Spotted Turtle Care: Is This Beauty the Perfect Small Turtle Pet?

Spotted turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Howcheng

The Spotted Turtle measures only 4-5 inches when fully grown, and is brightly-colored, alert, friendly and hardy…small wonder it is esteemed by turtle keepers worldwide. Although the days when I could count on finding several each summer are long gone (it is now rare in the wild), captive-bred individuals are readily available – if quite expensive! But those who give this endearing little turtle a place in their collections become instant fans, and never regret the price they paid. Shallow water specialists, Spotted Turtles are infinitely easier to care for, and require far less space, than do Sliders, Painted Turtles or any of the other more commonly-kept semi-aquatic species.

 

Range

The Spotted Turtle inhabits a large area of North America, but it is unevenly-distributed, and nowhere to be found in abundance. Its range extends from southern Ontario and Quebec south along the Atlantic Coastal Plain to central Florida and west through Pennsylvania to northern Indiana and northeastern Illinois.

 

Spotted Turtle habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Valerius Tygart

Habitat

This unique turtle is a true habitat specialist, being restricted to the shallow, thickly-vegetated waters of bogs, swamps, sloughs and other marshy wetlands. Hatchlings are highly aquatic, but adults spend some time in moist fields and woodlands. Over-collection and habitat loss have decimated populations, which are now protected; please be sure to purchase only captive-bred individuals.

 

Description

The bright to light yellow spots that mark the black carapace render the Spotted Turtle nearly invisible among duckweed, yet startlingly conspicuous in an aquarium. Among the world’s smallest turtles, adults measure a mere 4-5 inches in length.

 

Housing

Spotted Turtles are small but quite active, always foraging and exploring their environment. They should be provided with as much room as possible. A well-designed 20 gallon long-style aquarium is adequate for a single adult, but additional room is always appreciated.

 

The water in the aquarium should be of a depth that allows the turtle to reach the surface with its head without needing to swim. Floating plastic or live plants should be provided as cover for the always-shy hatchlings (they are on the menus of predators ranging from giant water bugs to bullfrogs, and naturally-wary!). Adults become quite bold, but still prefer aquariums with cover, driftwood, and caves to bare enclosures.

 

The aquarium should be equipped with a dry basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. A water temperature range of 68-76 F, with a basking site of 88-90 F, is ideal.

 

mediaDiet

Wild Spotted Turtles feed upon fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, crayfish, shrimp, salamanders, frogs and aquatic plants. Pets should be offered a diet comprised largely of whole animals such as minnows, shiners, earthworms, snails, crayfish, and prawn. Some adults will also accept dandelion, zucchini, collard greens, apples and other produce. Roaches, crickets and other insects may also be provided. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 60% of the diet.

 

Spinach and various cabbages may cause nutritional disorders. Goldfishes should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other species.

 

A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes and similar foods.

 

Feeding Note

Turtles are messy feeders, and quickly foul even well-filtered aquariums. Removing your pet to a plastic storage container at feeding time will lessen the filter’s workload and help to maintain good water quality. Partial water changes (i.e. 50 % weekly) are also very useful. Filters designed specifically for turtles, if serviced regularly, are usually preferable to those marketed for use with tropical fish. Some folks find it easier to maintain their aquatic turtles in plastic storage containers that can easily be emptied and rinsed.

 

Basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Davepape

Temperament

Spotted Turtles are as hardy and responsive as the more commonly-kept sliders, and are now being regularly bred by hobbyists. Although somewhat shy at first, most soon learn to rush over for food when approached. Spotted Turtles must be watched carefully if housed in groups. Males often harass females with mating attempts, and may stress or bite them in the process. Males should not be kept together, as they will usually fight.

 

Breeding

Mating and egg deposition occurs from April-August. Breeding behavior may be stimulated by a winter resting period at reduced temperatures, but this should not be attempted without expert guidance (please post below for further information).

 

Females produce 1-2 clutches of 1-8 eggs. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. The eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 82-84 F for 50-85 days.

 

Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection known as egg peritonitis. It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.

