Let’s admit it, dogs and cats are the smartest pets humankind has ever come across. But how do turtles perform when it comes to showing smartness or intelligence in a particular condition (IQ)?

To be honest, many turtle owners wonder, “How smart are turtles?” Well, answering the turtle smartness is a complicated task. First off, there’s no definitive guideline on how to measure a turtle or animal smartness. Secondly, due to the lack of a proper measuring scale for animal smartness such as turtles, many people doubt the smartness measurement method.

Nonetheless, various researches show that at least turtles are not DUMB. In reality, scientists and animal behavior analysts have found that turtles have two types of intelligence. Firstly, their instinctual or basic intelligence is helpful for turtle survival, especially in the wilderness. Secondly, turtles also showcase some sorts of learned intelligence which they learn over the lifetime, especially during their captive life.

How To Measure The Actual Smartness and Intelligence Of Turtles?

how smart are turtlesThere’re multiple methods to rank human IQ and smartness. However, the case is quite different when it comes to measuring animals’ intelligence.  Luckily, scientists have developed some practical measuring scales to test the animals’ intelligence, although these are debatable.

These tests have been developed to determine the animals, such as turtles’ ability to think, communicate, reasoning, and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to learn new sets of skills. The processes will mostly include mazes and puzzles.

For instance, you might have seen a crow finding the right sized pebble to pass through the holes or a mice navigating through a maze to find its exit.  Scientists have developed these measuring tests to determine the animals’ intelligence.

However, applying such techniques for turtles is quite challenging since these are mostly solitary animals. Still, you may see turtles communicating with each other during their mating session.  At this time, they interact with each other.

The Power of Turtle Brain

The smartness and intelligence of every animal are dependent on its brain. So, the best way to measure a turtles’ intelligence, such as its ability to think, solve problems, and learn new skills, is to dive deeper into its brain.

Turtles are reptiles. Likewise, every reptile, turtles’ brain is less complicated compared to the mammals.  In fact, you will find a lot of similarities in turtles’ minds with the birds’ brains. Nonetheless, their brain doesn’t contain a sizeable cerebral hemisphere as birds and mammals have.


Don’t know what it cerebral hemisphere?

Well, here is a short answer for you-

The cerebral hemisphere is responsible for animals’ and humans’ reasoning, problem-solving, and learning. In short, the cerebral hemisphere largely controls the thinking capacity of every animal.

So, here’s a good pick for turtle owners.

Turtles being reptiles, don’t have a sizeable cerebral hemisphere as cats and dogs have being mammals. So, turtles lack the intelligence that a cat and dog may show.

But turtles aren’t STUPID at all. Many turtle species have a higher IQ rate than the other species and show unthinkably excellent learning skills from their surroundings. It happens for those turtles species whose brain to body ratio is quite a match to that of birds.

For instance, Wood turtles have a brain as large as a bird, and they are fast at learning. These days, various scientific research projects use wood turtles as their test subjects to measure a turtles’ accurate intelligence.

What’s more shocking is that a recent study showed surprising results about wood turtles’ smartness and adaptation to a new environment. When provided with proper food motivation, the researcher found that a wood turtle will solve a maze or puzzle quicker than a laboratory rat. This result was not something scientists were expecting.

The same research found out that wood turtles learn about their surroundings through observations. The turtle also preserves such observation in their memories and may use them in practical life if need be.

Understanding Turtles’ Spatial Sense

the power of turtle brainSpatial sense refers to an intuitive feel for all animals about the shape of any object and space. Most frequently, it involves the ability to understand, recognize, and remember different geometrical shapes and realizing their proper space.

Sometimes ago, scientists executed multiple experiments on various animals to find out their spatial senses. The experiment was done on a floor with a hole in it. It was covered with transparent glass so animals can see through it.

The whole set up was made to look like a real cliff.

Once the setup was ready, scientists released various animals close to the cliff’s edge. Some lizard species ran across the ridge without fearing about their probable fall from the cliff. It proved that the lizards lack knowledge of spatial senses.

Rats and some highly intelligent animals didn’t pass over the cliff sensing they could fall from it. It was a clear indication that they know the spatial sense.

And when it came to turtles and tortoises, it was a mixed bag of answers.

