Home | Reptile and Amphibian Health | Feeding Aquatic Turtles…the Problem of Water Clarity and Quality

Feeding Aquatic Turtles…the Problem of Water Clarity and Quality

Many aquatic turtles make wonderful pets, but nearly all share one troublesome trait – they are messy feeders, and keeping their water clear is often a major challenge.  Today I’d like to present a simple, time-saving feeding technique and review some helpful products such as undergravel filters and gravel washers.

Separate Feeding Containers

In both zoo collections and with my own aquatic pets, I have found removing the turtles from their aquarium for feeding to be the most effective way of maintaining water quality.  Nearly all turtles adjust readily to this, and feed without difficulty in plastic tubs or other easily-cleaned containers.  I’ve had difficulties only with a few retiring species, such as mata mata turtles (Chelus fimbriatus) and giant soft-shelled turtles (Pelochelys bibroni).  For these, extra space and cover in the form of floating plants did the trick.

Leave the turtles in their feeding container for 20 minutes or so after they finish eating, unless such is stressful for them (turtles are very perceptive…some are uncomfortable in strange surroundings and will try to escape after feeding).  Elimination is swift, and many pass stored wastes shortly after eating.

Partial Water Changes

In terms of water clarity and ammonia management, partial water changes are as important for turtles as for aquarium fishes.  Soft-shelled and Fly River turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) are particularly sensitive to poor water quality, but it is a concern for all species.

When doing a water change, use a gravel washer to pull water from the very bottom of the aquarium.  This is a good idea even if you keep your turtles in a bare bottomed tank, and essential if you use gravel as a substrate.

I’ve found it very useful to siphon water from the aquarium into the feeding container at meal times – this assures frequent water changes and has allowed me to keep even quite large snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and giant musk turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus) aquariums crystal clear.

A Caution

One important point: do not start a siphon by drawing on its end with your mouth to fill the tube, as aquarium water should never be ingested.  Lee’s Self-starting Gravel Cleaner  is the best model to use with turtles.  If you choose a sink-compatible gravel cleaner, be sure to drain the waste water out a door or into a basement sink, and not to one used for food preparation.

Undergravel Filters

An undergravel filter will turn your entire filter bed into a living filtration unit.  Gravel washing and partial water changes are still necessary, but if powered by a suitably strong aquarium pump, an undergravel filter will go a long way in easing tank maintenance.  I use them either alone or in conjunction with canister or other mechanical filters, depending upon the circumstances.

Food Selection

For those times when you must feed your turtles within their aquarium, choosing a suitably-sized food item will assure that less of it winds up floating about and clouding the water.  Please check out our pelleted turtle foods  for some ideas as to the sizes that are available.

Further Reading

Large species such as snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles are interesting, but pose serious husbandry difficulties for most hobbyists.  For some ideas and tips, please see my article The Captive Care of Snapping Turtles and Alligator Snapping Turtles.



  1. avatar

    I am so glad that I came across this entry; we just got a baby Western painter; and I couldn’t figure out why his water is ALWAYS dirty. He won’t climb on the rock-always stays in the water… why???

  2. avatar

    Hello Renae, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Hatchlings are sometimes reluctant to bask because of all the predators that they face in the wild…everything from herons to bass and large frogs will make a meal of them, and so they are shy in general. Try some stout floating artificial plants, it may rest on them, still part in the water, and obtain the benefit of UVB lighting in that way (UVB is vital for painted turtle hatchlings).

    Be sure also that the turtle can get onto the rock, and that its surface will not damage his plastron…if you are unsure, please take a look at the Zoo Med turtle dock. It slopes gently to allow easy access and is non-abrasive.

    Check that the basking site is warm enough to attract the turtle – 85-90 F is ideal. Try watching from a doorway, as it may be basking when all is very quiet. Usually painted turtles adjust to captivity and time and become quite bold, so it may just take a bit more time.

    Please keep me posted and be in touch if you need further information.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Im new to the turtle world, found this site trying to figure out a way to keep the water clear, since it is very cloudy, the partial water changes have seemed to work, but i still have a problem with one of my turtles, it is the smallest of the bunch, a baby painted turtle, the only time it is not basking is during feeding time… it doesnt seem intimidated by the others when they go up to the dock, is this normal behavior? there is another hatchling in the tank, a mudd turtle, and it enjoys the water as much as its older companions, and all of my turtles are 2″ or smaller… so its not a huge size difference…

    please help?

  4. avatar

    Hi Eric, Thanks for your comment.

    Unfortunately, Frank is currently away having emergency surgery. We’re expecting him back within the next couple of days, at which time he’ll answer your question. Sorry for the delay!

  5. avatar

    Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here. Thanks for your interest in our blog. I apologize for the long delay in responding to you…an emergency surgery put me out of commission for a time.

    Painted turtles of all species, both in and out of captivity, are persistent baskers (and mud turtles are, as you note, largely aquatic). As you have pointed out, competition is not likely at play.

    Turtles that are ill, or afflicted with shell fungus, will bask for unusually long periods in an effort to cure themselves, but neither seems to be a factor here. In captivity and wild situations (southern and eastern painted turtles), I have noted individual differences in basking behavior.

    Painted turtle do have high UVB requirements, so please be sure that you are providing a UVB bulb of sufficient intensity, and a warm enough basking spot (85-90 F). There is mounting evidence that some reptiles sense UVB deficiencies and adjust basking behavior accordingly.

    If you’d like to send in some information concerning your bulb and basking site temperature, I‘d be happy to advise you further.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  6. avatar

    Hi frank,
    I wonder if you can find the name of the canister filter that doesn’t need to be below the tank…when I saw you, you mentioned there was a new filter out there and I’m really interested in getting it for my red earred sliders…


  7. avatar

    Hello Jacqueline, Frank Indiviglio here.

    It was a pleasure speaking with you while I was looking after the large (45 pound) spurred tortoise at Social Tees last week.

    The filter I mentioned to you, which is a canister that can be placed alongside your tank, is the Zoo Med Turtle Canister Filter. The model pictured here is rated for a 30 gallon aquarium, and I have used it successfully on one housing 2 western painted turtles. I believe your tank is 75 gallons or so (?), but if partially filled may actually hold 30 gallons of water. I recently saw 2 larger models at a product seminar, and do believe they are available. We can order such for you if you have a greater volume of water to deal with…please let me know.

    Good luck, enjoy and cograts on your long-lived sliders. Please stop by Social Tees from time to time. Something interesting is always going on…I’ve been by there with animals ranging from 60 pound snapping turtles to displaced woodchucks.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  8. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    I have a baby painted turtle, I recently put him in a 20 gallon tank the tank has a filter, a water heater, a uv light and a basking light. I bought him the small floating basking dock, but he mostly stays under water. He will sometime hang on the end of it where it slants in to the water, but he very rarely goes on to teh dock completely, Im just afraid that he will get shell rot if he does not bask. The water temp is between 78-82 degrees, and the basking light is around 75 degrees. I have heard many different reasons for why they won’t go on the dock. One is that the basking light should be warmer, another is that because the dock floats the turtle will think it’s unstable, and also that they feel to exposed. Are any of these things relevant? I just don’t want him to get sick. Thanks so much! I hope you’re feeling better:) Noel Furano

  9. avatar

    Hello Noel, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and your kind concern. I’m feeling fine now, thank you.

    Painted turtle hatchlings, being so small, are preyed upon by huge assortment of animals, including bass, bullfrogs, snapping turtles and herons; even giant water bugs will take them on occasion. So it is in their nature to be quite wary until they have put on some size. In the wild I rarely come across them basking in the open, despite high populations evident by basking adults. They may bask less often than adults in general, or perhaps do so at the water’s surface. Shell rot is more of a concern where there is an injury to the shell leading to an infection, but certainly they should dry out from time to time. By 6 months to 1 year of age, depending upon the individual, they will usually be quite fearless and feed from the hand.

    A warmer basking site should be provided in any event, and this may encourage more use of the site. 85-88 F is ideal.

    An attached basking platform would likely get more use as well. I’m not certain that this is an important point, but I have rarely if even observed any turtle species using a free floating site in the wild. I use the Zoo Med Turtle Dock for hatchlings, as it attaches firmly to the glass and the sloping ramp allows for easy access.

    You might also try covering the glass around the basking site with black construction paper or something similar – this may provide addition security and encourage the animal to emerge from the water.