 

Useful Spotted Turtle Care Products (please post below for further information)

 

Commercial turtle docks 

 

Turtle filters

 

Zoo Med 10.0 UVB bulb

 

Mercury vapor bulbs

 

Incandescent (heat) bulbs

 

Aquatic turtle diets

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko? Comparing the Ownership Costs

Both Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos are about as close to “perfect” as a reptile pet can be, and either is a great choice for new and experienced owners alike.  But the costs of ownership, both short and long term, do vary between the two.  Novice reptile enthusiasts sometimes obtain their first specimens without fully investigating this point, and may be surprised (or delighted!) at the expenses involved in their care – especially as each can reach 20 or even 30+ plus years of age!  In the following article I’ll compare the start-up and long-term costs of owning Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.

 

There are also major differences in the habits, activity levels and care needs of Bearded Dragons and Leopard Geckos.  Please see the articles linked under “Further Reading” for a comparison of their habits and husbandry, and for detailed care information.  As always, I welcome any questions or observations that you may wish to post.

 

BDvLG

Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko?

 

Start-Up Expenses

 

Purchase Price

The cost per animal is similar for individuals that exhibit natural coloration.  A huge array of uniquely-colored “designer morphs” of each species has also been developed. Prices for such animals vary greatly, but are in similar ranges for both geckos and dragons.

 

Verdict: Similar for natural coloration – varies based on color morphs

 

Terrarium and Cover (single adult)t255908

Bearded Dragon: 30-55 gallon aquarium and cover

Leopard Gecko: 10-20 gallon aquarium and cover (larger is preferable)

 

Verdict:  Bearded Dragons require larger, more expensive habitats

 


UVB Fixture and Bulb

Bearded Dragon: Full length florescent UVB fixture and bulb

Leopard Gecko:   UVB exposure not required

or

Mercury vapor fixture and bulb

 

Verdict: With their UVB requirements, Bearded Dragons cost more.  

 

 

204499opHeat

Bearded Dragon: Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Red/black bulb or ceramic heat emitter (night)

Leopard Gecko:  Incandescent fixture and bulb for basking site

Heat tape or ceramic heat emitter (night)

 

Verdict: Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures, but the cost is negligible for the equipment.

 

Other Supplies

Both will also need a substrate or terrarium liner, caves, and driftwood or rocks upon which to bask.  The costs for these items are similar for each species.

 

Verdict: Other supplies are similarly priced across species

 

Food

 

Bearded Dragon (adult): 36-48 insects per week

Leopard Gecko (adult):  15-25 insects per week

and

3 bowls salad per week

 

Please note that these figures are meant to provide a general idea of expected food intake.  The actual amount of food your lizard will consume is influenced by temperature, the type of insect offered (i.e. 1 cricket vs 4 sowbugs vs 2 butterworms, etc.), general health, age, and the animal’s individual metabolism.  Please see the linked articles and post any questions about your pet’s specific needs below.

 

Verdict: Bearded Dragon adults consume almost twice as many insects as leopard geckos – and also require salads. Juvenile requirements can be even greater. Bearded Dragons cost considerably more to feed.

 

BeardedDragonEatting

Ongoing Expenses Unique to Bearded Dragons

 

Bearded Dragons grow significantly larger than do Leopard Geckos, and will need roomier terrariums (please see above) as they mature

 

UVB bulb and fixture replacement will also be necessary (Leopard Geckos do not require UVB exposure).

 

Ongoing Expenses Common to Both Species

 

200px-Leopard_gecko_with_new_tailVeterinary Care

Although both lizards are quite hardy if properly cared-for, occasional veterinary visits can be expected. The costs for such are comparable to those charged for cat or dog care.  Intestinal impactions (from swallowing substrate) and diseases related to poor nutrition may be encountered by geckos and dragons alike.

 

If a moist shelter is not available, Leopard Geckos may suffer retained eyelid linings when shedding, while Bearded Dragons that are denied proper UVB exposure will develop metabolic bone disease and related afflictions.

 

Atadenovirus infections, which are increasing in captive Bearded Dragon populations, are as yet incurable.

