The sideneck turtles has a unique look with its side-tucked head, unlike other turtles. Many people love its constant “smiling” appearance. If you’re thinking of having one as a pet, they’re lovely but need some extra care. However, if you’re a committed beginner, they can be good for you. Just remember, with the right care, they can live up to 50 years.
Where They Originate From
The term “side-necked turtle” encapsulates a variety of species that come under the suborder Pleurodira. This group includes turtles from the families Chelidae, Pelomedusidae, and Podocnemididae. The terminology stems from their unique defense mechanism. When faced with threats, these turtles don’t retract their heads into the shell; they lay their head and neck to the side, tucked under the shell’s edge. Another distinguishing feature among most of them is the presence of a mesoplastron, a piece of bone embedded in their plastron or bottom shell. Furthermore, their pelvic girdle is fused to the plastron.
Tracing back their lineage, Pleurodires are nothing short of ancient, first appearing on Earth during the late Triassic Period around 220 million years ago. Modern side necks are mainly found in the Southern Hemisphere, in regions including Africa, Madagascar, Australia, and South America. Some even inhabit a handful of islands in the Indian Ocean. Their habitats range from fully aquatic to semi-aquatic ecosystems. Notably, during the Paleogene and Neogene periods, a specific group of these turtles dwelled in marine and estuarine environments located in the Northern Hemisphere.
Dietarily diverse, Pleurodires majorly lean towards omnivorous tendencies. Yet, it’s not uncommon to find herbivorous or carnivorous members within the over 70 species of side necks. They also exhibit a broad spectrum of shell dimensions. For instance, the tiny African dwarf mud turtle, or Pelusios nanus, has a shell measuring around 12 cm (about 5 inches). In stark contrast, the massive giant South American river turtle, known as the Arrau (Podocnemis expansa), boasts a shell exceeding 90 cm (around 35 inches) in length.
Choosing and Buying Sideneck Turtles
Budget and Availability
When considering adopting a side-neck turtle, it’s crucial to plan a budget that includes both the initial cost and the long-term expenses associated with their care. On average, these turtles are priced between $50 and $100. This price is influenced by factors like the turtle’s age, size, and overall health.
The side-neck turtle is a popular choice among turtle enthusiasts, making them readily available in various pet stores across the country. However, for those who prefer a wider selection or are looking for specific characteristics, online marketplaces offer an array of options. The internet brings breeders and sellers from various locales within easy reach.
For potential owners who prioritize the health and well-being of their future pets, sourcing from reputable breeders is paramount. These breeders ensure the turtles have been raised in hygienic, spacious, and enriching environments, which contributes to their overall health and vitality. Moreover, renowned breeders provide a wealth of knowledge about the turtle’s lineage, health history, and care requirements. A few breeders even offer the convenience of shipping, ensuring the turtles are safely and humanely transported to their new homes.
Legal and Health Considerations
Prospective turtle owners in the US must be aware of specific regulations surrounding the trade of pet turtles. The US government, due to health concerns, prohibits the sale of pet turtles that have a shell length of less than four inches. The primary reason behind this restriction is the risk of Salmonella infection. Younger, smaller turtles are especially known to carry the Salmonella bacteria, which can easily spread to humans and cause health issues.
When selecting a side-neck turtle, it’s essential to inspect for any indicators of health problems.
- The eyes of a healthy turtle should be clear and alert. Cloudy eyes can mean health issues or injury.
- A turtle that appears sluggish or lethargic might be battling a health concern. Healthy turtles should be active and responsive to their environment.
- The turtle’s shell should be smooth and free from any flakiness or patches. Flaky or soft spots could indicate potential fungal infections or issues with their diet.
- Ensure the turtle doesn’t show any signs of respiratory distress. Labored breathing, wheezing, or frequent opening of the mouth can suggest respiratory problems.
Potential Health Risks
It’s also essential to be aware that some side-neck turtles can harbor fungi and parasites. While these might not always pose direct harm to the turtle itself, they can be detrimental to other pets in the household. Before introducing a new turtle to a shared habitat, it’s advisable to consult a vet and possibly quarantine the new addition to ensure it’s free from any contagious conditions.
How To Care For Them
The side-neck turtle, like many other reptiles, is a delicate creature. They possess keen senses, making them highly susceptible to stress from abrupt or rough handling. Such stress can weaken their immune system, making them more prone to illnesses. Further, a stressed turtle might exhibit decreased appetite, leading to dehydration and other health complications.
