One of the most over-looked aspects of proper turtle care is the provision of a secure place to hide. It makes sense that a hiding place would seem unnecessary – after all, turtles can simply withdraw into their shells when threatened. However, it’s not that simple (as usual!).
Shelter Use in Nature and Captivity
Even though their shells are often hard, and offer excellent camouflage – imagine a box turtle on a forest floor or a leopard tortoise among brush – most turtles become quite stressed if denied a secure place to hide. Even bold, long-term captives prefer a shelter, at least for sleeping.
Particularly retiring species, such as mata mata, bog and Malayan snail-eating turtles, will often fail to thrive if kept in bare surroundings. Hatchlings, even of common snapping turtles and other aggressive species, are consumed by predators ranging from giant water bugs to herons…most are always “on guard” and will refuse to eat unless given ample cover.
Note: at 80+ pounds, the Common Snapper Pictured here is among the heaviest ever recorded. He is on exhibit at The Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, which houses an extensive collection of native reptiles and amphibians.
Useful Shelters for Terrestrial and Aquatic Turtles
The Zoo Med Turtle Hut, available in 5 sizes, suits nearly all land-dwelling turtles. R Zilla Rock Dens sink, and so can be used on land or underwater (check that aquatic turtles cannot lodge themselves inside too tightly, and provide larger shelters as they grow).
The Zoo Med Turtle Dock can be set up to serve both as a basking platform and hideaway for aquatic turtles. When used in shallow water, the sloping side, top of the platform and tank’s wall form a nice underwater cave readily used by young painted, spotted, mud and other turtles.
Next time we’ll take a look at a few species that have special needs, and I’ll add a note about an old turtle of mine that hides within a unique, very old “cave”. Please write in with your questions and comments.
For an interesting report on Eastern box turtle natural history, including the use of shelters in the wild, please look here.