 

Verdict – Veterinary expenses are basically the same for both species

 

Other Expenses

Substrate replacement and vitamin/mineral supplement costs remain similar for both species over time.  Electrical expenses will also be in the same range, although Bearded Dragons require higher temperatures than do Leopard Geckos (75-110 F as opposed to 72-90 F).

 

In Conclusion

 

Overall, a Bearded Dragon is the more expensive pet to maintain, due to this species’ needs for spacious living quarters, access to UVB radiation, and large, frequent meals.  However, veterinary care needs cannot be predicted – as few visits by a relatively “inexpensive” gecko can level the field!

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Butterworms as Reptile-Amphibian Food: Nutritional Content and Care

Butterworm

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dicklyon

Butterworms, also known as Trevo Worms, are highly nutritious caterpillars that deserve more attention from reptile, amphibian and invertebrate keepers. They have many of the advantages associated with wild-caught insects yet lack most of the risks. Their calcium content of 42.9 mg/100g (as compared to 14 and 3.2 mg/100g for crickets and mealworms) is especially-impressive. Simple to use and store, and accepted by a huge array of species, Butterworms are in many ways superior to the more commonly-used feeders. I promoted their use throughout my long career as a zookeeper, and today would like to introduce them to those readers who may be interested in adding important nutritional variety to their pets’ diets. Please also see the articles linked below for information on other “alternative” foods such as sow bugs, sap beetles, leaf litter invertebrates, earwigs and many others.

 

Adult (related species)

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Butko

Natural History

Although they resemble beetle grubs, Butterworms are actually the larvae, or caterpillars, of the Chilean Trevo Moth (Chilecomandia moorei). As far as is known, they are found only in Chile, where their diet is comprised entirely of Trevo Bush (Trevoa trinervis) leaves.

 

Butterworms are collected rather than captive-reared, and are subjected to low levels of radiation before being exported from Chile. Irradiation prevents them from pupating, thereby addressing US Department of Agriculture concerns that the species could become established in the USA. This process, and the fact that they cannot be bred commercially, renders Butterworms a bit more costly than similar insects, but I believe their value as a food source merits the extra expense.

 

Silkworms

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rocket000

Nutritional Information

Being wild-caught, Butterworms likely provide nutrients absent from commercially-reared insects. They also exceed all other typical feeder insects in calcium content (please see Introduction, above), with only silkworms and phoenix worms approaching them in this regard (some find silkworms to be delicate, and phoenix worms are quite small, but both are also worth investigating).

 

The Butterworm’s protein content of 16.2% is on par with that of crickets, phoenix worms and waxworms, and below that provided by silkworms and roaches. Fat content stands at 5.21%, which is less than (considerably so, in many cases) that of all other commonly-used feeders.

 

Please Note: The nutritional needs of reptiles and amphibians vary by species and by individual age, health, and other factors. The fact that a food is “low in ash” or “high in protein” does not necessarily mean that it is a good or bad choice for your pet. Please post specific nutrition/feeding questions below.

 

Why Use Butterworms

In addition to their nutritional value, Butterworms are readily accepted by a wide variety of reptiles, amphibians, tarantulas, fishes, scorpions, birds and small mammals. They vary in coloration through shades of yellow, red and orange, and have a distinct, “fruity” scent. I’ve not seen any research on the subject, but these qualities perhaps may make them attractive to predators…in any case, Butterworms often incite interest from reluctant feeders.

 

Rough Green Snake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Cotinis

Butterworms range from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in size, with the average in most containers being ¾ inch. They are far plumper than waxworms, and ideally suited for both small and larger pets.

 

These colorful, chubby caterpillars are more active than waxworms and phoenix worms, yet can easily be confined to a shallow bowl or jar lid. I’ve found this to be especially useful when keeping certain treefrogs, geckos and other arboreal species that are reluctant to feed on the ground. Butterworms may also be used to provide important dietary variety to insectivorous snakes (Smooth Green Snakes, etc.), terrestrial salamanders and others that tend to accept relatively few traditional feeder species.

