Turtles as Pets
Getting a pet is always a very important decision and one that should be made only when you are aware of what having this pet will entail. What type of turtle, sources of turtles, and estimates of the time and money it will take to properly care for the turtle are all important considerations. But before you go out and buy a turtle you need to ask yourself some very important questions. Turtles as Pets!
What is the cost and time committment?
Turtles and tortoises are very complex organisms and they have a very specialized set of needs. If a turtle owner does not provide these specialized needs, then these animals will lead a very poor quality of life and die a premature death. While there are many turtle owners out there that provide an excellent environment for their captive turtles, there are many that do not. One of the first questions that you have to ask yourself is why do you want a turtle or tortoise.
While there are many reasons why we take animals as pets, some of them are not very good ones, and completely fail to take the welfare of the animal into account. Obtaining a turtle or tortoise is a very important decision, and much thought and planning should go into the decision. Some things to consider before you obtain a tortoise are:
- The initial expense of purchasing a turtle or tortoise is by far the cheapest part of owning a turtle. To properly care for a turtle, you will need to provide appropriate housing, food, vitamins, bedding, temperature, humidity, and veterinary care, which can total hundreds of dollars a year. Are you willing to invest that kind of money?
- Turtles can live for a very long time, often 25 years or longer. Are you prepared to care for this animal for its entire life?
- Turtles require clean, fresh water and bedding. Are you prepared to spend time each and every day cleaning and caring for your turtle? You should expect to spend at least half an hour each day caring for the turtle.
- When you travel, your turtle will still require daily care, and cannot be left to fend for itself. Will you be able to arrange for its care in such situations?
- Most turtles and tortoises hibernate from 10 to 20 weeks. Are you prepared to provide the correct hibernating environment and care for your turtle?
- To properly care for a turtle or tortoise, you need to provide fresh fruits and vegetables or insects or mice. Are you ready to deal with the extra work this entails?
What can I expect from a turtle?
- Turtles do not interact with or particularly like humans. Are you prepared to have a pet that does not interact with you other than at feeding time?
- Turtles and tortoises are an interesting novelty to children, but soon lose their charm. Turtles are not recommended as suitable pets for most children because of the risk of certain diseases, including Salmonella. Are you willing to take the proper precautions to protect yourself and your family?
What kind of turtle should I get?
If you are prepared to provide excellent nutrition, ample and adequate housing, and a lifetime of caring and husbandry to your turtle, then the next step is to research the different species available. There are major differences between turtles, tortoises, and terrapins. Choose a species that fits your lifestyle and your environmental niche.
For example, does it really make sense to have a tropical species from the jungle of South America living in the Northwoods of Wisconsin? Pick a species that needs an environment similar to the one where you live, and then you can provide the best outdoor as well as indoor housing and nutrition.
Where should I get a turtle?
If you are confident that you understand all the above requirements for ownership, then you should consider one more important factor before you choose a turtle or tortoise as a pet, and that is, where did it come from? This question does not pertain to whether it was from a pet store or private sale, but rather did it come from the wild (wild-caught), or was it hatched from a captive-raised and bred turtle. If it was hatched and reared in captivity that is great; if it was captured from the wild, then you might want to rethink your decision.
Most people who get a turtle or tortoise as a pet have no idea where it came from. They would be shocked to know that many of them are taken out of the wild. Before you purchase a turtle or tortoise, insist that there is proof that it has been captive-bred and raised. If the seller cannot provide this proof, then assume the turtle was wild-caught and look elsewhere. Breeders that provide good housing, nutrition, and controlled breeding programs are much more likely to provide healthy species and good husbandry information. Do yourself and turtles a huge favor and never purchase a wild-caught turtle.
The most common types of turtle pets
Northern Box Turtle
Portrait: With a bright yellow/orange pattern over the black background of his bowl-shaped shell, this classic “turtle’s turtle” is a favorite among reptile owners. At four to seven inches in diameter, Box Turtles are a nice, manageable size for pet owners. They can normally be found near bodies of water in the wooded or grassland areas of eastern, central and southwestern US.
Eating: Box Turtles love their meat, eating a variety of insects, earthworms, snails, and such. They’re good with their vegetables, too, but it is best to feed the more nutritional greens like mustard greens, turnip greens, and collard greens. Mixing in some berries, apple and tomato will be a good treat. Box turtles should receive vitamin and calcium supplements once or twice a week; Tetra ReptoCal™ and ReptoLife Plus™ provide these essential nutrients.
Home: The Box Turtle does best with a lot of space to move around in. One turtle needs about 2′ x 3′ for adequate moving space. If you don’t have this much room, you can take your Box Turtle outside for exercise so he can stay healthy. And, because they’re fairly social critters, it’s fun to house a few together—but remember, they’ll need more space. They also need a few inches of loose bedding that retains moisture.
It’s important to have a shallow tray of water for hydrating, and daily misting with a spray bottle is necessary. Also, turtles like to burrow in a cave, so it’s good to give them a nice hiding spot.
