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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of turtle and tortoise species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning turtles and tortoises.

Is a Red-Eared Slider a Good Pet? Read This Before Buying a Turtle

Sliders basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bizarria

The Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) is without question the world’s most commonly-kept pet turtle. But while these attractive reptiles are extremely responsive to people, many novice owners underestimate the amount of care and space their upkeep requires…and do not realize that Sliders commonly live to age 20+, and often well beyond. Over time, these factors lead many people to release or re-home their once beloved pets. As a consequence, Sliders have become established, in the wild, in dozens of US states and in countries ranging from Brazil to South Africa and Japan, where they are causing ecological havoc. Turtle adoption services and reptile rescues house literally thousands more unwanted pets. Please read this article carefully before buying or adopting a Red-Eared Slider, and be sure to post any questions below. Please also see the linked articles on the care of Sliders, Map Turtles and similar species.

 

Slider in outdoor pond

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lawrencekhoo

Aquarium Size and Upkeep

Female Sliders reach 8-12 inches in length. I personally measured one that was just over 12 inches long…and 11 ¾ inches wide! Males generally top out at 6 inches, but both sexes are very active, and will languish in cramped quarters. An adult female will require a 75-100 gallon aquarium, a commercial turtle tub, or a wading pool. Pairs rarely do well together, as the overly-amorous males constantly harass the objects of their desire with mating attempts.

 

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Powerful filters help, but even so partial or total water changes will be necessary. If a large plastic storage container is used as a home, it must be emptied and cleaned several times weekly.

 

Slider nesting

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Nephets

Cost

With so many being up for adoption, Slider ownership might appear to be a good deal. But the initial purchase price of any reptile is generally the smallest of the related financial considerations. In addition to large and expensive aquariums and filters, Slider ownership entails electricity use, veterinary care, and the purchase of UVB bulbs and fixtures, heat bulbs and fixtures, water heaters, basking platforms, food, and mineral supplements.

 

Veterinary Care

Veterinarians willing to treat reptiles are difficult to find in many regions, although those experienced in turtle care are becoming more common. It is always a mistake to obtain a reptile of any kind before locating a veterinarian, or to imagine that even the hardy Slider will not require medical care at some point. Veterinary costs for reptiles are comparable to those charged for dog or cat care.

 

Hatchling slider

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jf268

Longevity

Sliders routinely reach age 20 in captivity, and have the potential to live much longer. The published longevity record is 41 years, but I’m quite sure, judging from experience with related species, that there are some that have exceeded the half-century mark. That cute little hatchling you bought for your child may become your (much larger!) responsibility when she or he goes off to college.

 

Health Considerations

Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in turtle digestive tracts, can cause severe illness in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene, but are a serious concern for children and elderly or immune-compromised adults. Please speak with your family doctor and see the article linked below for further information.

 

Razorback Musk Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ltshears

Slider Alternatives

Several Map and Painted Turtle species share the Slider’s lifestyle, good nature and hardiness, but do not grow quite as large. Common Musk Turtles, Eastern Mud Turtles and a number of their relatives are even smaller, and do not need a source of UVB radiation. All make great pets, and become quite responsive to people. There are a great many other possibilities as well…please see the linked articles and post below for further information.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Common Musk Turtles in Captivity: the Perfect Pet Turtle

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care

 

 

 

Diamondback Terrapin Care: Keeping the USA’s Most Unique Turtle

Diamndback terrapin

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tom

The Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is often described as the most beautiful turtle in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world. It is also distinguished by being the only turtle adapted to life in estuaries, salt marshes and other brackish habitats (water that is neither fresh nor marine). Long considered a delicate pet, the needs of this spectacular animal are now well-understood, and captive-bred specimens are increasingly available. My first Diamondback, received in childhood, was a hatchling. That ill-fated creature was quickly consumed by a Blue-Claw Crab (long story!), but later experiences with this species in the wild, at home and in zoos has (hopefully!) enlightened me as to their proper care. We still have much to learn, however, so please post your own observations below.

