Do Tortoise Have Ears? How do They Hear?

In the wild, tortoises are known to live for several decades. In captivity, they can live even longer. That’s why they make such great pets. Many treat them as family members and call them by their name. But can tortoise actually hear and understand their name?

Do Tortoise Have Ears?

Tortoise don’ve have external ears like most other animals. They have internal ears, which are located on the sides of their head, below their scales. The ears of tortoise don’t have holes, and usually their ears are marked with a darker spot, at the end of their jawline.

Can Tortoise Hear?

Tortoises can indeed hear, though their hearing isn’t near as sharp as their other senses. These shelled animals are great at picking up certain sound frequencies like those emitted by the hatching of eggs, mating, and fighting.

What do Tortoises Hear?

Any tortoise out there will have an easier time picking up low-frequency sounds, as opposed to higher-pitched sounds. The sound vibrations travel through the ground, they hit the tortoise’s feet, and then travel toward the internal eardrums. That’s how tortoises hear, in a nutshell. They can also hear the vibrations from your footsteps. So, don’t be surprised if your tortoise is already eyeing the door when you bring it food.

If you want to communicate with your tortoises, speak in a low voice. Many tortoise owners can swear by the high heavens that their pets recognize their own names. That’s not completely untrue, to a point. A tortoise can learn to identify specific sound frequencies with an outcome. For instance, it could associate its name with food, so there you go.

While these scaly creatures are quite deaf on land, their underwater hearing is vastly superior. Underwater vibrations made by moving bodies of water and other animals help tortoises navigate their surroundings. Coupled with a sharp sense of smell, touch, and sight, a tortoise gets by quite successfully. On land, their hearing becomes considerably worse, though.

So, unless you’re close by, your tortoise may not be able to hear you, especially if you use a higher-pitched voice. Though, it can certainly smell and see you. Its sense of touch is especially efficient, as well. In water, everything changes, and the tortoise becomes extremely adept at feeling its surroundings, whether through sight, touch, or hearing.

How does the Tortoise’s Internal Ear Work?

Tortoises have cutaneous plates on the side of their heads. Sound vibrations get to these plates go directly to the inner ear through the middle ear. The inner ear processes the sound and sends it to the brain for interpretation. Then, the tortoise reacts accordingly to the sound interpretation.

These sound waves may tell a tortoise of approaching predators or fleeing prey. While they can’t hear high-frequency sounds like a bird chirping, they can hear lower frequencies just fine. So, if a predator is knocking on the shell of a nearby tortoise, other tortoises will be able to hear this and avoid the area.

The reason why tortoises hear better in water is the fatty layer of skin underneath the cutaneous plates. While this layer of skin makes it hard for tortoises to hear on land, things change drastically in water. The thick and fat layer of skin becomes an excellent conductor of underwater vibrations and sounds.

There’s not much research on the hearing of tortoises, though. This makes it hard to speculate on their hearing abilities. Can they hear you call their names? Most likely, since many tortoises seem to realize you’re coming toward them without seeing you. Either they can hear you calling them, or they hear the sound vibrations from your footsteps. Either way, they can hear you.

But do you know what?

Tortoises Can Develop Ear Infections

That’s right, your tortoise may develop an ear infection at any time. You’ll recognize it by the lumpy growth on the side of your pet’s head, where the ears are at. What happens is that the middle ear becomes infected and develops a hard puss in the ear cavity. Veterinarians call this an “aural abscess.” If left untreated, this abscess can spread to other parts of the body, including the skull and jaw.

Tortoise ear infections have symptoms like:

  • Eye inflammation
  • Swelling near the ear membrane
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thick puss inside the ear membrane

An ear infection appears because of a deficient diet, which leads to a weak immune system. A lack of vitamin A is the number one cause of tortoise ear infections. To prevent it, just supplement your pet’s diet with multivitamins that contain vitamin A, vitamin D, and some calcium.

Another cause of ear infections is bad husbandry or sanitation. A tortoise needs a clean aquarium that’s retrofitted with a filter. You also need to change the water regularly, even if the filter performs up to spec. When doing this, make sure to scrub clean the aquarium so no filth remains.

Lastly, tortoises can develop ear infections due to injuries to the ear membrane. They may have hit their heads on some objects in the aquarium. Or their housemates are too aggressive with them. Try narrowing down the potential causes to prevent ear infections in your tortoise!

If you think your tortoise has an ear infection, contact a veterinary as soon as possible. Only a trained professional can take care of this problem. After identifying the cause of the infection, the vet may need to perform surgery to remove the hardened puss in the ear cavity. After a couple of weeks, the tortoise’s skin membrane and ear cavity will heal by themselves.


Tortoise hearing is different from other animals. While humans have external ears shaped in a way that attracts sounds, tortoises don’t. Their internal ears have a lower capacity and range of frequencies that they can pick up.

Lower-frequency sounds are still good, but higher-pitched ones are near-impossible to hear. While they can hear a growl just fine, the high pitch of a soprano completely eludes them.

Tortoises can only hear sounds within a specific frequency range, generally between 80 and 100 Hz. Humans, on the other hand, pick up sounds between 20 and 20,000 Hz.

Next time you call your tortoise by its name, try using a lower tone and it’ll lift its little head to look for you. Sounds on the lower end of the frequency spectrum attract its attention immediately.

avatar William
William is a respected pet enthusiast with expertise in reptiles and birds. With extensive experience caring for these animals, he shares his knowledge through engaging and informative articles in various publications. He is an active member of pet-related organizations, volunteering regularly at shelters and promoting animal welfare and conservation. read more...

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