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The Basking Turtles -- Chrysemys-Trachemys-Pseudemys-Deirochelys-Graptemys-Malaclemys - Jody Karlin
Copyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved
Hailing from the ponds, marshes, creeks, streams, lakes, and rivers are North America's finest turtles, the painteds, sliders, cooters, chickens, maps and diamondbacks. In nature, most reside in calm water, with soft bottoms and an abundance of aquatic vegetation, exceptions are the riverine maps, whose primary aquatic residence are the slow to moderate moving streams and rivers and the diamondback terrapins that inhabit saltwater marshes. All are avid baskers, finding rocks or floating logs, to maintain proper thermoregulation. They are animals with healthy appetites; all are increasingly more herbivorous with age except for the maps and diamondbacks that are more carnivorous throughout their lives.
Considered by many to be the hardiest of the worlds turtle species, North American turtles require a few simple requirements to be successfully maintained in captivity. I will let you in on the secret that expert herpetologists know about maintaining any animal in captivity; the key is to study the natural habitat the animal comes from and trying to duplicate it to the best of your ability.
All of these N. American aquatic species are excellent swimmers so water depth is not as critical a factor as with species that do not swim well. A depth of 10" up to 30" would be fine for adult turtles. Water quality on the other hand is very important (* remember, the more water volume, the more leeway for problems with water quality). Many problems with aquatic turtles can be adverted if one spends a little time and money designing and purchasing an adequate filtration system for your pets.
Internal filters with submersible pumps are less expensive, and easier to install, but are less efficient and need to be cleaned more often then the more expensive, more detailed to design, but incredibly more efficient, external canister or wet-dry filters. To review the pros and cons of today's filtration options are beyond the scope of this article, remember though some principles, turtles are messy animals, more so than fish, therefore, the focus should be on speed of pumps for water turnover through the filters and a design that incorporates an efficient and easily cleaned mechanical filter. If installation knowledge and finances exist, I would recommend a high speed little giant external pump driving the turtle water through a Lifeguard™ micron, mechanical filter module into a second canister designed to hold the biological filter media and carbon chemical filter.
These turtles thermoregulate by leaving the safety of the water to dry out under the midday sun. Therefore, we will need to create a basking site surrounded by water in the turtles tank. Concrete cinder blocks make a great basking area. First, they are tall and easy to design a dry area in a large depth tank. Second, the animals use the little caves they are designed with as secure homes. And last, they are inexpensive.
To reproduce the effects of the sun, suspend a reflector light (Clip on kind with metal reflector from Home Depot $ 5.99) approximately 12" over the basking rocks or log and make sure the bulbs output can increase the heat on the basking site to 85 to 90 degrees. Just lay a thermometer down on the rock under the heat lamp and check. No need to worry, your hard shelled friend will move away from the heat source if it is uncomfortably hot. Additional fluorescent lighting with UV-b, Vitalights™, Reptisun™ bulbs etc. are an option for those that believe the turtles will benefit from such exposure. My personal experience has been breeding and raising the young to adulthood without the use of these fluorescent lights, but the option is yours. If preferred to this lighting arrangement a Mercury vapor bulb may be used that fulfills all requirements.
Last, but not least -- food. Be careful not to overfeed you aquatic pets. I recommend only feeding 2 to 3 times a week for adult turtles. Most of the above species will consume vegetables, greens such as endive, romaine lettuce, dandelion, carrots, zucchini and any aquatic vegetation, i.e. anachris, vallisneria, water lettuce, water hyacinth, etc. Please note that if feeding high oxalic acid foods such as spinach or beet greens that this should only be as a very small part of a varied diet. They will also consume insects, worms, fish etc...As well as the many commercially prepared turtle diets that exist on the market today. For the maps and diamondbacks, stick with the non-vegetable type foods, they are more "meat and potatoes" type turtles. Key to turtle health is variety. Try different foods and feed a variety of them.
It should be noted that turtle and tortoise care research is ongoing. As new information becomes available we share this on the World Chelonian Trust web site at www.chelonia.org. Serious keepers find it to be a benefit to have the support of others who keep these species. Care is discussed in our free online email community, which may be joined from the web address above. Please contact us about the many benefits of becoming a member of the World Chelonian Trust.
Care sheet used with permission - www.chelonia.org - World Chelonian Trust
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