 

Description

The Diamondback Terrapin varies greatly throughout its range, but is always breathtaking. The carapace, marked with deep concentric grooves and ridges, is unique in the turtle world. Other shell markings vary, with the most eye-catching being born by the aptly-named Ornate Diamondback (M. t. macrospilota) of Florida. The skin is also unusually-attractive, ranging from pearl-gray to black in color, and decorated with dark flecks and slashes. Males average 5-6 inches in length, while females may approach 10 inches.

 

Range and Habitat

Although the Diamondback Terrapin is a habitat specialist, its range is among the largest of any US turtle. Seven subspecies are found along the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the USA, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts through the Florida Keys and along most of Texas’ eastern coast (to the vicinity of Corpus Christi). An isolated population lives along Bermuda’s coastline.

 

Diamondbacks are found only in those habitats that straddle the line between fresh and salt water – coastal salt marshes, estuaries, tidal flats near river mouths and protected lagoons. Highly aquatic, they often bask by floating at the water’s surface. Some populations also spend varying amounts of time in purely-marine water.

 

Tidal creek

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Captain-tucker

Tidal creeks spanned by footbridges are great places to observe wild Diamondbacks. If unmolested, they will forage and bask without regard for prying eyes. I know of several sites on Long Island, NY where, due to the height of the footbridges, I can sometimes see terrapins picking snails and other invertebrates from bridge pilings.

 

Populations have been decimated by collection for the food trade and habitat loss, and many perish as “by-catch” in commercial crab traps. These unique turtles are protected throughout their range, but regulated commercial harvesting is permitted.

 

The Terrapin Aquarium

Even by aquatic turtle standards, Diamondback Terrapins are extremely active. While a 75 gallon aquarium might suit a male, females need tanks of at least 100 gallon capacity, commercial turtle tubs or ponds.

 

A dry basking surface is essential. Commercial turtle docks and ramps suffice for smaller specimens, but adults will likely sink anything that is not affixed to the glass with silicone adhesive. Cork bark wedged between the aquarium’s sides is another option.

 

Hatchling

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

Salinity of the Water

While individuals from some populations have adapted to fresh water in captivity, keeping them so is not recommended. Fungal and bacterial skin infections are commonly seen when Diamondbacks are denied access to salt water, and internal ailments may develop as well.

 

Marine salt marketed for aquarium fish should be used to raise salinity to 1.014-1.018. Water evaporation will cause the salinity to increase (salt does not evaporate), so be sure to take weekly readings with an aquarium hydrometer. 

 

Diamondback Terrapins remove some salt from the water they ingest, but should also be placed in fresh water 1-2 x weekly and allowed to drink for 10-20 minutes. Some keepers do fine with less-frequent fresh water immersion, and by using rock salt instead of aquarium salt, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

 

Filtration

Water quality is extremely important…more so than for most other turtles. Fouled water invariably leads to skin infections. As Diamondbacks are adapted to the alkaline water habitats, it is advisable to check your aquarium’s pH regularly with a simple test kit or pH strip. Turtle wastes and uneaten food will cause the water to become acidic, which will leave your pets open to attack by various fungi and bacteria.

 

Turtles are messy feeders and very hard on water quality. Unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly, a powerful submersible turtle filter or canister filter will be necessary. Even with filtration, partial water changes are essential. Please see the articles under “Further Reading” for more on filtration, and links to useful models.

 

mediaRemoving your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload and help to keep the water clean; please see the article linked below.

 

Substrate

Diamondback Terrapins are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums. Gravel traps wastes, which greatly complicates cleaning.

 

Light

A source of UVB radiation is essential. If a florescent bulb is used (the Zoo Med 10.0 UVB Bulb is ideal), be sure that the turtle can bask within 6-12 inches of it. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and also provide beneficial UVA radiation.

 

Heat

Water temperatures of 70 – 76 F should be maintained. These large, robust brutes often break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a “turtle-proof” model. An incandescent bulb may be employed to heat the basking site to 85-90 F.

