It can often be hard to tell if a turtle is dead, asleep or hibernating/brumating. In this article, you will find information on how you can tell – for sure – if a turtle is dead.
What are the signs of a dead turtle? This is how to tell if your turtle is dead: by checking its skin and shell appearance, its odor, temperature, breathing and response to stimulation. Stiff limp legs, floating in water and the presence of maggots and flies may also indicate a dead turtle.
How Do Turtles Die?
A good place to start a discussion on how to tell if your turtle is dead is by understanding how turtles die.
So, indeed, how does a turtle die? Or to be more precise, how do turtles usually die?
When turtles die, their bodily processes stop. So their brains stop functioning, their hearts stop beating, blood stops circulating in their bodies completely… and so on.
Therefore what defines death is the complete stoppage – rather than slow down – of bodily processes.
In hibernation/brumation, the turtle’s bodily processes slow down. But in death, the turtle’s bodily processes stop altogether, completely and permanently.
So that is the key turtle hibernation or dead difference.
Death in a turtle may be as a result of disease, old age, drowning, poor habitat and even dehydration. So the cause of death turtle suffers is likely to be one of these.
And if you have been having the why did my turtle die question, then you need to consider one of those possible causes of death.
So that is what causes turtles to die. And if you are in the “my turtle died and I don’t know why” dilemma, you need to understand that the underlying cause is likely to be one of the above.
In all cases, actual death in a turtle entails the complete stoppage of all bodily processes. So a dead turtle is one in which all bodily processes have stopped completely and permanently.
This applies for both turtles that die young and those that die old.
Therefore, for instance, if you have been having the how do baby turtles die question, the answer is along the lines above.
When A Turtle Dies What Happens?
In trying to understand how to tell if your turtle is dead, it is also important for us to have insight on what happens when a turtle dies.
There are several things that happen when a turtle dies.
At the point of death, the turtle’s bodily processes stop completely. So the turtle’s brain stops functioning. Its heart (eventually) stops beating, completely. Therefore blood stops flowing in the turtle’s body completely….
And the turtle stops breathing, completely.
In some cases, the turtle’s health will have been deteriorating gradually, before death. But if the turtle died suddenly, there may not have been these telltale signs.
All in all, that – complete stoppage of bodily functions – is what marks the actual death.
After death, the turtle will become very cold. Even in hibernation, a turtle is usually rather cold. But in death, it becomes even colder. It becomes as cold as any inanimate object – which is in fact what it is from that point.
The lifeless turtle’s limbs eventually become stiff. Its skin sinks, and eventually starts rotting. The turtle’s shell too starts rotting at some point, though it doesn’t actually decompose fully.
So the turtle emits a foul odor.
It then starts attracting maggots and flies, in due course.
If you put it in water, it floats (which answers the do dead turtles float and the do turtles float when they die questions).
So, in a nutshell, that is what happens when a turtle dies.
One may ask: what happens if tortoise dies in home (seeing that most people consider turtles to be tortoises)? And the answer is that the turtle/tortoise starts rotting, and may eventually start emitting a foul odor, attracting flies and maggots.
Do Turtles Die With Their Eyes Open?
In tackling the question on how to tell if your turtle is dead, we also need to understand whether turtles die with their eyes open or closed.
The true position is that some turtles die with their eyes open. Others close their eyes before death. Therefore, whether eyes are open or not may not be useful in telling us whether a turtle is alive or not.
You may have a turtle not moving eyes closed, yet it is still alive.
But if I had a situation where my turtle is not responding to light (in spite of its eyes being open), and it has several other turtle death signs, I would indeed start asking myself: is my turtle dead?
Does A Turtle’s Heart Beat After It Dies?
This question, on whether a turtle’s heart beats after it dies, is another key pillar in our exploration of the main question on how to tell if your turtle is dead.
The true position is that a turtle’s heart may continue beating for a while after it dies. But it eventually stops.
So if you have a tool with which you can reliably check the heart-beat, this can be one of the less reliable ways in terms of how to tell if turtle is dead.
Therefore in figuring out how to know if a turtle is dead, the heartbeat can be a somewhat useful – if unreliable – indicator.
Remember, while in hibernation, turtle’s heartbeats slow down greatly: sometimes to the level of one beat per minute!
So if you want to know, is my turtle dead or asleep through the use of the heartbeat, you need a tool that is capable of detecting even the faintest heart beats.
And you need to be patient enough, to detect even one heart beat per minute.
