Turtles can often be incredibly fun, engaging, and overall adorable pets to have around.
If you’re willing to take care of them properly, they can be very rewarding pets.
By doing the right kind of research and planning, you can take steps to ensure the health and longevity of your turtle.
Let’s learn about turtles in more detail.
Turtle Species Overview
Turtles are very adaptable and can be found on almost every continent except Antarctica.
Turtles are most often found in southeastern North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
They’re among the earliest and most primitive groups of reptile species, having evolved millions of years ago.
Turtles can be found worldwide in almost every type of environment.
Most turtles spend their lives in water.
They’re adapted for aquatic life, with webbed feet or flipper-like appendages and a streamlined body.
Sea turtles rarely leave their natural habitat except to lay eggs.
Freshwater turtles live near bodies of fresh water, such as ponds and lakes, and climb out of the water to bask in the warm sunshine.
Turtles are aquatic reptiles that have webbed feet and hard shells.
The hard shell protects the turtle from predators. It covers the turtle body except the head, neck, tail, and legs.
The shell is mainly made of bone. The top part is the dome-shaped carapace, while its underside is the flat plastron or belly plate.
It has an outer layer made of keratin, which is the material of hair, claws, and horns.
The turtle jaws are equipped with hard beaks that allow them to capture and cut apart their prey.
Some turtle species can live in shallow water because they’ve eyes and nostrils located on top of their heads.
Names of Species
The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), the turtle order, splits into two suborders, Cryptodira and Pleurodira.
And then further splits into 13 families, 75 genera, and more than 300 species.
Below is the list of pet turtles that are bred in captivity:
- African Sideneck Turtle,
- Bog Turtle,
- Chinese Box Turtle,
- Chinese Softshell Turtle,
- Common Musk Turtle (Stinkpot),
- Desert Box Turtle,
- Diamondback Terrapin Turtle,
- False Map Turtle,
- Eastern Box Turtle,
- Eastern Painted Turtle,
- European Pond Turtle,
- Florida Softshell Turtle,
- Gulf Coast Box Turtle,
- Loggerhead Musk Turtle,
- Mata Mata Turtle,
- Midland Painted Turtle,
- Mississippi Map Turtle,
- Northern Map Turtle,
- Ornate Box Turtle,
- Ornate Wood Turtle (Painted),
- Ouachita Map Turtle,
- Pink Belly Sideneck Turtle,
- Razorback Musk Turtle,
- Red-Eared Slider,
- Reeve’s Turtle,
- Southern Painted Turtle,
- Spiny Softshell Turtle,
- Spotted Turtle,
- Striped Mud Turtle,
- Three-Toed Box Turtle,
- Western Painted Turtle,
- Yellow-Bellied Slider, and
- Yellow Mud Turtle.
The lifespan of turtles will vary depending on the species. However, most turtles can live for decades.
So these aquatic pets can become a lifelong part of your family.
Some popular pet turtle species, like the African Sideneck Turtles and the Map Turtles, are generally expected to live for 25 years or more.
Terrestrial box turtles live for up to 100 years, but their average lifespan in captivity is 40 to 50 years.
Other species of wild turtles can even live longer than pet turtles.
Proper care is vital in achieving a longer lifespan for pet turtles.
Turtle size will vary depending on the species. So there’s no average size with so many different types of turtles.
The western painted turtles can grow between 4 to 10 inches, and the red-eared sliders can grow between 5 to 12 inches.
Female red-eared turtles are typically larger than males.
So the size and weight of a turtle can vary significantly.
Factors like age, diet, gender, environment and UV light play an important role in determining the size of the turtle.
Turtle Tank Setup
Turtles can live for long. So taking proper care of them will ensure that they have a healthy and happy life.
Let’s understand how to set up a turtle tank in detail.
Turtles need an indoor habitat of at least 40 gallons to grow to adult size.
Turtles are messy, and a large tank is a better option as it allows the waste to disperse and dissolve more efficiently.
Water should cover three-quarters of the area, and it should be at least as deep as the turtle’s width.
You should also design an area where the turtle can lie down under a heat lamp to warm up.
Since the length of hibernation varies by turtle species, it’s essential to know how long they typically remain inactive and how to provide them with the best environment during this time.
Tank Equipment And Decorations
Turtles grow big. So make sure your space is suited to the size of the adult turtle you want to keep.
Wooden boards or bricks are good for building land areas because you can clean them easily.
Make sure they’re kept dry and slope gently toward the water so that they’re easily accessible.
