Frequently Asked Questions
Many people write to me asking questions about turtle care. Below are some of the most frequent ones I receive. While some questions may receive different answers from other turtle care givers, we all try to provide turtle
owners with the best information we know. My answers are given after learning from many sources and experiences I have had since turtle keeping over the past 15 years. If I do not know the answer to your question, I will contact others who can help. To read the answers, just click on the question. More questions and answers will be added as they are asked. Do not hesitate to email me with any questions you may have.
1. I have a newly hatched box turtle. How do I care for it?
I use a small plastic storage container, a bit larger than a plastic shoe box, rather than a glass aquarium. Glass is heavy and hard to clean. I know it is more attractive, but it is not as easy to maintain. For the substrate, I use
cypress mulch. Many owners use sterile potting soil mixed with mulch, which is fine. The potting soil should
not have any chemicals or fertilizers mixed in it. Mulch is a great substrate because it holds humidity which is what
box turtles require. You can sprinkle the mulch as needed to keep it slightly damp, stirring it as you spray.
It should be at least 3 inches deep so the hatchling can bury in it. For a water source, I use a small plastic planter saucer. Have clean water available at all times. A baby box turtle prefers live, moving food. This is a wonderful
way to help it develop its 'hunting' instincts. Offer it, every other day, small red worms, cut up night crawlers, bee moths, meal worms, and crickets. Sprinkle these with a good reptile vitamin that contains calcium and Vit A
once a week. Also, offer small bits of berries, bananas, apples, greens, grated carrots and sweet potatoes,
pumpkin, and corn. Feeding too often causes irregular growth and other health issues. You will need a sun-source
if it is not outside. UVB lights can be purchased at pet stores that carry reptile supplies or online. These lights
look like a fluorescent light tube. This light should be turned on in the morning and off at night, to simulate
natural sunlight. Putting the turtle pen in front of a window does not supply the necessary UVB rays, since window glass filters these rays. UVB is necessary for proper growth and health. You will also need a heat source. I use a small clamp light, such as the ones available at hardware stores, using an ordinary household light bulb and
keeping it at one end of the pen around 78 to 80 degrees. The other end of the pen should be cooler. If you put
the turtle outside, make sure there is a mesh type lid for the pen. Hatchlings are easy prey for birds and other animals. Place the pen in filtered sun, as direct sun could cause overheating. Again, there should be clean water
and deep mulch for it to bury in. These turtles are hibernators but it is not necessary. I find it too risky to hibernate little ones while in captivity.
2. I have a newly hatched aquatic turtle. How do I care for it?
I prefer to use a plastic storage container, larger than a plastic shoe box instead of a glass aquarium. Glass aquariums are hard to clean, expensive, and not as portable. These containers should be large enough for swimming, movement to the basking area and to the cool area. The water should be twice as deep as the length of the turtle.
A smooth rock that is higher than the water depth should be added for basking. You can also use cork bark, found in pet stores, that float in water that can be used also for basking. Do not put the basking area near the edge of the
tank as the turtle could climb out if it is high enough. As the turtle grows, you will need a good filtration system
but I do a daily water change when they are this small. A submersible heater is used when the water cannot be
kept around 78 degrees. A basking clamp light should be positioned safely over the basking area, turning it on in the morning and off at night. To keep the water cleaner, I put the baby turtles in a different tank with at least
3 inches of water for feeding. Aquatic turtles must be in water to eat. Offer it floating turtle sticks (such as Reptomin), small worms, crickets, meal worms and bee moths. Feed it every other day. You do not want it to grow too fast.
If it is not outside, you will need a UVB light. UVB lights can be purchased at pet stores that carry reptile supplies or online. These lights look like a fluorescent light tube. This light should be turned on in the morning and off at
night, to simulate natural sunlight. Putting the turtle pen in front of a window does not supply the necessary UVB rays, since window glass filters these rays. UVB is necessary for proper growth and health. These turtles are hibernators but it is not necessary. I find it too risky to hibernate little ones while in captivity.