    Good luck, enjoy your turtle and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  10. avatar

    Hi! I’ve had two red ear sliders since May 09. They have always eaten a diet of Tetrafauna Reptomin sticks with an occasional treat of dried shrimp or krill. In the last 4 days however, they are not eating the pellets at all. They float until they are mush. The turtles were given to me in a 10 gallon tank, and I thought maybe they were unhappy in close quarters, so we moved them to a twenty gallon two days ago. Still no eating of pellets, though they will eat the treats. What would stop healthy eating habits?

  11. avatar

    Hello Jessica, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Their tastes can change over time, but usually not both turtles at once. What may be happening is that they are slowing down as the season changes, and, not being as hungry as usual, are becoming picky.

    Depending on where your turtles originated, their activity levels may be governed by an “internal clock” of sorts. Even if kept warm, they may eat less or not at all over the winter. If this occurs, you can keep their water at room temp (65-70 F) with a warmer basking spot. As long as they are in good health, they should be fine – despite swimming and moving about, they will lose very little weight, and should begin feeding in the spring. Warming the water to 76-78 F sometimes sparks feeding, but not always…if they don’t feed, it is better to keep them on the cool side as mentioned above. True hibernation is difficult to duplicate without some experience, and not really necessary.

    Keep an eye on them just in case they are ill, but I doubt this is the case as they are still eating their favorites.

    I suggest that you add some whole guppies or other small fish to their diet, as well as live blackworms (available at pet stores, sold for tropical fish) and small crickets from time to time. Try also kale, dandelion and other greens, but most refuse that until they mature, at which time they take more vegetables.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  12. avatar

    Hi! I’ve had two red ear sliders since april 09. They have always eaten.In the last 4 days however, they are not eating the pellets at all.is there a time that they stop eatting or should i still keep tring to get them to eat.do they hibernat.i have heard thath you should stop feeding them when they hibernat.plz help me ♥

  13. avatar

    Hello Marie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    It is common for native turtles to slow down or stop feeding as the seasons change; often an “internal clock” of sorts controls this, and they will not feed even if kept warm. As long as they are otherwise in good health, they will be fine.

    Red eared sliders can be kept in water that is at average room temperature (65-68F) or a bit higher over the winter. Leave their UVB light and basking light on during the day – they will continue to bask and move about; you can try feeding them 1-2x per week, but they will likely not eat much, but will also not lose much weight.

    Actually putting them into true hibernation is tricky, and the details would depend upon where within their range the turtles originated.

    Good luck and please be in touch if you have any further questions.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  14. avatar

    I have a very small RES and I currently have him in a 40 Container. He is a little bigger than an Oreo cookie. I took him from someone who couldn’t care for him and had him in a tiny container. I change him water every 2 days and I use spring water. How many hours should he bask? For a RES so small does he need any special care? I am purchasing him a new tank heater and a new UVB Light. I have it deep enough for him to swim and have 3 big rocks for him to bask. I declined to put gravel in since I currently don’t have a filter system yet. Is it too cold out now for him to go out for natural sunlight during the day?

  15. avatar

    Hello Laurie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. You’re asking all the right questions, I’m sure you’ll do well.

    Tap water is fine for sliders, no real need to use spring water. Chlorine is not good for amphibians, but does not harm turtles and may keep bacteria in check.

    Leave the UVB light on for 10-12 hours/day…the turtle may be shy about emerging from the water at first. Be sure to provider an incandescent spotlight over the site as well, for warmth and to attract him to the UVB. The Zoo Med 10.0 is your best choice re UVB output…small sliders need a great deal. Try to position the basking site within 12 inches of the bulb – deep water is okay, as long as there are some artificial plants and all in place so he can rest while swimming. Watch for rough rock surfaces…basking platforms are preferable, and can accommodate any water depth.

    Feeding the turtle outside of the aquarium, in a bucket or such, will help with water quality – he may take time to adjust, try leaving some plastic plants in the bucket as cover.

    A sufficient supply of Calcium, along with UVB so the turtle can manufacture Vit. D3, are the main dietary concerns. Reptomin Select-A-Food can form the basis of the diet; it’s important to add small whole fishes (pre-killed guppies are best for small turtles) each 7-10 days as well. Live blackworms, earthworms and other shrimp based foods can be used as supplements. Try fresh kale and other greens, but most hatchlings refuse these. As the turtle matures, greens should be added regularly.
    I’ve seen adult RES basking on sunny days in mid-December in NYC (not hatchlings, however); they are quite resilient. You can put the turtle out on sunny days when air temps are 50 F or higher, just watch for sudden cloud cover and predators – even starlings and gulls will take small turtles.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  16. avatar

    Thank you so much for the information. I just wanted to be sure I was doing what was needed for the RES. I am new to caring for a turtle and it is some work but well worth the time. He lives in our Classroom at my work. We serve people with Mental retardation and Disabilities so the RES is a nice pet for them to view and see. Someone gave the RES to one of our Individuals here who cannot afford the care, so I took him and do all his care. Some people do not think when they give gifts about the cost, time, and care it will require. When he becomes adult size he should be in at least a 100 gallon tank is that correct? Thanks for your great advice and ideas.

  17. avatar

    Hello Laurie, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and kind words. You’re doing a wonderful thing for your students; in my experience turtles make a very positive difference in just about every situation.

    It’s common for people to buy animals without a full understanding of what’s involved, especially where inexpensive species are concerned; much of the blame can be placed upon unscrupulous sellers, who should know better.

    Males sliders are a good deal smaller than females (no way to determine the sex of a hatchling) and can get by in a 40 long to 55 gallon aquarium, especially if set up properly so as to maximize the space. Females do best in a 75-100 gallon – larger aquariums are always better, and usually easier to maintain once set up and running.

    Good luck and please keep me posted from time to time.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  18. avatar

    i just got a fly river turtle. the little baby has fungus all over its body. be careful most people out there sale this little creatures very ill.(buying online coincidence) the button line is that my little FRT is sick. the PH is fine the water temperature is 82 F. UV_B bulb i have been treating it with PIMAFIX.but i am looking for somebody out there that went through the same situation who can give me great advice. i really appreciate any help. :(

  19. avatar

    Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. I’ve had the same problem with the majority of young Fly River Turtles that came to me at the Bronx Zoo via confiscations. I had fairly good results using Marine Salt at 1-1.5 teaspoons per gallon, and keeping the water at 84-85 F. Hard water and a high pH (8-8.5) may help as well. I’ve not used Pimafix, but have read good reports on it – please write back if you’d like to experiment with Methylene Blue/Acriflavin, which I tried some years ago.

    Be sure the animal cannot bank itself up on hard objects – much like soft-shelled turtles, these guys are easily I injured – most fungus seems to take hold in nicks and scrapes, often during shipment.

    Well adjusted adults are very hearty, and I’ve not had to use salt or adjust pH at all; in fact, the oldest animal in the Bronx Zoo collection is a (very cantankerous!) male Fly River Turtle who is approaching age 70.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  20. avatar

    Hey Frank, thanks for your response. I live in Midtown and have searched online, Petland, and Petco and can not find Acriflavin. Any suggestions on where I can buy it?

  21. avatar

    You can order it directly from the manufacturer. Use it at fish strength for most turtles, but start at half-strength for Fly Rivers, just to be on the safe side. Most turtles do well when left in it 24/7 for a few days, but I would go with fish recommendations on the bottle in your case. I’d give the salt a try first, as that has worked as well. If you keep turtles, however, Acriflavine is always good to have on hand.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  22. avatar

    I got the salt as you specified. The one with the spots is very happy…swimming, eating,etc…The one without the spots hides in the aquatic plants all day,literally ALL day to the point I thought it was dead, but is not. Also it doesn’t eat and basically appears paralyzed. An hour after I added the salt is when the spotted turtle seemed happier. How often do I add the salt and can I continue with the PIMAFIX cycle with the salt? Any advice for my other stoic turtle? Again, thanks a million!!!

  23. avatar

    Hello Freddy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and kind words. Their activity levels vary a great deal, I’ve noticed, and some are much shyer than others. I’d give the shy one cover in the form of plastic plants to hide below, also perhaps keep his water level moderate so that it can easily reach the surface if debilitated. They also show very variable food preferences – more so than many turtles,. Try tempting it with fresh prawn (seafood store prawn is fine), earthworms if you can get them, live blackworms, fish,; some really like fruit – papaya and especially banana; pre-killed crayfish sparked one that I had. If however it is paralyzed, you would need to see a vet.

    The salt won’t evaporate so you’ll only need to add some when you do a water change; don’t add salt when you replace evaporated water, as you’ll be increasing salinity. They seem fine with it indefinitely, perhaps they frequent river mouths/estuaries and are well-adapted, as are some populations of snapping turtles, mud turtles here.

