Let's Talk Turtles...

Tom

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I have a little bit of turtle experience from years passed, but not a whole lot. I'm interested in getting a turtle, but I'd love to converse with people who know them better than me. I've narrowed down the species I'm interested in, but I need tips and advice from people who know turtles better than I do.

Here are my priorities, or likes and dislikes, to put it another way:
  • I don't like shy or reclusive animals. Bold, curious and outgoing is my preference. I don't mind if they are aggressive either as long as they are out and about, active and "friendly".
  • I like easy keepers. Don't want anything that is difficult to set up, feed or maintain.
  • Since it will be mostly indoors, I think, Something on the small side is appealing. I can do an outdoor set up too, but I'll need help and ideas with that as I'm really lacking in experience with housing any turtle species outdoors full-time. I've done temporary sunning enclosures for fair weather, but that is the extent of my experience. Mostly kiddie pools with shade and a haul out.
  • It gets hot here in summer. Heat tolerance is a plus.
  • I don't like delicate animals that get sick easily. Hardiness and adaptability is a plus.
  • I find all of the following species attractive in their own ways, so appearance doesn't matter that much.
Here is my narrowed down list of top prospects. Please shoot them down, tell me why they are great or awful, or tell me why they do or don't meet my criteria. I'm mostly interested in just having a single "pet" at the moment, but I won't rule out a group at some point in the future.

  • Southern painted turtle. Just learned about these the other day. Seems to me like they have the good points of a RES with out the bad points.
  • Western painted turtle. Same as above. Which would be better suited to my above criteria? The southerns are smaller, but the Westerns certainly aren't too big for my intentions. And so pretty.
  • Snake necks or side necks. I've been intrigued with this group for a while. I know very little about them. Internet searches don't turn up much useful info. Anyone got tips on these?
  • North American Spotted turtles. These have always been a favorite, but how outgoing are they in an indoor tank or tub?
  • Indian spotted turtles. I dig these. They seem to have good personalities too. I have several sources for them in CA, so CBW permit isn't an issue.
  • Chinese big headed turtle. This one has been a favorite for decades. More people are captive breeding them now, so getting one has become an option again.
Share your thoughts?
 

dmmj

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The side necks are pretty delicate, mysterious deaths. Based on your criteria I'd go with painteds or spotteds. Curious why the Mata-mata was not on the list
 

Tom

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I think keeping water conditions constant and correct will be one of the more difficult tasks with turtles.
In the past I've used canister filters and frequent water changes for this. Is wasn't too difficult. I've been keeping aquariums since the 80s, so I feel like I've got a decent grasp on filtration and water quality parameters.

There is lots of new stuff on the market that I'd love to learn about. Gravity filters for outside and what not.
 

wccmog10

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Spotted turtles are one of my all time favorites in the aquatic turtle world. They stay fairly small, so inside isn’t so bad. I’d still want an outside pond for them though. A cattle tank should be more than enough for a few individuals. I would not rank them as the most outgoing aquatic turtle though. The ones I’ve worked with are usually hiding. I would see a head poking out from the water, but hardly ever saw them basking.
 

Tom

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The side necks are pretty delicate, mysterious deaths. Based on your criteria I'd go with painteds or spotteds. Curious why the Mata-mata was not on the list
I hadn't heard that about the side necks. Bummer.

Mata matas get big just sit there most of the time, and need heated water year round. They are neat looking, but not one I'd want to keep.
 

Tom

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No alligator snappers?
I dig snappers. Both types. I've kept both. My issues are: They get huge, are very sedentary, and they are illegal without a load of permits here in CA. Is that your turtle in the pic? Very cute. She's checking you out!
 

Tom

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I love DBTs too, but the whole brackish thing and having to feed them "seafood" is a little daunting.
 

Toddrickfl1

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I dig snappers. Both types. I've kept both. My issues are: They get huge, are very sedentary, and they are illegal without a load of permits here in CA. Is that your turtle in the pic? Very cute. She's checking you out!
Ya that's my little Midland painted. He's wanting to be fed, they are quite the beggars.
 

Pastel Tortie

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Although I've never had a Reeve's turtle, they're high on my To Acquire list. They've been referred to as the "golden retrievers of the aquatic turtle set." Intelligent, curious, and outgoing. Unless you get one of the lines that get huge, they stay small, usually 4 to 5 inches SCL.

Also look into the wood turtles. I don't know if they need special permitting or anything in California, but even if they did, there are some good candidates (smaller and prettier) from Central and South America. (I'm specifically thinking Central American Ornate Wood turtle, a.k.a. Painted Wood turtle.) All are highly intelligent and outgoing. Like box turtles, however, they would eventually need an outdoor enclosure (and you'd be back to an empty tank).
 

Toddrickfl1

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This is my rather simple setup for a few aquatic turtles. It's just a 150 gallon preformed pond with a canister filter. A stock tank would work too. If you do something like this you could keep it outside then move it inside for the winter months. IMG_20190630_201630009.jpg
 

Markw84

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@Tom

Based upon your criteria, I would go with N American Spotted Turtle.
They are beautiful turtles.
Extremely personable and active. Always swims eagerly to me waiting for food or just to see what is going on.
Very hardy. Native range is Florida to Canada - so they adapt to cold and hot temps.
Adapt well and thrive on a pellet diet, but still love treats of worms and even the frozen cubes of blood worms they love to tear apart.
As foragers, they spend a lot of time searching around the tank - if set up properly and are active a good portion of the time.
Quite small as adults. Can do very well in an indoor tank as adults - even a small group.
Need fake plants in their setup to hang in and climb to do best. I find this adds to watching them explore.
Will do well in an outdoor pond - if you go that way eventually - in your area year-round.
Very peaceful. Gets along with other turtles and with fish. Will chase very small fish, but not good at catching them. Will leave larger (2"+) fish totally alone. The only issue is adult males. They get aggressive to other adult males and are persistent breeders in season. A mixed group is manageable in a larger area with plenty of sight breaks.
If you ever get the urge to breed them, there has always been a good market for them.