Ideal Handling Techniques
Interact with the turtle post-feeding, as they are typically more relaxed and less defensive at this time. When you approach the turtle, do so with deliberate calmness and patience. When picking it up, use a gentle grasp on both sides of its carapace (the hard upper shell). It’s vital never to lift the turtle by its tail, neck, or limbs, as this can cause physical harm or severe stress.
However, be mindful of handling duration. Excessive handling can lead to stress. Similarly, placing the turtle in an environment with sharp or abrasive decorations can cause injuries and stress. Overexposing the turtle to direct sunlight can also have adverse effects. If a turtle shows signs of stress, avoid handling it until it seems calm and settled.
Common Health Issues
Despite their hardy appearance, side-neck turtles can fall prey to various health issues, primarily due to subpar care. Some of the most prevalent health problems they face include:
Vitamin A Deficiency
This can lead to a condition known as hypovitaminosis A. This deficiency can have severe repercussions for the turtle’s health. It affects the mucus membranes and the epidermis, leading to a range of symptoms such as:
- Diminished appetite
- Cloudy or swollen eyes
- Kidney failure
- Noticeable swelling around the eyes
Addressing Vitamin A deficiency typically involves the oral administration of Vitamin A or, in more severe cases, injections. To prevent recurrence, ensure a balanced diet and consider vitamin supplements after consulting a vet.
Dirty water or overly crowded living conditions can predispose the turtle to shell infections. These infections occur when bacteria, fungi, or parasites infiltrate the turtle’s shell, typically through wounds or weakened areas.
- Reduced appetite
- Breathing difficulties
- Nasal discharges
- Swollen extremities
- Reddening or discoloration of the shell
- Antibiotics help combat bacterial infections.
- Antifungal medications are essential for treating fungal invasions.
- Antiparasitic drugs aid in eliminating parasitic infestations.
Regular check-ups and maintaining optimal living conditions for the turtle can help prevent many of these issues.
Appearance and Behavior
The side-neck turtle is notably recognized by its extended neck and deep brown shell, accentuated with olive to dark brown tints on its skin. Its most defining features are the pronounced black markings, particularly above its eyes. Combined with its uniquely shaped mouth, these markings give the appearance of a perpetual smile, endearing the turtle to many enthusiasts.
Its plastron, or underbelly, displays a grayish-brown hue. An interesting anatomical feature of this turtle is the pair of barbels or whisker-like projections, which emerge from the turtle’s lower jaw. These are sensory organs that assist in navigating their aquatic environments.
The turtle has webbed feet equipped with sharp claws for mobility and foraging. These claws not only assist in swimming but also come in handy when they dig in the mud, searching for food.
While both genders bear similarities in overall appearance, several differences distinguish males from females. Males exhibit longer, more robust tails, with their vent (or cloaca) near the tail’s tip. In contrast, females possess shorter and slender tails. An additional distinction is in the size of the shell, with females having a more elongated carapace than males. Moreover, the front leg claws of male side-neck turtles are notably longer than their female counterparts.
Size and Lifespan Insights
Females’ side necFemales’es are usually 7 and 12 inches, and males are 7 to 10 inches.
In their natural habitats, side-neck turtles have a life expectancy averaging 20 years. However, they can endure up to 30 years in the wild. With optimal care and living conditions in captivity, their lifespan can extend to 50 years.
Primarily peaceful creatures, side-neck turtles exude a curious and active demeanor. However, they are not entirely devoid of aggression, especially when threatened or stressed. It’s noteworthy that while they can coexist harmoniously with their species, they are predatory towards small fish, such as dwarf cichlids, making them unsuitable tank mates.
For novice turtle owners or those inexperienced in reptile handling, side-neck turtles may not be ideal. Initially shy and apprehensive when humans handle them, these turtles can resort to defensive behaviors, leading to potential bites or scratches. However, with time, patience, and consistent gentle handling, they can acclimatize and become more amiable.
Temperature and Humidity Requirements
Side neck turtles thrive in temperatures ranging between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They require a designated basking area where temperatures escalate between 95 to 100 degrees. Being ectothermic or cold-blooded, they rely on external heat sources for bodily functions.
A basking spot can be created using an incandescent or 100-watt infrared bulb. This setup should be sufficiently luminous to facilitate basking. A heating pad or heat lamp, especially one connected to a thermostat, can help maintain the desired warmth. A hygrometer, a device to measure humidity, can be invaluable. It ensures the humidity remains below the recommended 50 percent threshold.
When water temperatures rise beyond 75–85 degrees Fahrenheit, the side-neck turtle may begin to shed skin. While shedding is a natural, healthy process signifying growth and renewal, it could also indicate stress, parasitic or bacterial infections, or environmental or nutritional inadequacies. Monitoring and adjusting water quality and temperature can ensure the turtle’s well-being.