What Happens To Turtle Shells When They Die?
While answering the question on how to tell if your turtle is dead, the question of what happens to the turtle’s shell when it dies may arise.
Now whereas the rest of the turtle’s body decomposes fairly fast upon death, the turtle remains more or less intact. There may be some rotting in the initial days, but the shell doesn’t decompose easily.
It can take as many as 50 years for it to fully decompose.
You can therefore opt to preserve the shell in your dear turtle’s memory.
How Do You Know When A Turtle Is Dying?
In many cases, before the question on how to tell if your turtle is dead comes this one: on what are the signs of a dying turtle?
More specifically, someone may ask: how do I know if my turtle is dying? Or is my turtle dying – what are the signs?
And the answer is that there are several ways in which you can tell when a turtle is dying.
For instance, a turtle that is dying may tend to swim in a sideways fashion consistently. Moreover, a turtle that is dying may be lethargic and lacking appetite.
Unhealthy skin appearance is another sign of a dying turtle, as is shell rot.
A dying turtle may also have mouth discharge.
How Do Turtles Look When They Die?
While trying to establish how to tell if your turtle is dead, we also need to have insight on how turtles look like when they die.
When turtles die, their eyes sink. Their skins shrivel and sink. And their legs become stiff and limp.
So that is how to know if your turtle is dead, with regard to visual cues.
In turtles that are alive, the eyes bulge somewhat. But in lifeless turtles, the eyes are sunken.
In turtles that are alive, the skins are taut. But in lifeless turtles, the skins are sunken and shriveled at the same time.
Further, in turtles that are alive, the legs are straight and tight (due to muscle action). But in lifeless turtles, the legs are limp and stiff.
Of course, on top of these, you will see that a lifeless turtle tends to float on water. And it tends to attract flies and maggots. All these are things you can see with your own eyes…
This therefore also answers the what does a dead turtle look like question.
Nonetheless, regarding how to tell if a turtle is dead, appearances alone may not be enough.
After all, we often come across the question: why does my turtle look dead, yet it is still alive. This means that a turtle can be alive, yet, going by appearances alone, have the look of a dead one.
How To Tell If Your Turtle Is Dead?
In practical terms, how to tell if your turtle is dead, sleeping or hibernating can be rather challenging.
So, indeed, how do you know if your turtle is dead for sure?
One way to tell for sure if your turtle is dead is by checking its response to stimulation. A dead turtle doesn’t respond to stimulation at all.
Even if you try to pull its limbs, it doesn’t respond. And even if you poke its cloaca, it doesn’t respond.
A hibernating turtle may respond slowly to stimulation. But it does respond all the same. A truly dead turtle though doesn’t respond at all. So this is one of the surest dead turtle signs.
Another way to tell for sure if your turtle is dead is by checking its odor. If a turtle is emitting a foul odor, it could be dead.
While shell rot is common even in alive (but dying) turtles, it usually never gets to the point of leading to a foul odor. So if there is rot in the turtle to the extent of it emitting a foul odor, it could be dead.
Because of the foul odor, a dead turtle will soon attract flies and maggots.
If you put a dead turtle in water, it will float. To be sure, even a turtle that is alive can still float in water. But one that is dead floats in a lifeless manner.
The floating is due to accumulation of foul gases – the very same ones that cause bad odor. But this often takes some time.
So you may have a turtle whose death was just a short while along, and which doesn’t float in spite of it being dead.
Limp/stiff legs, complete inability to breathe and shriveled skin appearance are other dead turtle signs.
How Do You Know If A turtle is Dead Or Hibernating?
How to tell if your turtle is dead or hibernating can be very tricky. But there are several useful things you can check.
So, how do you know if a turtle is hibernating or dead?
Basically, a truly dead turtle is one whose bodily processes have completely and permanently shut down.
On the other hand, a hibernating turtle is one whose bodily processes have only become slow, typically due to wintry conditions.
In practical terms, how to tell if your turtle is hibernating or dead entails a very careful examination of the turtle.
If it is still breathing (however slowly), it is alive – maybe hibernating, but not truly lifeless. You can check its breathing by placing a feathery object in front of its nose, and waiting to see if the turtle blows on the feather even once.
If it is emitting a foul odor, it is probably truly lifeless. A hibernating turtle will usually not emit a foul odor.
But the most reliable way to tell if a turtle is truly lifeless or hibernating is by poking it. For instance, if you poke the legs of a hibernating turtle, it will try to draw them into its shell.
