My daughter, Caroline, has a pet turtle, a red eyed slider called Snapper. I dread the words “We’re going out of town for a few days. Can you take care of Snapper?” I have to say yes because she and her husband have done me a lot of favors and she’s my daughter. But anyone who thinks taking care of a pet turtle is easy had better think again.
Snapper started her life as a pet turtle with one of Caroline’s friends who gave into her children’s begging and bought the turtle at a small fair. Very quickly she learned that pet turtles are high maintenance and not a pet suitable for children, or most adults for that matter. Caroline got Snapper when she was about 3 inches long. The law requires pet turtles be at least 4 inches when sold because baby turtles often get sick in pet stores and carry salmonellae that they give to children. Snapper is now 13 inches long and about 6 inches across and is thriving.
Snapper is one spoiled pet turtle. She has a large tank, which is actually a big plastic bin. Pet turtles need room-water should be at least 1.5 to 2 times the turtle’s total length in depth. The length of the tank needs to be 4 to 5 times the turtle’s length and the sides 2 to 3 times the turtle’s length. Snapper has some large rocks and a block of calcium she can chew to make sure she gets enough calcium and to keep her beak trimmed. She has a ramp into and out of her tank and a deck on which to bask. Her water is filtered and heated by an incandescent lamp. She also gets full spectrum lighting. At night she has a little box house in which to sleep and where she has a pillow and blanket that she likes. She gets to go outside for a walk every day and splashes around, throwing a tantrum when she doesn’t get to go out. She likes country western music and will stretch out her neck when it’s on. She is fed turtle food, green veggies, and cantaloupe but she prefers cooked chicken, fish, and beef. No one has the stomach to kill and cut up live mice for her or to feed her live fish and insects. She also gets a vitamin supplement. She enjoys having her back scratched, believe it or not. When scratched she stretches out her head and legs with obvious enjoyment.
The biggest trial in keeping a pet turtle is that water must be kept clean. At least some of it needs to be replaced every day and the tank needs to be emptied and cleaned about once a week. Feeding the turtle in water in a much smaller tank will help keep the larger tank clean because decaying food is a cause of water fouling.
Snapper is a full-fledged adult. She has a mating season when she is frantic to get outside. If she is wandering around the house, she will stand on her hand legs and scratch on the screen door to get out. Once out she searches for nice dirt areas and, presumably for male turtles. She digs holes in the dirt. This hole digging is a daily ritual until she starts laying eggs in her tank.
She lays 5 or 6 eggs each year.
Snapper is much smarter and more aware than I thought any reptile could be and, while I prefer my pet dog, I can see the appeal of a pet turtle. One good thing is that she probably won’t break anyone’s heart by dying because red eyed sliders can live up to 100 years.