Care of Aquatic Turtles

by Chip Bridges

Are you considering a turtle as a “pet?”  Just like all other pets, aquatic turtles require proper care, handling and nutrition to survive and thrive. This article outlines some basic care of acquatic turtles and addresses a couple of the concerns you may have with owning an aquatic turtle.

The basic care of aquatic turtles begins with the tank. Gravel or substrate is not needed in your turtle tank, though it can make the aquarium look more natural. If you opt to use it, vacuum it weekly with your water changes. DO NOT start siphons for a turtle tank with your mouth! While the salmonella scare is likely overhyped, getting a mouthful of water with turtle feces is potentially dangerous. Start all siphons manually (using gravity) or with a unit that attaches to a sink.

Feeding a varied diet is optimal, but different species have different requirements. Most sliders are more carnivorous as babies and eat more vegetation as they mature. Avoid feeder goldfish in all cases for all reptiles. Goldfish have been implicated in copper poisoning and Thiaminase toxicity in both fish and reptiles. Bait minnows are much safer if you must feed your turtle live fish. As with any animal that will be under your care, it is your responsibility to research the dietary needs for the species you have.

Feeding a varied diet is optimal. Different species have different requirements. Click To Tweet

Legal Issues and Health Concerns

It is a violation of federal law to sell any aquatic turtle with a shell length less than four inches. Many stores tried to get around this by selling a habitat and giving the turtle away for free. I have heard that the law has now been changed to outlaw possession (rather than sale), but have not found the legal documentation at the time of this writing. Baby turtles were outlawed in the mid 1970’s after several implications of salmonella when at least two children died.

The reasoning for the four-inch shell length is that a child would be less likely to stick a larger turtle in his/her mouth. Remember that bacteria can just as easily be spread by handling the animal or even having your hand in the water, then hand to mouth contact. Always wash your hands after handling any animal, and take care that children do as well.

When it comes to the care of aquatic turtles, they should really be treated almost like fish; they are more of a specimen than a “pet.” Keep handling to a minimum, both for the turtle’s stress levels and for sanitary reasons. Aquatic turtles range from tiny African dwarf mud turtles to alligator snappers weighing over 200 pounds. The diets, habitats, and care will vary for each so do your homework! All turtles need warm clean water, though. Remember, they have to drink what they are swimming in; don’t let it get putrid.

In an adequate sized, clean aquarium, turtles make charming captive specimens. Never release any turtle into the wild. The problems they can bring to an ecosystem are too many to mention, and long term captives cannot adapt to hunting and surviving in the wild.

Chip Bridges is the owner of Blue Ridge Pet at 102 WNC Shopping Center Drive in Black Mountain (www.blueridgereef.com)

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