Can Turtles Recognize Their Owners ? | Turtle Owner (2023)

You certainly may recognize and love your pet turtle, but does he recognize you? The bond between a pet and an owner is something very powerful and beautiful. But a lot of people are saying that turtles don’t recognize their owners from other humans, but my turtles will act differently when I handle them compared to the way they act when somebody else is handling them. So I did some research to find out if turtles really recognize their owners, and here is what I found out.

Can turtles recognize their owners? Turtles can recognize you and they will understand that you play an important part in their life, but they will not feel any familiarity towards you like dogs would.

Turtles don’t see us as other people or pets would see us, but they still understand that we play a role in their well-being. So if they don’t see us like we see other people or how other animals see us, then how do they see us?

Understanding what a turtle thinks about

To better understand how turtles see their owners you first have to understand how a turtle thinks. Compared to most animals that can be pets turtles maintain a very primitive way of thinking.

There are four things that a turtle cares about:

  1. Survival
  2. Food
  3. Basking
  4. Reproduction


The first thing a turtle will think about is survival, everything else comes after. This means that if they consider that an area is too dangerous for them they will leave as soon as possible. If they think a predator is nearby they will hide. If a predator is about to attack another turtle they will leave to save themselves.

At first glance, it might seem that turtles are cowards, but that is not true. Those are the logical things to do if your first priority is survival, there is no reason to do something dangerous if all you want to do is survive.

We also have this instinct, but it acts a little different than that of turtles. One of our primary thoughts is also survival, but sometimes due to our different way of thinking, we will end up placing some other things above that. I am sure that you’ve heard of stories of parents putting themselves in harm’s way just to protect their children, turtles don’t naturally have that way of thinking and they will always place their survival in the first place.


The next thing that it’s on a turtle’s mind is food. They will always look for food.

When you don’t have anything else to do, and food is a very important part of survival, you will spend most of your time looking for food.

When turtles are in captivity and they feel safe in the place they are, their main priority becomes food, they are not interested in toys, like cats and dogs are, or anything else, in particular, they just care about food.


Another thing that your turtle cares about is basking. Basking is very important for them since it allows them to maintain good health, so finding a good basking area is very important for them.

In the wild where there are few basking spots, you can sometimes see turtles fighting over a basking spot. If a turtle is willing to fight for something you can be sure that it’s very important to them.


The fourth thing that turtles care about is reproduction. Turtles have the natural urge to want to pass their genes further to other generations.

It’s not uncommon for two or more turtles fighting to win the right to mate with a female. And again you can see how important this is for turtles since they are willing to fight over it.

When turtles fight among themselves it will not be a brutal fight, they usually end without any turtle being too hurt. Those fights are more to prove who is superior and not to seriously injure the other turtles.

Turtles are not social animals

Turtles are not social animals, they interact among themselves very little and they only do it because they have to. They don’t have any other turtle friends, and no human friends either.

They are only interested in survival and for them being social won’t help.

If you want to know more about social turtles check out this article: Are Turtles Social Animals?

What does my pet turtle think about me ?

So your turtle won’t recognize you as a friend, then how do they recognize you, or do they even recognize you?

Yes, your turtle will recognize you, and they can easily tell the difference between you and other humans. Turtles have 5 senses, among those senses are hearing, seeing, and smelling. They can use those 3 senses to recognize you without any problem.

Now that you know that your pet turtle can recognize, let’s see what they think about you and how they see you. This might not be what you were expecting but they see you as the person who brings food to them, more or less a food dispenser. I know this doesn’t sound nice at all and it’s definitely not what you were hoping but you have to understand that for turtles that mean a lot. You are taking care of one of their most important needs and that is very important for them. In reality, you are also taking care of their protection and ensuring that they have a place to bask, but there is no way for them to know that.

Because you are the person that brings food, your turtle will start to develop some trust toward you. Not trust like you and I have in other people, but I think this is a good way to describe it. The way they manifest this trust is by not being aggressive toward you and cooperating with you. For example, they will not bite you when you handle them, but if a person that they don’t recognize tries to do it they will become aggressive toward them.

Taking into consideration the primitive way turtles are thinking, the trust that they show toward you is the most you can get out of them.

How to tell if your turtle doesn’t like you

Even if they are not social, and the best way you can tell that they like you is by the fact that they don’t bite you, you can easily tell that your turtle doesn’t like you.

One thing that they do when they don’t like you is that they hide when you are near them. Turtles will often do this when you first get them because they don’t know you and they think that you might harm them. But after some weeks or months in some cases, they will get the idea that you don’t want to harm them and that you are taking care of them, and they will stop hiding or retreating in their shells when they see you.

Another way you can tell that your turtle doesn’t like you is that they will try to bite you when you are handling them. This is also normal to happen when you get a new turtle but after some time they will understand that you don’t want to hurt them and that you are only taking care of them.

The fact that they don’t like it when you get close to them and they try to bite or they hide won’t always mean that they don’t like you. Sometimes it can be just their personality, after all, every turtle is different and each has its own personality. But if they do both those things it probably means that you are doing something wrong.

Why your pet turtle might not like you

Now let’s see what you could be doing wrong.

