Turtles make great pets. In order to keep them as healthy as possible it is essential to follow these basic guidelines.
- A glass aquarium is the best environment for most turtles with a large rock resting on clean house bricks for the land area.
- The depth of the water must be at least as deep as the width of the shell and the turtles must be able to swim freely.
- It is essential the turtles have an area of "land "where they can get out of the water and dry out as they feel the need. The turtles must be able to walk around on the land.
- A water filtration system will help keep the water clean.
- Poor temperature control is a very common cause of disease in captive reptiles.
- Hibernation is a normal process that turtles in their natural environment will go through in response to a drop in environmental temperature.
- Only turtles of species that originate from an area with a similar climate to Melbourne and are being kept outside can be allowed to hibernate. Turtles kept indoors must not be allowed to hibernate, and young turtles less than 2 yrs of age must never be allowed to hibernate.
- The preferred body temperature of the common long neck turtle is 26 degrees and the enclosure temperature should be within a range of 22-25 degrees .all of the time. The temperature should be measured with a thermometer rather than relying on the temperature controls on the heater.
- A heat lamp (separate to the light source) should be used over the " land " area and ideally the land area will have an area away from the lamp that is slightly cooler to allow the turtle to thermo-regulate .The ideal temperature below the globe is 25-30 degrees. The heat lamp should not be turned off overnight.
- The water can be heated with an aquatic heater. Twenty five percent of the water must be changed at least several times each week with fresh water at the same temperature as the tank water. The aquatic heater should also not be turned off overnight.
- If a turtle is to hibernate it must not eat within 1 month of the anticipated drop in temperature. To hibernate with food in the gut can cause severe gastroenteritis and death.
- Turtles need exposure to unfiltered natural light - they can be taken outside in warmer weather for 1-2 hrs a day. Be very careful not to leave in full sun or in an unventilated enclosure as they can overheat.
- The alternative to natural light is an artificial source of UV light, ideally a " black light" with the UV range of 285-315 nm This light must be no more than 45 cm above the :"land area". UV light is essential to synthesize vitamin D . It is also important to provide a source of blue- green light, eg Trulight, in order for normal activity and feeding behaviour. It is preferable to use two separate light sources. A combined light source is available however the UV component decreases below a useful level after only 6 months and must be replaced - this is significantly more expensive than providing two separate light sources.
- Light should not be left on constantly - the best lighting mimics natural night and day.
- Uneaten food must not be allowed to accumulate in the water. Ideally a second tank that is easily cleaned is used just for feeding and the water replaced after each feed. The water in this tank must be the same temperature as the housing tank.
- Australian fresh water turtles are entirely carnivorous (meat eating) and should be feed a variety of whole fish- dead or alive (fresh not frozen as thiamine and vitamin d are depleted during freezing - if frozen fish are used they should only be a small part of the diet), whole mice , yabbies , shrimps , worms and insects. . The whole fish and mice should be chopped into bite sized pieces before use - adult mice are better than newborn mice. Small amounts of commercial canned dog food can also be given.
- A calcium supplement should also be provided in the water
- Wombaroo reptile supplement can be made into water resistant pellets.
- Turtles need to be offered food when they are in the water and young turtles should be fed daily. Older turtles need feeding 3 times a week.
- It can take a turtle several weeks to get used to a new food source and it is ok to let them go without food and let them get hungry while introducing new foods.