Western Pond Turtle Care

Origin: western United States (ponds, lakes and marshes)

There are two subspecies:

Northwest basin turtle (Clemmys marmorata marmorata) and

Southwestern pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata pallida)

Adult size: usually up to 8 inches (shell length)

Lifespan: unknown, probably more than 30 years like other pond turtles

Temperament: Not as territorial and aggressive as many other turtles. You can keep some of these turtles together as long as they have enough space to swim.

Installation: It is an aquatic species, so the enclosure must be mainly composed of water. Your turtle will need a place to get out of the water and bask, such as a well-positioned boulder or pile of rocks, or a turtle dock found at your local pet store. Use sand or gravel to cover the bottom of the tank and decorate underwater with aquatic plants or driftwood to keep your turtle safe.

The minimum tank size recommended for one of these turtles is 20 gallons long. Bigger is ALWAYS better. Other containers can be used, such as large Rubbermaid tubs, as long as the container can safely hold about 20 gallons or more of water. Fill the tank at least halfway. A water conditioner or dechlorinator is not necessary unless you are using extremely hard water (such as State College J tap water), in which case a water conditioner specially designed for turtles must to be used.

Lighting / Temperature: It is a diurnal species, which means that it is active during the day when the sun is outside. UV rays from natural sunlight are used by the turtle’s body to make vitamin D3 from calcium in its diet. Fluorescent UV bulbs specially designed for reptiles are available in pet stores to keep your turtle healthy. Although generally considered a waste of money to make “fanatics” happy, this light is extremely important, and if you do not provide it (with enough calcium), it will seriously affect the health and quality of life of your tortoise.

A heat lamp is also required. Position the light above the rocks or the terrestrial area in your aquarium to create a warm place in the sun. Use the appropriate heat bulb and position the light to create a basking temperature around 90-95 degrees F. Many thermometers are available to measure the temperature inside the enclosure, but remember that all Stick-on and dial thermometers, although still useful to have, measure only room temperature (air temperature) and will not give you an accurate reading of the basking point. To bask in temperature, you should get a digital probe thermometer (available at most hardware and garden supply stores, and not as expensive as you think!). The digital probe measures the surface temperature, the temperature at which the rock warms up and provides the appropriate belly heat for good digestion.

An aquarium heater is a good idea. These guys do best in hot water and should be kept at water temperatures in the 80’s. A submersible water heater is the only way to go, since the tank will not be filled until Mountain peak. These turtles are known to break their radiator, so we recommend looking into a titanium or “unbreakable” glass radiator to avoid problems.

Filtration and maintenance: Aquatic turtles are very messy, so a good, reliable filter is important. There are many different types of filters, but none are particularly better than the others. It’s really a matter of personal preference, whether you want a submersible filter like the Fluval, an under-gravel, a powerhead or a hydrosponge, or whether you want an external type like the hanging waterfall type or the cartridge filter. Whichever filtration method you choose, remember to have a LOT of it and clean it often!

Regular maintenance of the tank is a must for aquatic turtles. Water gets dirty quickly and constantly dirty water can have a really negative effect on the health of turtles. The frequency of changing the water or cleaning the filter depends on the number of turtles you have relative to the size of the tank, as well as the amount of filtration you have and the amount or frequency with which you feed them. Cleaning the aquarium is not much different than cleaning an aquarium. A good aquarium siphon will be of great help and is the easiest way to remove all the waste and debris from the bottom of the tank. Empty as much water as necessary to clean the tank. Turtles are not sensitive to nitrogen cycle byproducts like fish are, so you don’t have to worry about biking or being careful with the filter, which gives you a lot of freedom with regard to cleaning the tank. Remember never to use soap! There are spray cleaners available at your local pet store that are safe to use around reptiles, and if you’re really worried about the tank being dirty, a little bleach should do the trick. Just be sure to rinse it well and don’t put your turtle back in the tank until the smell of bleach is gone.

Diet: Like most pond turtles, these types are omnivorous. This means that they will eat both meat and vegetable matter. Variety is the key to a healthy diet. There are many prepackaged turtle foods on the market. Some are better than others, depending on the amounts of certain ingredients like protein and phosphorus. Staying with a high-end brand is your best bet, because good nutrition is very important with reptiles.

Crickets, red worms and super worms are among the most popular live foods available at pet stores. Sprinkle them with powdered supplements (both calcium and vitamins) just before feeding them, or “empty” them 24 hours before giving them to your turtle. Other good live foods, mostly available online, include silkworms and phoenix worms. Avoid mealworms and mealworms due to their high fat content, general lack of nutrition, and the hard-to-digest husk of mealworms. Remember not to feed your turtle with any insects you find outside. Some can be toxic (lightning bugs are deadly!) And wild insects are likely to carry parasites (an expensive veterinary bill that you prefer to avoid!). To add a little extra calcium to the diet, it is also recommended to float a piece of cuttlefish bone on the water (available in the birds section of pet stores). The turtle can sometimes nibble on the bone and, by dissolving in water, it can also be beneficial, not only for the nutrition of the turtle, but also for the health of its skin and its shell.

Live fish can be given as an occasional snack. They are not very good for your turtle nutritionally, can slow its growth and are very fatty. Think of it like going to McDonalds for dinner. A meal there probably won’t have much effect on your health, but it shouldn’t become a regular habit! Fortunately, there are healthier, parasite-free alternatives to live fish for your turtle. Most grocery stores offer a variety of fresh seafood, which is not too expensive when purchased in small quantities. Shrimp, squid (fillets and tentacles), tilapia, catfish and shark steak are all popular with turtles. Stay with “white meat” fish species as they don’t leave your water as messy and make sure you feed as much variety as possible. You will also find many freeze-dried or frozen foods at your local pet store that your turtle will enjoy snacking on. They’re not as nutritious as fresh raw seafood, but they make great snacks and help add variety to the diet.

Letting healthy leaves (such as kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens) float on water provides entertainment and a healthy snack. They will also appreciate endive, escarole, pieces of zucchini or yellow squash, cucumber, carrots, occasional pieces of apple or banana, etc. Avoid lettuce and celery, and don’t eat too much fruit. Turtles can upset the stomach and become dehydrated by eating them. Also avoid kale, broccoli and spinach because of their nutrient binding qualities. You can probably find much more detailed information about your diet online if you are looking in the right place. We recommend that you start on Melissa Kaplan’s website, www.anapsid.org. Remember not to leave uneaten vegetables, fruit or insects in the water for too long. Letting food get dirty makes the water dirty and can also make your turtle sick.

Health: turtles are susceptible to the same health problems as other reptiles. Metabolic bone disease (MBD), calcium or vitamin deficiencies or toxicities, liver and kidney disease, impaction (intestinal obstruction), dehydration, fungal and bacterial infections, stress, respiratory infections, parasites, etc. Most of these diseases can be treated by changing something about your care regimen, or with the help of a qualified reptile veterinarian, but are easily avoided as they have a lot to do with diet / nutrition. , temperature and lighting. This is why it is so important to have the right configuration from the start. A well-cared for turtle living in the right environment should live a long and healthy life with minimal problems. Another health problem with turtles is their shell. Apart from normal excretion, sometimes the shell can become very flaky, oily or even sticky. This is usually due to poor water quality and / or insufficient UV exposure, and there are useful products available in your pet store to help keep the shell healthy.

Important note regarding MBD and other similar issues: if your turtle and its shell seem to grow at different rates, or if your turtle’s legs or face seem to be deformed, your UV bulb may have been long overdue for a change or your turtle may not be getting enough calcium from its diet. This is a serious health problem and veterinary attention should be sought immediately.

by Adam Burgi

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