Jump to content
  • Turtle Care Husbandry

    Turtle care sheets by Donna Moot who runs Turtle Rescue and rehoming Christchurch.
    Providing -Care for rehomed, neglected and abandoned turtles-Rehabilitation for your sick or 
    injured turtles.
    -Turtle 'vacations' while you are an holiday-Information on turtle care in general.
    There are currently over 50 turtles in care, with 25 needing to be rehomed. Donna receives no 
    financial help to pay
    for the upkeep or vet bills of the rescue turtles.
    For further information, contact Donna at turtleinfo@paradise.net.nz or 021 2020 185

    Chrysemys scripta elegans

    red ear slider greg hume.jpg

    HABITAT: From North America’s Northern states to Mexico. Usually in slow moving streams, ponds and 
    DESCRIPTION: Females up to 30cm long, males smaller. Male with longer tail and long front toe 
    nails. Females can
    lay up to 15 eggs per clutch approx. every 3 weeks during the breeding season, but N.Z. is usually 
    too cold for the eggs to naturally hatch.
    In America they sunbathe on the sides of ponds, as soon as danger nears they slide into the water. 
    Hence their American name of sliders.

    A turtle’s shell is made up of bone covered with a thin layer of skin, which gives the shell its 
    colour. The outer layer of skin is called a scute, is shed once or twice a year and not as tough as 
    it looks. Scutes are easily scratched by minor trauma or prolonged immersion in warm water. Turtles 
    slide off their basking area at high speed and the bigger the turtle, the harder it hits the water. 
    In captivity they often land in
    shallow water, hitting a rock or tank bottom which can cause minute cracks in their scute. Water 
    gets into these
    cracks, leading to infection which is not visible under the scute and gradually spreads throughout 
    the turtle. Its not unusual for it to take several years for the turtle to slowly die from the 
    infection. This Ulcerative Shell Disease is preventable with the correct environment. (Information 
    adapted from Mark Feldman's care sheet on the NZ Herp web site.)

    In the wild, the RES lives in deep water where, even in summer, it's always cool a foot or two 
    below the surface. Turtles are cold blooded so regulate their temperature from their environment, 
    moving between sunning area and the layers of warm and cool water. Warm water causes their scutes 
    to swell and soften, like fingernails in a hot bath. When they bask in the sun, their scutes dry 
    and firm back up. If their Water is too warm, they can't bask for long, because they’re already 
    hot. So the scutes can't dry out, but continue to swell and soften leading to White Shell Disease. 
    Warm water can also create a build-up of unshed scutes leading to deformity and irritation. A 
    temperature of 26c is needed for a hatchling. After 1yr, slowly reduce temp (during summer only) to 
    22C. At approx 2 years of  age, a healthy turtle won't need a heater in the summer but a temp 
    around 22-24C is recommended over winter. Change temp slowly. If turtle stops eating or is too 
    lethargic, it’s too cold, so increase the temperature. Prolonged temperature above 28C will lead to 
    rapid, excessive growth and associated organ damage of the turtle.

    Turtles spend half their lives basking in the sun to absorb warmth and UV. The UVB helps the turtle 
    produce Vitamin  D which it needs to absorb calcium, develop strong shells and function normally. 
    They need a reptile light AND a heat source such as a reptile heat-lamp in a ceramic clamp lamp 12 
    hrs daily. The heat source encourages them out of the

    water to dry their scutes. Use a timer for convenience. Position lights 26 cm to 30 cm away from 
    the turtle and always over the basking area. Often turtles are kept in a warm tank with UV lights 
    sitting on top of a glass lid. The glass filters out nearly all the UV rendering it a waste of 
    time. Lights need to get the necessary UVB and UVA coming from it. If you have a mesh lid over your 
    tank the grid must be larger than 1½ cm to allow the UV through. Sunlight streaming through a 
    window onto your tank is NOT enough, as the UV rays your turtle needs are blocked by the glass.