 

Storage

Butterworms can be kept under refrigeration at 42-45 F for at least 4, and possibly up to 6, months. I keep my refrigerator at 39 F, and have had no problems with losses at that temperature over periods of 2-4 weeks.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Collecting Insects for Herp Food: Traps and Tips

Earwigs as Reptile/Amphibian Food

Terrarium Safe Plants: Tips for Avoiding Pesticides

 

African violet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by רנדום

Each year, a wider variety of beautiful and interesting live plants becomes available to keepers of amphibians, reptiles, scorpions, tarantulas and other terrarium animals. Responsible suppliers to the pet trade should propagate plants without relying upon pesticides, but many hobbyists are rightly concerned about the possibility of poisoning their pets. While working at the Bronx Zoo, I had access to professional horticulturists who provided me with some safety measures one can employ to assure that plants are safe for use in terrariums.

 

Pesticide Types and Uses

Pesticides may be classified by the site at which they exert their effects. Surface pesticides remain on stems and leaves, and are usually mixed with adherents in order to improve their sticking power. Adherents are chemical compounds that may also be harmful to terrarium animals. Systemic pesticides diffuse into plant tissues – these are less commonly used on house and terrarium plants than are surface-acting chemicals.

 

Many species that are marketed as house plants are much favored by animal-keepers as well. Included among these are pothos, peace lilies, Chinese evergreens, cast iron plants and snake plants. These plants have almost certainly been treated with pesticides, as they are grown in large propagation operations, and not specifically sold for use in terrariums.

 

Carpet moss

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Upload Bot (Magnus Manske)

Various ferns, mosses, bromeliads and carnivorous plants raised by those who target pet keepers as customers may or may not be pesticide free (please see below, and post a comment for further information).

 

Risks to Reptiles and Amphibians

The skins and exoskeletons of reptiles and most commonly-kept invertebrates may be relatively impervious to pesticide poisoning by casual contact. However, traces may enter the animal if tracked onto food, or, perhaps, via the pedipalps of spiders. Herbivorous species may also sample plants, including those generally considered to be distasteful.

 

Red eyed treefrog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Charlesjsharp

Amphibians are very sensitive to chemicals of any type. Their porous skins allow substances as small as oxygen molecules to enter the body, and pesticide toxicity has been well-documented in field and lab studies (I once observed autopsies of male African Clawed Frogs that had been exposed to a common pesticide…the unfortunate fellows had developed ovaries!). While tree frogs and others that spend their time on plants are most at risk, pesticides can also diffuse through the tough skins of desert dwellers such as the Colorado River Toad.

 

Detoxifying Terrarium Plants

Plants treated with surface pesticides can be rendered safe by washing with water. Be sure to rub the leaves, stems and roots with a clean sponge, and rinse well; submerging the plant and swishing it about afterwards is also useful. I always discard the soil that arrives with plants, as pesticides that have dripped off the foliage during application will accumulate there. Vinegar, lemon oil and other products are frequently recommended as well, but I’ve not found these to be necessary.

 

Long-nosed Chameleon

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

There aren’t any well-established practices where systemic (absorbed) pesticides are concerned. Horticulturist co-workers at the Bronx Zoo suggested a 30 day waiting period before any suspect plant was placed into an exhibit. I did well with that protocol at the zoo, and have continued to use it in my personal collection.

 

Sources of Pesticide-Free Plants

Most terrarium plant suppliers rely (or claim to rely!) upon pesticide-free growing practices. I do not have much recent experience with any of the major growers, but can ask colleagues in the zoo and private trade for their opinions if you are unsure of your source. Please post any questions or comments below.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

The Peace Lilies in the Terrarium

 

Wild-Caught Insects as Reptile Food: Pesticide Concerns

Turtle or Tortoise – Which is the Best Reptile Pet for Me?