3. My pet turtle laid eggs. What do I do?
Female turtles can lay eggs without mating. Many people are surprised to find an egg or eggs in their turtle pen or tank laid by a lone female. After mating, females can carry sperm for 3 to 4 years so if you have a newly acquired adult female, it is quite possible she has mated before you got her. A box turtle who is getting ready to lay eggs is usually restless and sometimes soaks in her water dish before laying her eggs. If the pen is outside, you will see her pacing and often making practice nests several days before the actual laying of the eggs. The entire process will take several hours. After laying, you can leave the eggs outside to incubate if they are protected. There are many factors to consider when leaving the eggs outside. Can you protect the nest from predators? You can make a fence-like basket to place over the nest securing it to the ground so it cannot be tipped over. Are the temperatures going to fluctuate too much? Will the nest be exposed to too much moisture? If you choose to bring in the eggs to incubate, carefully remove them from the nest, being sure not to jostle them, placing them in the same position in the incubator as they are in the nest. Fertile turtle eggs are much more sensitive to movement than bird eggs, where it is safe for them to roll. If your turtle is inside, make sure she is in a tank by herself with plenty of room and deep substrate
(bedding). Potting soil mixed with mulched leaves is suitable. If there are other turtles in the tank, there is a chance that the eggs could be damaged if you do not see her lay. After the eggs are laid, remove and incubate
them so they are protected and you can keep an eye on them. It is easy to make your own incubator. Before purchasing one, I used a plastic bowl that has a lid. The first one I had was a lettuce crisper bowl. It has
holes in the top for air circulation and is the perfect size. For substrate in the bowl, sphagnum moss or vermiculite
are the best to use. They hold humidity, which is vital for the eggs. Put at least 3 inches of substrate in the bowl
and sprinkle it with water, enough for humidity but not soaking. It needs to be damp during the entire incubation
period. Make an indentation with your thumb for each egg. Carefully place the eggs in each spot, having them half way deep into the substrate. Place the bowl in a warm place, where the temperature will not fluctuate and will
keep the eggs at 78 to 82 degrees. Temperatures determine sex, with the warmer temperatures producing females. The lid of the bowl should have holes for circulation. If you do not have a lid, plastic wrap with ventilation holes can
be used. The eggs, if fertile, should hatch between 55 to 70 days. An aquatic turtle will need an area to nest. Some lay their eggs in water if they are not provided with a nesting area. This is not good for the eggs so it is important to have a dry area for the female to lay her eggs. I know of some aquatic turtle owners who make a ramp to a nesting box in their tank area. After laying eggs, the directions are the same for the box turtles.
4. I found a turtle laying eggs by the side of the road. What do I do?
If you find a wild turtle nesting, you can leave the eggs where they are laid. Protect the nest with a wire basket
placed securely over the nest. Another option is the incubation instructions above.
5. How do you make a turtle pond?
A turtle pond is a wonderful way to watch aquatic turtles up close. It is important to know what type of water areas your species of turtle naturally lives in. Some turtles require deep water, while others live in shallow areas. An important factor to consider when making an inground turtle pond is how to secure it to keep the turtle from escaping.
We have a small- wired fence with a wooden lip around our ponds. Chain link fencing has too large spaces between the wires, allowing a small turtle to escape. The fencing is buried at least 4 inches deep into the ground to prevent any digging. Another one of our pond areas is fenced by treated fence planks sunk into the ground and at least 18 inches high, again with a lip on the top. The pond needs to be in a sunny area with a basking area, a good filtration system and plants.When using a preformed pond liner, I do not fill the pond to the top. This prevents a turtle from
climbing out. Again, the turtle will need a basking area, a filtration system and plants for filtration and nutrition.
6. Should I hibernate my turtle?
There are different opinions regarding if hibernation is necessary for a captive turtle. It is not necessary to hibernate
a turtle. Many turtles do a natural 'slow down' over the winter months. It is noted that hibernation can effect sterility
of adult turtles. My opinion is if the turtle hibernates in the wild, it is good for it to hibernate in captivity if, and only if, you can do it safely and the turtle is healthy. Some do not hibernate their turtle until they have owned it for at least one full year. This is a good idea especially if you do not know the history of the turtle. If the turtle has been sick or has lost weight, I would not hibernate it. Before I determine who should hibernate, I examine and weigh each one in late summer and early fall. If I have any question about a turtle, then I do not hibernate.
7. How do you hibernate a turtle?
I hibernate both indoors and outdoors. Here in Indiana, the winters are a bit unpredictable. Some winters are very cold, some snowy and we also have mild, dry winters. In early fall, an examination and weight is taken for each
turtle. If anyone has lost weight or has had any health issues over the summer, they will not hibernate inside. The turtles have a mid summer exam and weight check also. For my outdoor hibernation areas, I dig a pit in their home pen. Each one of my box turtle species has their own pen. I will fence off each pen so it is smaller and the turtles
will stay in the pit area. I dig down approximately 12 inches, turning the soil and adding mulch. The diameter
of the pit is about 3 feet. As the leaves fall from our trees, they are finely mulched and added to the top of the pit. Some of the turtles may already be buried down. By the time hibernation begins, the leaf pile on the pit is tall and
thick. We have also topped the pile with carpet samples. As winter is ending and the temperatures begin to warm, the turtles will move around in the pit. The leaves have compacted and the pile is not even half as tall as it was
in the fall. The inner core of the pit will stay cold for quite sometime, so don't be alarmed if you don't see your turtle out and about on a warm spring day. This is all determined, of course, by the climate you have in the area you live in.