    I’ve not used PIMAFIX – check directions re use in marine aquariums – the amount of salt you’re using wouldn’t bring salinity to marine level, more like brackish. I can check with some of our fish people if you need more info.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  24. avatar

    Hey Frank, Freddy here again. Once again thank you for your help. I love animals so much and it broke my heart to see these turtles suffering but you saved them. The turtles are doing great. I used the salt as you directed me and it apparently cured their fungus. I did buy acriflavine and am wondering if I should run it through the tank to ensure that the fungus is gone? Also, the ph is currently at 8.2 which is where I want to keep it. I have coral and aragonite substrate which keeps the ph high, however, when I do a water change, the ph goes down. Can you recommend something natural I can purchase to keep in the tank that will keep the ph high?

  25. avatar

    Hello Freddy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks very much for taking the time to write back, glad things turned out well. Since it responded to the salt, I’d hold off on the Acriflavine for now.

    Proper pH 8.2 is the easiest way to adjust pH; coral and such great also, but take time as you noted. You’ll need to monitor the pH if you use this product, however, as your substrates will affect the water over time as well. Changes will not be so critical, as they would for fish, but monitor until you get a feel for the pattern that will develop.

    I’ll mention your comments on my Twitter posts today as well.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  26. avatar

    Hi, i have a red eared slider, i had him for about a year now,well i recently moved him from a 20 gallon tank to a 46 gallon tank, Now for about a week i noticed he hasnt basked at all, i have the set up exactly how i had it when he was in the 20 gallon tank, his eating habits are the same he looks healthy and is swimming fine.what should i do?

  27. avatar

    Hello Athena, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Good idea to give him more room; turtles are very aware of their surroundings and so often take time to adjust, even when put into a better situation. Basking is risky for wild turtles (exposes them to predators) – he may just take time to be secure enough to leave the water. I see you’ve said the set up is the same, but is it possible that because of the tank size the basking light is now further away from basking site? If so, the site may not be warm enough to attract him – a stronger bulb might be needed.

    Good luck, enjoy your turtle and please keep me posted; I’m interested to hear if he adjusts soon,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  28. avatar

    Hello Mindy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog and the kind words, much appreciated. What you are seeing is fairly typical,; in time they tend to become quite bold and may “greet” you for food – 2 huge ones I kept for decades would follow me through their exhibit’s glass! The toad might feel more secure if could hang a plant down fro the screen top in his favorite corner – they like to push under cover.

    Marine toads often become more active as temperatures rise – if your home is getting cool in the evening, this may keep down his activity for now. Heavy misting of the terrarium often encourages toads to be active, as they tend to come out and search for insects at such times in the wild.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  29. avatar

    Thanks so much…i will keep you posted, i am going to get a stronger light and see what happens in the next few weeks!

  30. avatar

    Hello Athena, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback; please let me know how it works out and if you need anything further,

    Good luck and enjoy,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  31. avatar

    Hi, remember about the turtle problem i was having about him not wanting to bask? well i did go out and got a stronger bulb, he would go on the basking area for a quick second and then jump off, now he actually went on and stayed on he looked a little scared but i think hell be ok because he hasnt jumped off! I just want to thank you for your response!! and having a great website for us reptile lovers!!!

  32. avatar

    Hello Athena, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write back with your kind comment; very happy to hear that all is going well. Thanks for being such an interested reader – I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  33. avatar

    Hi Frank, can you tell me if I am doing everything right for my African sideneck? When I first purchased him from the pet store the salesman told me he would only need a 10 gallon aquarium and no filter. I soon found out he was wrong. I have been reading sites like yours and asking questions in stores like Petsmart and now I have a 55 gallon tank, a desert UVB lamp and a heating lamp with a blue UA bulb. He never eats out of the water( I have tried relentlessly) and he does not bask. The floor of the aquarium is bare except for large rocks on one side. He also has a “cave he can go in to hide or sleep which has a basking are on top. He seems fine now, but he does not have a heater as I have been told conflicting information about its necessity and he seems to not mind the water. His diet consists of boiled chicken breast, goldfish(as a treat), nightcrawlers, mealworms and turkey. I have only had him for a month. He has five inches of water in his tank and a Bio filter. When his water gets dirty I do partial water changes and use Start right as a conditioner. Am I doing anything wrong? I absolutely love Frankie and I would love to have him around for a long time?

  34. avatar

    Hello Sandy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog.

    Glad you made the changes you describe, you’re on the right track.

    Deeper water is ok also, but provide a rock or mounted driftwood that reaches to a few inches below the surface; the turtle will rest on that and absorb UVB there and while floating- they rarely if ever leave the water to bask, and probably get much of their D3 from their diet, but I always use a UVB and UVA as a safety measure. A dry land area should be offered as well, as some do come out eventually.

    They will not eat out of water, but sometimes grab food on land and drag it in (I saw an amazing video of one “stalking” a dove that came for a drink to the shore of a pond, in Africa – the turtle lunged out of the water and dragged the bird in!)., Try to adjust the turtle to feeding in a few inches of water in another container, as described in the article.

    They are very hardy as regards temperature, most comfortable at 75 o0r so, but a bit cooler is ok as long as the turtle can warm up by floating under a lamp.

    I would suggest some changes to the diet. Avoid chicken, turkey etc except as a treat, and stay with whole animals such as shiners, minnows (goldfish on occasion are ok, too many lead to health problems) nightcrawlers (these are excellent, can make up 50% or more of diet), mealworms, crickets, waxworms and other insects, freeze dried shrimp, whole uncleaned shrimp (“people-food shrimp”) and high quality prepared foods such as Reptomin and Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food.
    Sidenecks have lived over 30 years in captivity, and longer lifespans are definitely possible; You are off to a good start – please check out other articles on the blog and write back with any questions. As I type, I’m being watched by a musk turtle that just turned 40 years of age – I hope you say the same about your turtle some day!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  35. avatar

    Thanks Frank for your response. I apologize for the delay, but in this case no news is good news. I recently bought a heater and my turtle is more active than ever! Since there is not a lot of water in the tank, I just bought a small one made for a 10 gallon tank and when it heats up to a certain degree it cools itself off, and I increased the water by several inches. Ironically I had stopped giving chicken and turkey often and I tried to introduce crickets, but he is a slow taker. I would love to try the shrimp because he has such a distinctive palate. I use the 10 gallon tank I previously purchased as an extra habitat for him to eat and play in. I just put a small amount of water as you suggested and he seems to adjust pretty well. I will be sure to keep in touch and tell others about the information you provided me. Thank you so much for your valuable insight and knowledge. I too hope that I can say the same about my sideneck as I have children and I would love for him to be in our family for years.

  36. avatar

    Hello Sandy, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback and kind words, and for spreading the word about your experience, much appreciated.

    Turtles can be very “picky” but sidenecks usually come around in time. Another good source of shrimp, which I neglected to mention last time, is Zoo Med Canned Shrimp – these are whole, a good size for a young turtle, and a freshwater species, which might be better for turtles, at least in large quantities, than marine shrimp. Keep him hungry and keep trying the other items as well.

    You’re obviously concerned and conscientious, and so I think an look forward to a long-lived pet.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  37. avatar

    Hi Frank

    i recently acquired a female map turtle. she is almost 1 year old. We also have an algae eater in with herShe is in a 20L aquarium, half full of water, with 1 1/2 inch of gravel in the bottom. We have two filters, one canister and one Whisper filter, also a submersible heater. We recently purchased the zoo med turtle dock. we have a 60 watt bulb over the basking dock. We have had the turtle 3 weeks and she has yet to lay on the basking dock. We are concerned with her not drying out.. Is there something more we can do, also, should we take out the rocks to help make cleaning easier and help with water clarity.

  38. avatar

    Hello Ashley, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your note. Sounds like you have done your research and are going about this in the right way.

    Young turtles have many enemies, and are often shy about exposing themselves. I’ve observed map turtles in the Delaware River for many years – adults bask all the time, but youngsters seem to float at the surface more, resting on floating plants but not actually coming out onto logs very often. They seem to be okay remaining wet (although some species must dry out entirely) but they do need UVB – I think they absorb this at the surface of the water. If your 60 wt is an incandescent, I suggest you add a florescent Zoo Med 10.0 bulb that spans the length of your tank.

    Place floating plants in the tank so that the turtle can rest at the surface, and disturb her as little as possible for now. The extra cover (plants) should also increase her sense of security, and may make her a bit bolder as well. Check also the temperature on the turtle dock – warming it to 80 F or so will help attract her there. Eventually she’ll settle in enough to leave the water – until then the she will absorb UVB by floating.

