Proper Turtle Care

Caring for a turtle

In the past, pond sliders in the guise of the related yellow-bellied and red-eared (Trachemys scripta) were commonly kept as pets, but other more suitable species are now available. Always check the likely adult size of any turtle that appeals to you, before acquiring it as this is a very important consideration.

The major drawback with the slider turtles was the fact that a cute hatchling little bigger than a large coin could ultimately end up at the size of a dinner plate, making housing them indoors rather a challenging task. The range of species that are available today, however, are generally much more manageable in terms of their adult size, and have great personalities as well, potentially becoming very tame.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that just like tortoises, turtles are generally long-lived pets, with life expectancies of at least 25-30 years. They therefore represent a significant commitment.

Yet looking after turtles and ensuring they remain healthy is nowadays easier than ever, thanks to advances in technology. It is definitely worth planning ahead, so start by obtaining a large set-up (at least 90cm (3ft) long) that will be able to accommodate your turtle once it is full-size. Although more costly at the outset, this will be cheaper in the long run, as well as obviously providing your pet with more space from an early age.
There are special turtle set-ups on the market now, but unfortunately, these tend only to be designed for young individuals rather than adults, in terms of their size. You also need to check that there is enough space for a suitable land area, where the turtle can leave the water and bask.

One or two?

Young turtles do look very cute together, and there is perhaps an instinctive tendency to think about acquiring two together. Bear in mind, however, that turtles are solitary creatures in the wild, and do not normally associate together. Problems are most likely to arise once they start to attain sexual maturity, as a male intend on breeding is likely to harry a female relentlessly, within the confines of a tank. It is therefore better to house turtles individually.

Healthy turtles are lively and will retreat back into their shell when picked up. Their eyes should open easily, and they should be able to swim well, without bobbing or with one side of the body tilted down in the  water. This can often be indicative of pneumonia, which is very hard to treat successfully in both turtles and tortoises.

For now consider these pieces of advice carefully as we will be pushing more out over the next few weeks.


When it comes to a choice between glass and acrylic tanks, it is worth remembering that glass will be significantly heavier, and is potentially easier to drop, particularly if the sides are wet. It needs a secure base, and frameless tanks should have a layer of polystyrene placed beneath them. Acrylic tanks are less fragile, and as a moulded unit, they are unlikely to leak, but the sides can be quite easily scratched and algae can invade here, creating green streaks that are hard to remove.

Not all turtles are
the same…

It is really important to decide at the outset on the type of turtle that you want to keep, because this will have a direct
impact on the design of the set-up. Among the most popular turtles nowadays are the musk turtles, notablythe common musk (Sternotherus odoratus) and the razorback musk (Sternotherus carinatus), both of which originate from North America. These have similar requirements, often being described as ‘bottom-walkers’. This refers to the fact that they generally inhabit relatively shallow areas of water. They only grow to about 10cm (4in) or so when adult.

As always, the behaviour of this group of turtles therefore needs to be reflected in the design of their quarters. The water level should be such that although there is an area where it is possible for the turtle to swim freely, the majority of the floor area of the aquarium should be planned so that it can reach the water surface easily. This can be achieved by a step-like design on the floor. Too often you see these turtles as tiny hatchlings housed in aquatic shops and having to swim right up to the top of the tank in order to breathe.

In the case of other turtles that are typically available now, such as Reeve’s (Mauremys reevesii) or the Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Mauremys sinensis), which are both of Asian origins, they prefer to have a greater depth of water in which to swim. When buying tanks for turtles, it is always preferable to choose designs that are 45cm (18in) in height, rather than 30cm (12in), in order to ensure that an adequate depth of water can be provided, even as they become bigger.

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