Home | Frank's Creatures | The Common Musk Turtle – My Choice for Perfect Pet Turtle, with Notes on Relatives

The Common Musk Turtle – My Choice for Perfect Pet Turtle, with Notes on Relatives

Frank’s musk turtleAs a boy working for an animal importer in NYC, I was much taken by the first hatchling Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) I encountered.  The minute, jet-black beast, much smaller than a baby Red-Eared Slider, was irresistible.  Last month that very same turtle turned 46 (please see photo).  So I am, of course, partial to the species, but there are actually very good reasons to keep this fascinating turtle and its relatives.

Description

This turtle rarely exceeds 4 inches in length (record: 5 3/8 inches); males average 3 inches.  The highly-domed carapace is olive-brown to black and often algae-coated.  The plastron is small, leaving a good deal of flesh exposed.  The skin is gray to black, and there are two yellow stripes on the head and a pair of sensory barbels (fleshy protuberances) on the chin and throat. 

Musk Turtles bear glands that can emit a foul-smelling secretion designed to deter predators.  Fortunately, captives quickly abandon this habit.

Range

The Common Musk’s range extends from southern Ontario and Maine to Florida and west to southern Wisconsin and central Texas.  It is one of the few turtles still to be found within NYC.

Habitat

The highly aquatic Common Musk Turtle favors the slow-moving waters of swamps, canals, farm ponds and river edges, but occasionally occurs in fast-moving streams.

Oddly, they sometimes climb trees to heights of over 6 feet when basking, aided by their small size and mobile legs (the plastron is much reduced).  Musk Turtles sometimes surprise people by dropping into boats passing below basking sites!

Reproduction

Musk TurtlesEgg-laying occurs from February through June, depending upon the latitude, with mating concentrated in the spring.

The average clutch contains 2-5 eggs (range 1-9); 4 clutches per year may be produced in the southern part of the range.  The eggs are deposited in a shallow nest (muskrat lodges are favored in some areas), within decaying logs, or below leaf litter.  Several females may share 1 nest site.

The incubation period is 9-12 weeks; the tiny hatchlings measure ¾ of an inch in length.  Sexual maturity is reached in 3-5 years for males and 5-11 years for females.

Diet

Although reported to eat plants on occasion, the Common Musk feeds mainly upon crayfishes, fish, carrion, insects, leeches, tadpoles and snails.

Hatchlings, vulnerable to predation due to their small size, are consumed by bullfrogs, fishes, giant water bugs, raccoons and other creatures.

Captive Care

As turtles go, Common Musks are quite simple to care for.  Reptomin can comprise 50-60% of the diet, with the balance being supplied by other commercial aquatic turtle foods, earthworms and minnows.

While Musk Turtles occasionally bask, they differ from many other turtles in not requiring UVB light to synthesize Vitamin D.  Along with Snapping, Soft-Shelled and certain other aquatic species, they can apparently obtain sufficient Vitamin D from their diets.
Staurotypus triporcatus

Other Mud and Musk Turtles

The 26 Mud and Musk Turtle species (Family Kinosternidae and Staurotypidae) share a common body plan and general behaviors, yet show an astonishing range of adaptations to diet, habitat and predators.  Among them we find both North America’s smallest turtle and brutes with jaws capable of crushing a finger.  Very few receive attention from hobbyists or zoos, yet nearly all are hardy and can be bred in captivity.  I’ve had the good fortune of keeping 15 or so species…following is an introduction to some of my favorites.

Note: All Mud and Musk Turtles can deliver painful and, in the case of the Mexican Giant Musk, dangerous bites.  Many calm down in captivity, but extreme caution is always necessary.

Mexican Giant Musk Turtle, Staurotypus triporcatus

This 15-inch-long turtle shares its habitat with several crocodilians, and has developed an extremely thick shell (and, some say, a pugnacious disposition!) in response.  It ranges from Veracruz, Mexico to Honduras, and is known locally as the Guau.

A Giant Musk under my care at the Bronx Zoo is now in its 70’s, and has lost none of its willingness to bite when handled.  Notoriously difficult to pair up, captive-bred animals have only recently become available.  It is a mollusk specialist, easily crushing clams and smaller turtles in its massive jaws…mine even made short work of hard-shelled snails known as Periwinkles.

