Aquatic Turtles

There are many types of aquatic turtles, some making good pets and some not. There is a variety of sizes of aquatic turtles as well as specific needs for different species such as Sea turtles needing salt water.   Water depths and temperatures, land areas, diet and climate are factors to consider for aquatic turtles.  Like land turtles and tortoises, many aquatic species, have sub-species, such as the Painted turtle and Map turtle, living in different parts of different countries.

There are a few aquatic species that Indiana Turtle Care often is contacted about.  Many become pets that are no longer wanted due to time, cost, and the realization that these turtles are not the easy care pets owners believe them to be.   Some species of hatchling turtles, sometimes called ‘Dime Store turtles’ are breed on turtle farms for the pet trade.  Not only is it illegal for turtles under 4″ to be sold as pets, some states also have laws and regulations regarding the selling of turtles.  For example, in Indiana it is illegal to sell any native species of turtle, not matter what size it is.

Male tail and feet 3-07The tail of a male aquatic turtle is thick and long.  The cloaca is closer to the end of the tail.




Female tail 3-07The tail of a female aquatic is thinner and shorter.      The cloaca is closer the marginal scutes.




Male nails 3-07The nails of a male aquatic turtle are much longer than a female’s nails.  The male faces the female and flaps his nails in front of her during courtship.



Webbed foot of aquatic turtle 6-05Aquatic turtles have webbed feet.  This enables them to swim easily as well as move dirt and sand at the bottom of ponds and streams to search for food and vegetation.
They also are not as domed as land turtles.  This allows them to glide more smoothly through the water as they swim.


7-15-05 Turtles and herbs at Paddlers PoolRES on leafAquatic turtles love basking in natural sunlight.  While heat is radiated to their bodies from their shells, they often stretch out their legs which is to collect additional heat.  They also like to take a stroll on the surrounding landscapes.

side neckSnake Neck M.  Full viewThere are two types of aquatic turtles, the Side-necks and the more common Arch-necks.
The side neck turtles retract their head in towards the  side.  The arch neck turtles retract their straight back into their shells.

Shedding carapace frt 3-07Shedding plastron 3-07Many species of turtles shed their scutes, especially during a growth period.  This is a normal healthy occurrence. They are thin and opaque after they dry.

Ober Plastron  12-8-01ober plastron 1-20-04A condition called shell rot is also the shedding of the shell but it is indicative of infection and shell problems.  This can have an odor as well as expose soft and/or bony areas of the shell.  This must be treated medically and can take a long period of time to heal.
The photos above show a side neck turtle with shell rot on the plastron, with complete healing photographed 3 years later.

4-23-05 Debra Carapace4-096 F CarapaceAnother common shell condition that we often see is shell deformities due to over feeding.  The turtle on the left has a thicker carapace (top shell) as well as jagged marginal (edge) scutes.  The turtle on the right has a normal shaped carapace.

Setting up aquatic turtles in an indoor habitat can be costly and time consuming but if done properly they can live a long and healthy life.  Many owners when acquiring hatchling or small turtles soon realize that their turtles become much larger than expected.  This is why it is necessary to do research on the turtle you are interested in acquiring before hand.  It is not easy to find a suitable home if someone can no longer keep their pet turtle. It is important to have the proper sized tank for turtles kept indoors.  The turtle must have plenty of room to swim and bask.  As previously mentioned, considerations must be taken for their specific needs.  Some turtles require warmer water than others, requiring an underwater heater.  A basking area is an area that is out of the water under a heat source but not tall enough to allow the turtle to escape its tank.  For heat, I typically use a clamp light with an ordinary household light bulb.  This is placed above the basking area.  A UVB light, not to be confused with a heat light, is necessary for proper health and growth.  This light simulates the UVB rays that natural sunlight emits.  Filtration systems are most important to keep the water clean and aerated.  I recommend a canister filtration system for larger turtles or tanks with more than one turtle.  While these can be more expensive than other filtration systems, these filters are easy to maintain.  To help keep the tanks clean, it is beneficial to remove the turtle to another container filled with water while feeding.  This helps keep uneaten food from contaminating the home tank.

baby aquatics winter tank 1-18-02To the right, is a photo of one of Indiana Turtle Care’s aquatic winter tanks.  Artificial greenery is placed inside the tank around the basking shelf for the turtles to have places to hide.  It as well as the UVB light have been removed for better viewing of the tank.  Because of low expense, portability and ease of cleaning, we like to use large plastic storage containers instead of glass aquariums.  These containers are placed in high wooden wagons for ease in moving and access.