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Turtles/Putting 2 RES in a pond


Pax and Bellum
Pax and Bellum  
QUESTION: Hello, my parents have had 2 RES for about 5 years now, One is a boy, and one is a girl. They recently grew a lot, and now they are too big for their tank. I know that we could just buy another, bigger tank, but I was wondering if instead, I could put them in the pond in my backyard?
The pond is not very big across, only about 10 feet. There is a shallow part, about 1 1/2 ft.- 2 ft.deep and a deeper part which is up to around 6 ft. deep. There is a bank for basking, and the bottom has rocks. The pond is a total of about 1000 gallons. The pond is not currently stocked, there may, however, be a couple of large catfish (nowhere near large enough to eat the turtles) and I know that the turtles could bite them. During the summer, there are a lot of bullfrog tadpoles for them to eat, and I will most likely stock it with goldfish. I would put a fence around the pond so they couldn't get out, and so no predators could get in.
The pond is not clear, and I am mainly worried about them getting sick and catching food. I live in Kansas and would probably bring them in during the winter, which brings me to my next question, would I even be able to re-catch them? should I put any logs up for additional basking? and should I be worried about the female laying eggs? (I haven't seen them mating, but they are getting of age.
If I could put them out there, when would be the best time? and should I slowly introduce them or just put them out there.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

ANSWER: Hi Melissa,

Yes, by all means put them in the pond!  A pond is really ideal for RES, because they need such large accomodations, and the size you have is great for two.  You're right about putting up a fence, and if there isn't a filter you should install one even though the pond is quite large.  If you can, I'd add in water plants they can eat for greens, and they should be able to catch their own fish, tadpoles, etc. to eat.  You might want to stock the pond with mosquito fish if you can get them there, since they breed readily and don't get too big, so should be able to find places to hide from the turtles.  From the picture you posted, I can't tell if there are any areas where the turtles could climb out on shore to bask, but if there isn't, you do need to provide some basking spots--logs will work fine, as long as they're not treated.  You can winter them outdoors as long as they're in good health, but if the pond usually freezes you'll need something to deice the water so it doesn't freeze solid.  As far as catching them, if you occasionally feed them treats such as earthworms, they'll know you mean food and come right to you, and you should be able to net them or lure them onto land and catch them there.  RES are pretty greedy, and they're smart enough to recognize the food wagon!

The breeding issue is a tough one.  As you may know, it's very difficult to find good homes for RES, and rescues are overflowing with them.  Because of this, I always recommend against deliberately breeding them.  If the female does lay, then I would destroy the eggs.  Harsh, but the reality is that many, many RES live in pretty horrible conditions, or worse, are released in areas where they aren't native and create havoc for native turtles (they're now considered an invasive species worldwide).  

Thank you for wanting to provide a good home for these turtles.  You have a great space for them, and they will love your pond!

Here's some additional links that will give you more information.  You can also search youtube for "turtle ponds" and get ideas.  If you have any questions, let me know and I'll see if I can find the answer for you.  Local pond experts may also be able to advise you as far as filtration and deicing goes.  Good luck! (there's also an additional page with more info and links) (pictures, but may give you some ideas)

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much for all of the help!!
There is a bank of the pond and then there is a 2x4 ft little house that used to serve as a duck house and has a roof and shingles on it with some grass adjacent to it which they could also lie in.
I was thinking that I could fill the bottom of the duck house with some loose soil, so that she can lay eggs throughout the summer in it. I will destroy most turtle eggs, but I'm in vet school and a lot of suitable turtle parents want to take two babies, I will destroy whatever eggs I do not have owners for.
I was also thinking about keeping a baby turtle, or would that be too many turtles in my pond? I would keep it inside until it would be big enough to be with the others.
And I am pretty sure that my momma is pregnant. I have seen them mate a couple of times now and she basks almost all day. They get along great still though, I have never personally seen them fight.

When should I introduce them to the pond? The weather is about 60 right now, but I'm guessing the water is still pretty cold. should I just do it the next really warm and sunny day? I am going to start setting the pond up today.
I just don't know if I should set up a nesting box and let the pregnant momma lay her eggs when she wants, or wait until she lays her eggs in an indoor nesting box and then put her outside.

Hi Melissa,

The bank sounds perfect for basking, and nesting as well.  Just make sure the fencing around it is secure--solid is best.  Turtles can climb wire!  

It's awesome that you're in vet school.  I suggest that when you do give hatchlings away, that you only give singles.  This is because turtles can't be sexed until they're mature, and ending up with male/female pairs can create problems unless there's very large accomodations for them (I mean like your pond).  Males tend to harass females, and that can lead to stress, illness, and all that.  Two adult RES really need about a 200 gallon tank, and a male/female pair often much more than that.  So singles are probably better.  

Keeping a hatchling for yourself is fine, as long as you're aware of the potential issues..  You may have a problem if it turns out to be male, since two males and one female may be too much for the female, but then two females would both be laying, lol.  You can make that decision when and if hatchlings arrive.  Your pond is plenty big for three, anyway.  

To put it delicately, not all matings actually "work."  They will often breed many, many times, though, so at some point she'll probably end up gravid.  She looks a little small yet to be laying, but hard to tell from pictures.  If she's at least 5-6", she may lay some small clutches this year.  RES are very prolific (part of the problem)--they can lay multiple clutches in a year, with up to 20 (sometimes even more) eggs per clutch.  That's for a full-sized female, so for a smaller one the clutches would likely be only 5 or so eggs each.  

I'd introduce them to the pond when days are getting to be consistently in the 70s, which I imagine will be within a few weeks.  It takes at least four weeks for eggs to develop, and females can store sperm until conditions are suitable for laying, so seeing mating doesn't automatically mean there will be eggs in a month.  It would be much better to let her lay outside.  Indoor nesting boxes can work, but if they're not just right the female may not lay anyway.  If you see her acting restless, not eating, and making digging motions with her hind legs, put her out if you can, but if not, try a plastic bin filled with soil.  She'll need a depth of at least the length of her body, and the soil needs to hold together so the sides of the nest don't collapse.  Set a basking light over the box for her, and see if she'll dig in there.  As you can see, it's much easier to let them nest outdoors!

I'd love to see pictures of the pond when you have it all set up.  There's a small local pond here with about 15 RES in it, and I like to go by there periodically and watch the turtles and take an informal inventory.  RES are a pest species here, but since it's a man-made pond in the middle of town with no native turtles in it, they're more or less harmless.  Let me know if I can help you with anything else.


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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