As for the others on your list:

Southern painted. A close 2nd! ALL of the above applies except - The females get a bit larger than spotted, and the males are smaller than spotted. I feel they are less attractive. They are peaceful and no male aggression issues. Some will try to go after fish no matter what size. They are good open water swimmers so benefit from some room to swim.

Western painted. Right there with the southerns. A favorite in an outdoor pond. The do get larger with females reaching 8" and sometimes more. They are active swimmers and I don't like to see them as adults in tanks. Very personable. Likes to chase fish. Some of mine will grab a 25lb koi's fin and hang on for a ride much to the koi's dismay. Peaceful with any other turtle and each other.

Snake neck and side necks. Based on your criteria I think you would be much happier with temperate climate species. Most of these also are hunters and go after other things you may want to add to the tank for varitey - fish, etc. Most all are too large for indoor tanks.

(when you get a turtle that is much more than 6" as adult AND an active swimmer species, they are the ones that become quite sedentary in an indoor tank. They need room to swim and dive and act naturally, or they develop a very sedentary lifestyle)

Indian Spotted. I love these, but they get way too large for any indoor setup. Female adults are commonly 12". They would probably do well outdoors in your climate, but May still require added heat if the water temps drop below 55°. I cannot have them here as my pond gets too cold in winter. Most of the US would get too cold in winter. I have not kept them so cannot comment on their personalities.

IMG_5396.JPG

IMG_0041.JPG
Hard to get a picture like this. These are some 1-2 yr olds in my office tank. You can see they all have just spotted me now and are seconds from jumping in the water to swim over to me!!


IMG_3032.JPG
A few of the older ones in my pond enjoying some mealworm treats.

IMG_0911.JPG
One of my most prolific female breeders. Just hatching some F3 (grandbabies) from her this week.
 

Markw84

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I vote a dissenting opinion. If you're lazy like me, turtles are MESSY in an indoor aquarium and require more work than I'm willing to give them.
I disagree!

My turtle tanks require far less work than any tortoise enclosure I have. Again, I am adamant about not keeping active swimmers and turtles over 6" in an indoor setup. I always have at least 12 juvenile spotted in my 40 gal tank in my home office. SO they are in the 2"-3" size range. I drop in food once a day. Once a week I brush algae off the glass with a sponge - 2 minutes. I clean the filter once a month - a fluval external rated for 100 gal. Simply unplug, turn off the valve, disconnect the hoses and carry the filter to the outside hose. Hose off the pads and refill. - takes me about 8 minutes. I do vacuum the 1"-1-1/2" rocks in the tank bottom once a month too. That takes me about 10 minutes.

Any tortoise I keep require daily harvesting/chopping of food, cleaning the food tile, cleaning out the water dish and replacing water, and a 30 minute soak. At least 30 minutes a day as opposed to 30 minutes a month!!
 

Pastel Tortie

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It's great to see all of the different perspectives on various challenges and maintenance levels of keeping semi-aquatic turtles, vs. tortoises. :)

I agree with @Yvonne G about turtles being messy. The omnivorous and carnivorous-leaning diets are certainly messier to begin with (assuming the turtle pellets are supplemented with other higher protein foods like beef heart and feeder invertebrates).

I agree with @Markw84 about the minimal or streamlined maintenance if an aquatic or land-and-water setup was, well... set up correctly. Gosh, I wish I was at that point by now with my three-striped mud turtles... :rolleyes: :oops:

I kind of wish I had at least a fraction of the experience @Tom has with aquariums and water quality. My other half had a 10G aquarium when he was MUCH younger, but I never shared a household with any fish whatsoever until a few short months ago. So that whole water flow, aeration, filtration, nitrogen cycle, etc., is still a huge learning curve for me.

I think this is a great thread, and I am sure it will be useful to many people besides @Tom.
 

Tom

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What is the word on mixing turtle species? I've always mixed tropical aquarium fish from different parts of the world, and that has generally not created any problems for me. I've always known mixing tortoise species was a disaster in the making. So where do aquatic turtles fall in this spectrum? I know many people have large ponds with several turtle species. Are things just different because its an aquatic environment?
 

Toddrickfl1

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What is the word on mixing turtle species? I've always mixed tropical aquarium fish from different parts of the world, and that has generally not created any problems for me. I've always known mixing tortoise species was a disaster in the making. So where do aquatic turtles fall in this spectrum? I know many people have large ponds with several turtle species. Are things just different because its an aquatic environment?
I think as long as they live together in the same waterways naturally it's fine. For instance I've got a painted, yellow belly, and Eastern River Cooter all housed together. I see all three of these species inhabiting the lake down the street together naturally. I wouldn't house two species from different continents that would never encounter each other in the wild though. Maybe this isn't an issue with a really large pond though I don't know. See what others say.
 

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