What Happens To An Upside-Down Turtle On Its Back? Can It Die?

Caring for a turtle is full of rewards, but it carries a lot of responsibilities as well. Every turtle owner knows the panic of seeing some behavior that you’re not quite sure about, but is it always cause for concern? Do you know what happens if a yellow-bellied slider turtle is upside down?

Once they are upside down, most healthy yellow-bellied sliders will be able to right themselves but sometimes they may need extra assistance. Though they can breathe while upside down, being on their backs for too long can be dangerous for a turtle, particularly if they are young or in a hot environment as they can suffer from dehydration or overheating.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about an upside-down yellow-bellied turtle so that you know what might happen if this occurs, and when (or if) it may be a genuine issue that needs addressing.

Do Turtles Die if They Flip Over?

If it’s your first time seeing your turtle on its back, it is natural to panic about its safety. Don’t worry, turtles won’t die just because they have flipped over. It is actually a relatively common occurrence for yellow-bellied sliders.

However, staying on their backs for a long period of time can be dangerous or even deadly for a turtle. Additionally, the reason why they are on their backs in the first place may be a problem with their health or wellbeing.

How Long Can a Turtle Be Upside Down Before it Dies?

A turtle that is upside down can die if they are unable to right themselves again. Turtles can starve or dehydrate if they stay on their backs for too long, and young turtles trapped on their backs in the sun or under a hot lamp can overheat in a matter of hours.

It is important that you right your turtle as soon as you can, so that they can easily find food and water. Don’t leave turtles unattended outdoors, particularly in hot weather.

Does it Hurt Them to be Upside Down?

While it can be a bit distressing for a turtle to be upside down, it is not actually painful for the animal. Most yellow-bellied turtles don’t mind being on their backs if they are able to right themselves quickly, but they may have flipped because they are struggling or otherwise in pain already.

Injuries and respiratory problems may have caused your turtle to end up upside down, which might mean that they are hurting.

Can They Breathe Upside Down?

Although there are some myths out there that say otherwise, turtles can breathe while they are upside down. It is a bit more difficult for them, though, and if they are already struggling with respiratory problems then their breathing can become very labored.

Being upside down puts extra pressure on their lungs, as their other organs add a weight that they are not used to. If left for too long while they are struggling to breathe, it can result in serious issues for your turtle.

Do They Bask Upside Down Sometimes?

Although yellow-bellied sliders do like to spend a lot of time basking in the sun, they don’t bask upside down. If they are upside down, don’t be fooled into thinking they are relaxing. They do need to be righted again so that they can move around comfortably.

Can They Flip Back By Themselves?

Most healthy yellow-bellied sliders can flip themselves back over if they end up upside down. They have strong necks and legs, and they are generally skilled at turning themselves the right way round. Turtles with a flatter shape to their shells, like sliders, are usually much better at righting themselves than other turtles.

If your turtle is struggling to get themselves the right way up, they might need some extra help, or there may be another reason why they can’t do it on their own.

Should I Help Them Flip Back Over?

If your turtle is finding it difficult, you should definitely help them to flip back over again. It can be dangerous or even deadly for a turtle to be on its back for too long.

Yellow-bellied sliders are likely to end up on their backs every now and then, particularly if they are exploring a new environment, but it is important to be aware of why it is happening and investigate if the problem is occurring often.

Why Does My Turtle Keep Flipping Upside Down?

If your yellow-bellied slider is flipping over regularly, it may not be a simple accident, particularly if they cannot right themselves again. Keep an eye out for injuries, especially ones that may have been caused by fighting with another turtle, as these can cause your yellow belly to be weaker on one side.

Respiratory issues are also a common problem among turtles which can result in them becoming lethargic, so they are more likely to turn over. Your yellow belly might be struggling with a respiratory problem if you notice:

  • Excessive mucus in their nose or mouth
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Appetite loss
  • Gasping for air

Your turtle might also be feeling weak for another reason, such as becoming older, which might cause them to end up on their back more often. If you are at all worried about the health of your turtle, you should get in touch with your veterinarian


Chris is a reptile enthusiast, breeder, and blogger from the Milwaukee, WI area. After breeding hundreds of bearded dragons to supply local pet stores and owning many other types of reptiles, he is now focused on sharing knowledge to help owners properly care for their little reptiles friends.

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