Wild Fact #40 – These Turtles Don’t Need Oxygen – Western Painted Turtle

Western Painted Turtle

Photo by Scot Campbell (Wikipedia)


Cool Facts About The Western Painted Turtle

  • The Western Painted Turtle is the most widespread turtle species in North America
  • Believe it or not these impressive turtles are able to survive the entire winter without breathing…yes, you read that right!
  • Fossil records have indicated that the Western Painted Turtle has been roaming the earth for a very long time – 15 million years, to be exact (I guess they had plenty of time to figure out how to go the entire winter without breathing)

No Need For Oxygen

So we need to start with the most interesting feature of the Western Painted Turtle, which is of course their winter hibernation methods. These tricky little turtle will essentially freeze themselves in a pond waiting out the entire winter in a suspended state. As mentioned, while in this winter state, these turtles don’t require oxygen. The amazing part of all this is once the pond thaws, the turtles slowly saunter out and continue on as if nothing happened.

How can the Western Painted Turtle survive the winter without breathing?

Western Painted Turtle

Photo by Jmalik (Wikipedia)

This is a great question, which has been recently answered. Unfortunately the answer isn’t as cool and mystifying as you might expect (no, these turtles aren’t friendly aliens from some far off planet). These animals are able to spend the winter near-frozen and without oxygen as a result of their genes. That’s right, it is simply a genetic trait that has evolved over the last 15 million years. Would you like to know the most interesting part of this entire mystery? The genes responsible for this amazing feat are also found in other animals including humans, however, they are just being expressed differently.

What does this mean for humans?

So if these turtles have similar genes to us, does this mean I can spend next winter chilling out in a frozen pond? No. Please don’t go jumping into any freezing cold ponds! As I mentioned, this turtle expresses their genes much differently than us. Although, researchers believe that we will be able to look at the regulatory pathways of the Western Painted Turtle in an effort to improve human tissue that has been damaged as a result of low oxygen levels (this usually occurs during strokes or heart attacks). Perhaps the Western Painted Turtle holds the key for repairing our oxygen deprived body parts – I guess we will just have to wait and see.

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