Ensure that the plants you’re putting inside the tank are compatible with your turtle and that it won’t get sick by eating them.
It’s best to use a mix of artificial and natural plants in the turtle tank.
A water conditioner is also necessary if you use tap water for your tank.
It will neutralize metals and chlorine, which can upset the pH balance of the water.
Turtles need sunlight; they require approximately 12 to 14 hours of direct sunlight each day for vitamin D3.
So purchase a high-quality UV light for your tank and set up an automatic timer.
Given below are the items required in a turtle tank:
- Dry Rock / Wood / Bricks for Land area,
- Aquatic Plants (Live & Artificial),
- Water Conditioner,
- Heat Fitting and globe,
- UV fitting and globe,
- PH testing kit,
- Turtle neutralizer block/vitamin D3 block,
- Feeding Tub,
- Water Siphon, and
- Decorations like artificial rocks, ornaments, driftwood, etc.
Cleaning the turtle enclosure should be done regularly, even if you already have a filtration system or other maintenance devices.
Turtles are exciting pets to own. At the same time, they’re too sensitive.
So it’s essential to learn how to take care of them before bringing a turtle home.
Most turtles are omnivorous and enjoy consuming tadpoles, frog eggs, snails, leeches, aquatic beetles, dragonfly larvae, etc.
They also eat lily pods, algae, tule, and cattail roots.
Some species of turtles begin their lives as omnivores when they’re hatchlings and later become either pure herbivores or carnivores, depending on the species.
Carnivore turtles typically feed on small wildlife and other fish, while omnivores feed on plants and small fish.
Eating live food is nutritious to turtles as it provides lots of protein.
Besides frozen food and vegetables, you need to plan the diet based on their dietary group.
Some of the live food that you must feed your turtles are:
- Feeder Fish,
- Leafy greens like collards, dandelions, mustard greens, etc.,
- Fresh Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, peas, etc.
- Fresh fruits like apples, cantaloupe, bananas, berries, mangoes, etc.
Turtles often defecate while they eat, so keeping their food away from their excrement can help them avoid accidentally ingesting feces.
Ensure that you clean out uneaten food from their tank regularly to avoid unwanted bacteria and algae build-up.
Turtles can live in different water conditions, but they usually prefer stable water parameters.
Captive turtles prefer environments that are similar to their natural habitats.
They need a moist and warm environment to thrive.
The ideal water parameters for turtles are:
|75°F to 82°F (24°C to 28°C)
|Basking Area Temperature
|82°F to 90°F (28°C to 32°C)
|7.4 to 7.8
Turtles create a lot of mess.
So regular water changes and a suitable filtration system are required inside their tank to maintain good water quality and hygiene.
For larger tanks, you should use a good-quality canister filter.
Installing a water filtration system will keep ammonia levels under control.
To maintain stable water parameters, you need to replace 30% to 50% of aquarium water every one to two weeks.
You should also clean the gravel during a water change.
You should vacuum it to get rid of the unwanted pathogens to maintain suitable conditions.
Freshwater should always be treated with a water conditioner to remove chlorine and chemicals before adding them to the tank.
Moreover, turtles can carry Salmonella. So your hands after touching your turtle.
Some adult turtles will become overweight if they eat a protein-rich diet.
This can have negative health consequences in the long run.
Turtles can also get fungal and shell diseases if the water quality isn’t maintained at optimum levels.
Given below are some of the common diseases that can affect turtles:
- Loss of appetite,
- Soft/rubbery shell,
- Spots on shell/skin, and
- Floating/inability to submerge.
Turtles need a lot of attention and aren’t very easy to keep.
However, if all factors like general care, temperature, and humidity are taken care of, they can thrive in captivity.
Turtle Behavior And Temperament
Like most reptiles, turtles are solitary creatures and can survive without company.
Of course, they’ll interact with other turtles when looking for mates or defending their territory.
When turtles fight, it usually begins with the front legs flapping in the face.
The more dominant turtle will chase away the less dominant turtle from its territory.
Turtles don’t show any affection toward each other or humans.
However, if your turtle is hungry and responds to your calls during feeding time, it means it’s happy.
A happy and healthy turtle has clear eyes and a clear nose.
Any mucus coming out from these areas is a cause for concern, and you should get them checked out by a veterinarian.
Most species of turtles eat fish. They may eat an entire school overnight.
Large species of fish may also be a threat to small turtles.
If you want to keep small fish, then choose fast-swimming fish that can easily escape from the turtles.