Flattened Musk Turtle, Sternotherus depressus

This smallest of North America’s turtles is a mere 3 – 4.5 inches in length, and lives only in northwest Alabama’s Black Warrior River.  Unlike its relatives, all of which sport high, almost “tortoise-like” carapaces (most pronounced in the Razorback Musk Turtle, see photo), its upper shell is extremely flat.  Some believe this adaptation assists it in hiding from its many predators.

In nature this species hybridizes with the Loggerhead Musk, S. minor.
Eastern Mud Turtle

Mud Turtle, Kinosternon subrubrum

Four subspecies of Mud Turtle have been identified, with the eastern race being endangered in several states.  Now bred in captivity, this droll little turtle is an excellent choice for novice turtle-keepers.

The Eastern Mud Turtle often frequents brackish waters…in NY, it is known only from salt marshes and tidal streams.

Narrow-Bridged Musk Turtle, Claudius angustatus

This most unusual turtle is only rarely kept or bred.  Although but 5 inches long, its jaws are incredibly wide, and it can reach further back with its neck than even the Common Snapper.  Some speculate that this arrangement helps them to catch frogs, which are common in the shallow, weedy ponds they inhabit.

This is a “hands-off” turtle – I’ve had 30-year captives that remained as aggressive as the day they were collected.  Despite that, they do well if provided whole fishes, snails, crayfishes and earthworms.  Their pugnacious nature complicates breeding – I’ve yet to find a compatible pair.

Striped Mud Turtle, Kinosternon bauri

Striped Mud Turtle
Sporting a lightly-striped, olive-brown carapace, the Striped Mud Turtle (please see photo) inhabits swamps and canals from southern Georgia to the Florida Keys.

This turtle appears regularly in the trade…perhaps because, unlike its largely aquatic relatives, it frequently travels overland.  It has been bred in captivity and makes a fine pet, although those I’ve kept tended to burrow into the earth for extended periods (wild specimens aestivate during droughts).

Further Reading

Video of a “droll” young Musk Turtle hunting.

Natural History of Musk and Mud Turtles.

Loggerhead Musk Turtle Hatchling image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Nichole Buchmann
Eastern Mud Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by LA Dawson

Staurotypus triporcatus image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by LA Dawson

389 comments

  1. avatar

    Hi. I have a common musk turtle that might be very old and does not like night crawlers. I have seen this before in older turtles. I also had a female central American wood turtle who would not eat worms at all. I have read that many older turtles become more vegetarians as they get older and become less carnivores. I just wanted to know if this is true of some older turtles. I just rarely see a turtle who does not like worms.

    • avatar

      Hello Shaun,

      Many semi aquatic turtles, i.e. sliders, cooters, map and painted turtles take more and more plant food as they mature; some Asian species…giant river terrapins, painted terrapins – become almost wholly herbivorous. Central Am Woods vary greatly re this; I’ve not seen any general trends (please see this article). Musks, snappers, softshells remain largely carnivorous throughout life, but individual preferences vary. I had common musk that stopped taking nightcrawlers, and others that took certain earthworm species but rejected others. best, Frank

  2. avatar

    Hi. I just cleaned my common musk turtle tank and want it to remain clean. I plan to start feeding the musk turtle in a separate container. I also have a small planty fish in the tank. I have been dropping fish food in the tank everyday. I just wanted to know if I should feed the fish in a separate tank also or should I move to the fish to its own tank. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      No need to worry about the fish…it’s the volume of food and broken leftover bits that make turtles tough on filters…many defecate soon after feeding, so try leaving it in the feeding container for 20 min or so once the meal is finished. Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Hi. Should I continue to feed the fish in the tank? Thanks

  4. avatar

    Hi. I saw an ad on Craigslist for s forest hingeback tortoise. I am interested but I live in a small apartment and most tortoises require a lot of space. I just wanted to know if you know anything regarding the care of these tortoises. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hello Shaun,

      Interesting animals but they need a good deal of space…I’d say 4′ x 5-6′, high UVB levels, strict attention to diet. Please let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Hi. I marked down on a calendar July the 4th as the first day that I incubated my first turtle egg. When do you think that I should look out for them to hatch? Thanks

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      Incubation period is typically 60-90 days, but hydration, temperature affect this greatly There also seems to be a good deal of individual variation among the females…cases of much longer period, to over 200 days, have been recorded. i hope all goes well, Frank

  6. avatar

    [URL=http://s1216.photobucket.com/user/Washingtonpost77/media/Mobile%20Uploads/IMG_20140805_172313.jpg.html][IMG]

    Hi. I have tried to attach a photo of my common musk turtle setup. Please let me know if you can see the photo and if it is a suitable setup for musk turtles.