    I would remove the gravel – less work for you and a cleaner environment. Keep an eye on the fish as your turtle grows, as she may try to make a meal of it…algae eaters are quick, though – provide it with a secure shelter and they may be ok together.

    Female Common Maps can get quite large, so plan ahead for a larger tank eventually.
    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  39. avatar

    Hi Franks

    Its me again..through internet research we have come to the conclusion that we have a northern map turtle. We took out the rocks as you suggested and tank is much cleaner with no fish smell. My concern is still her lack of basking. The zoo med turtle dock with ramp is about 5 inch from bottom of tank. Is this a good height for her to get onto the dock. We have seen her swim underwater but not on top of the water.

    Ashley Williams

  40. avatar

    Hello Ashley,

    That is a good depth…the turtle will be able to come out, but it is just a bit shy – they are on the menu of so many predators’ it’s in their nature to be cautious. Just be sure there is plenty of UVB hitting the water’s surface as mentioned earlier and the turtle should be fine.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  41. avatar

    Hi Frank

    Our turtle is basking regularly. We are changing the water once a week and cleaning filters about every other day. My question is, how much shedding is normal. She’s been shedding off and on since we got her a month ago. I read online that is can be from over-feeding. Wanted your opinion on this.

    Ashley Williams

  42. avatar

    Hello Ashley,

    Thanks for the feedback – certainly my predictions do not usually come to pass that quickly…nice to hear!

    At 1 year of age, your map turtle is still growing quickly; frequent shedding of the scutes (shell plates) is normal; also turtles shed over an extended period, not all at once like snakes, so it takes a longer time. Just be sure it has a good calcium source – small whole fishes once each week or so (minnows, guppies, etc.), Reptomin and Freeze Dried Shrimp Overeating will usually be seen as fatty deposits around the legs – the turtle will not be able to withdraw completely into its shell.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  43. avatar

    Hi Frank, I had a few questions about Painted Turtles..
    I recently got a baby painted turtle, (s)he is about the size of a quarter right now, is there anyway to tell the approximate age of this turtle? Also I have him/her set up in a 20 gallon long aquarium with a heat lamp and a UVB bulb. (S)he has a large rock to come out of the water and bask on(and does so quite frequently). How long should this tank set up work for him/her? I have currently about 4 inches or so of water in the tank, is this too much right now with him/her being so small or is this still not enough? I was concerned about them being good swimmers being this small so I chose to not put a ton of water in there but enough so (s)he could easily swim around and be covered by water. (S)he is a very healthy eater and loves worms and the ReptoMin I have been feeding him/her. Also was wondering is there anything that can live with my turtle? Like other fish, frogs, etc?
    Thanks, Tiffany

  44. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Nice to see you are taking care to ask all the right questions, you’re on your way to having a long-lived pet.

    It’s hard to judge age by size on;larger turtles, but a painted the size of a quarter would be less than 1 year old, possibly even newly hatched this spring. The 20 long should be okay for another 2 or possibly 3 years – males are much smaller than females when fully grown, but no way to determine the sex yet.

    The water depth is fine – they are strong swimmers and even a few more inches of water would be okay. You can add some floating plastic plants to provide additional resting places, but not so much that cleaning becomes difficult.

    Reptomin and earthworms are a very good basic diet; add small whole fishes (guppies, minnows) every week or 2, and freeze dried shrimp. Crickets and other insects, blackworms can also be given. Add greens as the turtle gets older (please see my article on Vegetables as Turtle Food).

    It’s difficult to keep other animals with turtles – fish/frogs that are too large to eat will still be chased about continuously; also it’s difficult to maintain water quality that is suitable for fishes when turtles are present.

    Good luck, enjoy and please let me know if you need any more info,

    Best regards,
    Frank Indiviglio

  45. avatar

    Thanks for getting back to me so soon Frank.

    I have an assortment of frozen fish that I feed to my African Clawed Frogs(4 of them soon to be 6) would I be able to feed those to the turtle? I feed my frogs feeder guppies as well but not sure if I want to feed my turtle those yet since I have seen how he eats and I can’t imagine putting that poor fish thru being ripped apart into tiny pieces. Would it be okay to feed him frozen/thawed tilapia, catfish, salmon or silversides? Can they eat mealworms?

    What would you guesstimate his age being? Maybe like 3-5 months? I read somewhere that painted are hatched in the end of summer and bury themselves all winter and come out in the spring time? Is this true?

    I will just keep my turtle alone then don’t want to add anything just to have it stressed out by the turtle chasing it.

    Thanks so much!

  46. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    I was going to raise the messy issue of live fish, but decided to wait and see if you mentioned it – I thought you might! Yes, as you’ve surmised, turtles can be quite savage when catching fish. Use smaller silversides – the \idea is to get the turtle to eat a whole animal rather than bits and pieces (the bones provide calcium, other benefits from internal organs.) Silversides are marine fishes, but I’ve used them long term for turtles w/o problems. Freeze dried shrimp is a good calcium source also – use plenty and you can limit fish to once every 10 days or so. Bits of catfish/Tilapia will also be readily taken. Mealworms are fine as an occ. treat.

    There are 4 species of Painted turtles in the USA – in the northern parts of the range, Eastern and Midland, and poss. Western Painted turtles sometimes hatch in fall and emerge in spring; same for snapping turtles, possibly some pother species.

    Southern Painteds and others in the south of their ranges generally hatch in spring – captivity may also affect the hatch time; let me know the species you have and perhaps we can narrow it down.
    Great to hear of your success with the clawed frogs – another great choice; one of mine reached age 21, and that’s not even the record!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  47. avatar

    Hi Frank

    A few days ago our map turtle tore apart the heater in the bottom of her tank. I asked a friend about this and she said it was because we had taken the rocks out, that the turtle needed something to sharpen its beak, are there any benefits to putting the rocks or some amount back in?

    Thanks Ashley Williams

  48. avatar

    Hello Ashley,

    Interesting question….turtles trim their beaks incidentally, while feeding; as far as we know, they do not specifically chew on things for this purpose, as do parrots and rodents. However, in the wild they are constantly tearing apart plants and rotting branches and moving rocks about in the hopes of finding small creatures to eat. What you are seeing is likely an offshoot of this behavior.

    Turtle Bone is a high calcium Cuttlebone product that can be used to divert attention from heaters and filters…it helps keep the beak trimmed and supplies calcium as well. You can also offer leaves of kale, dandelion, romaine and other greens (avoid spinach) with the stems intact. Some map turtles eat this, others will poke through it in hopes of finding a snail or other treat. You can also provide chunks of uncleaned (with outer “shell” in place) shrimp (the type people eat) – turtles love this and crunching up the shell is good for the beak.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  49. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    After looking online I found that there is only one type of painted turtle that has a stripe on it’s back and that is the southern painted turtle. And my baby has a stripe on his back. So I guess that is what it would be. From what I’ve read they aren’t from where I live in Northern Illinois so I wonder how he got up here.
    I have noticed today that he is shedding a little bit on his tail and back legs. Is this normal or should I be worried? What should I do about it?
    Also my Mom has crickets that she feeds her gecko and a few of them died today and she is coming over in a few days is that okay to feed to him or is that too long since they died to feed them to him?
    That is great that one of your clawed frogs reached the age of 21! I know a few people whos clawed frogs are in their mid 20s! All of mine are around a year old so it seems like I have a LONG time left with them!

  50. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Yes, sounds like a Southern…interesting if it was collected locally. There are introduced populations (released pets) outside the natural range (they interbreed with other painted turtle species), but I wouldn’t think it could survive the northern Illinois winters (nor could I!). However, some species that hibernate for only short periods are able to adjust to longer winters, red eared sliders get by in Canada!

    Turtles eat long-dead insects in the wild, but better not to use the crickets.

    Some shedding is normal – if it continues for more than a week or so, let me know; keep an eye out for fungus (gray/white patches), but this is not common.

    The published longevity for a southern painted is appx. 30 years, but I’m sure they have a longer potential lifespan – so plan ahead!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  51. avatar

    Hello Frank,
    Sorry It has taken me so long to get back to you.
    The shedding has stopped thankfully.
    But I think that I have an idea of when this little one was hatched. I was going through pics of him from when I first got him and I noticed that I believe he still had his egg tooth attached to him, I only saw it for a day or so and then it was gone. Didn’t think anything of it until now. How long does the egg tooth stay attached for after they have broke out of their shell?

    30 years is a nice long life for a turtle! I am looking forward to that.