 

Green Crab

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Lmbuga

Feeding

The Diamondback Terrapin’s broad, crushing jaw surfaces are an adaptation to a diet comprised largely of hard-shelled crustaceans and mollusks such as crabs, snails, clams, mussels, barnacles and shrimp; fish, marine worms and algae (seaweed) are also taken. Pets should be offered a diet based upon whole marine animals such smelts, shiners and other bait fish, prawn, crabs (i.e. bait crabs), squid, conch, periwinkles (available in many seafood stores) and similar foods. I occasionally use bags of mixed “chowder” seafood as a means of adding variety to the diet.

 

Collecting Diamondback Terrapin food brings one into contact with countless fascinating creatures, so I try to gather or trap snails, mussels, clams, spider crabs and fishes for my charges whenever possible.

 

Most individuals will also accept commercial turtle pellets and trout chow, which can comprise 40-50% of the diet. I favor Zoo Med’s products and Reptomin.

 

Without sufficient exercise, your terrapin’s jaws will quickly become over-grown. Shells, exoskeletons and bones also supply calcium, which is needed in great quantities by this dietary specialist. A cuttlebone or turtle mineral block should be available as a calcium supplement and to supply beak-trimming exercise.

 

Breeding

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if un-mated, and that pets may produce several clutches each year.

 

The 4-20 eggs may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 80-82 F for 55-65 days.

 

Temperament

Diamondback Terrapins make very responsive pets. Most feed readily from the hand, and adapt well to busy households. However, all turtles are capable of administering powerful bites and scratches when frightened, and must be handled with care…this is especially true of a large species that can crush snail and clam shells!

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

The Best Turtle Filters

Keeping Semi-Aquatic Turtles

 

 

Red Eared Slider Turtles: Finding the Best Calcium Sources

Sliders basking

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flicka

Red-Eared Sliders, Snapping Turtles, Red-Bellied Turtles, Soft-shelled Turtles, Reeve’s Turtles and the various Side-necks and Snake-necks are among the world’s most popular reptilian pets. While we know much about their care, the importance of calcium in the diet is, judging from the questions I receive on this blog, still not fully realized by all keepers. One feeding tip I received from an animal importer for whom I worked as a boy has served me well throughout my career as a zookeeper, and remains the simplest way to assure adequate calcium intake. Today I’ll review it and some other very useful calcium sources.

 

Fathead minnows

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Kolossus

Whole Freshwater Fishes

Whole freshwater fishes such as minnows and shiners are the best, “fool-proof” source of calcium for aquatic turtles. I rely heavily on commercially available fathead minnows (a/k/a/ “rosy reds”) and golden shiners. Both are usually raised in outdoor ponds, and have therefore consumed insects and other invertebrates in addition to prepared diets. This may give them a superior nutrition profile. Depending upon the turtle species in question, I offer fish at least once weekly.

 

I also use minnow and fish traps to catch local species, such as various dace and sunfishes (all of which also make fascinating aquarium inhabitants…but not with turtles!). I trim spiny pectoral and dorsal fins as a precaution. I also trap mummichugs (“killies”), shiners and other marine fish on occasion (these can also be purchased in bait stores). I’ve seen no problems when using these as part of the diet, but I rely primarily on freshwater species.

 

Freshwater food market species such as Tilapia, trout and white perch can be used for adult Common Snapping Turtles and other large pets. You can also feed sections of large fish to smaller turtles in order to add variety to their diets, but whole fishes with bones and internal organs should be their mainstay.

 

Mata Mata

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by J. Patrick Fischer

Years ago, a Bronx Zoo co-worker of mine linked goldfish-dominated diets to Mata-Mata Turtle (Chelus fimbriatus) deaths in several collections. Liver and kidney damage seem to have been involved. Used sparingly, goldfishes seem are harmless, but most zoos now avoid them.  Please see the article linked below.

 

Pre-killed pinkies (newborn, fur-less mice) are eagerly accepted by most aquatic turtles. Over-use has, however, led to kidney and liver disease in insectivorous lizards and frogs. I’ve not seen this with turtles, but have not used pinkies long term for any save several species of Australian Snake-Necks. I suggest erring on the side of caution and focusing on fish as a calcium source. I do not use furred rodents other than as a rare meal for large (“large” as in a 205 lb. Alligator Snapper and 45-60 lb. Common Snappers!) specimens.FI WITH ALL SNAPPER

 

Crayfish, Earthworms and other Invertebrates

Crayfish and other crustaceans, if fed with the exoskeleton/shell intact, are especially high in calcium. Earthworms have also proven to be a good calcium source, but levels will vary with diet. Earthworm calcium content (as well as that of crickets, roaches and others) is easy to improve if you feed them properly. Please see the articles linked below, or post here for further information.