Some of the tankmates that you can keep with turtles are:
- Female turtles,
- Algae eaters,
- Neon tetras,
- Cherry barbs,
- Zebra danios, and
Avoid placing fish with turtles that are large and slow or aggressive.
You shouldn’t keep fish with sharp bones either, as turtles don’t chew their food well.
Male turtles also shouldn’t live together because they’re most likely to fight with each other.
Given below are some tankmates that you shouldn’t keep with turtles:
- Male Turtles,
- Gizzard Shad,
- Rosy Red Minnows, and
- Feathered Minnows.
Turtles are solitary and can be kept alone. However, if you want to keep fish or other turtles, ensure they can cohabitate easily.
Both freshwater and saltwater turtles lay their eggs in nests on land.
Some turtles migrate to lay their eggs, while others deposit their eggs nearby where they live.
Turtles lay their first clutch of eggs about 3 to 6 weeks after the mating process during the warmest months of the year.
Most of the female turtles finish nesting in a couple of hours.
The female turtle prepares its nest on land by digging a hole using her hind legs to deposit the eggs.
The depth of the nest will be as deep as her legs or flippers can reach.
Turtles don’t stick around after they lay their eggs.
Once the female turtle has laid her eggs, she covers them up with mud or sand and leaves the eggs to incubate.
The job of the female turtle is up to the point of laying eggs. She doesn’t look after her eggs or baby turtles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Turtles Reptiles, Amphibians, Or Mammals?
Turtles are reptiles. They’re cold-blooded, air-breathing, egg-laying animals that have scales. These are the main characteristics of reptiles. Turtles cannot breathe underwater, so they cannot be classified as amphibians. Also, turtles lay eggs to reproduce, so they cannot be classified as mammals.
Where Do Snapping Turtles Live?
Snapping turtles are found throughout the eastern part of the North American continent. These animals live in shallow freshwater bodies like estuaries, ponds, and streams. They like muddy habitats with dense vegetation. Also, snapping turtles spend most of their time in shallow waters than on land.
Where Do Painted Turtles Live?
Painted turtles live in freshwater bodies like ponds, streams, and lakes with soft, muddy bottoms. They like slow-moving waters that have plenty of vegetation and spaces with sunlight where they can bask during the day. You can find painted turtles all over North America, New Mexico, and Canada.
Why Do Turtles Live Long?
The long lifespan of turtles can be attributed to various factors. Turtles survive harsh conditions due to their hard shell and the ability to hibernate. Their slow metabolic rate delays the aging process. Good food, clean water, and a stress-free environment further improve their lifespan.
Why Do Turtles Slap Each Other?
Turtles slap each other to show affection or dominance over each other. Slapping is quite normal in turtles, and it is usually done by male turtles to impress the female turtles. However, a male turtle also slaps another male turtle when it wants to show its dominance over him.
Are Turtles Born With Shells?
Turtles are born with shells. During the early stages of turtles’ life, their shells are soft. As turtles grow, the shells harden and develop fully. Even if turtles are born with a shell, they cannot slide out of it. You also cannot pull out the turtles from their shell without hurting them.
Why Do Turtles Hide In Their Shells?
Turtles hide in their shells when they are scared. The hard exterior protects them from enemies. However, recent studies say that the ancestors of these animals used their retractable necks to catch food. It’s likely that it later evolved into a defense mechanism to protect the turtles from danger.
Can A Turtle Live Without Its Shell?
A turtle cannot live without its shell. The shell of a turtle is a part of its body and not something that a turtle can simply slip it off. The shell of a turtle is made up of all the bones inside the body of the turtle. It is a part of the skeleton, and so it cannot be removed.
What Do Turtles Do In The Winter?
Turtles go into brumation during winter. They slow down their metabolism, which results in lower energy and oxygen consumption. Turtles use cloacal respiration for breathing underwater through their skin. Some species like snapping turtles remain active in the winter, even when ice covers the ponds.
Do Turtles Have Scales?
Turtles have scales called scutes covering their entire shell. Most turtle body parts are covered with scales apart from their head. The turtle scales are made up of keratin. They protect the turtles from abrasions, safeguard the shell from bacteria, and prevent water loss from their bodies.
Do Turtles Have Tails?
Turtles have tails. A turtle’s tail is primarily used for mating and protection. The length of a turtle’s tail varies by turtles’ species and gender. Male turtles have long and thick tails compared to female turtles. Female turtles use their tail for protecting their vents and for mating.
