QUESTION: I have a baby turtle, I do not know how young but it is only one inch long and seems to be newly born. Also I do not officially know what type of turtle mine is but I have done a lot of research and I think it is a yellow-bellied turtle. I read online that baby turtles are supposed to swim in warm water for 15-20 minutes to keep away salmonella, but whenever I bring the turtle to the sink and put him in there he immediately swims to the side and just sits there. I've been tapping his shell to put him back into the middle of the sink to force him to swim a little but he will either swim back over to the side and stay, or he will go underwater, get this stunned expression on his face, and not move at all, so I get scared and pull him out. I don't make the water too warm at all so I don't think that's the problem. What should I do? Is he unhappy and that's why he doesn't want to swim? Or is he too young?
ANSWER: Hi, Maria,
If you can get me a larger, clear photo of the turtle (top and bottom), I might be able to tell you the species. (It has to be clear and in color so the markings are fully visible on the head and legs, too).
First, care of reptiles, and especially turtles, is rather complicated. You didn't say where you got this turtle, but if you found it wild, it's best to release it immediately where you got it. If you did not find it wild, and it was a gift or impulse purchase, then I'm afraid you have gotten yourself into a rather expensive obligation.
If the word expensive puts you off, I recommend you immediately contact a reptile rescue group or local herpetological society, and find an experienced person to rehome the turtle with. If you are willing to do right by the little guy, you have a lot to learn, and very quickly.
First, all reptiles, and in fact all animals, may carry salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract. If a swim in warm water won't help your supermarket chicken, it won't help the turtle, either. Simply assume the turtle carries the bacteria, and wash your hands after handling it - it's that simple. The risk of transmission is very low if you practice basic hygiene. After all, in order to get salmonellosis, you have to ingest the bacteria. So, don't kiss the turtle. ;)
Here are the basics of what aquatic turtles need: An enclosure large enough to be filled with water that they can swim in, and it should be one and a half times as deep as they are long. (This will prevent them from drowning if they happen to fall in upside-down). The general rule for a fish tank is 10 gallons per inch of shell length, and expect the turtle to grow to 4 inches in one year. However, I don't recommend a glass tank - instead, get a plastic storage bin with a similar 'footprint' to a 20 or 30 gallon tank, for now. They require a basking platform, where they can easily get out of the water and get completely dry (including the bottom shell). It should be non-abrasive (so, no concrete), and easy for them to access. Above this, suspend a heat lamp stand with a high temperature ceramic-fixture heat light. The bulb should be a Mercury-Vapor UVB Reptile Light. (Pricey, but much more economical in the long run than buying a separate UVB Fluorescent light and heat light bulb). You'll need an indoor/outdoor thermometer with a remote probe. Put the probe on the platform. It should be 90F at turtle shell level there. UVB is needed to allow the turtle to produce vitamin D in its skin (supplements are not enough), and heat is needed to enable it to regulate its body temperature and digest its food. (Temps too low lead to illness).
Now, if your turtle turns out not to be a yellowbelly slider, but instead is a baby of some other non-aquatic species, such as a box turtle, all of the above will still apply, but instead of a water enclosure, it will all be land, with small, shallow dish of water.
Here is a link to one of the best aquatic turtle websites: http://www.austinsturtlepage.com/
This should answer any additional questions you might have.
Reptile keeping can be a rewarding hobby, but there is a LOT to learn, and turtles are NOT low-maintenance pets. They require a great deal of care and maintenance. Their water must be kept very clean, which is a lot of work. New babies like the on you have are also very delicate, so it is crucial to get him into a proper environment, immediately, or he will sicken and die. Handle him as little as possible. Stress can also be deadly for reptiles, and the combination of not having a proper environment, and being handled, can quickly kill them. Until he has spent a few weeks in a proper environment, and is eating well and appears healthy, avoid handling any more than absolutely necessary.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: We did not find this turtle nor did we purchase it from a pet store, but my father purchased it for my little sister for her 8th birthday on impulse, while my dad and my aunt were out shopping they happened to drive by two men in a truck who were selling turtles, my dad is very goofy and decided to buy one for $7.75 and thats as much knowledge about the turtle as we have. We are willing to keep the turtle and are going out today to get a real tank for it, but I would love to have some advice on what we should put in this tank and how the habitat should look :) I want to pick your brain and find out the basics of what we need to do :) Thank you soooo much!!!! We are very grateful that you are taking your time to do this :)
ANSWER: I'm glad to hear that. He does appear to be a slider in the new photos, so he is an aquatic turtle.
