Home | Amphibians | Using Driftwood as a Resting Site for Aquatic Reptiles and Amphibians – Part 1

Using Driftwood as a Resting Site for Aquatic Reptiles and Amphibians – Part 1

Pieces of driftwood attached to slate bases have long been used to decorate tropical fish aquariums.  However, their important value to folks keeping certain semi-aquatic turtles, newts, frogs, crabs and other creatures is often overlooked.  Today I’d like to highlight some interesting herp-oriented uses for driftwood.

Submerged vs. Exposed Basking Sites

While a dry basking site is important for most semi-aquatic turtles, many species prefer to use structures that are at or  just below the water’s surface, and rarely expose themselves fully.  Included among these are the various Mud and Musk Turtles, Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles, Softshells and many Snake-Necked Turtles (Chelodina spp.).

Hatchlings of turtle species that bask as adults are also often reluctant to leave the water completely, and favor submerged basking platforms.  This makes good sense, as most are small enough to be consumed by all manner of predators, including Bullfrogs and wading birds.

Human or predator disturbance may also alter basking behavior so that turtles favor watery sites (please see article below for some interesting field observations on this point).

Energy Savers

However, even fully-aquatic turtles need a place to rest, and most prefer one that is near the surface, to facilitate breathing.  They also use underwater structures as “ladders” to the surface.  This is particularly important for the young Snappers, Musk Turtles and other species that swim poorly.  When forced to constantly battle to the surface for air, they become stressed and weaken quickly.

Mounted Driftwood

Driftwood attached to a sturdy slate base fulfills all the aforementioned needs, and looks great as well (especially when surrounded by live plants).  It supports algae growth and will also be used as a foraging site by freshwater shrimps, snails and crayfishes.

Driftwood uprights can be arranged to extend up above the water’s surface in those situations where a dry site is needed.


Further Reading

Interesting article: Effects of Human Disturbance on Turtle Basking Behavior (turtles in urban areas tend to choose partially submerged sites).

Musk and Mud Turtle Care and Natural History  


  1. avatar

    Great article, Frank.

    Keep in touch.

    • avatar

      Hello Scott, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for you’re the kind words, much appreciated.

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

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    hi Frank.
    I’m your fans.

    • avatar

      Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for you’re the kind words…I look forward to more of your comments and questions.

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

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    I have some queations about my matamata turtle. She is around 14cm( a hatchling). My matamata turtle dosen’t poop every day, but the water tampature is around 28degree and she eats one little minnow per day(not very much i guess?).

    On the otherhand, my alligator snapper always poop after his meal every day. Can you help me to know why their work and rest are diffrient? My mata usually poop every 5-7days. It’s very odd! And I’m started to worry about her health condition.

    Hope you can help me. Thanks!

    • avatar

      Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the interesting post. Even though they follow similar lifestyles (ambush predators), the metabolisms of the 2 species are very different. You’ll see this with all herps; Mata matas are known to be slower than many other turtles in this regard. Turtles also pass some wastes in liquid/semi-liquid form, so you won’t really be aware of each movement; no need to worry…the turtle would stop feeding if it had a blockage and could not waste feces.

      Best to skip days on occasion…perhaps feed every other day, with a 2 day fast once in awhile. 28C/82F is fine, but it’s at the upper level of their preference. Be careful that temps don’t shoot up in the summer. Matas prefer water a bit on the acidic side, pH of 5-6 is about right; not critical, but found useful in some zoos.

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

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    Thanks Frank! It was such a relief. Your artical compleately solved the mystery that I worry about all the time. I had post my questions on lots of blog, but know one can convince me why Matamata doing like that (haha). I bought some lamp branch fish to feed her today, and I’ll start to feed every other day. Hope she can do well!

    Yeah, I turned my heater off already, so the temperature will drop a little bit in night.
    Moreover, I put my turtle case on my balcony and with cover on it (to make some shadows).

    I am looking forward to build a 1mx1mx36cm little pond, but still designing.

    Thanks Frank.
    Sincerely, Eric.

    • avatar

      Hello Eric, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for the kind words; happy it helped. Creating shadows/shelter is a great idea. I’ve been in Mata mata habitat (Venezuela) – the water is murky, tea/coffee colored. Wild caught individuals are often stressed by clear water. You can also float some plastic plants on the surface to cut down on light. The turtle may also push below plants that are weighed down with non-toxic plant weights used by aquarists for tropical fishes. You might enjoy this article on turtle shelters.

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

  5. avatar

    Does the driftwood make the water murky?

    • avatar

      Hi Mike,

      Driftwood that is cured and purchased from a reputable dealer will not cloud water; “monkey or coral wood may”; also, wood that you collect should be soaked prior to use to check for leaching.

      Best, Frank

  6. avatar

    Driftwood is sometimes good but can trap young turtles while attempting to burrow beneath the heavy slate usually attached at the base of most decorative aquarium driftwood found at pet shops driftwood works as a natural feature just be cautious about the size of the driftwood in comparison to depth of water and size of turtle using driftwood for basking

    • avatar

      Hello Joe,

      Thanks for the feedback.. I’ve never known that to occur with turtles, but it is good to keep in mind. Accidents like that sometimes happen with burrowing lizards and snakes. If a rock or heavy object is put on top of a substrate, they may dig below and be injured. Heavy objects are best placed right on the tank’s bottom, never on sand or soil.

      Best regards, Frank

  7. avatar

    hi I have a stinkpot musk turtle that stop pooping what should I do

    • avatar


      The nature of their wastes can change over time; …for example, I rarely see any solid waste material in my tanks, and what little is passed is removed by the filter; the rest breaks up quickly in the water and is not visible. Usually, if the turtle is not passing wastes due to an impaction or other medical condition, it will stop feeding and become listless. If you are sure it is not defecating, then medical attention is necessary…please let me know if you need help in finding a reptile vet. best , Frank

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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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