Why Do Turtles Hiss?
Turtles hiss when they get frightened and quickly retract into their shell for protection. While retracting suddenly into the shell, their lungs have to quickly expel air to make space for the head and limbs. This results in the hissing sound. Otherwise, turtles don’t hiss under normal conditions.
Do Turtles Smell?
Turtles do not have a smell of their own. They produce unpleasant smell if they are not clean or if the tank in which they reside is not clean. Usually, particles of food or the vegetation surrounding the turtle get stuck on its body. These stuck particles emit a foul odor if they are not cleaned.
Do Turtles Migrate?
Turtles migrate in search of favorable environmental conditions and food. They migrate toward the south in winter for warm waters and migrate toward the north in summer for food. Sea turtles mostly migrate from foraging to nesting grounds. Thus, turtles have a cyclical migration behavior.
Do Turtles Age?
Turtles do not display any signs of aging; they have negligible senescence. Due to their slower metabolism, turtles age slower and lead longer lives compared to other animals. Factors like cellular damage and degradation that produce the signs of aging in animals are also insignificant in turtles.
Do Turtles Make Noise?
Turtles do not have vocal cords. Nonetheless, they do produce various sounds like hisses and shrieks by expelling air from their lungs. Big turtles produce loud roaring sounds by using the exact mechanism. Aquatic turtles and baby turtles also vocalize at low frequencies that we cannot easily hear.
Do Turtles Have Teeth?
Turtles do not have teeth. Instead, they have a sharp beak that helps them to eat. Some turtle species have ridges along the inside of their beaks, whereas others have powerful jaws and sharp, pointy beaks. Hatchlings have a tooth known as the egg tooth or caruncle that does not last long.
Are Turtles Good Pets?
Turtles are usually good pets for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend with them. As long as they are fed a healthy diet, and their environment is kept clean and warm, they will live a healthy life. However, turtles are not recommended as pets for toddlers as they carry salmonella bacteria.
Can Sea Turtles Be Pets?
Sea Turtles cannot be kept as pets. They are an endangered species and carry Salmonella bacteria, which is poisonous. This poison can pass onto young children who do not follow stringent hygiene. Moreover, Sea Turtles are not easy to take care of, and it is illegal to have Sea Turtles as pets.
Why Do Turtles Eat Jellyfish?
Turtles eat jellyfish because they are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. In the wild, it is easy for turtles to catch jellyfish because they move very slowly in the water. That is why, if a hungry turtle comes across a jellyfish, it won’t hesitate to swim up to it and eat it.
Can Turtles Eat Fish Food?
Turtles can eat fish food. However, it will not fulfill a turtle’s nutritional requirements. So, you shouldn’t use fish food exclusively to feed your turtle. Turtles thrive on a varied diet of live plant and meat-based matter. You can occasionally feed fish food, but not regularly.
Do Turtles Need A Filter?
Turtles need a filter since they expel waste into the water. If there’s no arrangement to trap and remove this waste, it decays and releases toxins like ammonia into the water. To avoid these toxins from poisoning the turtles, they need a filter to prevent the waste from polluting the tank.
Why Do Turtles Bask?
Turtles bask in the sun because it helps them soak up the UV rays. The UV rays help turtles produce Vitamin D and synthesize calcium for the healthy growth of their bones and shells. Basking also helps them regulate their body temperature, improve metabolism, kill parasites, and keeps them healthy.
Why Are Turtles Slow?
Turtles are slow because of their biological makeup and natural adaptations. Turtles have a low metabolic rate and hence cannot move fast. Their slow gait is also a natural adaptation to avoid injuries to their shell and bones. Since turtles don’t chase food or run from enemies, they are slow.
Can Turtles Run?
Turtles can run, but not very fast. They run at an average speed of 3 to 4 mph, and the speed varies by turtle species. Soft-shelled turtles are the fastest turtles on land, while Box turtles and Cooter turtles are the slowest turtles. All turtle species are a lot faster in water than on land.
Do Turtles Eat Meat?
Some turtles eat meat. Most varieties of turtles are omnivores, so they eat plant as well as animal matter. However, some species of turtles, like the sea turtles, prefer to eat plants. In the wild, turtles obtain meat-based nutrition from insects, tiny fish, snails, and other invertebrates.
Can Turtles Eat Bread?
Turtles cannot eat bread. Bread contains yeast, and turtles lack the enzymes required to digest bread. Feeding only bread to a turtle without a proper diet is harmful as the lack of calcium intake leads to a deformed shell. Moreover, bread does not contain any nutritional value for a turtle.
