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Turtles/Baby RES Listless, Not Eating


QUESTION: I have two baby red eared sliders (not sure of age, one is almost 2 inches and the other about 1.25 inches--they were the same size when I got them but one has grown faster). They live in a 40 gallon breeder tank, water temperature around 80F, basking area around 90F with a UVB 5.0 compact bulb by Zilla and a 75 watt basking bulb also by Zilla, which are in a dual reflector-dome above the basking island.  The substrate is large river-rock gravel.  The filter is a TurtleClean 511 by ZooMed, which is rated for 60 gallons (there is about 25 gallons of water in the tank, which is declorinated).  I feed them once a day, a mix of ZooMed hatchling pellets and Reptomin baby sticks, which I have to break up for the smaller turtle.  Every now and then I will give them some dried krill as a treat.  So far they haven't been interested in any vegetables.

The smaller turtle, as of yesterday, does not have any interest in food despite eating well for the past two weeks.  He has stopped eating twice in the past only to restart a few days later.  Two days before he stopped eating, my husband and I swapped out the tank for a new one as the old one, we came to find out, was actually a terrarium and shouldn't have had water in it.  We swapped out the tank, cleaned the gravel and such, and put everything into the new (clean and rinsed) tank.  I didn't use soap or anything like that.  Because it was a big move, a few things ended up in different places than they had been in the old tank (for example, they have a couple little trees they like to hide in and they hang onto them while sleeping that had to change position because the lid is different and we had to move the filter tubes around a little.)

The larger turtle does not act any differently from before, but the smaller turtle is now not eating and basking constantly.  When he does get in the water he just usually hangs onto a tree and hangs his arms and legs sort of limply.  He used to jump off the rock when I'd come too close, now he stays up there basking all the time, and last night even stayed there after their lights went out.  

He does not swim lopsided, he can still dive to the bottom and he will swim if he has reason to.  There is nothing wrong with his eyes and I have not observed any kind of discharge, bubbles on the nose or open but did not seem quite so listless before, and I can't recall if I had done a water change right before that.  Is it possible he is just getting used to the change in the environment, or is very sensitive to changes?  He does not seem to display any visible signs of sickness other than his sudden inactivity, the basking and disinterest in food. I'd like to know if I could be doing something better for him.  Thank you for your time, I will appreciate any input you can provide.

ANSWER: Hi Jody,

One thing that jumps out at me right off the bat is the Zilla UVB bulb.  That bulb is pretty much worthless--the UVB output is poor to none.  I'd replace both bulbs with a combination heat/UVB bulb--the ZooMed Powersun.  It has good UVB output, and right now is the only bulb I really trust for UVB levels.  That may be the issue right there.

I would also check your temperatures and make sure you know what they are exactly.  80 degrees is too warm for the water--you want it at least a couple of degrees cooler for hatchlings, and about 75 for older turtles.  Make sure you're measuring the basking area correctly, too.  You want to measure on the basking surface directly under the bulb, not air temperature.  If it's too hot, that can account for lack of appetite and lethargy.  

Try to vary the diet more; the pellets and Reptomin are fine, but a variety of live/whole foods is good.  Hatchlings are more carnivorous than adults, but keep offering some greens, and you might try adding anacharis or duckweed (if you can get it) to the water so they can graze.  

The tank size is fine for now, but won't be for long.  RES need very large tanks when mature, and it's important to keep them in a big enough tank (with filter) because otherwise maintain water quality is very difficult and the usual result is skin and shell problems.  The 40 gallon is OK at this point, however.

The inactivity is likely coincidental to the water change.  I think it's much more likely due to the lack of UVB, or possibly a combination of that and temperatures.  It does sound like you have them set up well otherwise.  Lack of UVB in a hatchling can have a significant effect--you're probably not seeing anything in the other turtle because it's stronger, but sooner or later there will be problems for that one as well.

Finally, make sure the bigger turtle isn't bullying the smaller one.  This can sometimes be a problem, and the bully will end up with more food, better basking area, etc.  Sometimes you don't realize it's happening until you start paying close attention to their interactions.  They're not crowded, so it's less likely, but I'm just throwing it out there in case.

Keep an eye out for any other symptoms--you know about runny nose, etc., but also watch for frequent yawning/gaping, along with stretching the neck out, as this can also indicate RI.  Otherwise, I would change out that bulb, check temperatures, and see if there's any improvement.

Here's some additional care information that may be helpful:

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

QUESTION: Thank you for your answer.  I am looking at the Powersun bulbs on Amazon right now.  For the size of my tank and turtles, do you recommend the 100w flood lamp or the 160 watt?

I have the water heater set to 78, but the thermometer reads more around 80.  I feel like I need to get a new thermometer to be sure.  My husband mentioned he thought he saw a bubble come out of Genbu's nose while he was basking, but I have not seen anything after watching him for a long time. He does not gasp, breathe with his mouth open, or swim lopsided or stretch out his neck (in fact he's keeping it sucked mostly into his shell today). I had read that a potentially sick turtle prefers a slightly warmer water.  Do you recommend 77-78 degrees for the water?  

Also, you mentioned I should feed live things but they are very small.  What kind of live food do you recommend? I have offered them tuna (canned in water) but they weren't having it.  I will look into duckweed and anachris.

Hi Jody,

Definitely get the 100 watt.  160 watt would only be for very large enclosures.

77-78 would be just about right for the water, so maybe set the thermostat down one or two degrees.  Generally a heater can fluctuate by a degree or two (it kicks on a degree below, then shuts off a degree above), so that may be what's going on.  They're not usually super precise all the time.  

It doesn't sound like he has a respiratory infection, but just watch for the symptoms in case.

Whole/live foods can be bloodworms (these would be frozen), pinhead crickets, redworms, baby guppies if you can get them, tiny shrimp, etc.  Anything that's very small.  These don't have to be fed all the time, but it's good to round out the diet rather than just giving pellets.  

Some other plants you can look for:
Amazon Swords
Water Fern*
Water Hyacinth*
Water Lettuce
Water Lily*
Water Milfoil
Water Starwort
*Highly recommended

Some of these probably aren't legal in California, so you won't be able to find them--I think water hyacinth is one--but you can ask at any aquarium store.


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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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