  52. avatar

    Hello Tiffany,

    Thanks for the update; egg tooth usually only stays on for a day or 2 after hatching; rarely 3-5 days.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  53. avatar
    Ashley Williams

    Hi Frank

    Not sure if you can help me with this. We have an algae eater in with a northern map turtle. They get along fine, here is my problem. We do a 100% water change every week. We use a net to take out the algae eater. The last 2 times he has latched onto the bucket we put him in and ended up bleeding after we got him in the tank. Any ideas about how to take him out safely.?

    Ashley Williams

  54. avatar

    Hello Ashley,

    Nice to hear from you again,

    You might try keeping the fish in a water tight plastic bag while you’re cleaning the tank .. fill bag ¼-1/2 way with water, the rest air, as when you buy fish at a pet store. When tank is ready, turn the bag inside out in tank and fish should swim right out or be easy to dislodge.

    Odd that they get along!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  55. avatar

    Hi Frank, It’s me again!
    I have a question for a friend this time though. She recently bought 2 red eared sliders from the pet store and had a few questions about them.
    They are about 5-6 inches long(both of them). It’s a male and female. She said that the lady at the pet store told them they shouldn’t be eating fruits and vegetables yet as they are too young. I thought that since they are that old they should definitely be eating fruits and vegeys by now is this correct? Also she said that they have been mating quite a bit. What should she do to prepare for eggs? She said that the female is very friendly and will eat from your hands but the male will try to bite you. Is this just because they are mating and he is being protective of “his girl”? Any info you could give me to pass along to her would be great. Feeding, housing, egg laying, etc.


  56. avatar

    Hello Tiffany,

    Nice to hear from you again.

    They can begin eating dandelion, kale and other greens now (fruit not necessary) as long as they continue to receive whole fishes and a high quality turtle pellet as well. Some resist greens for some time – please see my article on Feeding Vegetables to Sliders for more info.

    It’s difficult to arrange a breeding area in most aquariums, but if possible wedge a plastic container filled with moist soil just above the water level. If the female becomes restless and stops eating, she can be moved to a large enclosure (i.e. plastic garbage can) with moist soil every few days until she lays. Some will just deposit the eggs in water if unable to nest – they can survive for a time so have your friend remove them and write back for info on setting them up. Males sometimes harass females constantly when kept together and may need to be separated and re-introduced at intervals.

    Sliders’ personalities vary a great deal, as is true for most turtles…males don’t really defend females so it may just be his nature; hormonal surges during the breeding season may make him more aggressive as well (sorry, not a very “romantic” notion!).
    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  57. avatar

    Hello Frank, I was wondering if you could take a look at some pictures of Squirt for me. I am worried about his shell, and since he is so young I just want to make sure that it isn’t pyramiding or anything else. It looks odd to me but this is the first turtle I have ever owned so it might be normal. Could you please take a look and let me know what you think?


    Thanks, Tiffany

  58. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Looks fine so far…please feel free to write back from time to tim e with details on its diet, and we can fine tune.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  59. avatar

    Hello Frank! Haven’t written in quite some time and everything has been going great so far with Squirt. He will be a year old on April 13th and is a bit bigger then the palm of my hand. I have average sized hands lol, does that size sound about right to you? I have a question that might be serious though. Lately I’ve noticed these little spots on his shell(top and bottom) that kind of look shiney under the lights in his tank, they kind of look like air pockets to me. I can’t see them if he is out of the water though. Any idea what this could be? Also when should I start to introduce vegetables in his diet? Right now he is eating a mix of red wigglers, medium size live crickets, freeze dried meal worms, freeze dried red shrimp, and reptomin plus. Also he has some rosy reds living in the tank with him and he eats those when he can catch them(he’s not very good in this area since they have been in there so long they have actually had quite a few babies haha).

  60. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the update; nice to hear from you.

    You can start greens at any time, but they often refuse until nearly adult; but try, especially after a few day’s fast. Size sounds just about right, good work!

    Use mealworms only rarely, unless you set up a colony…newly molted grubs and pupa are good foods. Whole fishes are the best source of calcium and should be given weekly – you’ll probably find that you need to pre-kill or else confine them in a small area, or else the turtle will not get enough. Not easy to breed minnows in a tank…very good!

    Hard to ID what you describe…could you be seeing bits of unshed scutes; turtles shed piecemeal, so this is normal unless bits remain for weeks. Fungus does not usually appear as shiny; keep an eye on it and let me know if anything changes,

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  61. avatar

    Hello Frank. Thanks for getting back so quickly. Would like a small plant(such a like duckweed or sword plant) work as a good thing to maybe try to get him into that type of food?
    I just went and pick him up to see if it was him shedding or not and I pushed where one of the “bubbles” are and its definitely air bubbles. It changed shape and moved when I pushed on it. Could this be him getting ready to shed? I’ve never seen it before and he’s shed a couple times already.

  62. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    My pleasure, thanks.

    Many turtles eat duckweed, but beware of putting it in the aquarium…it multiplies at an unbelievable rate, and will gum-up filters, etc. Sword plants would be quite expensive fare for a turtle! Dandelion, kale, romaine, collards, mustard greens are just as acceptable to sliders; but they tend to prefer animal based foods, esp when young. Not too much of a concern – Reptomin has plant-based ingredients, so you can take your time introducing new foods. Please see this article as well.

    There is a condition known as Gas Bubble disease that is common in amphibians and fish but far less so in turtles other than Pig-Nosed and softshells. It usually occurs in gas saturated aquariums – too much aeration, leaks in tubes etc; Bacteria grows beneath the adhering bubbles. Unless you see bubbles at the same location specifically, I wouldn’t worry. Not at all common in sliders (I’ve never run across it and have handled thousands) – they usually dislodge bubbles when moving about, I believe.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  63. avatar

    Thanks Frank. I have heard of gas bubble disease because of my African Clawed Frogs and I don’t believe it’s that. I do have a bubbler in his tank for the fish but its just one bubbler(the dragon kind with the bubbles coming out of his nose/mouth) and he’s in a 55 gallon tank with the water at just over half full. I don’t think that’s excessive enough to cause that. Thanks for the idea though. I’ll keep an eye on him and let you know if a few weeks if anything has changed.

  64. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the feedback; I agree, in your set-up gas bubble would be very unlikely.

    Please let me know how all goes, and if you need any further information.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  65. avatar

    Hello Frank,
    I had a question from a friend. She has 3 turtles.2 are red eared sliders and 1 is a southern painted like mine and she has the 2 sliders in a 55 gallon tank and they are about 8 inches or so and the painted is around maybe 2 inches. But its only in a 10 gallon tank. Could she put them all together in the 55 gallon? Or would that not be safe for the painted?
    P.s. the painted is only a few months under a year and is only 2 inches maybe is that normal?

  66. avatar

    Hello Tiffany, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again.

    The sliders would likely overwhelm the painted at feeding time, and might even attack it while feeding; can separate them at feeding, but really isn’t good to confine a small turtle with them – stressful, could not bask properly, etc. Actually, a 55 gallon is a bit small for 2 sliders – your friend should watch water quality carefully, best to feed in another enclosure so as to spare filter a bit; larger tank/pool best.

    The painted’s size is ok, it will grow faster if moved to a larger tank or storage bin – 20 gallons at least.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  67. avatar

    i found a baby snapping turtle and i dont know wat kind it is and wat to feed it and how it should live my kids had one when they was ll but i looked on all web sites and tells me something but not alot can u please help me on raise this baby

  68. avatar

    Hello Tonya, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest in our blog. Please check out this 2 part article that I wrote on Snapping Turtle Care and feel free to write back with further questions.

    They grow rapidly, and are usually 2 large for most home aquariums within a short time. Also, after age 1 year or so, they tend to be very aggressive feeders and are liable to bite children during feeding or when the tank is being cleaned. So please think carefully before deciding to keep the animal, and let me know if you need any advice on releasing it.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  69. avatar

    Hi Frank
    Big fan of the blog. this thread is quite old so hope you see this.
    I have a question on water quality, ive had my two musk turtles for about 14 months now and managed with your advice to get them set up in an easily maintained aquarium that they seem very happy with. Feeding well and thriving. Up until recently water has been clear as glass with little effort. However green algae is becoming a bit of a problem. I live in ireland and so have had to provide artificial light through the winter months. could this be a cause? What causes algae to build up like this, what can be done to combat it. (at the minute my solution has been monthly 75% water changes, and physically wiping down the tank and fixtures to remove as much green as possible.) Thanks for your time.
    All the best

  70. avatar

    Hello Eoin,

    Nice to hear from you again and thanks for the kind words. Glad that the turtles are doing well. I receive instant email notifications of posts, so please feel free to use any thread.

