This section covers all you need to know about caring for your turtle.
- 1 Can I take my turtle out of the aquarium?
- 2 What should I feed my turtle?
- 3 How much and how often should I feed it?
- 4 Should I feed it outside the aquarium?
- 5 What if I go on holiday?
- 6 Can I put fish or snails in with my turtle?
- 7 Should I get more than one turtle?
- 8 Can I keep my turtle in a pond?
- 9 What do I do if my turtle outgrows my aquarium?
- 10 How can I tell if my turtle gets sick?
Can I take my turtle out of the aquarium?
You can take your turtle out of the aquarium, and in fact, it is recommended that you do so. Having some time out of the aquarium on dry land helps keep the turtle strong and aids proper shell development, however, some precautions should be taken. Firstly, baby turtles should be handled carefully. Pick them up gently using the sides of their shell, not top to bottom. The turtle should be placed in an area from which it cannot escape (even baby turtles are surprisingly fast on land!) and not left unsupervised. Baby turtles should be taken out for around 15 minutes once or twice a week. This is sufficient for larger turtles also, although these can stay out of water for long periods without suffering any ill effects. Sunlight is beneficial for turtles and letting your turtle run around in a sunlit area is a good idea, except on hot days. No turtle should be placed in direct sunlight when the temperature is above 26°C or overheating may result.
What should I feed my turtle?
A turtle’s diet is very important, and turtles fed incorrectly will usually suffer ill health and have a greatly reduced lifespan. The best diet for turtles is a varied one, with properly formulated turtle food as the staple and shrimp (eg gammarus or mysis), vegetable, fish, and shellfish meats as supplements. Proper turtle foods contain a high concentration of calcium, which is essential for shell development, plus all the necessary vitamins and minerals turtles need.
There are two common traps to avoid. The first is feeding a turtle indiscriminately. Many turtles will eat anything that is placed in the aquarium, including strips of steak and mincemeat. However, in the wild, the turtle’s diet is very low fat and the reddest meat cannot be properly digested. Very lean beef heart is the only red meat that is suitable. Small pieces of fish or mussel meat are acceptable but do not give too much or it can foul the water The second trap is spoiling a fussy turtle. Although it is uncommon for turtles to be fussy, some may be slow to take to frozen or prepared foods and if continually given live foods may learn to reject the prepared food in the knowledge that their preferred feed will soon follow. With persistence, any turtle can be trained onto a proper diet, even if it means letting the turtle go hungry for a few days. Although foods such as mealworms are a good treat for turtles, they do not a complete diet, and feeding them consistently in place of a proper diet is like giving a child chocolate because they won’t eat their vegetables!
How much and how often should I feed it?
Baby turtles are best given two small feeds a day, although one larger feed will suffice. Adult and semi-adult turtles can be fed either once or twice a day. If normally well-fed, turtles can go a few days without food.
The quantity of food a turtle should be given depends on its size. A rough guide is to give the turtle per day a volume of food equivalent in size to the turtle’s head. The best guide to whether a turtle is being fed enough is its growth rate. If a turtle grows noticeably from week to week it is no doubt receiving more food than is required. On the other hand, a turtle that shows no growth at all over a month is probably not receiving enough food.
It is not possible to overfeed turtles in the same way as fish. A turtle will eat as much as you give it and still come looking for more. It does not harm the turtle if too much food is given, but the turtle’s growth rate will increase accordingly.
Should I feed it outside the aquarium?
Turtles will only feed while in the water, but some people prefer to use a separate container in which to feed the turtle. Water from the main aquarium should be used, and the turtle placed in the container for about half an hour before food is added. Feeding your turtle in this way helps to reduce waste in the aquarium, but is more work than simply dropping food into the aquarium. Additionally, some turtles object to being moved and will refuse to eat after being handled. Whether you feed your turtle in the aquarium or in a separate container is really a matter of personal preference, however, it is recommended that baby turtles are fed in the aquarium for the first few months since they are more likely to suffer stress and refuse to eat if they are constantly being moved.
What if I go on holiday?
If you are going for no more than a week and your turtle is well fed, then you can leave it unattended. It is recommended to clean the tank before you go, and provide some live plant for the turtle to nibble on while you are away.
If you are planning a longer holiday, it is best to either leave your turtle with a friend or arrange for someone to check on it and feed it at least every few days while you are away.