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      Both look ideal. In cooler weather you might put a small (40 wt or so) incandescent bulb above the log…not all musks will bask, but good to provide the opportunity. Mine have never done so in summer, however. best, Frank

  7. avatar

    Hello again. Just wanted to update you on the little muskie that seemed to be having trouble laying eggs. I took her for the x-ray and there was nothing showing up as far as any egg matter. He said she was clean. Looks like the calcium and warm water soak did the trick. I had him give her the antibiotic though, just to be on the safe side. I did also take the eggs she laid and secured them outside in a place where I felt a musk turtle would be likely to lay them. I’ve had a few box for many years that live out doors year round and have had some hatch-lings from them. ( I separated them though. Don’t want a lot of turtles.)
    I was wondering if there is a way to help prevent this kind of thing from happening again with a musk turtle.

    • avatar

      Hello Shirley,

      Glad to hear all is well.

      No way to prevent them from developing eggs, and no pattern to it..some produce eggs several times each season, others never, others will lay for a year or 2…skip a decade, then begin again – they follow a rhythm that we do not understand! Enjoy, Frank

  8. avatar

    Hi. You started that use a water to soil ratio when keeping turtle eggs.
    I have atta he’d a YouTube video of a egg laying process. Please let me know if this is similar to what you were discussing.

    YouTube.com/watch?v=ACh12tP7Y8

    I do not have a gram scale like discussed in the video.

    • avatar

      Hello Shaun,

      If you do not have a gram scale, the slightly moist mix we discussed will do nicely…they are quite hardy, as long as reasonably moist and warm. best , frank

  9. avatar

    Hi. I have been question that I have always wanted to know. Why do feeder fish sold at pet stores seem to die quicker than fish that are not sold as feeder fish. For example every time I buy a rosy minnow or gold fish that are sold ad feeder fish they die whenever I do water changes or are introduced to new tank water than what they were already in. I accidenly got a baby platmy fish in my tank and when I first put it in the water it did not die like the feeder fish. I just wanted to why feeder fish do not adjust to water temperature changes like non feeder fish. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      They are not worth much to the dealers, and so shippers/buyers do not adjust them slowly to new water each time they are switched – from rearing pond, to truck/plane – to store etc. This stresses the immune system, so a further change often kills them. Also, they are raised in crowded conditions, fed poorly, generally kept in unclean holding tanks that are not well-filtered or chilled (both do best in rather cool water). Sellers spend more time and effort on fish that are worth more and will be expected to live. Best, Frank

  10. avatar

    Hi. I have started to notice some mold on one of my turtle eggs. The egg still feels hard. I just wanted to know of this still a fertile egg and has a chance to hatch.

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      Difficult to say, as species of mold involved and other factors come into play. You can brush off with a q tip but avoid handling more than necessary, testing firmness etc as there’s not much you’ll be able to do to change what’s going on. Best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Hi. If the egg is still firm and hard do you think that the egg is still fertile even though it has mold on it?

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      Firmness is not a clear signal either way; no need to check; best to let the eggs incubate to term unless they are decaying, emitting a foul odor, etc. best, Frank

  12. avatar

    Hi. I am still confused to how much water I should use to moisten the eggs. The eggs are in a 7 inch by six inch plastic container with half of it filled with vercimulite. I have been spraying the substrate and sides of the container and don’t know of this is moisture.

    • avatar

      Hello,

      The only accurate way to measure water volume is to weigh and set up as described in the article, If that was not done, you can estimate by squeezing a bit of substrate between your fingers…it should stick together a bit, but not shed water when squeezed. Again, musk eggs are hardy…if they are overly-dry they will begin to become dented of shriveled in appearance. But if you want an accurate measurement of water: substrate ratio, you’ll need to buy a gram scale and set up as described earlier, best, Frank

  13. avatar

    Hi. You mentioned before about taking the top off of the container and letting the eggs get air once a day. I just wanted to know for how long should I do this everyday? I think this might help prevent the eggs from molding.

