In years past, I have discussed the immense diversity of reptiles, in general, in honor of reptile awareness day. For today’s blog, we will hone in on one very interesting subsection of reptiles, the hardy, the slow, the ever so steady– the turtle. What an amazing adaptation, having their vertebrae and ribs fused to a thick bony shield that protects the soft, delicate viscera inside. The term Chelonian is used to describe most turtles in general, including pond turtles, sea turtles, and tortoises. Today we will discuss the pond turtle specifically as they are very common in the pet trade.
Red eared sliders are the most commonly kept turtle species in the US. They can live anywhere from 20 to 40 years which means if you are planning on adopting a turtle it will likely outlive your average dog or cat (possibly multiple generations of them). We see many turtles up for adoption due to children growing up and moving away to college; my own parents currently have two pond turtles that were adopted when they were the size of silver dollars and I was only a youngster (sorry mom!).
Pond turtles can range in size from 4 inches in total length, all the way up to 16 inches from front to back of the shell. The top part of the shell is known as a carapace and the bottom part is called the plastron. The individual segments of the shell are known as scutes and they shed periodically as turtles grow. They should be housed in aquariums that are as large as possible; a general rule of thumb is 10 gallons per inch of turtle. An adult turtle should not be housed in anything smaller than a 40 gallon aquarium. Turtles in general are not a tidy breed. They are very messy eaters and create more waste than you would expect for their size, which makes filtration very important. They can be fed live prey items such as fish and worms but I prefer their primary diet be pellets. Pelleted diets are formulated to ensure they are providing all of the essential vitamins and minerals needed by turtles in all stages of life.
Turtles, like many reptiles, need an external source of heat to help digest food and function appropriately. I recommend a basking spot that is at least large enough to accommodate the turtle if it wishes to sit directly under the heat source or be out of the water and not directly under heat. I also strongly recommend providing a UVB bulb which helps them utilize calcium especially when they are young and fast growing.
Veterinary medicine is continually improving and evolving as research provides a greater understanding of the needs of reptiles. We have made great strides in the care of captive reptiles over the years both from a husbandry standpoint and a medical standpoint. Your local reptile vet (like me) is a great resource when it comes to husbandry tips and tricks if you are new to the reptile world. Also, yearly checkups are important to make sure your scaly family member is free from any obvious disease processes and parasites. They truly are my favorites, so if you have any reptile related concerns or questions, please know that we are always happy to help at AMC.