    Algae enters tanks in a variety of ways…digestive tracts/skin of feeder fishes, gravel, wood, etc; some have even suggested that it survives processing and comes in with dried foods! Really quite amazing…I have several species in tanks with no possible sources; I imagine cells enter with tap water, as chlorine seems not to affect survival.

    Strong light is key to its survival. Unfortunately, products designed to kill algae in ponds/swimming pools are not safe for turtles. We experimented with salt etc. at the Bx Zoo but w/o long-term success. However, it will not harm your turtles…growth on the shell can be removed with a tooth brush, but no need to do so. Razor blades are best for glass, and it tends to take longer to re-establish when razors are used. Filters may clog sooner, but breaking down the tank and such is only a temporary solution, not really worthwhile. They say rats and roaches are the most resilient organisms…but its algae (and duckweed!) in my experience!

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  71. avatar

    Hi Frank.
    Thanks as always for the quick response.
    Ok so im resigned to a war with the planets most resilliant inhabitant, and im not going to win outright.
    I take it so that the algae is harmless, merely unsightly and so long as i keep my filter in tip top condition and continue with my current water change routine it should be fine? Should i then be expecting the situation to balance itself out if i stop breaking down the tank every month? My worry is that the algae will take over and become harmful to the water quality. Can this happen? or is a bit of green around the place just part of a healthy turtle tank?
    Whats your opinion on introducing an algae eating inhabitant to the tank? its a 40ltr tank and my musks are about 70mm long (2 and 7/8 “).
    Thanks again for your help, my stinkpots would be lost without you.
    all the best Eoin

  72. avatar

    Hello Eoin,

    Thanks for the feedback; yes., as with most things, best to pick your battles wisely! Green algae is harmless; I’ve never found a wild musk or mud-turtle that wasn’t coated wit it, and in zoo exhibits we merely manage it for appearance sake. Breaking tank down will keep it at bay for awhile, but, as you suggest, it will win in the long run. No effect on water quality, other than clogging filter perhaps.

    Algae-eating loaches, catfishes and snails will not keep up with it, and all need supplementary foods as well (which they invariably favor over algae!). Also, the turtles will harass fish and snails, even if they are too small to actually kill them.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  73. avatar

    HI frank.
    Great stuff, as always just the right information. Tried seaching around for info but its all very contradictory. The turtles will be delighted, nothing they like better than gettin the place good and grubby. Nothing annoys them more than a sparkling clean tank. 😉

    Love the blog,
    Best wishes

  74. avatar

    Hello Eoin

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. You’re right – in the wild, they favor mud-bottomed, plant-filled ponds and swamps. Please check in when you can and let me know if you have any specific interests and I’ll forward article links. In case you haven’t seen it, this one is on some other musk/mud turtle species. Enjoy,

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  75. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    I am e-mailing to pick your brains on caring for a wild-caught 13″ male Mata Mata I acquired about 6 months ago.

    I recently traded 6 of the Burmese tortoises that hatched out in my yard for a larger 18″ Mata that had a beautiful shell but was in terrible health and died 4 days after I received him. The day after I got him I took him to the reptile vet in Mt. Vernon, NY, who took one look and told me that it did not have much longer to live. I was refunded $600 for the tortoises.

    After this experience, I took the other Mata to get a B-complex vitamin shot to see if it increases the turtle’s vigor. This turtle has eaten shiners since I got him and eats dead as well as live fish. had recommended Aquamax to me for the large female alligator snapper that I have. I feed the shiners Aquamax before feeding them to the Mata with the idea that this is a higher protein carnivore food that will be beneficial for the Mata. Dr. discussed some Mata info that they had with regard to UV lighting and water pH.

    I have been keeping the Mata in my basement with all the other turtles and tortoises in winter enclosures. The Mata enclosure is approx. 36″w x 40″w x 30″ high enclosure made from 2x4s and plywood, lined with pond liner halfway up the sides and double layer plastic the top and sides with a plexiglas drop-down door in the front. I warm the air with ceramic heaters to 80 degrees, which also heats the water, which I am considering increasing to 85 degrees or so. I use tap water that I change every week with a pH of probably 7-8, I have not tested it with a pH kit. I use a pond pump and hose that drains the water in just a few minutes. I refill the enclosure with hot water from my water heater with a hose permanently attached at the bottom and cold water from another hose permanently attached where the line comes into the basement. This makes weekly water changes very easy and quick to do.

    I would appreciate your input with regard to UV lighting and water pH. I plan to get two 4-foot UV bulbs at the Melville LI show on 3/25 to hang overhead on one side of the enclosure in a shoplite. My lighting question is whether to use Reptisun 5.0 or 10.0 bulbs and what distance from the water surface would you recommend? Today (Sat. 3/17) was gorgeous so I followed my friend ‘s advice and had the Mata outside in direct sun in a tub with water covering most of his shell. I figured that if he got too hot he would move out of the sun. Not only did he not move, he seemed to love basking in the sun for 3 hours or more. A thermometer placed on top of his shell registered 120 degrees with full overhead sun, yet he seemed completely content.

    My water pH question is: what would you consider the most economical means of dropping the pH to 4.5-5.0 with weekly water changes? I have used pH Down in the past, yet would also consider peat pellets which I have ordered in the past from That Pet Place. Additionally, is it necessary to have the pH that low or would 5.5-6.0 suffice for a healthy Mata?

    I would also appreciate any additional feedback you may have regarding any improvements I could make to keep this turtle in the best health possible.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.


  76. avatar

    Hello Matt

    Great points to raise, thanks. Nice speaking with you at the NYTTS seminar.

    Much of the info on mata mata’s is conflicting, with good and bad results being reported for a variety of the same protocols. I suspect much of this is rooted in the fact that most in the trade are wild caught; undiagnosed/misunderstood health problems likely cloud what happens in response to different husbandry techniques, making it difficult to come up with general rules, etc.

    Many years of caring for mata matas at the Bx Zoo seems to bear this out…some w/c adults have done fine in crystal clear exhibits with little cover, in cattle troughs dumped and filled several times weekly with tap water and no regard to pH, and so on, while others fail to thrive; I think experimentation will be needed for some time; individual differences, depending on range, may also play a role.

    The water in mata habitat that I’ve seen (several portions of their natural range) has been tea-colored to near black. Many keepers use peat to lower pH, darken water; black water extracts as well. Floating plants (live pothos, water hyacinth, etc) very useful to cut down on light as well. I’ve used pH Down successfully with tentacled snakes, should be fine as well. Others try thick layers of oak leaves; turtles seem very much at home in these, burrowing down, but affects on pH hard to predict, continual testing needed as leaves decompose.

    By Aquamax I’m assuming trout chow…great product; I’ve raised several turtles and axolotls using it as a basis of diet; during my years at the Bz Zoo I ground it as cricket food (was Purina in those days..I believe Aquamax product is the same. Good idea to feed to the shiners; fact that turtle takes dead food should allow you to vary the diet…shrimp, various fishes.

    85 F on high side as ambient temp. Range of 76-83 ideal; in wild they always have access to cool water, probably rarely confined to 80+ continually., Warm spot fine as you describe…outdoors or in tank…Dark refuge should be available if bright light is used indoors.

    pH recommendations generally given at 5-6; I’ve not experimented with lower, other than re 1 individual with a fungal problem.

    UVB never provided at Bx Zoo during my time there; several long term animals in collection. Given the unique nose and breathing style, I doubt they float about on surface to bask as do snappers, diamondbacks. However, so few wild observations…they could conceivably move into shallow water and expose the shell; perhaps only when necessary (some new info on reptiles modifying basking behavior to suit needs, i.e. according to diet’s D3 content).

    Re sunlight – UVB penetration into water is generally considered so slight as to be of no consequence to turtles, re absorption, but we do not have specifics re mata mata’s ability to absorb UVB; penetration into water varies with dis. Oxygen content, suspended materials, etc.

    It couldn’t hurt to add bulbs, but I’m not sure how useful they would be. The ZM 10.0 has a higher output than other florescent models, but is most effective (through air) at 6-12 inches (please see this article). I doubt it would be of much use unless turtle was floating or out of water. Mercury vapors have a longer range, but I’m not aware of any tests re water penetration.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted. Hope to see you at a NYTTS meeting soon.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  77. avatar

    Wow, thank you for the most infomative responses to anything I have seen online, your blog is awesome!

    I grew up in the midwest, and my first business was catching painted turtles, selling them in a pool outside of garage sales in a pool in the yard, and it gave me some sense of business as well as the responsibilities of raising a pet. That was when I was 10, 26 years ago. Now I run a successful business and am finally getting back to my roots.