 

Commercial Pellets

Commercial foods from Zoo Med and other well-respected companies can provide your pets with calcium and other important nutrients, but should not be used to the exclusion of whole fishes. Some that I favor and have used, for years in some cases, include Zoo Med products such as Aquatic Turtle Food, ReptiStcks and Gourmet Diet and Reptomin Food Sticks.

 

t8200Shrimp and Krill

Anecdotal evidence from several of my zoo colleagues indicates that shrimp (and krill) are an excellent calcium source for a variety of turtles…and I cannot recall many individuals that will refuse them! Frozen and freeze-dried shrimp and krill have long been used in tropical fish diets, and are readily available. You can also buy shrimp in food markets – “un-cleaned”, with shell intact, are the most healthful and least expensive choice. Most will be marine species, so I would not use as a basis of the diet.

 

Zoo Med’s Sun Dried Red Shrimp is, in my opinion, the best shrimp-option because a freshwater species (the Oriental River Shrimp, Macrobrachium nipponense) is used.

 

Calcium Blocks

Some turtles will feed directly on calcium blocks and cuttlebone, which also provide beak-trimming exercise. Try offering Turtle Bone or similar products.

 

UVB

Turtles that bask in the sun (termed “heliothermic” species) cannot use the calcium that we provide in their diets unless they have access to UVB light of the proper wavelength. This is because they must manufacture Vitamin D3 in the skin – dietary sources of D3 are not sufficient for these species. There are some exceptions, perhaps, but if denied UVB, especially when young, most will suffer severe-to-fatal health problems brought on by a calcium deficiency. Fortunately, we now have a huge array of UVB-emitting bulbs at our disposal.

 

Softtshell turtle, Pelochelys cantori

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Flickr upload bot

Highly-aquatic species such as Common and Alligator Snappers, Pig-Nosed Turtles, Matas-Matas and Softshells usually do fine without UVB if provided a proper diet. However, as several of these bask at the surface in the wild, or occasionally on land, a UVB source would be useful as “insurance”.   Please see the article linked below and post here if you need specific information on UVB sources.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Goldfish as a Food Source for Turtles

Slider, Map and Painted Turtle Care

UVB Bulbs: Insights from Herpetologists

 

 

Pet Turtles: Ornate Wood Turtle Care and Breeding

Ornate Wood Turtle, R. p. manni

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tornadohalt

The well-named Ornate Wood Turtle (Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima), also known as the Painted Wood Turtle, Honduran Wood Turtle or Central American Wood Turtle, is one of the most exquisitely-beautiful land turtles in the Western Hemisphere. The first I saw, as a boy working for a NYC animal importer, stopped me in my tracks…as did others encountered in the field 30 years later! As curious and intelligent as the North American Wood Turtle (they are not related, by are similar in many ways), these striking creatures make wonderful, long-lived pets, and are regularly bred in captivity.

 

Description

Ornate Wood Turtles vary greatly in coloration, with some specimens being hard to describe in words. Those sporting the most color tend to be found in the southern portion of the range, and are classified as the subspecies R. p. pulcherrima. However, all are gorgeous, and unusually-brilliant examples may be found among any of the 4 subspecies, and in captive-produced hybrids.

 

Ornate Wood Turtle

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Tornadohalt

The carapace is deeply etched by the growth annuli, resulting in the same rough, sculpted look that we see in the North American Wood Turtle. The shell is clad in subdued-to-vivid red and yellow blotches and eye-spots, and a complex pattern of red and orange lines marks the head. Adults average 7-8 inches in length, with males being the slightly-smaller sex.

 

Range and Habitat

The four Ornate Wood Turtle subspecies range from Sonora, Mexico along the western half of the country to Costa Rica; they also occur in eastern Guatemala and eastern Honduras.