I do recommend against a glass tank - One of the most important considerations for turtles is water quality, and it's just extremely difficult to lift a glass tank, to drain all of the water and change it, as often as it needs to happen (which is whenever it develops any ammonia odor, or becomes slightly cloudy).
A strong filter can help, but doesn't make up for the need for very frequent water changes. A plastic bin will be inexpensive, and much easier to clean, scrub out, and disinfect (a 10% bleach solution is recommended, left for 5 min, then rinse until no bleach odor remains). You should disinfect once a month.
A floating 'turtle dock', or a piece of driftwood, will work for a basking container. No gravel or other covering on the floor of the enclosure, that sort of thing poses a risk if the turtle accidentally swallows it, and will just harbor bacteria and make cleaning difficult.
If you use plastic plants, be sure that they have no small pieces which might become detached. Live anacharis will be good, too, and the turtle will appreciate having cover to hide in. Feeling secure is very important to them.
Food can be quality turtle pellets, pinhead crickets coated with calcium dust, chopped earthworms, and chopped collard, mustard, dandelion, or turnip greens. Feeding pellets alone isn't recommended, and they should make up around 30% of the turtle's diet. At such a small size, you'll need to find very tiny pellets. Be sure that the brand you get contains pre-formed vitamin A, and using a reptile vitamin supplement that contains pre-formed A once a week as a dust on the turtle's fresh foods will also be a good idea. These turtles will generally only eat while they are in the water.
If the turtle does not behave normally within a few days of being introduced to a proper enclosure, and does not eat, then it is probably already ill, and will need vet care to survive. Common problems include respiratory infections, eye infections, and internal parasites. These can become critical when temperatures are too low, but treatment is relatively simply. (Infections are treated with injected antibiotics). Normal behavior will include alertness - eyes should be bright, and head lifted. The turtle should jump into the water when you enter the room, and swim vigorously. It should have a good appetite, and seem strong. It may spend long periods of time basking, but should not sleep much during the day.
I do urge you also to look into your turtle's adult size and growth rate. These sliders are not small animals, and their needs once they reach adulthood can be substantial. (An enclosure the size of a 100 gallon tank, at minimum, or an outdoor pond). Waterland Tubs can be a good solution for housing sliders, as well.
Do not release the turtle into the wild if you find you cannot care for it - rehome it with a reptile rescue or experienced keeper. Captive turtles can transmit foreign bacteria and illness to wild populations, and may not be native to the area.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: What kind of water is good for the turtle? Tap? We read on the website you recommended to not feed them in water because it is less hygenic, but you said to only feed them in water so please advise :) Thank you so so much! :)
Tap water is fine, but you may want to let it sit for a day, or use a dechlorinator. The little guy's eyes might be irritated by the chlorine if it's straight from the tap, just as yours would be. If it's safe for you to drink, it's safe for him. (Unlike fish, chloramines won't bother him).
Many keepers will use a separate container of warm water, or a bucket, to feed their aquatic turtles in. This helps keep their main enclosure cleaner. That is probably what you read. :)
Turtles are messy eaters, and will tear their food apart with their claws. With such a tiny turtle, though, getting him to eat at all is your first challenge. He's been through a lot. I wouldn't try to feed him in a separate container until he's eating regularly for you. Reptiles refuse food at the drop of a hat - if anything is wrong, if they're scared, if they don't feel well, they simply won't eat.