The painted turtle walked past the cliff, likewise the lizards. But surprisingly, terrestrial tortoises and turtles didn’t walk over the cliff as if they could genuinely sense the fall. The observation yielded a set of results about turtles’ smartness.

Terrestrial or land turtles have developed a strong sense of spatial distance. However, the same can’t be said about aquatic turtles. This is partly because marine turtles are habituated to bask on a higher place and jump from their basking spot whenever a large predator attacks them.

Turtles’ Natural Instinct

The instinct for any animal is carried through their genes from generation after generation to survive better in their respective environments. Similarly, intuition or instinctual smartness of turtle helps it stay in the wilderness.

However, such instinctual smartness of turtle varies largely from species to species. Studies have found that aquatic turtles will travel miles to find a better living location, mating partner, and right food at ease.

The incredible thing is that these turtles can actually return to their native location after migrating a few hundred miles.  The turtles mark their hatching location and return to the same hatching spot for years after years if they find the place safe for their babies.

Hence, it proves that turtles have developed unique survival techniques for higher survival chances. The aquatic or sea turtles, however, dive deep into the sea for foods at night. They go to sea at night because they understand that only a handful of creatures will sense their presence during the nighttime with darkness all over the seawater.

Learned Smartness of Turtles

Turtles are born with natural instincts, likewise every animal which helps them survive in the harsh wilderness. However, intellectual smartness is something that turtles will eventually acquire through their experiences and observations.

If you have a pet turtle, you can train him to learn some problem-solving skills and reasoning.  These include-

1. Problem-solving:

Have you ever watched dogs and cats? You would probably know that they learn different problem solving and reasoning skills through multiple trials and error stages. The same goes right for the turtles as well.

Turtles will depend mostly on their instinctive behavioral character, observations, and little memories to solve such problems. However, don’t expect to be as fast a learner as the dogs and cats in ideal pet conditions.

Recently, a study was conducted with the red foot turtle. Researchers put it in the maze. Surprisingly, it paved its way out from the labyrinth after some trial and error efforts.  It quickly remembered the blocked routes previously had opted for during its way out from the maze.

The study showed how quickly turtles could learn from their previous observations and carry them into their memories.

2. Training:

Likewise, for every pet, the training module for turtles is similar. Firstly, you need to motivate your favorite pet with his favorite TREAT.

If you give them proper training and interact with them prominently, turtles will actually recognize you as the owner. They recognize their owner, as researches show, as their primary food source. So, when a turtle sees you near the tank or their habitation, they might get berserk.

Their excitement is a way of asking for food from you. However, be aware of the fact that turtles are infamous for begging for food even if their tummy is full. If you have fed them earlier, don’t pay heed to their begging for food.

Also, some turtles with proper training willingly give their nails for clipping and even gets into a box for transportation. In fact, one of my friends has a read-eared slider that has learned to peacefully donate its blood for medical checkups.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Will turtles recognize their owner?

Yes, turtles, like most reptiles, recognize their owners. But don’t expect that your pet turtle will develop an affinity for you. They only think about their survival and will recognize the owner as their food source and nothing else.

When you give them proper food, a basking spot, and interact with them, the turtles will recognize you as their survival facilitator.

  1. Will turtles understand human language?

No, turtles can’t understand human language. However, they can differentiate between various tones and sounds depending on their different wavelengths. That’s why you may see turtles responding to your sounds, but it is far from understanding human language.

  1. How intelligent are box turtles?

We are glad to inform the box turtles owners that their turtle is thought to be incredibly smart. Studies have found that box turtles can return to its hatching spot after miles of migration by going over ponds, valleys, and forests.

  1. How smart are painted or red-eared sliders?

Red-eared sliders are a subspecies of painted turtles. We are ardently pleased to inform that red-eared sliders are quite intelligent. They have unique spatial sense and usually impress the owner with smartness.

Final Words

Turtles may lack the smartness and intelligence, likewise the Labrador or Persian cats. Yet, these are our favorite pets thanks to its charm and easy care. But when you ask how smart are turtles, remember that despite their lack of intelligence, you can teach them some really cool and creative stuff.

That’s being said take proper care of the turtle and fed it properly. Who knows your turtle could be the next headline for the world’s smartest turtle?

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