    Large, external filters can seem expensive, but are the best system to keep your tank clean. Always 
    remove all media
    from the filter such as carbon. Only use some form of bio-balls and coarse sponge as filter media. 
    (Filter wool is fine but will clog quickly). Ammonia removers, carbon etc quickly loose their 
    ability to work effectively and begin to leach toxins back into the turtle tank which can lead to 
    illness over time. Never underestimate how dirty turtles can be.  You need to change up to half 
    your tank water weekly and all your water monthly. Internal filters need weekly cleaning with your 
    water change. External; filters should not need cleaning for up to 3 mths or more depending on size 
    of tank, amount of turtles etc. Place a 'pre-filter' sponge over the intake hose to decrease the 
    waste matter  going into your filter. e.g. cable-tie a coarse sponge around the inlet filter and 
    remove it for cleaning weekly. This stops loads of bio waste getting inside your filter. (NB/some 
    turtles will eat the sponge so you can't use it for those turtles.) Remember that for every poo, 
    turtles do 5 times the amount in wee, so change at least 1/3 to 1/2 of your water every week so 
    they aren’t drinking and swimming in a sewer. Do a full water change every 3 to 4 weeks as  well.

    Don’t be fooled, turtles grow rapidly and a baby needs a 3 ft tank and maximum swimming space to 
    stay strong and healthy. Adult males need a 4ft (120cm long) tank minimum and females a 6 ft (2 
    metre) tank. Don’t have a ‘lip or edge’ on basking area as it causes injury. Ramp needs to be deep 
    into the water so turtle can easily climb out to bask and water level MUST be right up to the 
    basking platform to prevent injury as the turtle dives off. Recommendations indicate that turtles 
    need 40 litres of water per 1cm of shell size. The larger the tank, the happier the turtle. Also 
    aquarium stones in tanks are one of the biggest killers of captive turtles. They explore their 
    world by taste and can easily swallow small aquarium stones leading to impaction and death. Any 
    stones in your tank should be larger than the turtles head so they can’t swallow them. Some smooth 
    river rocks a few cm in size can provide interest for your turtle without danger of them swallowing 
    them. A decent sized piece of driftwood creates security for your turtle, provides interest in your 
    tank and turtle can scratch with it, even bite at it without causing injury. Don't have rocks in 
    your tank. They can cause small scratches in the shell which leads to ulcers and shell rot. Many 
    turtles get trapped between rocks and drown.

    Lids on tanks are a disaster as they cause a buildup of condensation which can literally rot the 
    skin off the bone. They also lead to respiratory issues such as pneumonia. If you need a protective 
    cover, use a mesh with a gap of 1½ cm to allow UV in and condensation out. Solid Rimu lids look 
    nice, but are endangering the turtle’s health. Cut neat holes through the lid to allow air exchange 
    and prevent your turtle from suffering. Remember never sit your Reptile light  on top of glass.

    A healthy turtle over 15cm can live outside in a soft environment in the North Island. The South 
    Island poses challenges for hibernating turtles and should only be done if you have a warm, 
    sheltered area for your pond and research the correct way to safely hibernate them. A soft pond 
    environment means either a natural clay bottomed pond or pond-liner over sand or carpet. DO NOT use 
    concrete and avoid any rough rocks. Have water around 60cm   or more deep for adult females and 
    ensure there’s nothing the turtle can bang into when it slides into the water. Position your pond 
    for maximum sunlight, as turtles need a sunny basking area with access to shade. Artificial grass, 
    logs, garden or lawn make a suitable basking area. Use vermiculite or a mix of clay and loam or 
    fine soil to provide a suitable egg laying place for your female. For hibernation an ideal is to 
    have mud in the bottom of your pond, 46 cm below the frost line, for them to burrow into. Don’t 
    attempt hibernation without finding out some information about how to go about it successfully 
    first. Barley straw anchored near the bottom of the pond in one end is also great for turtles to 
    hibernate in. (Don't use other types of straw.)

    Secure fencing is critical to prevent escapes from a pond. They can squeeze through Small gaps, 
    climb up netting and shrubbery, or dig their way out; particularly a female wanting to lay eggs. 
    I've had turtles scale a 1 metre fence! Use smooth wood or large, natural boulders or plastic 
    netting with an overhang at the top. A fence that the turtle can't see through is best. If they can 
    'see out', they want to 'get out' and become stressed trying to escape all day. Whatever you 
    choose, remember other animals, children and burglars can also be an issue for your turtles outside 
      so think carefully about where you want to position your pond.

    Diet: Feeder fish, (NB/ Goldfish are considered to be too high in fat for turtles), frozen Hot 
    House turtle food,
    earthworms , water snails, crickets, aquatic plants such as duckweed, 02 weed, watercress, azolla 
    etc, dry fish (all products by JBL are excellent foods), and turtle pellets.

