Probably the first thing you should consider when getting a turtle is how much space you can dedicate to your new pal. Turtles don’t need a ton of space, but they appreciate every inch you can give them. Get the largest tank you can and have it all ready before you bring your new buddy home.
Another consideration is whether you have young children in your household. Since some turtles carry the Salmonella virus, the CDC recommends that turtles not share the house with a child under five, a very elderly person or anyone with a compromised immune system.
Okay, so you have a lot of space, you and your housemates are healthy, and you desperately want a turtle. I know the feeling! But now you have to think: What kind of turtle do I want?
Types of Turtle
There are many fascinating species of turtle to choose from. Painted turtles are a common, brightly colored turtle. They make good pets for the beginning pet owner. My first turtle, Mr. Karboski (named after my French horn teacher) was a painted turtle. He was the special turtle that truly won my heart. Painted turtles never get larger than eight inches or so, which makes creating a habitat for them relatively easy. They need water, of course: about 10 gallons for a juvenile turtle and 20 for an adult. Each additional turtle needs between five and 10 gallons. Even more important is the depth of the water. Painted turtles dive so they need water that is at least as deep as twice their width.
Painted turtles also need a place where they can bask in warmth. A heat lamp trained on a basking area is ideal. They also need a place under water to hide: include some fake plants in their habitat. (They’ll just eat the real plants! Mr. Karboski made short work of mine.)
Other types include the very popular Red Ear Slider, which can grow to almost a foot across. Ornate Wood Turtles have a beautiful shell; my Ornate Wood Turtle is named Queen Elizabeth, Queenie for short. Tortoises need less water because they are land-dwellers. They each have different needs, so do your homework before you hit the pet store.
Care and Feeding
Turtles should be fed a variety of different foods. While you can buy special turtle feed, you should give your pet insects or mealworms once a week or so. They also like leafy greens such as kale or collards. Tortoises eat only vegetables, greens and fruit. Don’t let uneaten food lie around the tank!
Speaking of keeping house, your turtle’s water should be changed frequently. Replace at least part of it twice a week. Do a thorough cleaning every other week or whenever it looks dirty.
Enjoy Your Shelled Friend!
Turtles learn to recognize their owners. My Queenie sees me coming and immediately asks for food! However, as tempting as it is, you shouldn’t pick up and handle your turtle more than necessary. It makes them nervous. And always remember: Your turtle is a pet and not a wild animal. If you absolutely can’t keep your pal, don’t let it “free” in the wild; it won’t survive. Find a forever home for it!