Turtles and Tortoises
by Julie of BlindWolfSpirit
I have been in love with turtles and tortoises for as long as I can remember. There is something very fascinating to me about an animal that is shaped like a Volkswagen and has remained relatively unchanged since prehistoric times. Turtles have inhabited the earth for about 220 million years and today their physical structure is very similar to that of their prehistoric ancestors.
I was lucky to have been raised in a reptile-friendly household. My dad is a herpetologist and our house was always filled with snakes, lizards, and turtles. When I was young I used to go with my dad on the weekends to the university where he taught, and help him take care of the turtles at the “herp” lab. I learned how to properly care for turtles at a young age.
Turtles and tortoises make great companions because they are long-lived and relatively easy to care for as long as their basic needs are being met. Turtles and tortoises have relatively simple needs, but if those needs are neglected their lifespan will be significantly shorter in captivity. Most commercial housing available for turtles and tortoises is not adequate for their needs. Turtles and tortoises need to have plenty of space to move freely and must have room to grow. A traditional aquarium may be sufficient for young turtles or very small varieties, but will soon be outgrown by most turtle and tortoise species.
Ed in the Tortoise Table
Turtles and tortoises (both land and water varieties) need UV light to properly utilize the calcium from their food that keeps shell and bones healthy. Many commercial turtle and tortoise foods alone are inadequate for their dietary needs and can cause “pyramiding” and other dangerous bone malformations. In temperate climates turtles and tortoises can be kept outdoors but they must be protected from the dangers posed by roads, poisonous plants, predators, and other humans. Whoever first decided that tortoises are slow must never have actually lived with one. Tortoises can disappear very quickly and should not be left unattended unless they are in a secured area.
Turtles and tortoises have become popular pets and many species are now captive bred reducing the amount of turtles being caught in the wild to be sold as pets. If you are thinking of buying or adopting a turtle or tortoise, be familiar with the source. Do not buy a turtle that has been illegally captured and do not try to capture native turtles and keep them in captivity. Most wild turtles and tortoises are protected by law. In Utah protected desert tortoises are available for adoption for qualified applicants. Nevada, Arizona and California also have adoption programs (see website link below for information).
We have quite a variety of turtles at our house. We have a turtle pond in our laundry room, made from a large toddler wading pool that houses two large Red Eared Sliders, one Map Turtle, one Scorpion Mud Turtle and one, very large, soft-shell turtle. In our utility room we have a large wooden tortoise table that houses two Redfoot tortoises, one Russian tortoise, and two box turtles. We specially built or adapted each of our enclosures to satisfy the particular needs of our turtles and tortoises. Several of our turtles and tortoises are rescues or were given to us by people who could no longer care for them. If you choose to give a home to a turtle or tortoise, be sure to do some research beforehand to get information about proper housing and care.
Here are some of my favorite online adoption, housing, and feeding references to help you get started:
This last one has some good basic ideas for water turtle care but my disclaimer is that I am not necessarily in agreement with the author’s philosophies.