Turtles : The ultimate in cute!!
Aquatic turtles can be a fascinating and very low maintenance pet. Follow a few simple guidelines and you will have a fun friend for many many years. A turtles requirements are really pretty simple. Clean water, food, and a basking light are the key elements for most species. First off, however we must choose a species that we enjoy and that we will be able to properly care for. A little research is vital. Some aquatic turtles get very large and have special needs and can live a LONG time. There are a few examples below of the most common types you will encounter available for sale.
Here are some basic guidelines that will apply to most species. After you have chosen the species he needs a house! While just about any kind of aquarium or water holding vessel can be used an aquarium typically works best. Avoid the little "turtle bowls" we all had as a kid. They are not a good place for your new pet to call home. Aqueon makes a line of tanks specially designed for turtles that make their care much simpler and come in a wide variety of sizes. They have a cut out in the side for the easy attachment of inexpensive filters that allow you to keep the water at an appropriate level while still allowing the filter to function properly. Submersible filters can also be used and while a little less expensive they are much more difficult to clean. And YES you do need a filter. While strictly speaking a turtle can survive without one it will be a smelly mess in no time. Regular partial water changes are also a must, turtles are messy eaters! Secondly a turtle will require structure. This can be stones, a piece of driftwood, a plastic ornament, whatever you like. While some species don't get out of the water often MOST do and will require a place to bask and dry out. The turtle should always be able to get completely in and OUT of the water. Next you will need a cover for your tank. Screen tops work best as they allow ventilation while keeping the turtle in and the cat out. Most basking lamps are also designed to simply rest on the cover and you will need one of these as well. Turtles are cold blooded like all reptiles and need a place to warm up. Its also important that your turtle receive UVB to maintain good health as well as heat. Make sure he can get OUT of the light when he wants to as well. We don't want to cook him! Decorations should be kept to a minimum. If it is able to the turtle will just destroy it anyway. They do however like to have something to get under to hide out. Diet will depend upon the species you choose but most like high protein foods and will thrive on small fish, worms, crickets, and prepared turtle food. Keep handling to a minimum especially when they are babies or just newly purchased. Too much handling can be very stressful.
A note on the laws regarding turtle sales in the US: Red ear sliders are illegal to sell period. If you happen to find one it is not illegal to possess but they can not be sold. Any indigenous species to be sold as a "PET has to have a shell length of at least 4 inches. Babies can only be sold for educational or research purposes or for export. This law was put in place as an over-reaction to the possibility of salmonella transmission. Back in the heyday when we were kids once again and baby turtles were everywhere they were often kept under deplorable conditions and this led to problems naturally. First of all ANY pet can and occasionally does carry salmonella. For your protection all that is required is common sense cleaning and handling procedures. Keep your turtle's tank clean, wash your hands after handling them, and don't put them in your mouth or kiss them. That's about it. We also sell products like ZooMed's "turtle clean" that helps minimize this risk. While we never downplay the level of dangers of salmonella bacteria, your chances of getting a salmonella infection are higher from mishandling the chicken you ate last night than from your turtle. Due to this law and its requirements a waiver must be signed and kept on file that states that your new turtle was purchased for an "educational or research purpose" and not a "pet". Many purposes can fall under that clause such as school science projects. This rule does not apply to most captive bred or non-indigenous turtles but 90% of what you will find in stores are going to be the locals.