The side-neck turtle, a dweller of aquatic and terrestrial environments, exhibits adaptability across diverse habitats. It predominantly occupies freshwater terrains like rivers, ponds, swamps, and lakes. Notably, they have an affinity for stagnant waters, which mirror a habitat they thrive in.
For those keen on rearing this turtle species, simulating its natural environment is paramount. Equip the tank with expansive swimming areas and introduce plastic plants, offering the turtles seclusion when desired. Adorning the tank with elements like driftwood, rocks, and real aquatic plants infuses a touch of their natural habitat, making them feel more at home.
For these semi-aquatic creatures, a 75-gallon (or larger) aquarium is optimum. Ensure that water fills three-fourths of the tank, offering the turtle adequate swimming space. A watchful eye on the water level is necessary; it should never dip below half the tank’s capacity. An adjustable water depth not only facilitates cleaning but also offers varied swimming and basking depths. A rectangular tank design is favored as it maximizes the swimming area, whereas a narrow, elongated design can restrict their mobility.
Given their daily nature, the side-neck turtles require light conditions that replicate day-night cycles. Implementing LED fixtures, especially the T5 HO 6500 lamp, is an effective way to replicate natural daylight due to its luminous strength.
Substrate and Decor
The floor of the tank should emulate their natural riverbeds. A blend of sand and gravel serves as an excellent substrate, providing them with ample space to explore, burrow, and hide.
Considering their penchant for burrowing, a deep layer of substrate is advised. While accessorizing the tank, avoid sharp-edged rocks, which can pose injury risks. Incorporate driftwood, plastic plants, and smooth rocks, ensuring spaces for both seclusion and basking.
Mopani wood, renowned for its density and mold resistance, is an ideal wood choice. Other tank adornments can include toy turtles, ornamental items, and additional driftwood. Remember, these turtles lack designated sleeping spots; they prefer burrowing in the substrate, often beneath driftwood or rock structures.
Food and Water
The side-neck turtle is known for its omnivorous eating habits, meaning it consumes both plant-based foods and animal-based foods. When curating a diet for the side-neck turtle, a mixture of vegetables, proteins, and commercially available turtle food is ideal. Here are some primary food sources:
Vegetables: Fresh greens like lettuce and other vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals.
Pellets: Specialized turtle pellets, both regular and shrimp-flavored, are manufactured to meet the dietary requirements of turtles, making them a crucial part of the diet.
Commercial turtle food: This is a prepared food source that often combines necessary nutrients in a convenient form.
Turtles have specific digestive capabilities, and some foods can be harmful or simply non-nutritive:
Dairy Products: Turtles do not possess the enzymes necessary to digest dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Thus, feeding them dairy can lead to digestive complications.
Raw Meat and Excessive Protein: Offering raw meat poses a risk of bacterial infections, and excessive protein can lead to health complications. It’s essential to moderate protein intake.
Apart from food, water is crucial for the side-neck turtle. Keep the water free of chemicals, and the turtles will drink from a shallow pool or from the same pool they’re in.
Regardless of age, when feeding the side-neck turtle, it’s essential to monitor their eating habits. Typically, they should finish their meal within 15-20 minutes. If they haven’t finished in this time frame, it’s advisable not to offer more food, ensuring they don’t overeat.
Reproduction becomes viable once the turtles reach sexual maturity. Males mature between 3-5 years, while females mature around 5-7. To instigate breeding, subject the turtles to a cooler environment (around 60°F) for approximately eight weeks. Providing a calcium and vitamin D-rich diet can stimulate egg production. A sandy, loose soil serves as an ideal breeding terrain. Keeping in mind that a surplus of males can trigger aggressive skirmishes, a 1:2 male-to-female ratio is recommended.
Breeding displays unique behaviors, from neck-biting to a distinct yin-yang tail alignment during copulation. Post-mating, females lay 8-12 eggs buried under the soil. Maintaining an incubation temperature of 75-85°F and humidity levels between 30-70% ensures the wellbeing of the hatchlings, which typically emerge after 45 to 60 days.
Maintenance and Cleaning
Regular maintenance is the linchpin of a healthy tank environment. Initiate cleaning by evacuating all substrate and decorations. Vigorous scrubbing helps eliminate algae and contaminants. Several warm water rinses are vital to ensure all dirt residues are eliminated. Such cleanliness deters bacterial growth and promotes a healthier living space for the turtle.
Taking care of a pet needs constant attention and dedication. With the right knowledge, you can create a great home for these amazing turtles. Whether they live in nature or with us, the side-neck turtle shows us the wonders of the natural world and reminds us of our duty to look after them properly.