    • avatar

      Hi ,

      Just a few seconds…the time it takes to look over the eggs; it’s mainly to allow air exchange for developing turtles…more important as hatching time hears…it will not likely affect mold growth, unfortunately.

  14. avatar

    Hi. I just read this site http://www.austinsturtlepage.com/Care/caresheet-stinkpot.htm and added ten inches of water to my adult female stinkpot musk turtles tank. I this a good depth for the turtle or do you think that it is too deep for musk turtles?

    • avatar

      Hello Shaun,

      That is fine, or even deeper water, as long as they have an easy way to the top that lets them walk to the surface, or rest below the surface…..sunken driftwood, rocks , platforms leading to basking sites etc. Constantly swimming from bottom to top is not good. I find it easier to use shallower water, but deeper can work if they are set up properly, best, Frank

  15. avatar

    Hi. How shallow is the water that you use? Do you still own your common musk turtle?

    I was considering using deeper water because I wanted to put aquarium rocks in the tank and find that they often get in the turtles way. I was think that if I used deeper water in the tank that the turtle will be able to swim over the top of them.

    • avatar

      I have a common musk that is 45 years old..several other species I cared for at the Bx Zoo (Stauroptypus, etc) still going strong in their 60’s. I use 4-5 inches of water. Turtle docks and platforms, or cork bark wedged between glass, generally preferable to rocks…allows swimming space below, and not abrasive to the shell…musks have a reduced plastron, and so rocks are best avoided. best, Frank

  16. avatar

    Hi. I am currently using rocks in my spotted turtle enclosure. Do you think that this is okay for them. I am also considering I using large pieces of gravel because I think that it makes the tank look more natural. Do you recommend using gravel as a substrate?

    • avatar

      Hi, I never use gravel other than in zoo exhibits; even there, with great filtration,. it’s almost impossible to maintain decent water quality as gravel traps visible as well as invisible (ammonia) pollutants. Turtles sometimes swallow surprisingly large stones as well, best, frank

  17. avatar

    Hi. I have another question relating to egg incubation. I just wanted to know why it takes so long for the eggs to hatch and what is going on inside the egg during the duration? Thanks

    • avatar

      Hi,

      Not so long…some tortoise eggs can take over a year to hatch during especially dry periods! It’s species-specific, but the female’s health, clutch size, temp and moisture all play a role in modifying. The fertilized embryo grows into a small turtle, so that it hatches ready to survive..with shell, heart, lungs and all intact. Best, Frank

  18. avatar

    Hi. I cut open one of the eggs that I found that was soft and infertile. Some yellow yolk like substance came out. Do you know if the yellow substance is the embryo.

    Also I have read that it takes between 65 to 86 days for common musk turtle eggs to hatch. I have calculated that my turtles egggs will hatch sometime between Sept 7 and to the beginning of October. At this stage do you think that the embryo in the eggs have grown into a turtle yet. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hello,

      As mentioned, best to leave the eggs…no way to judge fertility by cutting into them,. unless development is obvious. Other than via ultra-sound or radiograph, there’s not an accurate means of determining how far along development is. Better to leave them as is, nothing you can do in any event if they are infertile, best, Frank

  19. avatar

    Hi.Today I decided to wet the vermiculite substrate that my turtle eggs are in with water and drain the vermiculite with a strainer. Do you think that this is a good idea to help keep the substrate moist?

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      You shouldn’t really be manipulating very much, moving eggs etc…once substrate is damp in the manner mentioned earlier, it should need little attention if in a moist incubator. The only precise method is via weighing all…otherwise, keep slightly damp and disturb as little as possible. best, Frank

  20. avatar

    Hi. I am concerned with my female common musk turtle. She is not very active and just lays in the floating log that I have in her tank. When I first adopted her she did not have a place to lay her eggs and I found her plastron bleeding. After laying about seven eggs she still has a reddish line straight down her plastron. I am concerned that she migjtmnhave more eggs to lay and put her in a container filled with spoil so That she can lay them. Currently she is not laying any more eggs. My main concern is the reddish tint on her plastron. Another concern I have is that often find some worm like objects in the floor of the tank and worried that they might be parasites.