 

Largely terrestrial but often entering shallow water, they favor forest edges and riverside thickets and sometimes adapt to overgrown fields and farm borders.

 

Habitat

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by FlickreviewR

The Terrarium or Cage

Ornate Wood Turtles reach 8 inches in length and are quite active. A spacious home is essential to their health and well-being.

 

Hatchlings may be raised in aquariums, but adults do best in custom-made enclosures that measure at least 4’ x 4’ in area; outdoor maintenance is ideal when weather permits. Plastic-based rabbit cages and cattle troughs can also be modified as turtle homes. A pool of shallow water measuring 1’ x 2’ or larger should be available.

 

Suitable hiding spots are important to even well-adjusted pet turtles; these include deep substrates into which your turtles can burrow and commercial shelters such as the Zoo Med Turtle Hut.

 

Substrate

Cypress bark and similar products, or a mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, may be used as a substrate. I always add dead leaves as well…Ornate Wood Turtles will occupy themselves with hunting for hidden invertebrates each time a new batch of leaves or grass clippings is introduced.

 

Light

Ornate Wood Turtles need daily exposure to UVB light. Natural sunlight is ideal, but be aware that UVB rays do not penetrate glass or plastic, and that fatal overheating can occur quickly.

 

Your turtle should be able to bask within 6-12 inches of a high-output UVB florescent bulb, such as the Zoo Med 10.0. Mercury vapor bulbs broadcast UVB over greater distances, and also emit beneficial UVA radiation. Be sure to provide shaded areas as well.

 

Heat

Temperatures should range from 72-85 F, with a basking site of 90-92 F. Incandescent bulbs may be used by day; ceramic heaters or red/black reptile “night bulbs” are great night-time heat sources.

 

Provide your pet with the largest home possible, so that a thermal gradient (areas of different temperatures) can be established. Thermal gradients, critical to good health, allow reptiles to regulate their body temperature by moving between hot and cooler areas. In glass aquariums and other small or poorly ventilated enclosures, the entire area soon takes on the basking site temperature.

 

t243860Humidity

Overly dry conditions may cause health concerns. The substrate should be misted daily; moist retreats, a large water area, and a dry basking site must also be available. Reptile humidifiers can be useful in arid climates.

 

Companions

Females and youngsters usually co-exist, but must be watched as dominant individuals may attack others or prevent them from feeding. Males usually fight, and often harass females with near-constant mating attempts.

 

Breeding

Three to five eggs are produced at a time, and females may deposit up to 4 clutches per year. Breeding usually occurs between August and December.

 

Females sometimes have difficulty passing their eggs, especially if the diet lacks sufficient calcium. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a container measuring at least 5x the length and width of the turtle and provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention always leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis).

 

tp29811Feeding

Ornate Wood Turtles have not been well-studied in the wild, but their appetites appear to know no bounds. Pets should be offered a diet comprised of whole animals such as earthworms, snails, crickets and other insects, crayfish, prawn, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits, greens and vegetables. Canned invertebrates, especially snails, can be used to increase dietary variety. A high quality commercial turtle chow such as moistened Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food should be mixed into your turtle’s salad.

 

Goldfish should be offered sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtles. Spinach and various cabbages cause nutritional disorders and should be avoided.

 

The calcium requirements of Ornate Wood Turtles, especially growing youngsters and gravid females, are quite high. All food (other than vertebrates and commercial chow) should be powdered with Zoo Med ReptiCalcium with D3 or a similar product (D3 is not necessary for turtles that have access to natural sunlight). A cuttlebone may also be left in the cage, although not all turtles sample one. Vitamin/mineral supplements such as ReptiVite with D3 may be used 2-3 times weekly.

