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Turtles/Yellow bellied slider-Turtles


QUESTION: Setup: Zilla deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit. 30"L x 12"w x12"H, day blue light incandescent bulb , tropical 25?coil bulb, aqueon quiet flow filtration w/cartridge, floating basking platform , water conditioner, gravel, etc.
I have two yellow bellied sliders, they were very active when I got them. I believe the male swollen some gravel the first couple of days. The last past three days he has been basking all day (approx. 7-8 hrs.). I think he's dead sometimes so I make noise, gently poke him,etc. But the only way I got a response from him while he is up there is of I sprinkle water on him. Is it normal for them to be this lethargic and inactive? He eats sometimes, but it takes him awhile. He doesn't beg for food like the female. I'm scared he is sick or dying... Please help!

ANSWER: Hi Tasha,

You didn't say how old/big your turtles are, or how long you've had them, so some of my advice may be a little off.  If they're hatchlings (in which case they can't be sexed), the tank you have is adequate until they're bigger, but otherwise, it's too small.  If they're adults (about 5" on up), it's much too small for two turtles.  Mature YBS require very large tanks, and two of them really need something in the 150 gallon range, with an external cannister filter that can handle twice the tank's capacity.  Very often skin and shell problems are due to too small tanks, along with a resulting drop in water quality.

You also didn't mention water and basking temperature, but I would check those and make sure you have them right.  Water temperature should be about 76-78 degrees for hatchlings, and adults should have it a couple of degrees cooler.  The basking temperature (measured under the bulb in the basking area) should be 88-90 degrees.  If these temperatures are significantly off, that can cause lethargy, although it's likely that both turtles would be affected.  

It doesn't sound like you have a UVB bulb.  If this was a kit, it may have included a Zilla coil bulb that supposedly is for UVB, but the Zilla bulbs aren't any good.  Lack of UVB could definitely cause lethargy.  I would get a ZooMed Powersun bulb, which provides UVB and heat in one bulb, and then get rid of the other bulbs.  It's more expensive, but the quality is good and the UVB output much better than any other UVB bulb.  The basking bubl should be on for 12-14 hours a day.

I would remove the gravel from the tank since it's small enough for the turtles to ingest.  Use small river stones instead.  Impaction is a possible cause of the male's lethargy, but it's hard to know for sure.  If he's still eating, he's less likely to be blocked.  One symptom of impaction can be inability to use the hind legs properly.

The lethargy is definitely not normal.  The first thing to do is check tank conditions (temperatures, source of UVB, etc.).  Once those are all correct, then you look for other causes.  Impaction is one possibility, but if these are new turtles and especially if they are very small, general poor health is also possible.  Hatchling sliders are commercially bred on a large scale, and it's easy for individual turtles to be shipped to pet stores even if they're not in good health.  If your turtles are just hatchlings, let me know and I'll see if I can come up with some other ideas for you.  

For more information, see:

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QUESTION: Sorry. Yes they are hatchlings and I've had them for exactly one week. The water temp is 75 and basking is 87. Yes, I have the zilla day blue light 75 watt and zilla fluorescent coil bulb 13watt. I keep both on 12 hrs a day. I will remove the gravel. He ate Saturday but is very slow with getting food, so the other turtle usually gets to it first. Yesterday I cleaned the tank out (he had a bowel movement before i did it) and while he was in the little plastic tank he was very active and that was the first time I've seen him like that in days. Before putting him back in, I sat him down and he ran very fast, I could hardly catch him. But as soon as I put him back in the big tank, he swam for maybe 5 mins, found the log and remain up there under the light for the remainder of the day. Even in the morning before I turn on the light he is up there with his eyes closed. I think his eye my be swollen , I can't tell but he blinks very slow. So, should I get some vitamin A drops? I real worried because something isn't right. I sprinkled water on him today to get him to move and all he did was pull his head in. I dropped some food in front if him and he didn't get it. Eventually (15-20 mins later) he just repositioned himself on the log and went back to sleep...

ANSWER: OK.  I think the water temperature needs to be a bit warmer, and basking probably a degree or two warmer as well.  You also need to get that UVB
bulb.  The Zilla coil is useless, and there have been reports of eye problems caused by it as well (although this may have been with older bulbs).  Don't get eye drops.  If there is a vitamin deficiency, the way to correct it is with a good diet (pellets, animal protein, and greens) and good overall husbandry (proper setup).  But I suspect that the major issue is lack of UVB.  Because they're hatchlings, not having UVB will affect them fairly quickly.  If it continues, you'll start to see shell softening, and eventually both turtles will be affected.  So don't put if off too long.  You can get the Powersun bulb online for a better price than in a pet store.

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QUESTION: Ok. I'll Price The Bulbs Today. But Just An Update....Yesterday I Took Him Out Of The Tank And Put Him In The Smaller Tank To Make Sure He Ate. He Didnt Eat Anything. He Just Swam Above Water FranticallyUntil He Found A Place To Rest His Head Above Water, He WouLd Not Swim Under.When I Put Him Back In The Big Tank He Would NotsSwim Under Water Then Either. So, Thats The New Problem, Swimming Above Water Frantically And Not Eatig.

The bulbs run around $40.  Since you're in AL, I would get one at  It will be shipped to you pretty fast.

Are you seeing any other symptoms, such as wheezing, runny nose, yawning/gaping frequently, stretching the neck out, swimming lopsided?  Those are symptoms of a respiratory infection.  Sometimes a reluctance to swim is due to RI.  Bring those temps up just a couple of degrees.  You can get rid of the coil bulb as well.  Keep me posted.


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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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