is the most important, they make a hissing sound when they feel threatened or when they’re scared. 

Secondly, they make a hissing sound anytime they pull back (retract) their necks into the tubercles. When they feel threatened, the hissing sound from them is involuntarily produced rather than intentional. 

Hence, we can put it that apart from stretching out their necks to snap at predators, hissing at them is also a natural survival instinct for snapping turtles. 

Also, whenever snapping turtles retract their necks into the tubercles, there is this characteristic soft or low hissing sound that is produced. This sound comes out as a result of some air being expelled from the lungs in the process. 

Note that snapping turtles do not retract their necks/heads when faced with danger. Since they don’t have big carapace and plastron to protect them, snapping at predators with their long necks becomes their only way of self-defense. 

Moreover, it’s important to state that snapping turtles and other species of turtles don’t have vocal cords with which they make sounds. The hissing sound, therefore, is an expulsion of air from the lungs. As earlier mentioned, it’s an involuntary noise.

Is It Normal When A Snapping Turtle Hiss?

Yes, it’s normal for snapping turtles to make some hissing sounds when frightened or when they pull back their necks into their tubercles

However, you should only be worried about the hissing sound if it occurs continually over some time and it’s accompanied by other signs or behaviors that are abnormal for turtles.

What To Do If Your Snapping Turtle Hisses?

As earlier stated, when your pet snapping turtle hisses at you, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Your turtle hissing at you means that he is scared. Other things you should do include:

  • Stop touching or handling the turtle.
  • If your turtle is new, give it time to acclimate to its new environment. That could have been the cause of the hissing.
  • Increase the hiding places you provide in its tank.
  • Remove enclosure accessories if you feel the tank is over clutter.

Vet comment: It’s alright to introduce your reptile to more people, this should be done slowly. This could help reduce hissing caused by fright

Which Other Sounds Can A Snapping Turtle Make?

It’s surprising to know that snapping turtles can make different other sounds apart from hissing, although not very often. 

Snapping turtles as well as many other species of sea turtles that have shells with which they can retract their bodies in, can make different sounds such as hissing, chirping, grunting, crying, roaring, gurgling, and singing or even screaming. 

Some of these sounds we can hear and others are just not within our hearing range. Hissing in turtles is usually a response to stress and fear. Clacking or thunking their shell against hard surfaces, such as the tank wall are signs that something is wrong with their health.  Especial, Gurgling is usually a sign of respiratory infection, there’s need to see an exotic vet.

For instance, if a wild snapping turtle is scared or threatened in an open field where there are no thick bushes or tall plants to absorb the sound, its hissing sound will echo and reecho making it seem like the turtle is screaming. 

Snapping turtles are also believed to make mating noises during breeding or perceived breeding with another species or inanimate objects. 

In a nutshell, if you notice your turtle making any other sound that sounds strange to you, we strongly advise you to make an appointment with your local reptile veterinarian and have him examined.

A frightened snapping turtle scream in the wild [source: Joshua Martin]

Wrapping Up

As confusing as it may sound, snapping turtles do not have a vocal box. Hence, they cannot vocalize or communicate anything to their keepers. It is possible for your snapping turtle to hiss at you when you approach its tank to feed it or clean it. 

However, as discussed in this article, this hissing sound is an involuntary result of your turtle expressing its fear or trying to retreat into its shell. 

Therefore, the best you can do in such moments is to stop touching or handling your pet to avoid bite issues. 

Also, as a good keeper, pay close attention to your snapping turtle’s behavior so as to tell when he’s acting abnormally or weird. Should you observe that something is wrong with its health, do not hesitate to visit your vet.

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