Heat/light: Box turtles prefer a temperature between 72° – 76°F with a hot spot of 82°F. Full spectrum lighting with UV-B wavelengths help turtles properly utilize calcium as critical element to proper shell and bone development. Fluorescent bulbs for this use are available in many sizes and different fixtures at your local pet shop.
Fun fact: Box Turtles can live more than 25 years.
Portrait: Very recognizable by the red-orange stripes on their heads, Red-eared Sliders are an attractive addition to your terrarium. They are surprisingly fast and excellent swimmers that can be found in the southeastern quadrant of the US. Their top shell is nicely rounded and smooth and sports a pattern of black and yellow lines. Their bottom shell is yellow and smooth. As adults, the slider can reach seven to 12 inches in diameter.
Eating: Sliders like a diet balanced between animal and plant material; when they’re younger, the balance is tipped more toward animal protein. As they age, vegetation is their best bet. Because turtles need calcium to remain healthy, Tetrafauna® ReptoMin® food provides high nutritional value and is vitamin and calcium enriched.
Home: When this semi-aquatic swimmer isn’t zipping around the waters, he’s basking in the sun. He should be able to do the same in his aquarium set-up. He should have no less than four inches of water to swim in, and a basking area that allows him to completely exit the water. A natural rock pile, such as slate, works well. An easier-to-clean option is a ceramic or poly-resin ornament designed for aquarium or terrarium use.
Heat/light: Turtles require full spectrum lighting with UV-B wavelengths to properly utilize calcium, a critical element to proper shell and bone development. Fluorescent bulbs for this use are available in many sizes and different fixtures at your local pet shop.
Fun fact: Red-eared Sliders are social critters who enjoy basking together. Sometimes, they pile up, one on top of another, into a turtle tower!
Portrait: Was he hand-painted? No, he just looks that way, thanks to his beautiful red and yellow-striped design adorning his head, neck, feet and tail. His smooth, relatively flat shell can grow to 10 inches long. The Painted Turtle is one of the most common turtles in North America and can be found from southern Canada to northern Mexico. He lives anywhere there’s a soft, muddy bottom, as in slow-moving rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes, and can enjoy a life span of 15 to 25 years.
Eating: When Painted Turtles are young, they like protein-rich meals, like earthworms, beetles and small fish. As they grow older, they switch to a more vegetarian diet and prefer lettuce, carrots, green beans and fruit, too. Because turtles need calcium to remain healthy, Tetrafauna® ReptoMin® food provides high nutritional value and is vitamin and calcium enriched.
Home: Painted Turtles like to spend most of their time in the water, so their tank needs to give them plenty of space to paddle about. The tank should be three times the width of the turtle’s length, and six times as long as the turtle’s shell:
- Tank width = Turtle length x 3
- Tank length = Turtle shell x 6
Your Painted Turtle needs an area to climb out of the water and bask in the light. Use a pile of rocks, like slate, or consider an option like a decorative basking area that also serves as the water filter.
Heat/light: His water should be maintained at about 70 to 75 degrees F, which you can achieve with a submersible heater. A UV-B lamp directed on your Painted Turtle’s basking area will make him a happy camper.
Fun fact: Turtles are toothless. They swallow their food whole.
Mississippi Map Turtle
Portrait: The shell of this gorgeous creature features lines that resemble the routes from a road map, and he hails from the Mississippi River Valley area—hence the name “Mississippi Map Turtle.” The shell also sports a distinguishing ridge of black tipped knobs down the middle and a jagged edge. The females are usually twice as large as the males—some females reach about 10 inches in length.
Eating: As an omnivore, the Mississippi Map Turtle will do best with a varied diet that includes both protein and vegetation. They like crickets, meal worms, and earthworms, Romaine lettuce, and nutritionally balanced commercial foods like ReptoMin. Because this turtle really enjoys his dinners, he might tend to gorge himself, so be careful not to overfeed. Too much protein can cause an unhealthy growth rate and a misshapen shell.
Home: Swimming and basking, basking and swimming. The life of the Mississippi Map Turtle is uncomplicated, and he will thrive in a tank that provides plenty of room for both activities. Since they prefer deeper water, a deeper set-up is recommended. One rule of thumb is to provide 75 gallons per male, and add half again as much for two males (110 gallons), and so on.
Your Mississippi Map Turtle needs clean, filtered water at about 70 to 75 degrees F for a healthy habitat, so a strong filter is recommended, along with a submersible heater, such as Tetrafauna’s ReptoFilter.
Heat/light: It’s important that his basking area is able to dry out after his session in the “sun,” and not remain wet. That’s where a heat lamp comes in—to dry his sunning spot and to allow him to bask in 80o to 90o F temperatures. Be sure the area is large enough for him to get his entire body out of the water.
Fun fact: Mississippi Map Turtles are actually a bit timid and rarely show aggression—unless there are two males competing for one female.
If you are well-informed, choose the right type of turtle for you, obtain it from a reputable source, and are willing to commit the time and money to care of it, you and your new turtle can live a long and happy life together.
Source: Pet Education
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