 

Temperament

Ornate Wood Turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to anticipate feeding times and to take food from the hand. Many owners compare them to North American Wood Turtles in responsiveness, intelligence and longevity.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

 

Keeping the North American Wood Turtle

 

Keeled Box Turtle Care

Small Pet Turtles: Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle Care

Geoemyda spengleri

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Stavenn

Small size, a uniquely-beautiful shell and the habit of raising the long neck to “stare” at its owner with large, protruding eyes endears this charming turtle to all. I first came across the Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle (Geoemyda spengleri) while working on plans to conserve Asian turtles devastated by collection for the food and medicinal trades (please see article linked below). Although reputed to be a delicate captive, zoo and private turtle keepers have learned much about its needs in recent years, and captive-born animals are becoming more available. Under the care of an experienced turtle keeper, this personable beauty can make a wonderful pet that exhibits all the spunk of its larger relatives.

 

Turtle Description

This little turtle’s “bug-eyed” stare is often the first characteristic to grab one’s attention. The elongated carapace is strongly notched at the rear, and each marginal scute (scale) is pointed and flared upwards. The carapace ranges from dark to rich orange-brown in coloration, and the plastron is black with a yellow border. Adults top out at a mere 4-5 inches in length.

 

Leaf Turtle Natural History

G. spengleri habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jtri

The Black-Breasted Leaf Turtle ranges from southern China through Laos and Vietnam, where it is mainly restricted to moist hillside forests; the uniquely-shaped carapace offers excellent camouflage among the leaf litter. Although largely terrestrial, shallow forest pools and streams are used for soaking and foraging. Its life in the wild has not been well-studied.

 

Pet Qualities

Although shy at first, these alert turtles adjust to captivity quickly, and soon learn to feed from the hand. Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles have a reputation as delicate captives, and losses were high when they first showed up in the US pet trade in the 1980’s. Parasitic infections, the stress of shipping and a poor understanding of their needs were largely responsible for early difficulties with wild-caught individuals.

 

The Terrarium

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles are native to thickly-vegetated habitats, and will not thrive in bare enclosures. Cover in the form of live or plastic plants, caves, and a substrate into which they can burrow is essential to their well-being. A pool of shallow water should be available.

 

Although small in size, these turtles are quite active once habituated to their new homes, and should be provided with as much room as possible. A single adult may be kept in a 30 gallon long-style aquarium, but additional room is preferable.

 

Terrarium Substrate

A mix of topsoil, peat and sphagnum moss, deep enough for your pet to burrow into, may be used as a substrate.

 

Lighting

Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles must be provided with a source of UVB radiation. Natural sunlight is best, but it must be direct, as glass and plastic filter-out UVB rays.

 

When using UVB bulbs, be sure that your turtle can bask within the distance recommended by the manufacturer. I favor Zoo Med bulbs, which are available in a wide variety of strengths and styles.

 

Heat and Humidity

Although native to tropical regions, Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles prefer cooler temperatures than one might expect. A temperature gradient of 68- 74 F should be established, along with a basking site set at 80 F.

 

Humidity should be kept at 50-60%, and areas of both moist and dry substrate should be available.

 

tp35833Turtle Feeding

The wild diet consists primarily of insects, worms, snails, carrion, and small amounts of fruit. Pets should be offered a diet comprised of whole animals such as earthworms, crickets and other insects, prawn, canned snails, minnows, an occasional pre-killed pink mouse and a variety of fruits (many refuse fruit, and seem to do fine without). Goldfish should be used sparingly, if at all, as a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders in other turtle species.

 

Commercial turtle chows are not accepted unless moistened, and then not always. The calcium requirements of Black-Breasted Leaf Turtles, especially growing youngsters and gravid females, are quite high. All foods (other than whole fish) should be powdered with a reptile calcium supplement. A cuttlebone may also be left in the cage. Vitamin/mineral supplements may be used 2-3 times weekly.

 

Breeding

A single, unusually-large egg (rarely 2) is produced 1-3 times yearly. Females sometimes have difficulty passing their eggs, especially if the diet lacks sufficient calcium.

 

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection known as egg peritonitis. It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if un-mated, and that captives may produce several clutches each year.

 

Eggs incubated at 82 F typically hatch in 62-75 days.

 

Males may stress or bite females during mating attempts. Males cannot be kept together, as they will usually fight. Females also establish a dominance hierarchy, and must be watched closely if kept in groups.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

The Asian Turtle Extinction Crisis

Nest Sites for Female Turtles

 

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