    I recently aquired 2 western painted hatchlings, and have been going all out trying to make things work but am becoming frustrated because of a few issues. Your blog has given me great perspective, but want to ask you a few questions to see if you could give me better insight because the answers I get from pet stores is so vauge and non-descriptive that I am just completely frustrated.


    I have 2 hatchlings, a 6 gallon Fluval edge tank. Currently have rocks on the bottom, a basking platform (had a floating log but they didn’t seem to understand how to get up there). The filter that came with the unit didn’t seem sufficient so I purchased a 501 zoc med external filter.

    The filter seems to be pumping away, and looks great, but I can’t seem to get clear water. I had gotten orginally the gormet food with pelets, shrims, worms, but realized my turtles hated the pelets and only liked the shrimps and worms. So since then I have purchased the Flukers medley treats.

    What can you suggest to clear up the water with such a small tank? I thought the 501 would have solved the problem but it doesn’t seem to be doing the job.

    In your blog I see that maybe the rocks may be not neccesary because they store things that will cloudy the water, as well maybe I should feed them in a seperate container. If I have to remove the rocks and feed them seperately that is fine.

    The problem is, one of them is so shy already, as you have desribed they are bred this way in nature to protect themselves. So if I have to remove them every time to feed them I feel that I may keep this shyness going. If I do need to remove them, how many times a day should I feed them?

    Any suggestions to my questions would be greatly appreciated. And thanks again for doing such a great blog, you should be proud of how knowledgeable you are, and it is great that you take the time to respond to people like me!

    Take Care,


  78. avatar

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. Your story brings back memories..I started out in much the same way but, unfortunately, I was missing the “business gene”;as a small boy I told my mom that before I would let anyone buy my insects, toads or snappers (we lived in the Bronx), they would have 2 fill out a 2 page questionnaire, to prove that they knew enough to keep the animals alive and healthy. She said that was admirable, but that I would most likely have to work very hard for my living”!…dead on, but it’s been fun. Back to my roots now as well…collecting local herps and bugs with 5 yr old nephew, and still caring for a common musk turtle that I received 44 years ago.

    I don’t think you’ll be able to keep them clean in a 6 gallon, esp. if you feed in the tank. If you want to stay with a small tank, best to dump/fill, …plastic storage bins work well, and give more room than a tank for less $, less weight, etc.

    I never use rocks other than in huge zoo exhibits, even there they are more trouble than worth, and some turtles will swallow.

    A small tank often raises stress level..they will adjust in time, but in a 10 or 20 they usually calm down faster, and you’ll need that size, and larger, in time anyway (Zoo med makes a nice filtered tub-style enclosure for adults, when you are ready).

    Removing to a separate container can be stressful, but hunger will win out; also, add some floating plastic plants to the feeding container, to provide security.

    keep them hungry to ensure that they eat a varied diet; turtles get stuck on certain foods and then it is difficult to change them over. reptomin and turtle chows are good as basis, along with freeze dried prawn. I put links in but most are available in stores.

    Be sure go include small, whole fishes at least once weekly…guppies, minnows, shiners, etc; goldfish linked to liver problems etc long term, but Ok on occasion – essential source of calcium; Earthworms very good as well, various insects from around porch lights as a treat.

    UVB exposure critical, especially for hatchlings (sorry if this is obvious..)

    Frequency depends on a great many factors, but they will likely eat daily..one meal is fine; skip food 1-2 days/week; or you can feed larger amounts on alternate days; within reason, they adjust metabolisms to food availability.

    Here’s an article on the general care of Pained and similar turtles.

    Please let me know if you need anything, keep me posted, and thanks for jogging the memory, Frank

  79. avatar

    Dear Frank,

    Thank you so much for your prompt response to my posting, it is very much appreciated! Since your suggestions I started feeding the hatchlings in a seperate tank, removed most of the rocks as you suggested (kept some to support the plants and the basking platform). The male seemed to develop a cloudy eye, and from what I know it is a sign of dirty water so hopefully it will clear up with the newly clear water. I uploaded a photo for you to see of the tank when it is actually clean, http://www.technologiesinternational.com/download/IMAG4501.jpg .

    I loved your story about wanted to make sure who ever you sold things to you wanted to make sure they were alive, and my friends also go a kick out of it knowing me. For the record, I am also in NYC, Harlem, have been since 95. So to hear your passion growing up in the BX hits home, and all I have to say is BRAVO!

    I do plan to get a bigger tank when these little guys get bigger, and will use this tank for minnows or guppies, but as the present goes I will try to make this work because it has already been a big investment for me.

    But don’t you worry, I would totally pass the 2 page test, I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure things work out for my little ones. I even have friends that are climbing to be the godparents and help name them!

    Thanks again for your help, and I will update you as things go along. And if there is anything I can do to help you out in the city, please do not hesitate in letting me know, I am happy to help out where I can especially with someone like yourself that has helped me out!

    Thanks again!


  80. avatar

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the kind words and offer, much appreciated.

    Good to use plants as you are, although they may chew in time. Pothos and peace lily, both typical house plants, live very well with roots submerged…pothos can be floated, peace lily best attached to side of tank (can rig up 2 plastic suction cups with a cable tie between them, insert plant behind this. Adds to look of tank, may help a bit with water quality.

    I’d remove the rest of the pebbles, use other means to hold plants etc…dirt will be trapped in that amount, and they are very small, easy to swallow. main consideration with turtles is ease of maintenance…as they grow, it gets harder and harder to keep a tank decorated etc. they uproot, knock over everything. There are a few good platforms and docks that attach via suction, allow turtles to swim below, etc.

    Enjoy and pl let me know if you need anything, best, Frank

  81. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    I have a hatchling southern painted. Right now, I have an enclosure made from a plastic bin, while I create its long-term home. I have two concerns; the first is that my turtle has cottony-white fungus on two feet, and I have been unable to eradicate it. I am currently using Jungle Fungus Eliminator, which removed most of the fungus from its legs (that looked like shedding skin), but not the cottony fungus.

    My other concern is lighting. I have been using a Zilla light fixture that uses a reptisun 5.0 and a 25W halogen bulb combination. I am thinking of switching to the new 35W SunRay Metal Halide fixture, but the chart says that it should be 38″ from a painted. What do you think? 36″ would have it suspended 18″-24″ inches above the basking site, probably right in my eyes.

    Thank you,

  82. avatar

    Hi Steve,

    The lighting you have is fine for a s. painted.

    I’ve had good luck with Acriflavine on a wide variety of fungi; however, some species are very resilient and require vet attention…if acriflavine does not work, a vet visit would be in order. Be sure turtle can dry off completely when basking, please keep me posted, Frank

  83. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Thank you for the response. The reasons that I would like to change lighting are that the current setup does not warm the air much at all at the basking site even in the small container, and I am going to move the turtle to a 40-gallon, and also, the reptisun bulb is already very dim after only 2 1/2 months. Do you think that the metal halide is too strong?


  84. avatar

    Hi Steve,

    I’m not sure about the halide, but no reason to put your eyes at risk; at home, I just manipulate basking temps with stronger incandescent bulbs…room temp air is fine in areas away from site, and an aquarium heater can be used for the water, best, Frank

  85. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    would like to ask about water condition and skin shedding of my turtle.

    I have a matamata turtle that has a carapace of around 9 inches . He is shedding skin for the past months but is eating well . it doesn’t seem to show any signs of weakness …

    Read articles on the web to treat the water with almond leaves but the turtle still sheds its skin.

    Also, just this past week , the tank water seems to be cloudy , even after 100% change. I only use water that has been kept for at least a day . The tank is 2.5 feet wide x 6 feet long x 8 inch deep
    , with Eheim external filter .

    Hope you can help me out



  86. avatar

    Hello Chuck,

    I’ve seen the same in our specimens at the zoo…all turtles shed skin to some extend, it may just be more noticable in mata-matas at times, but I can’t say for sure. We kept pH at 5-6, which seems to work well, peat bags etc. used for this, and to darken water a bit. Some folks add Black Water extracts used for fish, but I’m not sure this is necessary. Important to watch for inflamed areas associated with skin shedding, in case an infection is involved, but other than a skin scraping and other tests by a vet there’s no real way to diagnosed a problem exists. Sorry, hard to speculate re water clarity as there are so many variables.

    Just to check – you’re aware of the problems associated with goldfish diets?.