Can I put fish or snails in with my turtle?
In general, the answer to this is no, although there are a few exceptions. Fish are usually unsuitable tankmates for a number of reasons:
Firstly, fish are a part of the turtle’s natural diet, and a turtle’s instinct is to snap at anything that moves. Even if the fish is large enough not to be eaten whole, a snap from a turtle can cause serious injury or death for most fish. On the other hand, if large, fast-moving fish are placed in with a baby turtle it is likely that the turtle will miss out on food, and if the turtle is bullied by aggressive fish it may become shy and hide, or stressed and prone to disease.
Secondly, fish need much better water quality than turtles, and due to the turtle’s rather messy nature, water quality in turtle tanks is often insufficient for fish.
Exceptions: If you have a non-aggressive turtle, a moderate to a large-sized aquarium (at least 18″), and good filtration, you may be able to put a few small, fast-moving fish in your turtle tank. If you wish to try this, we recommend either danios or sucking catfish, or small tetras if your turtle tank is heated (around 24°C is best if you wish to combine fish and turtles).
Also, mature turtles may lose their hunting instinct over time, particularly if they are not fed live food regularly and are not kept with fish when small. In this case, they may be able to be kept with larger fish in a spacious aquarium, but remember that good filtration is necessary to ensure adequate water quality for the fish.
Snails, yabbies, and molluscs are also a part of the turtles’ natural diet. These can be placed in the aquarium when the turtle is small (although putting large yabbies with baby turtles should be avoided), but they will eventually be eaten as the turtle grows.
Should I get more than one turtle?
It is not necessary to get more than one turtle, but baby turtles will often be friendlier if they have company. If you plan to have two turtles be sure that they are of similar size, or, if one is larger, that it is the timider of the two. It is best to get two as babies and let them grow up together. Occasionally a turtle will be aggressive towards others and have to be kept by itself, but this is rare in turtles that have grown up with others always present.
Can I keep my turtle in a pond?
Baby turtles do not have the fat reserves to survive year-round in a pond, but a pond is a great way to keep a larger turtle. Turtles should be at least three years old and well-fed before being placed in an outside pond to ensure they have the reserves to last through hibernation.
The turtle pond should be at least the size of a bathtub and should have either a gentle slope or a ramp so that the turtle can climb in and out. The pond should be fenced to prevent both the turtle from wandering and predators from gaining access. Since turtles can both climb and dig, the fence should be at least waist high and dug into the ground.
Turtles do not like to feel exposed. They prefer a pond with plenty of hiding places provided by logs, rocks, plant pots, and floating water plants. A filter is not essential, but over the warmer weather, partial water changes should be made every few weeks.
It is best to introduce a turtle to the outside pond in spring or early summer. This gives the turtle at least a few months in which to settle down before the cooler weather. When the temperature falls below 15°C feedings should cease since the turtle will be preparing to hibernate. Most turtles hibernate underwater, but some prefer to hibernate on land. An area of soft dirt with a thick layer of leaf litter should be provided in this case. A hibernating turtle should never be disturbed since interruption of the cycle can lead to death. Once the temperature starts to rise above 20°C the turtle will become active again and feeding can recommence.
What do I do if my turtle outgrows my aquarium?
Large turtles can be housed in large aquariums or in outdoor ponds. The best aquarium for an adult turtle is one of at least 36″ in length that is wider but shallower than a fish aquarium. Such an aquarium can be custom-made and will house even a full-grown turtle.
If you cannot accommodate it, or no longer want your turtle, it should not be dumped in the wild as chances of survival are slim. You may be able to sell your turtle, but most people want to buy turtles as babies and grow them up themselves. Alternatively, if you simply want your turtle to go to a good home, turtle breeders and nature parks will often take unwanted turtles. Your local pet or aquarium store may know of people who are looking to buy larger turtles or at least let you know who will take them.
How can I tell if my turtle gets sick?
Turtles suffer from relatively few common problems and should not get sick if cared for properly. However, you should still check your turtle regularly for any sign of disease, since treatment is easiest if problems are detected early. Some signs that things are not quite right are loss of appetite, spending more time than usual out of the water, white growths on the feet or around the eyes, soft or deformed shell, and puffiness or pinkish areas under the legs or shell.