But if you poke the legs of a truly lifeless turtle, it will of course not do anything about it.
And if you poke a hibernating turtle’s cloaca, it will respond by making some movement – however slight. But if you poke the cloaca of a truly lifeless turtle, it will do nothing about it.
So if you want to know how to tell if your baby turtle is dead or hibernating, those are the methods you can use.
How Do I Know If My Turtle Is Hibernating (And Not Dead)?
A hibernating turtle responds to stimuli like leg and cloaca poking – however slowly and however slightly.
Further, a hibernating turtle has some breathing – however slow.
At another level, a hibernating turtle doesn’t usually smell, and won’t have flies and/or maggots on it.
If you immerse a hibernating turtle in water, it won’t float in a lifeless manner.
And a hibernating turtle’s skin is usually somewhat taut, not sunk.
How To Tell If Your Box Turtle Is Dead?
A box turtle is a land turtle.
Most of what we said, with regard to how to tell if your turtle is dead also applies specifically to the box turtle.
A truly lifeless box turtle will not respond at all to stimuli. That includes even the strongest cloacal poking stimuli.
Further, a truly lifeless box turtle will have limp, stiff legs.
At yet another level, a truly lifeless box turtle will not be breathing at all, and may have no detectable heartbeat at all.
That is not all: a dead box turtle will have shell and skin rotting (but this depends on how long it has been dead).
So if you take a dead turtle shot with a camera, and you compare it with live turtle photos, you will notice that the skin and shell appearance in the dead turtle shot look very different.
Moreover, on account of the rotting, the box turtle will be emitting a foul odor.
The skin of the box turtle that is truly lifeless will be sunken and shriveled, and its eyes will also be sunken.
So those are some of the ways in which you can tell for sure if your box turtle is truly dead or just asleep.
How To Tell If A Painted Box Turtle Is Dead?
You can use your senses of sight, smell and touch to tell if a painted turtle is dead.
Using your sense of sight, you will see that the turtle’s skin is shriveled and sunken. You will also see that its legs are limp. And you may notice flies and maggots on it.
Using your sense of smell, you may find a foul odor coming out of the lifeless turtle.
And using your sense of touch, you will notice that the dead painted turtle is exceptionally cold. Further, using your sense of touch, if you poke the lifeless turtle on its legs or cloaca, you will notice that it doesn’t respond at all.
And when you place a feathery item before its nose, it won’t blow even in the slightest manner: meaning that it completely won’t be breathing.
How Do You Know If A Red Eared Slider Is Dead?
Much of what we said, in the context of how to tell if your turtle is dead (at a general level) also applies to the red eared slider.
For one, a dead red eared slider won’t respond to any sensual stimulation. If you pull its legs or poke its cloaca, it won’t make any movement.
Further, a dead red ear slider turtle will have a sunken skin, as well as sunken eyes.
It will also tend to float in water in a lifeless manner – like a ball (if it has been lifeless for long enough).
The turtle may also have a foul odor, and its skin as well as its shell may be rotting.
Of course, the turtle won’t be breathing – even slightly.
Then you can know, for sure, that the red ear slider is truly dead.
How Do You Know If A Snapping Turtle Is Dead?
A dead snapping turtle will also usually have sunken eyes and sunken skin. It won’t respond to any stimulation even in the slightest manner. And it won’t be breathing.
Upon placing it in water, it will tend to float in a lifeless way, like a ball.
And if it has been lifeless for long enough, it will have skin and shell rotting, complete with a foul odor.
Therefore, as you can see, what we said with regard to how to tell if your turtle is dead fully applies to the snapping turtle.
How Do You Know If A Sea Turtle Is Dead?
A dead sea turtle (for instance, a dead leatherback turtle) will usually be completely immobile. Even if you poke its legs or its cloaca, it won’t make even the slightest movement.
Further, if you find a dead sea turtle on beach, its skin and shell is likely to be rotting. There may be flies and maggots on it. And it may be giving out a foul odor.
If you put it back in the sea, it will float in a lifeless manner.
And if you check its nostrils, you will notice that it is not breathing at all. A detectable heartbeat may also be missing in it.
What we said, regarding how to tell if your turtle is dead doesn’t apply to land/pet turtles alone.
Rather, what we said, with regard to how to tell if your turtle is dead also applies to sea turtles, as is clear above.
How To Tell If Your Pet Turtle Is Dead
A dead pet turtle can be rather hard to differentiate from a hibernating pet turtle.
