A turtle drawing, with a simple question scribbled at the bottom, “Where are the turtle ears?” made its way to my office the other day. The drawing, drawn by a young child, showed the turtle without ears. The child asked me “How does he hear?”
In fact, turtles have ears, which are actually small holes on the sides of their heads, allowing sound waves to enter.
In the past, people thought turtles were deaf. This presumption is likely due to the fact that turtles do not have visible or physical ears protruding from the sides of their heads, as is the case with most animals.
Even if the turtles do not have these visible pairs of external ears, they can still discern sounds and “hear”. They don’t hear as intensely as we humans, but they have the necessary auditory nerve and the corresponding brain center required for them to sense and decipher surrounding vibrations. Sound waves are collected through the small external holes located on the side of the turtle’s head, and transmitted via the middle ear, which is well designed to increase the volume of sound waves. So, although scientists believe that turtles are more dependent on their senses of sight and smell, which are much more developed, they are certainly able to hear.
Since the anatomical composition of each animal has a corresponding physiological function, the reason why the turtles’ ears are located inside their heads is that they are more aerodynamic when they are in the water. This would allow them to detect sounds and vibrations in their environment.
Although turtles do not have an eardrum or eardrums that collect sound waves for more defined hearing, turtles are able to detect low-frequency sounds and detect vibrations, whether in water or on earth.
For this reason, they mainly rely on their vision and smell to help them get around. There are even theories suggesting that the refined smell of turtles allows them to return to the exact range on which they originally hatched in order to mate and lay their eggs.
It is known that turtles find or identify food, partners and the territory by their sense of smell. The vision of turtles is also excellent. They can differentiate colors and shapes, things that are crucial for animals that live or spend time in the water. What turtles lack in a refined hearing sense, they compensate for in their sense of smell and their excellent vision.
Some people consider their pets as important as their children. Whether this is true or not, some turtle owners imagine that their beloved pets are able to recognize and respond to their voices!
We have no objective data to prove or disprove this theory. The reaction of a turtle can, as some experts claim, come from the way it feels the vibrations around it. It is probably not as much the distinctive sound or quality of voice via the turtle’s ears, but the vibrations coming from the closing of the doors and other movements or stimuli inducing vibrations around them. Hope that future research will help us determine the truth about turtle ears!