    Feeding is one of the most important functions of a turtle owner! Feed an amount of food equal to 
    the size of the turtles empty head. (Feed greens freely).
    Hatchlings - feed daily. Adults- feed every 2nd day.
    Remember...turtles live in the water and have a fish based diet, they don't climb out and eat cows!
    Think green! Turtles need to eat greens! Have plants/greens in tank at all times. An all 
    protein/pellet diet leads to shell deformities and organ damage. Apply 'tough love' to get turtle 
    eating greens
    Protein = pond snails, worms, insects, pellets, fresh or dried fish, whitebait, ready-made 'wet' 
    turtle foods e.g. 'hot-
    house' turtle food. Hot house food is a great source of appropriate minerals, calcium and vitamins. 
    You can't beat plenty of live food for any turtles to eat, especially feeder fish. JBL products 
    such as Energil, Classic or Agil and freeze dried crickets from Insect Direct are excellent turtle 
    foods. You can also use Hikari Cichlid Gold fish food for turtles. Daily = O2 weed, watercress, 
    duckweed, water lily leaves, azolla other aquatic plants and dandelion leaves. Occasional carrot 
    sticks, frilly lettuce, mesculin salad or kumara skin can be used if you are unable to source 
    aquatic plants.
    DON'T feed any form of red meat, processed meats, cabbage, Kale, spinach, silverbeet, rhubarb, 
    beets, celery, broccoli, mince, dog food, raw chicken, salty fish, brussel sprouts or avocado. 
    (Avocado is lethal for reptiles.)

    Typical Red ear turtle tank set up. Photo of turtle tank set-up.

    turtle tank set up donna m.jpg

    Tank positioned near (not in) window for ease of access for cleaning but also doesnt allow sunlight 
    to cause algae growth.   No shingle which makes cleaning so much easier and prevents intestinal 
    blockage, prolapse and possible death. Turtles WILL eat shingle, and you should not have any in 
    your tank. River stones which are larger than an adult turtles head can be used in your tank if you 
    want a substrate.
    No rocks which can cause minor injuries to turtle shell and then over time progress to ulcerative 
    shell disease and possible slow death.
    Driftwood for turtles to scratch on, hide behind and provide interest to the tank. Other smooth, 
    plastic ornaments can also be used. Plastic plants will get eaten and can cause blockages.
    No lids on tank which cause condensation/ excessive humidity. This can lead to shell or respiratory 
    Large basking area. Reptile UVB light with no perspex cover and no glass lids to block UV light 
    getting to turtles. (If it doesn't say 'Reptile' on the bulb, it's no use)
    Ordinary light bulb to provide warmth which encourages turtles to bask and dry out. A ceramic lamp 
    fitting is best
    due to the amount of time the lights need to stay on every day.  Basking area completely dry to 
    prevent issues with the plastron or skin.
    Large external filter...this tank has 1 fluval 405 ad an Eheim. No carbon, ammonia remover added to 
    filters which will
    leach toxins back into the water after about 2 weeks of use. Maximum water depth possible.
    Heater WITH heater-guard as turtles will break a glass heater. I have had turtles which have EATEN 
    the chunks of glass and plastic from a broken heater.
    Prefilter sponge to stop greens etc clogging up filter. A piece of sponge from Para rubber held on 
    with a twist tie is good.

    Cuttlebone floating in water at all times to provide source of calcium.
    Some form of 'greens' in tank at all times for turtles to nibble on. (Water lily, fancy lettuce, O2 
    weed and kumara skin
    were in tank in this photo.)

    Chelodina longicollis


    RANGE: The eastern snake-necked turtle, occurs throughout south-eastern and eastern Australia. It 
    is typically found in swamps, lakes, slow moving waterways, creeks and billabongs, sometimes 
    migrating overland during the summer months often being found wandering on overcast days during 
    this time.

    DESCRIPTION: The long neck which gives it its name can measure over half the shell length which may 
    reach up to30cm in length with most averaging 20cm. Generally brown/black
    all over with yellowish markings on plastron.
    Specimens will emit a strong smelling liquid (called musking), as a means of defence. This, 
    however, ceases as they settle into captivity.

    Check out the Aussie website AFT ( Australian Freshwater Turtles) for excellent care sheets on the 
    Australian turtle species.