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      7 is a large clutch but still worth having her checked…reddened areas and listlessness is typical of an infection, especially as it occurred after egg-laying. This will not improve w/o vet care, and is generally fatal if untreated. Pl let me know if you need help in locating a reptile vet, best, Frank

  21. avatar

    Hi. I once took two turtles to a vet but the vet was for birds and small animals. They were not specifically a reptile vet. The turtle actually laid eight eggs but one was soft and infertile. I would love for you to locate a vet. I live in the Washington, DC area and do not know many reptile
    Vets where I live.

    Every once in a while I see these dead looking worm like structures in the bottom of the tank. It looks like dead night crawlers that can from the turtles stool or thay she threw up. They are pink in color. I am also concerned that she was caught in the wild by the previous owner. I have read that the old turtles have many parasites and do not do well in captivity.

  22. avatar

    Hi. I have read from a musk turtle sight that musk turtles need caves and other underwater enclosures to feel comfortable. I saw some examples of pvcp pipes used for underground enclosures and decided to try one out. I know that you mentioned that rocks were not good for musk turtles. I just wanted to know if PVCP pipes work for common musk turtles.

    Also I have tried feeding my musk turtle in a separate container to keep the tank cleaner. I filled the container with about one inch of water but cannot get her to eat in the separate container. I just wantedto know jhow large is the container that you feed your musk turtle in aandhow much wlater do you us?

    • avatar

      Hello,

      PVC is fine, but I use half pieces rather than a pipe…too easy for the animal to get stuck inside if an intact pipe is used.

      3-4 inches of waterusually works well…they take time to adjust; you might try floating some plants on surface for cover. keep the animal hungry for awhile and it will feed there in time, best, Frank

  23. avatar

    [URL=http://s1216.photobucket.com/user/Washingtonpost77/media/Mobile%20Uploads/IMG_20140824_160837.jpg.html][IMG]

    Hi. I have tried to attach a photo showing the decor in my musk turtles tank. I have a largee pieceof drift wood in tthe tank but do not know where to place due to the other decor in the tank. I just wanted to know if you have any ideas to where I shouldplace tthe drioft wood in the tank or should I remobe it somthay the tank will notbecome too crowded.

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      I’m not able to see the photo…site may be blocking it; turtle should have some clear space to move about on the bottom a\s well as a place to rest, Best, Frank

  24. avatar

    Hi. I just have a question relating to how many times a week should I feed my musk turtle and how much?

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      many variables..age, temp, food type, but they adapt to a wide range of feeding schedules. Every-other-day is typical..use an amount of food about equal in size to the head. Or you can feed more often, smaller meals..but good to have a fast day or 2 each week. They always act hungry, and easily become obese in captivity. best, Frank

  25. avatar

    Hi. I am using Turtle Clean 501 External Canister Filter for up to 30 gallons. I just wanted to know if this sufficient filtration for one common musk turtle and a 30 gallon long tank with four inchesof wwater. The filters GPH is 79. If not I can also use it along with a Tetra filter Whisper filter that has 125 GPH.

  26. avatar

    Hi. While opening the container that I is holding my turtle eggs I discovered some yellow yolk coming from one of the eggs. Do you know if this is a sign that it is about to hatch or does it mean that the egg is infertile?

  27. avatar

    Hi. You were exactly right about the egg being infertile due to the yolk ozzing out. I went to touch the egg today and it just cracked open with yolk. Does this mean that the rest of the eggs are bad as well?

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      The cracking is from the pressure of gasses released by bacteria during decomposition…egg may or may not have been infertile, but this does not mean that others are bad as well. Best, Frank

  28. avatar

    Hi. I just wanted to know if you can send me pics of your common musk turtle enclosure so that I can get some more ideas. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hello Shaun,

      I’ll be away from the tanks for awhile, but my basic set-ups for common and most other musk turtles are extremely simple…a 30 gallon aquarium, 4-6 inches water, bare bottom, Ovation 700 filter or similar, turtle dock or platform, submersible heater and incan bulb during winter, broken clay flowerpot or similar as a shelter; I add driftwood etc for small individuals, or if deeper water is used. Pl let me know if you need more info, best, Frank

  29. avatar

    Hi. Do you use fake or live plants in your musk turtle tanks?