Can Turtles Eat Grapes?
Turtles can eat grapes. However, grapes are not healthy for turtles. Grapes contain sugar and have an unbalanced calcium-phosphorus ratio. They are also low in mineral content. Therefore, it is unhealthy for turtles to consume grapes in excess. However, turtles can eat grapes in moderation.
Why Do Turtles Eat Straws?
Turtles eat straws because they mistake them for food. Consumption of straws is a big threat to turtles as it causes indigestion and choking. Straws also get entangled in the turtle’s nasal cavity and cause health problems. Straws do not biodegrade for decades and are a threat to marine life.
Can Turtles Swim?
Turtles can swim. They have webbed feet and a streamlined body structure that helps them in swimming. While swimming, they extend their legs that have the webbed feet to paddle themselves through the water. They swim for some time and then come up to the water surface to breathe air.
Can Turtles Hear?
Turtles hear to an extent. However, they cannot hear as clearly as humans hear. Turtles are more responsive to loud noises. As turtles’ ears are not as sharp as other animals, they mainly rely on their other senses for survival.
Can Turtles See In The Dark?
Turtles can see in the dark. They do not have night vision to see clearly in the dark. However, once their eyes adjust to the darkness, they can see things around them. In the dark, they see things more in red shade as they have Tapetum lucidum in their eyes, which is known as the redness gene.
Do Turtles Sleep?
Turtles do sleep. Their exact sleep requirements depend on the type, age, and activity level. Nonetheless, all turtles need more than five hours of sleep every day. They also like to rest and nap. But if your turtle sleeps longer than usual, it will be a temperature or health-related issue.
Are Turtles Nocturnal?
Most of the turtle species are not nocturnal, except Asian Box Turtles. Turtles are not nocturnal because they do not have night vision or other sharp senses to safeguard themselves from predators in the darkness. Turtles are diurnal animals as they are active during the day and sleep at night.
Can Turtles Jump?
Turtles can jump but not very well or far. Compared to other animals, turtles do not jump from high places. They also do not jump long distances. Large turtles cannot jump at all. However, small and medium-sized turtles can jump. Snapping turtles jump the best amongst all turtle species.
Can Turtles Sleep In Water?
Turtles sleep in water for long hours without drowning. While sleeping, their metabolism rate reduces. So they need less oxygen while sleeping than when they are awake. Painted turtles, mud turtles, musk turtles, sliders, and sea turtles sleep underwater, while box turtles sleep on land.
Can Turtles Breathe Underwater?
Turtles cannot breathe underwater. They have to come up to the water surface to inhale air because they breathe through the external nares located above their mouth. However, turtles can hold their breath for a long time underwater. This gives a false impression that they are breathing underwater.
How To Attract Turtles?
You can attract turtles into your backyard or pond by creating a hospitable environment for them. They will need a pond or an artificial water source for moisture. Low-growing plants, aquatic vegetation, dry leaves, basking spots, mud, rocks, shady spots, and good food will help to attract turtles.
Do Turtles Attack Humans?
Turtles generally don’t attack humans unless they are provoked or captured. Instead, they hiss and try to retreat into their shells when they are threatened by the actions of humans around them. Nevertheless, turtles may bite or snap at humans if they are forced to defend themselves from any danger.
Are Turtles Poisonous?
Turtles are poisonous as they carry the salmonella bacteria. Older people, infants, and people with morbid conditions such as diabetes, liver complications, etc. are more prone to catch the salmonella infection. The best way to prevent this infection is by maintaining proper hygiene.
Why Do Turtles Cry?
Turtles cry to get rid of the excess salt from their bodies. Turtles maintain the salt content in their body by crying. Accumulation of excess salt is poisonous for their health. Other than to get rid of the extra salt, land turtles cry to protect their eyes from dust particles and keep them moist.
Do Turtles Feel Pain?
Turtles do feel pain. Just like humans, turtles have pain receptors in their body. They feel pain when their shell is severely damaged or fractured, they are given an injection shot, and when they have shell rot. When in pain, turtles become inactive, depressed, or suffer from loss of appetite.
Can Turtles And Lizards Live Together?
Turtles and lizards cannot live together. Turtles need water and thrive in a wet and moist environment. Very few lizards need to be near water. Also, turtles tend to attack lizards. They become aggressive and display predatorial behavior. So, it’s not recommended to keep them together.