Proper Turtle Care part 2
More specialized habits
Last time we left off on the point that not all turtles were the sameSoft-shell turtles(Trionyx species) are also sometimes available, but their requirements are relatively specific, and they also can grow to a large size, about 25cm (10in) in length. This means that they are not an ideal choice, particularly if you area first-time turtle owner. Instead of having a typically hard shell, these turtles have what feels rather like a tough leathery casing over the body. Deprived of a turtle’s first line of defense against predators, soft-shells have adapted both in terms of lifestyle and behavior. They will burrow under the substrate, relying on camouflage to conceal their presence here, and if disturbed, they will frequently react aggressively. These turtles are equipped with a relatively long neck and elongated nostrils. Occupying quite shallow stretches of water, they raise their neck and use their nostrils rather like a twin set of snorkels in order to reach the water’s surface and breathe. This is another way in which they can conceal themselves to a large extent, and avoid detection, with the added advantage of being able to seize prey that inadvertently strays within reach of their powerful jaws.
In terms of a set up for soft-shelled turtles therefore, you need to choose a sandy rather than coarse gravel base for the enclosure. This will allow the turtles to burrow down easily into the substrate.
The water depth is obviously an important feature too, and this will have an impact on how the set-up is heated.
Heating and filtration
Where there is just a small depth of water, it is not easy to include a standard aquarium heater-stat, although a special unit as used for young fish (fry) may be suitable. The other option is to rely on a pad heater attached to the back of the tank, under thermostatic control. In most cases, a water temperature around 24°C (75°F) will be adequate. If you are using an aquarium heater-stat though, there are robust designs that do not come in glass tubes, and these are recommended, being pretty indestructible. Another piece of equipment that will be useful is an aquarium filter. There are different models available, linking with the water capacity of the tank, and some designs are specifically sold for turtle tanks. They vary in their degree of sophistication as well, but bear in mind that if you have to keep buying replacement media for the filter, this can become quite costly.
Under-gravel filters, as used in aquariums, are really not very effective for large turtles. A filter of this type is also unlikely to be of any value in a soft-shelled turtle set-up, simply because the fine sand will block the slits in the filter, and sand is not a good medium with this type of filtration system in any case.
A good covering of coarse gravel is recommended, where a healthy population of beneficial bacteria that will break down the waste can develop. Indeed, if you chose this type of filter for a turtle tank, be sure to add a starter culture of beneficial bacteria at the outset, to speed up the process and the efficiency of the filter.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to keep turtles – especially as they grow larger – in tanks with aquatic plants growing in the bottom of the aquarium. This is
because turtles will uproot them, but it is possible to include some floating plants at the surface, with duckweed (Lemna) often thriving in these surroundings. It is a good idea to include vegetation of this type, because it will allow your turtle to browse here, and benefit from eating fresh plant matter. Many turtles do eat a proportion of vegetation as part of their diet, especially as they grow older.
By and large, the floor area of the tank needs to be relatively uncluttered, providing plenty of clear swimming space as a result. Adding a large amount of decor can also make it harder for any filter to keep the water clean, as it provides areas where dirt can accumulate.
It is important to have a dry land area where a turtle can leave the water without difficulty and bask. This will help to keep its shell in good condition, and also serves to lessen the risk that it will become badly affected by algal growth. This can sometimes lead on to shell damage, as the microscopic algae manage to penetrate between the outer layer of scutes that provide the covering over the shell, and can reach the bony casing beneath. It is possible to obtain platforms that attach to the sides of the tank, but these are relatively small in area. A better option can be to put in a divider in the tank at the outset, fixing this all around with non-toxic aquarium sealant to create a watertight bond. It is very important that the turtle can get in and out of the water here easily though. Make sure that any rockwork used to form a stack for this purpose is held together with sealant too, and that it is stable, preventing it from being accidentally dislodged. Full spectrum lighting is vital, with both a tube and basking spot being recommended. Turtles need access to suitable lighting to protect them from developing any deficiency of vitamin D3, which can cause them to develop soft shells, and suffer permanent deformity, even if they do recover. They also have difficulty in swimming with this condition, because their limbs are weak.
The diets of turtles have seen a radical change over the years, and carefully formulated foods are now widely available for this purpose, in the form of food sticks or pellets. Make sure, however, that you choose the most suitable type, and err on the side of caution, when it comes to choosing the size of food for your turtle. Smaller turtles generally find it easier to eat pellets rather than sticks. Any leftover food will pollute the water, so develop a routine with your pet
where you offer food at roughly the same time every day. As a result, your turtle will soon come to anticipate being fed at this stage. Then provide sufficient to meet its appetite, so that very little ends up being wasted. Young turtles need feeding every day, whereas adults can be offered food three or four times a week. You will soon come to recognize how much food your pet requires, although the appetite of a young turtle will obviously increase as it grows bigger.