    • avatar

      Hi,

      I do not use plants except sometimes for hatchlings, or in zoo exhibits ;; hard to keep live plants with most turtles, as they often tear-up or displace them, sample when hungry etc. Best, Frank

  30. avatar

    Hi. Yesterday I bought some take fern plants. Is that okay to use?

    • avatar

      Hi Shawn,

      Ferns are terrestrial, although some can live in damp soil; they would not survive immersion in water, however, and the turtle will trash them. Some folks suspend small hanging baskets etc from the tank rim, and place potted plants in these for effect. Peace lilies can survive with the roots submerged, but you’ll need to pot them, and replace soil with gravel..they will not grow much, but will survive, best, Frank

  31. avatar

    Hi. I decided to hand the ferns from the top of my tank using siuction cups. Do you that this looks okay?
    I have tried to attach pics of it. Please let me know if you can see it. Thanks.

    • avatar

      Looks good Shaun; I wouldn’t use the curved PVC, however…too easy for animal to wedge itself inside. A larger piece cut lengthwise, or a broken clay flowerpot w/o sharp edges, would be preferable. Best, Frank

  32. avatar

    Hi. I thought thayt the curved pvc pipe was a good idea a dark hideout.
    I have attached another pic of a PvP pipe. Do you think that this is closer to what you find suitable? Or do you think that the log in the pic is enough of a hideout and I do not really need the PVP pipe. I also removed the plants as they seem to make the tank look more crowded.

  33. avatar

    Hi. Do you think that I should keep the suspended ferns in the tank?

  34. avatar

    Hi. I am currently running a Zoo Med 501 Turtle Clean Canister filter for up to 30 gallon tanks. I have been running the filter for about two months. I just wanted to know when I should replace the carbon media bag or is it okay just to rinse it off. Thanks

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      I generally replace media each month, but this varies with size of turtle, whether fed in tank or out, etc. In crowded tanks or those where turtles are fed in tank, filter made need a rinse after 2 weeks, then a change. Be sure to use temperate water when rinsing the biological filtration medium, so that you do not kill off the beneficial bacteria. best,. Frank

  35. avatar

    Hi. I was wondering if their is a way that I can make my own filter media bags. I have heard of people doing this on YouTube. I think that it is expensive to have to keep replacing the filter bags once a month and thought that making my own would be cheaper. The bags cost seven dollars at the pet store.

  36. avatar

    Hi. I just wanted to know how long you have owned your common musk turtle and if it is female. I also wanted to know if your common musk turtle has ever laid any eggs. Thanks.

  37. avatar

    Hi. Is the common musk turtle the same hatchling turtle that you stated in a blog that you saw as a young boy in the pet store.

    • avatar

      Hi Shaun,

      Yes…A female I still have today came to me as part of my “salary” as a kid,…I was paid mainly in surplus animals and food, …learned quite a bit though! best, frank

  38. avatar

    Hello Frank. hope all is well with you.
    I had a couple of questions I would like to run by you. First. A woman I know who lives next to a small body of water, told me that when bubbles come to the surface of the water, that this is turtles that are making them. Is this true?
    Also, I have been keeping my muskie outside in a small pond (125 gals.) during the day for the summer. Temp ranges from 70 -80 from morning to night. I bring her in at night though. I need to set up an over winter place for her and I just want to make sure it’s the right setting. I thought I would use a dark color plastic container that is 23 x 17 inches and keep the water low. Some fake greens to hide in and something to climb on to if needed. (never see her out of the water though.) I have not used anything for the pond to keep it clean since I feed her in a 30 inch pool which I clean every feeding and I have 3 different pond plants to help with the water condition In her pond. Do I need a filter etc. for the indoor housing? Could you tell me exactly everything I should have for her. I do recall a few things you mentioned in previous posts. Sounds like low water and possibly no heater?
    Also, Been giving her an aquatic turtle food that is frozen fish, veggies, worms, krill and assorted vitamins. Is this sufficient for her along with the Reptomin and freeze dried shrimp I give her? The fish is pollock.
    Thanks so much for being there for us. It’s a real blessing to have someone who is so willing to help us take better care of our little creatures that we love and enjoy. Shirley