The turtles that will be hibernating, are brought indoors usually in mid-October and are soaked every 3 or 4 days
for a couple of weeks with cooler temperatures in their holding pen areas. This is for a fasting period and
for their bowels to empty before hibernation. Once it is time for them to go to sleep, they are put in large plastic storage containers that are filled thickly with mulched leaves. These containers are put in our unheated sunroom
where the average winter temperature is about 45 degrees. I don't call it a sunroom because it faces
north and is shaded with trees. Every month, I will soak these turtles in cool water and check on how they are
doing. If anyone appears to have any health issues, I will slowly bring them out of hibernation. They hibernate
from November to March.
8. What is the best indoor setup for a box turtle? What should I feed it?
Box turtles need as much room as you can provide. Glass aquariums are not a good pen for box turtles as they do not allow for good air circulation and heat distribution. I use the large plastic storage containers you can find
at home improvement stores or large retail stores. They are not as attractive as a glass aquarium but are
inexpensive, portable, easy to clean, and large. Cypress mulch is my bedding of choice as it holds humidity
that box turtles need. It is also inexpensive and recyclable. I put the used mulch out in my gardens. The mulch should be at least 4 inches deep as box turtles love to bury in it. Misting the mulch will supply the humidity. A heat lamp is needed as well as a UVB light. The heat light should be at one end of the tank, allowing for a warm end
and a cool end. Both lights should go on in the morning and off at night to simulate the kind of environment they would have in the wild. The turtle will also need a large water dish that it can easily access. I use the heavier
plastic planter saucers. Adding a small log if there is room is beneficial for the turtle to climb on and hide under. Climbing on the leg will somewhat help keep the nails filed down some.
Box turtles are omnivores which mean they eat plant and animal matter. I often tell box turtle owners to think
of what type of habitat they have in the wild and what they would find to eat. The following are some of the foods
that I offer my box turtles: night crawlers, crickets, meal worms, bee moths, bugs I find in the garden, cooked
chicken, berries, cantaloupe, apples, grapes, corn, green beans, carrots, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes, and Mazuri Tortoise Food. I feed them every 2 or 3 days. Sprinkle the food with a reptile vitamin every other week.
Box turtles need calcium and Vit A for proper growth and health. For further information, visit our box turtle information page.
9. I found a turtle in my yard. Would it be alright to keep it?
There are many things to consider after you have found a turtle in your yard. The decisions you make depend
the regulations of your state laws, the species (especially those native to your state), the surrounding area
and the health of the turtle. There are three probabilities that come to mind in regards to a turtle found in a neighborhood or populated area: 1) It has managed to come from the wild 2) It is an escaped pet 3) it is a released animal that the owner no longer wanted. Aquatic turtles can travel many distances and show up in housing
additions and other populated areas from drainage ditches and retention ponds. If they are a native species,
they are probably turtles that have traveled to that area. Snapping turtles, for example, often appear in yards
after a rainy day when drainage areas are full. Land turtles, such as box turtles, are commonly found in large
wooded areas. In my opinion, if an adult box turtle is found in a heavy populated with houses and/or businesses,
I believe that it is either an escaped or released pet. The chance of a box turtle hatchling growing to adulthood
in such a busy area is highly unlikely. Box turtles also have a homing instinct so taking one and moving it far away
will cause stress to the turtle. When you find a turtle the two most important things to determine is the species and if it is injured. A wildlife rehabilitator for turtles or a member of a turtle rescue organization can help you identify the turtle,
especially if you can email a photo to them. There are several reliable internet sites that can also help with identification. It is very important to know what species so you know what kind of habitat it needs to be released in.
If a turtle is injured, contact your state's DNR where they can refer you to a licensed rehabilitator. You can also contact your local veterinarian for a referral to a vet experienced in turtle injuries or a licensed rehabilitator. Many owners, unfortunately, release an unwanted turtle not realizing it is not native to that area. This can be a fatal
mistake. For example, releasing a Sulcata tortoise in the Midwest will cause death to it when the cold weather approaches. They also require warm, dry weather which is opposite to what the Midwest experiences in the
summer months. Non-native turtles can spread disease and pathogens to existing turtle populations, causing illness or wiping out an entire species. The best thing to do when finding a turtle, is to release it in a safe, unpopulated area that is close to where originally found or to contact the DNR office to help you. Taking a turtle from the wild and
keeping it as a pet is similar to taking a bird from the wild and putting it in a cage. Releasing it can be an excellent learning experience for children as to the importance of conservation and keeping wild animals in their natural
habitats. Keeping a wild turtles as a pet usually turns out to be an unexpected responsibility as turtles are not
easy-care pets. In Indiana, it is illegal to take a box turtle from the wild and other species require a
hunting or fishing licensed to take.