Radiated Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Hectonichus

Turtles and tortoises often appeal even to those who would not dream of keeping – or allowing their children to keep – a snake or lizard. Their good reputation as pets is due in part to generally amiable natures and the degree of responsiveness they exhibit to people. But the needs of these interesting reptiles are not always well-understood by first-time owners, and choosing between turtles and tortoises, and among the individual species, can be a daunting task. Today we’ll look at what is involved in turtle and tortoise ownership, so that you can decide which would be best for your particular situation. As always, please post any specific care questions you may have below.

 

Please Note

The terms “turtle” and “tortoise” are used interchangeably for some species, and in different ways throughout the world. Most commonly, “turtle” refers to semi-aquatic and aquatic animals, while “tortoise” is used for those that spend their time on land.

 

The following points are general in nature. Please see the linked articles and post below for detailed information on the care of individual species.

 

Smooth softshell

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by EyeYubel

Space Requirements

Turtles and tortoises need far more living space than most people realize, and many grow faster and larger than one might expect.

 

Among turtles, the commonly-kept Red-Eared Slider is a perfect example. Females (the larger sex) will very quickly reach 8-12 inches in length, at which point they will require a 75-100 gallon aquarium, a commercial turtle tub, or a wading pool. The smaller males, as well as some Musk, Mud, Map and Painted Turtles, might (depending upon the species) get by in a 20 to 55 gallon aquarium. Although hard to resist as hatchlings, Common Snapping Turtles and most Softshells grow very large, and they can be dangerous.

 

Tortoises generally need even more space than do turtles, with nearly all requiring a custom-built cage or fenced outdoor area. In addition to being very active, tortoises fare poorly unless provided with a thermal gradient. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow tortoises to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas (small cages quickly take-on the temperature of the basking site). Aquariums are ill-suited for use as tortoise homes, as they do not provide the ventilation (or space) required by most.

 

Pancake Tortoise

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Davepape

Life Support Equipment

All tortoises and turtles must have access to a source of UVB radiation, a heated living area, and a hot basking spot. For most owners, this translates into the purchase of UVB bulbs and fixtures, basking bulbs and fixtures, heat mats and ceramic heaters (tortoises) and aquarium heaters (turtles). Expenses can be trimmed somewhat if one keeps Mud and Musk Turtles, or those few other aquatic species that can get by without UVB if provided a proper diet.

 

Aquatic turtle tanks must also be equipped with powerful filters. Housing your pets in easily-dumped plastic bins eliminates the need for filtration, but this option has drawbacks in terms of visibility and aesthetics.

 

Tortoises hailing from deserts and other arid habitats are susceptible to respiratory infections in even slightly-humid environments. Therefore, a de-humidifier may be essential.

 

mediaDiet

It is in the area of nutrition that turtles and tortoises diverge most noticeably. With few exceptions, turtles are the easier of the two groups to maintain. Zoo Med and other commercial turtle pellets, earthworms, sun-dried or fresh shrimp and several other easily-obtained foods will keep most in good health and breeding condition. Nearly all, however, should be provided with whole minnows and similar fishes on a regular basis (these are the best source of calcium and other important nutrients).

 

Healthful tortoise diets, on the other hand, can be difficult to arrange, and the needs of the various species differ greatly. Poor nutrition is the leading cause of death among captive tortoises. Please see the linked article and post any questions you may have below.

 

Fly River Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mistvan

Workload

I receive many questions and complaints centering on the amount of work involved in keeping turtle aquarium water clean. Turtles are messy feeders, and very hard on water quality. Powerful filters help, but partial or total water changes will still be necessary (and filtration medium needs frequent replacement).

 

Land-dwelling tortoises are fairly simple to clean-up after, unless one has a large collection or concentrates on the giants of the group. For example, a pair of 80 pound African Spurred Tortoises (“Sulcatas”) under my care at a zoo brought back memories of cleaning rhino pens as a fledgling animal keeper decades ago!

 

Human Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria are likely present in the digestive tracts of all turtles and tortoises. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene, but are a serious concern for children and elderly or immune-compromised adults. Please speak with your family doctor and see the article linked below for further information.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Caring for Red-Eared Sliders, Painted and Map Turtles

 

Keeping Desert, Rainforest and Grassland Tortoises

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