    • avatar

      Thanks for the kind words, Shirly, much appreciated. Sounds like a great summer situation for the turtle. Indoor housing as you describe is fine. If the tconatanier can easily be dumped/cleaned then no need for a filter. Room temps suffice, but I always add a water heater to keep at 73-74, as they are a bit more susceptible to bacterial infections etc at lower temps. But I have kept some at 68-72 w/o incidence. Diet sounds fine..the turtle will also be eating many drowned insects when outdoors. I would add small whole minnows or similar once each week or 2..best source of CA and micro-nutrients. Please keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

  39. avatar

    PS. Do you have any feedback as far as the bubbles in the stream? I have seen these bubbles in the water, but I don’t see turtles for as many bubbles that come up. Would you know what they are? Also, since putting her in a separate bin to feed, how often should I change the water in her tank? And, is it necessary to put oxygen into the water at all? Thanks.

    • avatar

      Sorry, Shirley, forgot to add…

      Bubbles can be from any number of sources..turtles and other creatures may release but there is also a good deal of gas, byproduct of bacterial decomposition, below the mud of all lakes, swamps etc…animals moving over mud will disturb and release, can also occur naturally as gas works it’s way up through the substrate. Let me know what you see, Best, Frank

  40. avatar

    It’s so odd because, I have been by the stream in the spring and in the summer and fall, and I never see the bubbles until the end of the summer. That’s what makes me wonder about them being turtles. There are quite a bit of them at times.

    • avatar

      Hi Shirly,

      There is a concept in FW ecology known as “turnover”…in spring and fall, chemical and temp changes cause water from bottom to rise, etc..I don’t recall if this affects gas etc, but likely does. In small streams even highly aquatic turtles would likely be visible at some point, if you are there often enough, but it’s a possibility…can be due to burrowing invertebrates also…insect larvae, aquatic worms, best, Frank

  41. avatar

    Hi Frank. Meant to mention something else. Hope that’s ok on this site since it is a boxy question.
    I have had a box turtle from hatch ling for about 15 years now. I just noticed that underneath is slightly pink, and there is a reddish area on his skin on either side of his tail. What might this be? Is it time for the vet? Shirley

    • avatar

      Hello Shirly,

      Best to check, as reddened skin can indicate an infection…certain ones do not impair overall health for some time, then cause a rapid decline as they strengthen, hope all goes well, Frank

  42. avatar

    Yes, I decided to make an appointment. It’s for Monday morn.
    That’s interesting. so then not actually from the turtles.
    Thanks for the info. Will let you know how my box does. shirley

  43. avatar

    Hi Frank. Hope all is well. My apologies for taking so long to inform on how things turned out with the boxie. The vet looked at him and said he didn’t see anything that would indicate there is infection. He felt that the pink on the bottom was nothing unusual. I don’t know. Are there other reasons for this on a box turtle?
    Shirley

    • avatar

      Hi Shirly,

      Always best to play it safe if pink/red color is involved…there can be color changes over time; I’ve not seen what you describe, but if the turtle is otherwise healthy just keep an eye on it. If the area spreads gradually out from original site, I’d suggest a second opinion. best, Frank

  44. avatar

    The entire bottom is slightly pink tint. Some pink in skin also. I never saw it in just one spot. He seemed to think it might be from something the turtle was eating or whatever. I after felt like he was looking for an infection as in a cut or abrasion. The turtle seems pretty strong but it’s hard to say as far as eating goes since the weather has changed. Shirley

    • avatar

      Hi Shirley,

      Hard to say, but does not sound like an infection or related..what temps do you use in winter?…you may be able to keep turtle more active, and immune system functioning at higher level, with a temperature change. Best, Frank

  45. avatar

    Thank you Frank.
    I have another little situation with my little muskie. I have been using a small toddler? wading pool to feed the turtle over the summer. I would take her out of the pond and put her in the little pool with food and leave her for 2 or three hours. It never seems to fail. No matter how long she is in the feeding pool, she seems to wait till I put her in her housing to eliminate. (little stink-pot) I was really hoping not to have to clean the (aquarium) out so much. Am I doing something wrong? Any suggestions? Ty, Shirley

    • avatar

      My pleasure, Shirley,

      They often eliminate within 30-60 min (this would be the remains of earlier meals) but there are no set rules..many variables and individual differences. Feeding outside the aquarium will still ease cleaning, eliminating food residue. A brine shrimp net swished across the aquarium’s bottom (best to use no substrate) will also be useful.