    Please keep me posted, best, Frank

  87. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    I appreciate your reply and insights. Thank you

    I’ve checked for inflamed eyes… but everything looks to be well . It is also eating regularly , i feed it around 2 pcs of “kataba” per day. This is found in rice paddies . I think it is “Poecillia latipinna ”

    I stopped feeding it goldfish about a year ago , when i read about it vitamin deficiency

    For the cloudy water problem , I’ve scrubbed the tank and replaced with almond cattapa treated water ,,,, hope it does the trick

    Thanks Frank , will keep in touch


  88. avatar

    Hello Chuck,

    My pleasure.
    That fish and most other small fresh water species would be fine…try to vary the species if possible; you mentioned “pieces”…best to use small whole fishes as opposed to bits of larger fish. Re inflammation, watch skin as well…if shedding is excessive, perhaps skin will be more open to attack by bacteria, etc. Hope all goes well, frank

  89. avatar

    Hi Frank,
    First off love the website and have learned a lot by just reading through the comments and your reply’s.

    I am brand new to the turtle world (as in i dont own any yet i want to make sure i can provide a healthy happy home first) and have been doing some research for the past few months making sure i knew what i was getting into. i have learned a lot and i would just like to ask you if i have everything i need or should have. i bought a 75 gallon tank off of CL that had a leaky seal for $50 with the stand, i am very DIY Friendly so i stripped all of the silicone off and cleaned the glass with white vinegar, got aquarium safe silicone and resealed the tank( has held water for 3 weeks straight now) i sturdy up the stand as it felt a little skimpy. i have bought the zoo medombo Aquatic Turtle Lighting, with the Turtle Tuff 50watt halogen basking lamp, i have a AquaClear Power Filter 50 gallons, a internal power filter rated for another 50 gallons. and 2 DIY power head filters (290 gph rated each)hooked up to 3 in pvc that is a foot long that will have different types of media. i want to make my basking area in tank with rocks(unless that is not advised then i could buy the one from zoo med i suppose) i need to buy a heater but i dont know if i should get 1 rated for the aquarium size or 2 that way it is more evenly heated. i also have ordered a digital thermometer, one for water and one for basking area. do i need a light to run the length of the aquarium? my plan is to get 2 hatchling southern painted turtles. i like the idea of feeding them out of the tank, but im not sure if warm tap water is good or if i need water that has no chlorine. i really want to provide a happy and healthy area for the two turtles and want to make sure i have everything set up before i get them, and secondly i want to make sure there is very little to no smell because i don’t think that will make my wife happy, even though she is excited to have turtles seeing they are both of our favorite animal. i am worried about circulation in the tank. which is why i added the 2 powerheads to set up at opposite ends near the bottom of the tank because i know if the water is stagnat it will start to smell but i dont want to much current wear it will negatively effect the little guys/gals.
    sorry if that got confusing im not the best at putting thoughts down on a keyboard.

    Thank you very much,
    Any advice would be much appreciated

  90. avatar

    Hello Chris,

    Great that you are looking into details before-hand. Thanks for the kind words.

    The halogen bulb will supply heat and UVA (UVA is useful but not essential) but not UVB…do you have a UVB emitting bulb as well; this is necessary for Vit D production in the skin, which allows turtle to utilize calcium.

    Re heat, check that basking site reaches proper temperature under the bulb, as described here.

    Smooth rocks generally ok, but they take up space, limit water volume etc. One of the docks/platforms is preferable, but adult turtles tend to be too heavy for them to stay dry. I like to wedge cork bark between the glass sides of the tank…allows flexibility as to water level, smooth, and can be done w/o straining seal (I’ve never had problems re that).

    One heater is fine…with sensitive tropical species a second is useful in case of failure, but not necessary for s. painteds.

    The filtration you describe may set up overly powerful currents…this species tends to occupy slow-moving water, not good at battling current, esp when young; you may be able to limit outflow by directing it upwards, under a rock, etc, or fashion something yourself; stagnant areas generally not a problem due to high activity levels; keep a brine shrimp net on hand to spot clean, and use bare bottom (no substrate). Powerheads would almost certainly not work out.

    Chlorine will not bother turtles, than perhaps a few special cases (Fly river turtles); may actually be useful; it is dangerous to amphibs and fish. Please let me know if you need anything, enjoy, frank

  91. avatar

    Hello Frank. Just found your site and I have found it extremely informative. My son has an African water turtle (sideneck) who is approximately 7 years old (we’ve had him for the last 6 as my son was 4 when he *insisted* on taking this particular turtle home from the pet shop as his 1st pet – he’s been with us ever since including a cross country move). He is housed in a 75gal aquarium though am trying to go one more size up if I can find something wide enough (most tanks I have found are tall not wide at all). He loves to bask though I have noticed the last week when I switched to a new canister filter the water is staying slightly green. It’s clear but has a slight green tint to it despite anything we’ve tried including a 80% water change. He also hasn’t wanted to eat and just hangs out on his platform though I did notice yesterday he was swimming around a bit which I took as a good sign. Could it be that with the temps outside at 5 degrees or lower the water is just too cold for him right now or should I set a vet appointment (he goes every other year so not due til next feb by that trend and has always been given a clean bill of health). Just wanted to bounce it off you in case I was missing something obvious. Thanks so much.

  92. avatar

    Hello LisaBeth,

    Nice that you are doing this for your son…the same influenced me greatly, and I take much time with my 7 yr old nephew’s pets.

    Suspended algae finds it’s way into the tank in many ways…generally very hard to eliminate as it reproduces quickly under light and with nitrogen etc in water. Not harmful to the turtle.

    What are your water and basking temperatures? Low temps will cause turtle to bask more, depress appetite. Intestinal blockages etc also occur (is there substrate in the tank?) but lets rule out temps first. Best, Frank

  93. avatar

    Thanks Frank. Sorry it’s been a week things got a bit crazy over here. Let’s see his water temp seems low as the heater is set at 85 but the temp on the thermometer is registering at 74. That’s probably it. The tank is next to an outside wall and it’s been quite frigid here in the NE recently so maybe that is the problem. I threw in another heater yesterday afternoon but the temp doesn’t seem to have moved up any. Thoughts?

  94. avatar


    Check that the heaters wattage is rated for the amount of water in the tank..you’ll be better off with one properly sized heater than 2 smaller ones. Also, the heaters will not do much to warm the air, a a bulb should be installed if that hasn;t been done. Red bulbs and ceramic heat emitters can be used at night, as they do not disturb day/night cycle. Just be sure the fixture you use is rated to accept the bulb or ceramic heaters wattage. Home insulation material attached to the rear and perhaps side wall of the aquarium should help. Best, Frank

  95. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    just an update on my concern before regarding water clarity of my mata mata tank ….

    Tank water became very clear after scrubbing the inside tank with sponge . Thanks for the help.

    With regards to mata mata’s bite …. does it cause damage to the hand ?

    Its been a long time that i have handled my matamata , it was aggressive and snapped when i lifted it up.

    Thanks Frank


  96. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    The mata mata size is around 10 inch carapace ….



  97. avatar

    Hello Charles,

    Glad to hear all is going well, thanks.

    They never, in my experience, take well to handling, and are stressed when removed from water. Their jaws are quite soft – very unusual among turtles; even large ones rarely break the skin. Enjoy, Frank

  98. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    With that said , i’ll be more comfortable in handling the turtle , no need to worry about biting ,,

    take care Frank , will keep in touch


  99. avatar

    My pleasure,

    Please bear in mind that they should be handled only when necessary..stress of removal from water, disturbance, etc can affect long term health.

    Enjoy, please keep me posted, Frank

  100. avatar

    Hello, I tried to get as much information I could from previous posts so I apologize if you answered this already. I have two red ear sliders, male and female, and had them for a year. I am only now learning they can get shell rot which has me alarmed but I think I am doing everything right.

    I just want to know if it’s okay to feed them fish like Tilapia or Cod?

    I give them crickets and romaine. I switched to these shrimp chasers made by Zilla for a while but they just don’t care for them anymore. I try and find different treats for them but it’s hard to tell how accurate the source is and you definitely know your information.

    I’m also planning on releasing them in a medium size lake over the summer because I feel bad… I just can’t find anyone to provide the space and time and I think they would enjoy this lake. It would be in Virginia. Would that be okay for the turtles, they should be able to adapt? (I know they are an invasive species and it’s against the law in some states to release them.)

  101. avatar

    Hello Kate,

    Thanks for the kind words…You can post any questions w/o searching previous answers.

    They should be given small whole fresh water fishes (minnows, shiners, etc) as opposed to pieces of a larger fish so that internal organs and, especially, bones are consumed. marine species (cod) are also best avoided. A commercial turtle chow should be included as well…please see this article and ;let me know if you need more info.

    It is illegal to release them in VA; they out-compete rare and declining native species and consume invertebrates and plants that are not taken by natives. Try contacting a local turtle/tortoise club or herpetological society..let me know if you need help in locating these organizations.

    Best, frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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