    BREEDING: Breeding takes place in spring or early summer. Clutch Size 
    may be 8 to 24 eggs with an incubation time of 3 to 4  months.
    DIET: in the Australian wild includes frogs, tadpoles, small fish, yabbies and crustaceans. In 
    captivity they will feed on commercially prepared frozen 'hot house' turtle food, small mice, 
    insects and feeder fish. In general they are carnivorous and will readily eat feeder fish, bugs, 
    crickets, daphnia, dragonflies, earwigs, grasshoppers, flies, moths, nymphs and larvae, slaters, 
    water-snails, water boatmen, worms (start a worm farm...great free food) raw fish cut up to bite 
    sized pieces.
    LIGHTING. As for RES. However snake necks tend to float at the surface of the water rather than 
    climb out onto a basking ramp and so it's important to place the UVB light over the full length of 
    the tank, not just the basking area. They also prefer a natural piece of wood to climb up and bask 
    on rather than a glass ramp. You cant beat natural sunlight and they will thrive in an 
    appropriately set up pond and happily bask on logs near the water.

    Mauremys reevesii

    DISTRIBUTION: From southern China, Korea and southern Japan. The Reeves' is a small 
    semi-terrestrial turtle, usually 4 - 5 inches long.
    DESCRIPTION:The shell has three well defined keels on the carapace, which is usually brown. The tail is quite 
    long, the body isusually grey with yellowish spots and the head has a pattern of stripes. Some Reeves entire body 
    and soft parts might be completely brown or black.
    DIET: Eats almost anything. Commercially prepared frozen 'hot house' turtle food, JBL products, 
    pellets, feeder fish, earthworms, snails and some aquatic plants as above. HOUSING: The Reeves 
    being only semi aquatic needs to have more land area than other turtles and as they are relatively 
    poor swimmers a water depth of around 3 times the turtles sell length is recommended. Other than 
    water depth their housing, lighting and temperature range is
    basically the same as Red Ear Terrapin care.

    Painted Turtle
    Emydura subglobosa
    Emydura_subglobosa Elgin Werk.png

    Description: It is easily recognizable by its dark pink to red plastron and lower jaw. Especially males show these bright colours during the mating season. They have a cream or yellow broad line running from their nose, behind the eye until the end of the head. The rest of the head and body is a dark grey. The shell is relatively flat, and a solid brown in colour. The edge of the shell has a slight red edge which is especially evident in young animals. plastron is a light cream colour. The amount of red may vary. Depending on sex, age and the season. Males will get up to17cm in shell length. Females up to 26cm. Males have significantly longer and thicker tail Both the male and female have two barbels under their chin.
    Origin and Habitat: This species has a large distribution and occur throughout Papua New Guinea - Papua and Cape York Australia. They occur in a variety of habitats including rivers and estuaries to inland waterholes and creeks.

    Housing: This is an active turtle and they need plenty of space to swim around so the enclosure for one to three animals should be at least 150x60x60 with at least 30cm of water tough deeper is better. Provide a basking place where animals can dry up completely and when needed dig in the sand to lay eggs. This dry sunny spot may reach temperatures of 35 to 40C below the hotspot. The average water and air temperature should be 25C but may rise in summer to a maximum of 30C. Use UVB solar lighting for the production of vitamin D3. Allow as muc swimming space as possible, driftwood and half terracotta pots can serve as visual barriers and under water shelters. One can choose to keep a bare bottom because of hygienic reasons but a sandy substrate will be certainly appreciate by these turtles for rooting through and foraging.

    Water: Good quality of the water is essential as they don’t tolerate ammonia so a good canister filter and movement in the water is a must. Replace 25% to 50% of the water in order to prevent build-up of waste materials. Tropical root wood, catappa leaves and oak leaf slightly lower pH value and catappa has an anti-bacterial and mould-reducing effect. Males can be quite pushy once they are sexually mature. Therefore it is best to keep the sexes separate outside the breeding season. Otherwise the females otherwise get no rest.

    Diet: These turtles are mainly carnivorous but will also feed on some greens and fruits when it is offered, a varied diet of Bloodworms, tubifex, worms, shrimp, (pieces of) freshwater fish, mussels, various insects, snails with shell, and some waterplants, tomatoes, carrot and fruits like mango and apple will sometimes also be eaten. Colour enhancing fish foods such as dried shrimp can help to increase the red colour on them.



    Emydura_subglobosa Elgin Werk.tif

      Report Article

  • Create New...