  46. avatar

    Hello Frank
    I have two musk turtles two months old one of them has both eyes swollen and he is listless.I have bought zoo med repti turtle eye drops .Is there anything else I can do?
    Srish

    • avatar

      Hello Srish,

      The drops are only to relieve irritation etc….the animal should be checked by a vet to determine if an infection is present and an antibiotic is needed. Please let me know if you need help in locating an experienced vet, best, Frank

  47. avatar

    Hello Frank.
    I’ve been wondering about a few things concerning the water/ musk turtle.
    I see that the box turtles are out and about when I go out in the morning, even though
    it has been in the 50s and 60s during the night for some time now. Days are 60s and 70s.
    Obviously they aren’t ready to hibernate just yet. But I was wondering what the conditions
    need to be in order for a water turtle to hibernate. How do THEY know when it’s time?
    Does the water get to a certain temp before they do. And what if it were to get cold in
    the early fall and then warm up to say in the 70s and 80s during the day for weeks. Would they
    surface again? Just wondering what the conditions would be for them to burrow and what
    brings them back out in the spring? Thanks.

    • avatar

      Hi Shirley,

      Great questions…hibernation is turning out to be much more complex than we believed it to be. Temperature is a factor…below certain temps all become inactive, but this varies by species (snappers move under ice, on occasion, musk turtles are active at low temps also, etc). Circadian rhythms control activity as well, and this can confuse matters…i.e. wild caught adult box turtles may not feed in winter even if kept warm, but young born in captivity do not slow down; gharials I cared for refused food for 3 months at Bx Zoo even though kept very warm,….refusal coincided with winter in their home range. CB young feed year round.

      Captivity or other un-natural conditions affects these rhythms…for years I cared for an utdoor pond exhibit which was fed by city water supply…water stayed at 48 F…painted turtles hibenated all winter…sliders came ut to bask on sunny days even in mid-winter..water temps did not change, sio they must have been responding to sunlight filtering through water.

      In wild, animals can be caught off guard by unusual weather and wind up freezing etc..not common, as the body rhythms seem to act a s a control, over-riding the effects of unseasonable weather, but it does happen.

      Sorry I cannot give you definite answers….we have a lot to learn! best, frank

  48. avatar

    Hi Frank.

    I have read that the box turtles have a certain range that they stay within and that is
    why it is not good to relocate them. Do the musk/water turtles have the same habit?
    And I was also wondering about feeding the muskie guppies and minnows. Are these
    the fish they eat in the wild? I was just asking because I was wondering what the equivalent
    of these would be to give to the turtle. My muskie ( Uggy ) just watches them swim around.
    Ty. Shirley

    • avatar

      Hi Shirly,

      Musk turtles tend to stay within the same range (pond, etc) as well, relocation always tricky, especially as concerns location of suitable hibernation sites.

      minnows, guppies are a good diet for them, I’ve kept several species of musk turtle for decades using these. They are not good at catching live fishes…best to stun or pre-kill. Whole fish are an impt food..if not accepted, keep the turtle hungry for a week or so; I’ve not known any to reject long-term. Enjoy, Frank

  49. avatar

    So if the fish is dead the musk will go after it? Do I just put the fish in water in the frig?
    Thanks. Shirley

    • avatar

      Yes, they generally take dead fish; individuals vary, so skip a few meals if it refuses at first. Frig will slow fish down; quick-freeze, w/o water, kills humanely (torpor/hibernation state entered); best, Frank

  50. avatar

    Hello Frank, and thank you for all the expert advise.

    I think my muskie might be over-weight. She got pretty thin when she was going
    through the egg laying stage, but now it seems she is a little chunky. I guess I over
    did when she wasn’t eating much at that time. Not sure how much to give her and
    what can I do to get her weight down a little? Thanks.

    • avatar

      Hello Shirley,

      They almost always get heavy in captivity, very effective at storing food (and convincing owners they are starving!)..evolved to eat as much and as often as possible. Insert a few fast days each week; an amount equal to appx size of head will fill the stomach; no set rules otherwise, as temperature and type of food play a big role, but offer variety…fish, worms, commercial chow, 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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