Turtle Power

April 11, 2012

When Mike and I were dating back in university, we went to a party one night and the people who lived in the house had this turtle that we were enthralled by. Despite rules prohibiting animals other than fish in student residence, we went out and got a turtle the next day. Yep, we're impulsive. We chose a Red-eared Slider, which is by far the most common species of turtle kept as a pet. We named him Toby after Toby Flenderson (Name that show!).

Although we're impulsive, we're also hyper researchers. And it's a good thing we are, otherwise Toby the Turtle would have been long gone by now.

Despite popular belief, turtles are not cheap, easy, and short lived pets that are perfect for children. If you're interested in learning why, keep on reading for a brief and simplified overview of Red-eared Slider husbandry.

Properly housing a turtle is expensive.

While a turtle the size of a quarter might look like it has plenty of space in a fishbowl aquarium, it doesn't! Aquartic turtles should have around 10 gallons of water for every inch of shell length. Full grown turtles range anywhere from 6-12 inches. Do the math - that's a big tank! It's recommended that you buy the largest possible tank that you can afford, to avoid having to buy several tanks as your new little friend grows. We aren't perfect in this department - we started off with a 20 gallon and have now moved up to a 40 gallon. I can't say whether we'll move up from here or not in the future. We just got the new tank set up in the bathroom on Monday night, so it's a work in progress at this point.
The actual aquarium is the easy part. Baby turtles need water that's around 80 degrees Farenheit, while adult turtles need slightly cooler water (75 degrees ish). That means you need a water heater.
Turtles are dirty. You need a filter, preferably one rated for a tank way larger than the one you actually have. The style and filter media varies - we've gone through three different cheap filters but finally broke down and bought a high quality (Eheim) canister filter.

Turtles like to bask! In addition to an accessible platform that's completely out of the water, you need a heat lamp, as well as a special light bulb capable of producing UVB rays (to mimic the sun). Without this, your turtle won't be able to maintain a hard and healthy shell. The heat lamp encourages your turtle to get out of the water and dry out completely from time to time (also incredibly important in maintaining a hard and healthy shell).

I've dreamt of building an indoor pond like habitat rather than a typical aquarium (which surprisingly can be more cost effective), but we just don't have the space.

Turtles live for a long time. At least they should.

If properly cared for, a Red-eared Slider can live for 20-50 years! Unfortunately, most captive turtles are lucky to survive for even a year. Toby is 4, and still going strong.

Turtles can carry Salmonella.

In some places, it's illegal to sell turtles under a certain size. Guess why? Curious kids can pop baby turtles into their mouths and get Samonella poisoning (at least that's the common story behind this rule). As far as I know, there's no way to find out whether your particular turtle is carrying the germ, but it's definitely a best practice to wash your hands well with soap and water after handling the turtle itself, accessories, or even tank water.

Red-eared Sliders are an invasive species.

Maybe you have a Red-eared Slider and just don't feel up to looking after it anymore. Have a nice pond nearby? Please don't set it free. Red-eared Sliders are an invasive species in a lot of areas, meaning they can thrive in habitats where they aren't normally found, and often out compete native species for food and space. Here in Ontario Painted Turtles are native, but Red-eared Sliders can easily kick their butts.
Painted Turtle, photo by Rachel Laurenti

Other "fun" facts.

Aquarium gravel is a big no no! Turtles will eat, or try to eat, anything. Many a turtle has met an early death from ingesting aquarium gravel and having it become impacted in their digestive tract.

Choose aquarium decorations wisely. You don't want your turtle wedging themselves in a tunnel and drowning.

Turtles are escape artists. I've lost track of how many times that Toby has escaped from his tank, fallen to the floor, and then crawled to hide away somewhere in a dark corner. Watch your water level, and build up an extra barrier around the edges of the tank if necessary.

Interested in learning more? This fact sheet produced by PetCo is great. Do you want to talk turtles? This forum has a gazillion knowledgable people, and was so helpful when we first started caring for Toby.

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