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