The key thing you can do is poke the pet turtle in question on its legs and in its cloaca. If it responds, however slightly, it is still alive. But if it doesn’t respond to this sort of stimuli, it may be dead.
Other signs of a truly lifeless pet turtle include stiff limp legs, complete absence of breathing, rotting skin and shell and foul odor.
If you put the dead turtle in tank, and it floats in a lifeless manner, it is probably truly dead. A turtle that is alive can still float. But it floats in a lively – rather than lifeless – manner.
The pet turtle will also tend to be abnormally cold (like an inanimate object).
These signs apply – both for a dead adult turtle and a dead baby turtle.
So if you have been having the question on how do I know if my turtle is dead question, that is the answer.
Can You Save A Dead Turtle?
Often, alongside the question on how to tell if your turtle is dead comes this one – on whether you can save a dead turtle.
This, in other words, is a question on how to revive a dead turtle (if at all that is doable).
The truth of the matter is like this: if the turtle is truly dead, you really can’t save it. This is to say that you can’t bring it back to life.
So, if you were really attached to it, you may need to start thinking of how to preserve a dead turtle. But bringing the turtle back to life is out of question.
However, if the turtle is just hibernating, you can easily bring it ‘back to life’ by increasing the temperature in its surroundings gradually.
Or if it is a very sick turtle that is almost dying, but still alive, you may save it through urgent veterinary interventions.
What Does It Mean When A Turtle Dies?
Another question that often comes up, alongside the one on how to tell if your turtle is dead is this one – on dead turtle meaning.
In practical terms, it may mean that the turtle was ill. Or it may mean that the turtle was living in improper conditions. It may also mean that the turtle was not getting proper food or hydration.
Further still, it could mean that the turtle was simply too old. Or that its day to exit simply came to pass.
In terms of dead turtle spiritual meaning, we may need to look at, say, the area of tortoise death astrology.
That is where, for instance, we find that according to Hindu astrology, if a turtle dies in your house, it is a sign of bad Karma.
So, as per Hindu astrology, keeping a turtle in your house is a good omen symbol. But if the turtle dies in your house, it is a sign of bad karma!
Therefore if you were wondering, is it bad luck if a turtle dies in your house, now you know the answer. According to Hindu astrology at least, it is a sign of bad karma.
On the other hand, in other traditions, dreaming of a dead turtle may mean that you need to open up a bit more in certain areas of your life.
What To Do With A Dead Turtle?
This is yet another question that often comes up after the one on how to tell if your turtle is dead. So basically, you have someone asking, my turtle died what should I do?
Or what do I do with my dead turtle?
So, indeed, what do you do with a dead turtle?
What to do with a dead turtle depends on what it meant to you.
If it was an important part of your life, you may need to give it a huge sendoff. Therefore in this case, you would need to learn how to bury a dead turtle in an honorable way.
You could also do a simple burial for the turtle: where you just dig a deep enough hole, and place the turtle there for posterity. Or take it to a pet cemetery.
When it comes to how to dispose of a dead turtle, besides burial, there may also be the cremation option.
If the turtle was very dear to you, you may bury or cremate its body, but preserve the shell (which doesn’t decompose easily).
In that case, you will first have to figure out how to get a dead turtle out of its shell in an elegant way. Then you will need to figure out how to clean a dead turtle shell, before preserving it.
Thereafter, you may consider getting another turtle, to take place of the dead one. If you opt to take this route, you should first try to find out the reasons behind the previous turtle’s death.
Just identify all the possible turtle death causes in that case.
If there were mistakes on your part, contributing to the turtle’s death, identify them honestly. Then avoid them with the new turtle, in order to enhance chances of it living longer.
Final Verdict – How To Tell If Your Turtle Is Dead
Perhaps the surest way to tell if your turtle is dead is by poking it in its legs and cloaca. A turtle that is alive will at least make some movements in response to this sort of stimulation.
A truly dead turtle won’t respond at all to this sort of stimulation.
You can also check the turtle’s breathing (however slow). And you can put the turtle in water, to see if it floats in a lifeless manner.
Other dead turtle signs include sunken skin and eyes, skin and shell rotting, foul odor and presence of maggots and flies on the turtle.
It is important to avoid mistaking a hibernating turtle for a dead one.
If your turtle is truly dead, you may need to make some effort to understand the reasons behind its death. Then you may dispose of its body in a responsible and loving manner – say, through burial or cremation.