Aggressive handling

It’s easy to get too aggressive with your turtle when you are handling them. They look very resistant and this might make you think that they won’t feel anything if you handle them a little rough.

If you put too much pressure on them when you handle them they will feel it and they won’t like it. The same thing happens when a predator will attack them, so naturally, they will think that you want to harm them.

When you wash your turtle you also have to be careful not to put too much pressure when you are cleaning them with a brush, even if the shell is durable it doesn’t mean that they will not care. You also have to be careful when you clean the edges of the shell because you could scratch their skin with the brush and they won’t like that.

Small living space

If the tank is too small the turtle will feel claustrophobic and they will start being more aggressive toward everybody, or they could just get scared and hide all the time.

This is a very common problem when somebody owns more than one turtle, turtles can be aggressive toward each other, especially when there is little space, this doesn’t only apply to the tank, but also for the basking area. If the basking area is not big enough for all of your turtles they will fight amongst them, and they will start being aggressive towards you as well.

Not enough food

If you don’t give your turtle enough food it will start to go hungry and they will try to bite anything that can be eaten, so they will also try to bite you.


If you have more than one adult turtle they will be aggressive toward each other for countless reasons, it doesn’t matter what you do they will start to be aggressive. This doesn’t mean that they will be fighting all the time, but they will do it often enough that they will start to be under continuous stress and as a result, they will also be aggressive towards you.


Any source of stress will affect your turtle, as I said, having another turtle with them is one way your turtle can get stressed, having the music too loud all the time can stress them, even a tank that is too dirty for too long can be a stress source.

How to get your pet turtle to like you

If you want your turtle to like you then you should try to take care of the things I mentioned above.

Handle them with care, even if they look like they can still feel the fact that you are being too rough with them.

Make sure that they have enough space, swimming space as well as a basking area that is big enough to accommodate all of your turtles. If you have to buy them a bigger tank. For more information about that check out the Recommended Gear page.

Make sure that you give them enough food, and that their diet consists of enough meat, pellets, fruits, and vegetables.

If you have two adult turtles then you should think about giving each one its own tank. OR if you have a very big tank then you should think about splitting it up into two sections.

Try to remove a stress source, if the tank is placed near the speakers then move it somewhere else. If your dog or cat is always around the tank then make sure that you put the tank in another room or that they won’t be able to get close to it.

Try taking them outside a little, everybody enjoys a little walk once in a while.

Every case is different so try to look at your turtle and in their room and think about what could make your turtle unhappy and do something about that.

One other thing that you could do to make your turtle-like you is to let it know you. Spend some time with your turtle, just staying a couple of minutes each day for a couple of weeks should be enough. And makes sure that your turtle knows that you are the one that is giving the food. If your turtle doesn’t have the chance to see you then of course they will be scared of you since they don’t know you.

I gave you the most common things that can happen that will make your turtle, not like you. The general idea is that if your turtle doesn’t feel completely safe and it doesn’t have everything that it needs it won’t like you.

How a turtle sees the world

One last thing that you should do is to understand how turtles see the world, this way you will know how they physically see you and how they differentiate you, the one who takes care of them, from other people.

To do this we have to talk about the five senses that turtles have: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.


Turtles have a very well-developed sight, they can accommodate their sight very fast from water to land, this is also essential for them when they have to avoid predators. They are also able to distinguish different patterns and shapes very clearly.

If turtles can see colors or not is at the moment a disputed topic, but most people tend to say that they are able to see colors.

One interesting fact is that even if they have this well-developed sight they don’t have any peripheral vision.

So turtles have very well-developed sight and they are able to easily recognize theirs visually.


Turtles also have a very well-developed smell that they can use both on land and in water.

Turtles don’t have nostrils like most animals, instead, they have small bumps under their chins, that are called barbels.

Turtles use their sense of smell to stay away from predators, distinguish food from inedible objects, and detect pheromones during mating season.

They can also use their smell to recognize its owner from other people.


Turtles don’t have a very developed hearing sense, this is because they lack the eardrum and a tympanum, so while they are on land they are not able to hear too well. But underwater is where their hearing excels, they are able to catch a wide variety of vibrations while underwater so they are able to know if somebody is getting close to them or if there is a lot of noise in the surrounding area.


The skin of a turtle is very sensitive, probably as sensitive as ours, or even more. The shell on the other hand is not as sensitive but turtles are still able to feel if somebody is touching their shell or if they are putting too much pressure on it.


This part is a little more complicated because some turtles have this sense, others do not. Those that have it are able to feel just a couple of tastes while other turtles are able to feel more kinds of tastes.

More research is being done on this at the moment, as soon as there is more information about this I will update this part, until then there are just a lot of speculations and no definitive answer.


The good part is that your turtles do recognize you, the bad part is that they see you as the person who brings them food. But as I said that is not bad, in fact, that builds trust and that is one of the most important things a turtle can offer, so you should be proud.

If you have any questions about how to make your turtle-like you, or any question about turtles in general, you should leave them in the comment section and I will answer them as soon as possible.

Can Turtles Recognize Their Owners ? | Turtle Owner (1)


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