How Long Can a Tortoise Hold Its Breath

How Long Can a Tortoise Hold Its Breath?

Aquatic turtles are a group of animals that have evolved to take advantage of the water in their habitat. One thing they’ve learned how to do well holds their breaths underwater for extended periods! Some can go 30 minutes without coming up, while others spend months on end submerged down below-completely untouched by any air bubbles or surface contact with oxygen. 

IMPORTANT: The word tortoise is used as a catch-all term for a shelled reptile. However, a turtle is a reptile that can generally swim and hold its breath underwater and a tortoise can not swim

The average length of time that a tortoise can hold its breath underwater is 30 minutes. However, some turtles can stay underwater throughout the winter period without having to surface for air. It is also important to note that tortoises do not swim and turtles do.

Take a look at some examples here and see which species have the best breath-holding abilities:


Hermann's Tortoise
Hermann’s Tortoise

While there are many similarities to their shelly cousins the turtle there is one big difference they can not swim. However, that does not mean that they can not hold their breath like a turtle. A tortoise is believed to have the ability to hold its breath underwater for up to 24 hours. 

But without the ability to swim like a turtle they would eventually drown. There are no real studies done on tortoises as they have no swimming ability it would be cruel to test out. The findings come from tortoises having accidents by falling into backyard pools and such. 

Pulmonary Pet Patterns

Your pet slider turtle will swim underwater for long periods of time. You probably cannot hold your breath that long before you need to breathe again, but they don’t have this problem! 

Since they sleep at night when it is dark and inactive, many turtles only surface a few times during the night/day cycle just so their bodies can absorb more oxygen through increased blood flow than without going underwater briefly.

Mata Matas

Mata Mata Turtle

Mata matas are South American turtles that lurk in sluggish backwaters, rivers, and ponds. 

These bizarre-looking creatures only reach 18 inches long on occasion but make their living by remaining motionless in the murky water with flat shells and an unusually shaped head to hunt unsuspecting fish which they gulp down quickly when hunting. 

To do this successfully mata matas must remain still for long periods of time so as not to give themselves away; surfacing would interrupt this subterfuge because it could ruin the turtle’s game plan if a nearby critter caught sight (or scent) of them before being able to strike its prey. 

So these strange looking reptiles hold their breath underwater for up one hour at a time while waiting patiently like hunters stalking deer through the brush.

Hibernation Respiration

Some turtles hibernate underwater to survive the winter. The few species in temperate latitudes that do not are mud turtles Kinosternon ssp. 

Other aquatic North American species go underwater for months at a time while lowering their metabolic rates and absorbing oxygen from the water via their throats or cloacas. 

This is very impressive considering they are air-breathing animals, but staying buried beneath sheets of ice can be detrimental if it’s prolonged too long.

Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle

Sea turtles have evolved to live underwater. Some can stay underwater for hours and even days! 

And the record-holders among them are those loggerhead sea turtles that were observed staying submerged for 10 hours in a row without coming up for air or returning to shore. 

These amazing marine reptiles often hibernate during winter, just like their freshwater cousins do too it’s so cool how they’re able to cope with such different environments!


Tortoises and turtles are two different species of reptiles. One is called a tortoise, the other is known as a turtle. 

Turtles have webbed feet that help them to swim in water while tortoises do not possess these appendages. 

Tortoises spend most of their time on land while turtles can live both on land or underwater because they have lungs like mammals. 

Which helps them breathe air when necessary at the surface of the water. When it comes to how long each type of reptile can hold its breath, there are some differences between tortoises and turtles too! 

The average length for a tortoise’s ability to stay underwater without surfacing averages 30 minutes.