The information in this article can be used for the main species of turtle that are found in captivity in Australia. This includes the long neck species (Chelonia Longicolis) and the shorter necked species (Emydura and Elseya spp).
Each one of these species has different requirements and the information below will help you keep them happy and healthy in their indoor enclosures.
The most common indoor enclosure used for Australian turtles are simple aquarium setups. There are more specialsied enclosures available, but regardless of the type a few simple measures can be used to set up the environment appropriately.
Setting Up Your Enclosure
- Most adult turtles require a minimum of a 1.2 metre long tank, but bigger is better
- The enclosure should be 2/3 filled with water
- It is necessary to supply a large enough tank to also include an area for your turtle to bask with its entire body to be fitted on this level
- They must also be able to get onto this ramp easily and a sloping ramp at a suitable angle that is not abrasive is best
- At a minimum, the water must be at least 2-3 times the length of the shell length (carapace)
- Substrate is not needed, and it is easier to keep the tank clean without it however, river stones or river sand around 5cm in depth can make an attractive substrate. To this, 20 grams per litre of calgrit can be added
For adult turtles, outdoor housing with supplementary heating where necessary is preferable if the species is found locally. This suits their larger size and aquatic lifestyle. Most importantly for good health, it is essential that both sunshine and shade are available to your turtle when in the water and on land.
Ensure that no rough edges exist on the bottom and sides of concrete enclosures. It is recommended that a shade cloth or bird netting aviary-like cover be used to exclude predators. Enclosures must be secure and escape proof as many turtles are excellent diggers and climbers.
Water temperatures have been recommended to range between 18-23 degrees for long neck and 20-25 degrees for short necked turtles (species dependant).
A thermostat will be required to achieve this constant temperature.
- A thermometer above and within the water is required alongside the thermostat to ensure proper temperatures
- Out of the water a basking area temperature needs to be supplied at 30-34 degrees (a separate thermometer and thermostat is needed in this area)
All Australian turtles require adequate UV light to be provided. UVB light at a wavelength of will aid in Vitamin D3 production which is needed for Calcium metabolism. We recommend T5 5.0 tubes.
It is also thought that the UVB light can help with natural behaviour such as foraging and feeding.
It is recommended that in addition to UV light provided artificially, natural UV provided by the sun is best and should be added into your weekly husbandry practice for around 30 minutes 2-3 times per week.
Essential Lighting Tips
- In both the tank or outside, it is important to remember that UV does not pass through glass or plastic, and thus all covering needs to be removed to allow it to be effective
- If taken outside, make sure not to leave unattended or in an enclosure that could overheat your turtle (as this can be deadly)
- Keep your turtle in shallow water when taken outside
- Replace all UV lights every 6-12 months (Arcadia lasts for 12 months) or when it is no longer effective based on a UV radiometer at the distance and strength required
- The lights should be on for a period of 12 hours a day
As turtles spend most of their time in the water it is within reason to assume this is an integral component to good health.
- Water quality refers to different parameters that can upset this balance
- pH refers to acidity or alkalinity. A pH ranging from 7.2-7.6 is recommended
- Hardness is measured in parts per million (this is achieved through dissolved salts), a harness of 140-210ppm is recommended this can be achieved by adding approximately 5 grams of aquarium salt to per liter of water
- Filtration is needed continuously to maintain water quality
- An external canister filter is usually employed
- The filter helps to remove nitrogenous waste
- 25% water changes are still needed on a weekly or 2 weekly basis to ensure water quality remains healthy
- Use a water conditioner when topping up tanks
Weekly Testing for the Following is Recommended
- Ammonia- waste product
- Nitrite- waste products
- Nitrate- waste products
Australian turtles need to be submerged in water to feed and defecate. Make sure to not overfeed your turtle and to not leave anything in the water they should not eat as they are opportunistic. The amount of food to be offered for an adult turtle should be the size of their head approximately 1-2 x per week and every 2 days for juveniles. Suitable plants should always be provided.
A Calcium supplement (Calgrit is preferred to a calcium block) is recommended if they are not consuming whole fish and even if they are, Calgrit has added benefits.
Foods that are frozen have some of their nutrients and vitamins destroyed so it is best to offer fresh food. Any food not eaten should be removed after a couple of hours to minimise nitrogenous waste product build up in the water.
As an alternative they can be fed in a separate enclosure/ container with water used from the tank.
Feeding Long Neck Turtles
Long Neck Turtles are carnivorous; with their main diet made up of a mix of insects such as crickets, woodies moths and flies with an occasional worm.
Fish such as gudgeons (feeder fish) and whitebait, freshwater snails, prawns and yabbies, can also be offered but need to be soaked in water to leach the salt out, and also have their heads and spikes and shells removed.
It is not recommended to feed raw meat or pet food as this may effect the balance of the diet and can be harmful.
Feeding Short Neck Turtles
Most Australian short-necked turtle species are omnivorous. This means they eat a combination of plant and animal matter. As with long-necked turtles, they will usually need to be in water to consume food.
Freshwater aquarium plants such as Elodia and Valesneria are two options that are readily eaten and should be provided at all times. It is important to not overfeed the protein meal to your turtle.
Feed a variety of cut-up whole fish such as gudgeons, whitebait, other freshwater feeders, shellfish, mollusks and insects such as crickets and roaches. Juveniles can be fed every 1-2 days to a total amount the size of their head (broken up in smaller pieces) while adults should be fed 1-2 times per week.
Occasionally, you can offer a small quantity of quality frozen turtle food and/or pellet. Appropriately sized live feeder fish can also be introduced into the tank. If food is uneaten leftovers should be removed immediately or alternatively a separate feeding tank can be set up.
- It is important to thoroughly clean your hands after handling your turtle
- Quarantine is essential for adding any new turtles into the enclosure
- A yearly visit to the vet is recommended with routine parasites and blood test screenings
- Keeping good records of weights and feeding habits can help alert to early signs of disease
- Transport your turtle to the vet in a container with wholes and on damp paper towels or towel but not in water
- 100ml sample of the tank water should be brought in for evaluation