Turtle Breathing: The Secrets of Cloacal Respiration

Have you ever wondered if turtles can breathe out of their butts? Well, the answer is yes! In this fascinating article, Wildlife Informer explores the unique phenomenon of cloacal respiration in turtles. From the critically endangered Australian White-throated snapping turtles to the Fitzroy River Turtle, discover why and how these turtles are able to breathe through their cloacas. Delve into the different ways turtles can breathe, the importance of cloacal respiration for their survival, and even learn how long they can stay underwater. So, if you’re curious about the secrets of turtle breathing, this article has all the captivating answers you’re looking for.

Turtle Breathing: The Secrets of Cloacal Respiration

When it comes to turtles, there is more than meets the eye. While we may think of them as simple creatures that breathe like any other animal, there is actually a fascinating secret to their respiration. Turtles have the ability to breathe out of their cloaca, also known as their “bottoms.” In this article, we will explore the world of turtle breathing, including which turtles can breathe out of their cloaca, how they do it, why they do it, and how long they can stay underwater.

Which turtles can breathe out of their cloaca?

Not all turtles have the ability to breathe out of their cloaca. This unique adaptation is found in several species, including the Australian White-Throated Snapping Turtle, the White-Eyed Stream-Diver, and the Fitzroy River Turtle. These turtles have evolved in different environments and have developed the ability to extract oxygen from water through their cloaca.

The Australian White-Throated Snapping Turtle, for example, is critically endangered and can obtain up to 80% of its oxygen through cloacal respiration. The White-Eyed Stream-Diver, found in fast-moving, shallow rapids, can absorb up to 68% of its oxygen through this unique breathing method. The Fitzroy River Turtle, which lives in freshwater rivers, can fill 70% of its oxygen needs through cloacal respiration and can stay submerged for several days at a time.

How do turtles breathe out of their bums?

To understand how turtles breathe out of their cloaca, it is important to first understand their physiology. Turtles are cold-blooded, or “ectotherms.” This means that their body temperature is determined by their environment. Unlike warm-blooded animals, such as humans, turtles do not have flexible rib cages that can contract around their lungs. Instead, their ribs are fixed and attached to their shells.

When turtles breathe using their lungs, they must use their muscles to expand their bodies and take in air, and then contract their bodies to force air out. However, when turtles are in cold temperatures or trapped underwater, they do not have enough energy to perform this energy-intensive process. That’s where cloacal respiration comes into play.

Turtles that are adapted to staying underwater for long periods of time can draw water into their cloaca, which is the area they use to draw in water, lay eggs, and expel waste. The tissues lining the cloaca allow these turtles to extract oxygen from the water that passes through. Some turtles can obtain up to 20% of their oxygen through cloacal respiration, while others, like the Australian White-Throated Snapping Turtle, can obtain as much as 80% due to the superior vascular uptake of their cloacal tissues.

How many ways can turtles breathe?

Turtles have three main methods of breathing: using their lungs, mouth and throat breathing, and cloacal breathing.

Breathing Using Their Lungs is the most common method for turtles and is used when they are on land. Turtles have lungs just like mammals and reptiles, and they prefer to use them for breathing whenever possible.

Mouth and Throat Breathing is another method that turtles can employ. They are able to pump water into their mouths and throats and extract oxygen from this water. While not the most efficient process, it allows turtles to survive in situations where they cannot access air through their lungs.

Cloacal Breathing is the unique method that allows some turtles to breathe out of their cloaca. This is especially useful for diving turtles or those that hibernate in cold water. During hibernation, turtles can rely on cloacal breathing to obtain most of their oxygen.

Why do some turtles breathe out of their butts?

The ability to breathe out of their cloaca is crucial for the survival of some turtles. For example, if a turtle is being pursued by a predator and needs to stay underwater to stay safe, the ability to breathe underwater, even to a limited extent, can make all the difference. While turtles do not have gills like fish, they have developed a unique adaptation to extract oxygen from water through their cloaca.

In addition to predator evasion, cloacal breathing is also necessary during hibernation. When the temperature drops, some turtles can become trapped in deep water or under a layer of ice. Even in these extreme conditions, turtles still need to breathe. By allowing water to flow into their cloaca, turtles can efficiently gather oxygen and survive for extended periods without surface access.

How long can a turtle stay underwater?

The duration a turtle can stay underwater varies depending on the species and water temperature. Turtles that are adapted to diving and cloacal breathing, such as the Fitzroy River Turtle, can stay underwater for days or even weeks. These turtles are highly efficient at extracting oxygen from water through their cloaca, allowing them to survive extended periods without access to air.

On the other hand, common pet turtles like red-eared sliders and painted turtles can only stay underwater for about 30 minutes. This is because the water in their tanks is often still and not adequately oxygenated. In the wild, most turtles have the ability to go into hibernation if necessary. During this period, their metabolism slows down, reducing their need for oxygen and allowing them to stay underwater for up to a month. Some turtles, like the ones mentioned earlier, are capable of staying submerged in a hibernation state for up to 100 days.

Many diving turtles use cloacal breathing

Cloacal breathing is particularly important for diving turtles. Some turtles have evolved to rely on this method of respiration for their survival. Cloacal respiration allows these turtles to extract oxygen from the water they submerge themselves in, enabling them to remain underwater for extended periods without the need to surface for air.

These diving turtles are often found in rivers, where they have adapted to the specific conditions of their habitats. The ability to breathe through their cloaca gives them a competitive advantage in these environments, ensuring their survival even in oxygen-poor waters.


Turtles have a remarkable ability to breathe out of their cloaca, commonly known as their “butts.” This unique adaptation, known as cloacal respiration, allows certain species of turtles to extract oxygen from water and survive in conditions where access to air is limited. By utilizing their cloaca, these turtles can stay underwater for extended periods, ensuring their survival in various environments.

Understanding turtle breathing and cloacal respiration provides an insight into the incredible adaptations of these ancient creatures. It highlights the diverse methods by which animals have evolved to meet the challenges of their environments. So, the next time you see a turtle, remember that there’s more to their respiration than meets the eye!

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