5 Tips to Prep Your Pond Turtle for Winter

Pond turtles can survive cold winter temperatures, but there are precautions you should take to winterize your pond.

Published September 5, 2023
Turtles at a lake in summer

Whether you’re a new pond owner or just curious about what turtles do in the winter, you might wonder how these little critters survive the cold months. It actually involves breathing through their butts. Yep, you heard us right. Turtles have a unique way of hibernating in the winter, but sadly, they can freeze to death if you don’t prepare your pond for the cold. Use these five tips to winterize your pond and keep your little friends safe.

How Do Pond Turtles Survive the Winter?

In the cold winter months, turtles who live in temperate climates brumate, which is their version of hibernation. This involves burrowing in the mud at the bottom of the pond and hunkering down until the weather warms up.

Their metabolism slows waaay down during this period, meaning they don’t need as much energy or oxygen to survive. Even though they don’t need as much oxygen, they still need some. So turtles adapted a very unique breathing method for brumation called cloacal respiration. The more common term is “butt breathing.”

Prepare Your Turtle Pond for the Cold

Most experts agree that even though brumation is a completely natural process, it comes with risks. Bringing your pond turtles into a more temperature-controlled environment, like a garage or shed, can be safer for outdoor turtles. They can still brumate there, but under more controlled conditions.

But if this isn’t possible, there are ways you can prepare your outdoor pond for the winter to keep your turtles safe.

  • Fatten them up. During the summer, give your turtle plenty of foods rich in vitamin A to help them prepare for brumation.
  • Give them somewhere to burrow. Make sure there’s a good layer of sediment and mud at the bottom of the pond for them to burrow in.
  • Install a pump. An air pump will keep the water oxygenated and allow your turtles to breathe while they brumate.
  • Get a pond heater. Install a submergible water heater to keep the pond from freezing over. The ideal water temperature for brumation is 41°F (5°C).
  • Use a de-icer. Use a floating pond de-icer to prevent it from freezing over.
Need to Know

You don’t want your pond to freeze over entirely because the water will become depleted of oxygen, which can be deadly for your turtles. If it does freeze over, create a hole in the ice right away.

Winterize Your Pond to Protect Your Turtles

Winter can be dangerous for your pond turtles if they don’t have the right environment. Preparing for the cold months well in advance is the best way to keep your little shelled friends safe and ensure they make it through the winter. Make sure you give them plenty of nutritious foods in the summer to prepare their bodies for brumation, and never let your pond freeze over. Come spring, you’ll all be happy you did!

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5 Tips to Prep Your Pond Turtle for Winter