Turtles are some of the most active and entertaining aquarium-dwelling pets you can own. Still, they’re extremely sensitive and have very specific needs that must be met to maintain proper health. Turtles may be small, but they live incredibly long lives, and bringing one into your home means you’re signing up for long-term pet ownership. Click through to find out what it takes to care for a pet turtle.
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CHOOSING THE RIGHT TURTLE
Before you adopt or purchase a pet turtle, it’s important to understand that it’s not a short-term deal. If properly cared for, a turtle can live up to 30 years and a tortoise upwards of 50 years. There are a number of different turtle species to choose from, each with its own dietary and habitat needs. Do your research before bringing one home to be sure you’re prepared for meeting its needs.
Like all reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded and must regulate their body temperatures by absorbing heat from the sun or a lamp. Turtles need access to a heat lamp to warm their water and provide heat when basking. Throughout the day and night, the ideal temperature for the turtle is between 70-84 degrees. During the day, you’ll need to provide the turtle with an area for basking that reaches around 90 degrees.
PREPARING AN IDEAL HABITAT
Some turtles prefer plenty of land to bask while others like spending their days submerged in water. A turtle will need a large enough tank — about five times wider and longer than the turtle. Aquatic breeds need to be housed in a tank with water deep enough for the turtle to completely submerge. A turtle can injure itself if not given enough room or enough water.
Lighting isn’t just important for temperature control. For turtles, exposure to UV light for 10-12 hours a day is essential for Vitamin D3 absorption. It also helps keep their shells and bones healthy. Use an incandescent bulb to send heat to a targeted area for basking, and a florescent bulb for health. They also need time during the night away from light, just like humans. Just make sure to keep your turtle away from extended time in the sun or under the heat lamp as it can die if overexposed.
USE FILTERED WATER
Never pour tap water into a turtle’s habitat. Chemicals found in tap water — like fluoride — can upset the pH balance of the tank. Start with distilled or de-chlorinated water and affix a filtration system to the aquarium. This clears out debris and waste from its water supply, and leads to a healthier turtle. One thing to keep in mind is the proper and secure placement of the filter, so it can’t injure your curious pet turtle. Give the turtle plenty of fresh filtered water to drink, too.
This is where the fun starts. There are no rules when it comes to how you can decorate your turtle’s habitat, as long as the items are nontoxic. Aquarium gravel comes in many shapes and colors and most pet stores with fish have fake plants and objects for decoration. You can even put together a homemade basking platform or search out the perfect rock during your next camping trip.
On average, you should clean your turtle’s entire tank and change the filter every few weeks or so. But since each turtle tank is different, monitoring the water for cleanliness is a great way to decide when you should do a cleaning. In between cleanings use a small net to scoop out large pieces of debris. Transfer your turtle to a comfortable and sanitary holding area until you complete the cleaning.
Turtles are mostly omnivores, so they need a mixture of both insect and plant sustenance. Water-loving turtles like to snack on crickets and mealworms, and munch on leafy green vegetables like kale and collard greens. You can also buy turtle pellets or freeze-dried mealworms from your local pet store. Keep in mind that most aquatic turtles need to be fed once every three or four days, unless specified differently by your breeder, vet or specific species. Turtles also need calcium to maintain healthy shells. You can purchase a turtle-specific powdered supplement for an added boost of calcium.
Turtles can carry salmonella, which is spread from their feces to their shells and body. It’s crucial that you keep their water clean and wash your hands after handling them. It’s best to wash your hands before and after handling the turtle to prevent contaminating the turtle’s environment, too.
Next: 10 Reptiles With Long Lives
Turtles are cute, but they’re not fans of being picked up, unfortunately. Keep your pet turtle away from small children who might be tempted to grab them (especially considering the risk of salmonella contamination), and keep interactions with other pets at a minimum. Turtles can be injured if dropped, so it’s important to make sure you have a good grip before lifting them. Just beware that some turtles can reach their heads around and bite, and others may void their bowels and bladders upon being lifted.