When my son was five years old, he fell in love with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and decided to ask Santa for a turtle for Christmas. As a wildlife biologist, I’d had some experience caring for a variety of animals used for educational programs, including a few species of reptiles, but I hadn’t raised any turtles.
I figured they were a relatively low-maintenance pet, based on my experience with snakes and lizards, and I knew we’d have to be careful about salmonella, but beyond that, I knew I’d have to do some research. My only experience with turtles and tortoises was in the wild, or in zoos. What I learned made me decide that a turtle was probably not the right pet for our family, at least not at that time, but it might be the perfect pet for yours.
Turtles live a very long time
Deciding to get a turtle is a big commitment. If cared for properly, a pet turtle can live for several decades, maybe even 70 years or longer. To be honest, this was the biggest factor for our family when deciding not to get a turtle. I knew that I did not want to be tied to a pet that might very likely outlive me.
Turtles aren’t disposable
Sure, you see turtles and tortoises outdoors all the time, but that doesn’t mean you can just take your pet turtle outside and turn it loose when you get tired of cleaning its tank. In fact, releasing a turtle in the wild may be illegal, and even if it’s not, it’s unethical.
Different turtles require different care
You may adopt a turtle, like a red eared slider, that spends most of its time in the water. Or you may get a tortoise, like the red footed tortoise, that prefers life on land. Or maybe you’ll adopt a turtle that likes spending time both on land and in the water. If you don’t know enough about your specific turtle before you adopt it, you won’t have any idea which sort of habitat it requires.
Whether you get a land loving creature or an aquatic species, you’ll need to provide it with a large tank. Even a very small turtle will grow and grow, perhaps to more than a foot in diameter. But it needs plenty of space and a nice, clean environment in which to develop.
Turtles need heat and light
Like most reptiles, turtles need a heat source because they are cold blooded animals which are not able to regulate their own body temperatures easily. They also need a source of UV light, which can come in the form of a lamp, for about 12 hours a day.
Don’t just guess at the temperatures your turtle needs to thrive. Different species have different requirements, and turtles need a variety of temperatures for day, night, and basking. You can best find out this information by discussing your pet’s requirements with the breeder or with your vet.
Be careful of contamination
Remember that bacteria are small and invisible, and that you can spread salmonella all over your house if you are not very careful about washing your hands after touching your turtle or its tank. Salmonella can be deadly, especially to young children and the elderly, so protect them and yourself by avoiding contamination.
Don’t remove turtles from the wild
Turtles and tortoises are everywhere, and you may be tempted to pick one out of the wild and bring it home to be your pet. Don’t do it. They shouldn’t be plucked out of their habitat and thrust into captivity any more than other animals just because they are slow and easy to catch.
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