Minimum requirements for TURTLES
Turtles have always been very popular pets, but are often taken on with very little knowledge or expectation of what is to come. In this care sheet we will not only cover the set-up and care of turtles, but also hopefully put straight some of the misinformation and myths that seem to be abundant in the aquatic and reptile trade. So please read carefully as there may be some points you think you are sure of because that is what you have always been told, but aren’t true. At the end of the care sheet there will be a list of some of the most commonly sold turtles and their true potential sizes.
Firstly you’ll need a suitably sized aquarium. The tank will need to be roughly half filled with water and the water needs to be at least 3 times the depth of your turtle. Its length must be at least 4-5 times the length of the turtle and the width must be at least 3-4 times the turtle’s width.
A water heater should be used to heat the water to 75°f/24.5°c. Glass ones are fine for small turtles but the new hard plastic covered ones are better to prevent injury. Always turn off your water heater and allow it to cool down before you take it out of water.
Filtration and the water quality it creates are very important to a turtle’s health. Most filters sold today come with their capability range printed on the side. When selecting a filter, it is better to select one that can easily cope with the job, not one that will only just do it. Your chosen filter will need to cope with infrequent, large amounts of waste, not regular small amounts like fish tanks.
Depending on the size of your tank and the turtle(s) in it we would suggest a third-half water change is done every fortnight. It is important to clean your filter medium at the same time. If you are using a gravel bottom for your turtle’s tank make sure you use a gravel cleaner when you do your water change. With much larger tanks a good quality external filter or pond filter will be essential.
It is important your animal feels secure in its environment. Giving it under water foliage will help this. Plastic and silk plants work best, but you can use real ones, although they will probably get damaged by your turtle.
All turtles require an area to leave the water. This is the area where the UV will be positioned (covered later) and where they can have a rest, bask and dry out.
UV lighting is essential for 12-14 hours a day. The UV tube should be positioned safely above your turtle’s basking area, following the tube’s guidelines for distance. Reptiles have adapted to living with strong UV radiation from above, so placing the UV tube level or within 45 degrees of your turtle’s eye could damage it severely (photokeratoconjunctivitis or cataracts). Symptoms include swelling of the eye(s) and area around it, or cloudy eye(s). This is thankfully not too common but it is better to be safe and not allow your animal to sit alongside or within a few inches of your tube.
Some of you may choose to use your old fish tanks or an old glass terrarium. If you are it is worth noting that glass filters out all UV and mesh will often halve the effectiveness of your turtles UV source.
For much larger enclosures a mercury vapour UV bulb is the better choice. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
Always remember to replace your UV tube every 6 months unless the manufacturer suggests otherwise. The tube’s UV producing capability will degrade though the tube will show no obvious sign. As far as we can tell only the Arcadia D3+ and T5 range last 12 months and give a virtually guaranteed 12% UV for the duration of that time. Failure to give your new turtle the proper levels and quality of UV could result in irreversible Metabolic Bone Disorder.
Handling your turtle is not recommended for a couple of reasons. Firstly the animal is effectively swimming about in its own waste all day. It’s strongly suggested that sensible personal hygiene is followed when having to remove your animal from its enclosure. Always use a good hand rub and a good quality anti-bacterial spray on all surfaces.
The other reason is that turtles can be very snappy. Never put your fingers in front of your animal as they will bite. If you need to pick up your turtle a strong grip on either side of the turtle’s shell should be sufficient.
The key with a turtle’s diet is to keep it varied and use a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement. The main part of the diet is a quality dry food, fed to your turtle 3 times a week. Only feed your turtle as much as it can eat in half an hour trying to leave no excess in the tank. Excess food will start to rot putting extra pressure on your filtration, causing poor water quality leading to health problems with your turtle.
In addition to the dry food it is good to supplement your turtle’s diet with other foods such as fruit and veg. This can be floated in the tank giving your animal a more stimulating food source. Below is a list of suitable fruit and vegetables.
FOOD TO AVOID
You can also use all manner of fresh (not salt) water fish or shellfish to occasionally treat your turtle.
Remember to keep to just 3 meals a week. Fresh food will substitute a dry pellet meal and is not meant to be in addition to it.
Vitamins and calcium are very important to your turtle. There are a couple of good water soluble vitamins available, be aware some do stain the water. Calcium is also very important. At the time of writing this care sheet the only suitable calcium supplement is the DR. Turtle block by Zoo Med. There are other water soluble calcium products but all those that we have tried caused a slimy build-up on the filtration medium.
When it comes to your animal’s health, if you are ever in doubt ask a respected dealer, and if still in doubt go to a specialist veterinarian. There are a few simple things to look out for.
Many people we have met have been led to believe by other shops the turtle they have recently bought won’t get large or outgrow the tank they have just bought. While it is true there are a couple of small species available. Most turtles have the potential to get in excess of 10”. Below is a list of some of the most common species of turtle available on the market at the time of writing. As you may be told by others, in some species the male is substantially smaller than the female. Unfortunately there is nobody we know of who can determine the sex of a turtle when they are very young. So for that reason we will tell you the average maximum size for each specie.
YELLOW BELLY SLIDERS Trachemys scripta scripta 12-13”
CUMBERLAND SLIDERS Trachemys scripta troosti 11-12”
FLORIDA RED BELLY SLIDER Pseudemys nelson 11-12”
PENINSULA COOTERS Pseudemys peninsularis 13-14”
COMMON MAP TURTLES Graptemys pseudogeographica 9-10”
CHINESE STRIPED NECKED TURTLE Mauremys sinensis 9-10”
CHINESE POND REEVES TURTLES Mauremys reevesii 6-7”
AFRICAN HELMETED SIDE NECK TURTLE Pelomedusa subrufa 8-9”
MUSK TURTLES Sternotherus odoratus 4-5”
RAZOR BACK MUSK TURTLES Sternotherus carinatus 4.5-5.5”
Mixing turtles with other turtles is generally fine provided you don’t put males in together and you keep the sizes similar. We wouldn’t however recommend mixing genus types but specie is often fine. Do not put other animals or fish in with your turtle. These are often food when caught on an off day.
If you are thinking of putting your turtle in an outside pond during summer time, it is very important to secure your garden so it cannot escape. There is already an abundance of illegally dumped turtles living wild in this country destroying our local wildlife, without adding escaped ones.
On a final note but not least just as important. Turtles are incredibly rewarding pets and very interesting to watch, but they are probably one of the most difficult animals to re-home if you change your mind about keeping it. Be sure it is what you want and you have the facility to keep it when it is older and larger. Please think before you buy.