Let's Talk Turtles...

Markw84

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5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 17, 2012
Messages
3,916
Location (City and/or State)
Sacramento, CA (Central Valley)
What is the word on mixing turtle species? I've always mixed tropical aquarium fish from different parts of the world, and that has generally not created any problems for me. I've always known mixing tortoise species was a disaster in the making. So where do aquatic turtles fall in this spectrum? I know many people have large ponds with several turtle species. Are things just different because its an aquatic environment?
Interesting topic that would benefit from some real science. It seems everything we have is based on anecdote and Disease issues mostly applied from animals totally unrelated to chelonians. I do mix aquatic species, but not from different continents or from differing major climate differences and very careful about introducing a new and especially wild caught animal without thorough quarantine and checks. I do not mix tortoise species at all, however, I am not sure if I have good reason with tortoises raised in the same captive environments and similar habitat / diet needs.

Short answer - I see no issue in mixing species with aquatic if you meet each one's needs in the enclosure you have created.

LONG ANSWER-

I see four major issues in this regard - Habitat. Diet. Parasites. Disease.

Habitat - this would be the ecological niche the animal will best thrive in. Temperature, humidity, photo periods, and physical structure of the environment. = what we create with our enclosure. Most tortoises from similar climate zones do well in very similar setups with a few exceptions like the pancake tortoise. However, I feel aquatics are more differing in this regard. Deep vs shallow water. Great swimmers vs bottom walkers. Fully aquatic to mostly terrestrial. Rocky bottoms to sandy bottoms. Open water vs cryptic in plant cover. Open baskers vs cryptic or floating baskers. Etc, etc. My best tortoise enclosures look almost identical for sulcata, or leopard, or star, or radiated, or hinge-back. However, a cooter or a spotted turtle, or musk turtle or a box turtle from the same river system needs very different setups. So I feel it is important that the enclosure in which we put these animals accomplishes what that animal needs.

Diet - Most chelonians are opportunistic feeders. They will eat whatever they can find. Tortoises have evolved a much more similar dietary need relying heavily on plant material so lower protein intake and gut flora to digest/handle high fiber. Aquatics can be more specialized. However, almost all will thrive on a well balanced higher-protein pellet diet. I don't understand why so many folks seem to automatically disdain commercial pellets. A ton of research and science goes into mixing the required nutrients, vitamins and minerals into a readily eaten and liked pellet. The variety of foods that would have to be given to ensure the same availability of nutritional value would be overwhelming. Gut flora is a big part of diet. So lots of talk is about the gut flora a particular species has and therefore the diet that is best. However, I hear little talk of how the gut flora of any animal changes dramatically in total profile to the environment and diet subjected to. The gut flora adjusts to what is available. That is a big part of why I believe captive raised individuals, started on the right diets, do so well compared to wild caught or even poorly started individuals. With aquatics, I have not had one species that will not thrive on a good pellet diet. They get other things for fun and treats. Probably more fun for me to see them go after something that really gets their attention. But I have turtles that I am on at least the 8th generation of offspring in my pond. At least 98% of their diet is pellets. The same with my koi. An animal that can and has lived to be well over 200 years old thrives on commercial pellets alone.

Parasites - Most are benign and indeed a part of the gut flora. Some are problematic in captive environments with a direct life-cycle where re-exposure and re-infection continues to build if animal density and cleanliness is not watched. The few of great concern are going to be introduced from outside or wild caught sources and of especial concern in mixing species in that regard. Most parasites are quite species specific. OR - more correctly certainly Class and Order specific. The ones that can effect our chelonians by introduction by and intermediate host are more limited by diet to the chance ingestion of snails / worms/ or a dead frog for example. But these are normally controlled by good hygiene and reduced chances of reinfection as the intermediate hosts required are not always contaminated nor that available on a regular bases with our chelonians. Especially if we are feeding a pellet based diet. So again, with captive raised individuals from a good keeper, parasites are a rare problem. I have never had a parasite problem I have had to treat with any aquatic turtle. Mixing species is not the issue. Where the individual come from is the issue in my opinion.

Disease - How much of this is overblown hype due to mammal experience is a good question. Most all chelonians seem extremely resistant if not immune to most all diseases we normally fear. For example in his book The Crying Tortoise, Devaux talks about his finding that Sulcatas have no natural pathogens whatsoever. They don't naturally get sick! The diseases we do see in chelonians are normally the result of husbandry issues, not infection from other sources. RI, impaction, gastro enteritis, shell rot, vitimain/ mineral deficiency. Not because a sulcata gave it to a radiated. Or a cooter gave it to a map turtle. Even the dreaded salmonella that so much ado was about and still is - chelonians don't "get" salmonella! They never are affected by the disease. They don't carry it because they are infected. Salmonella is a ubiquitous bacteria. Most anywhere bacteria is allowed to grow due to poor hygiene - you will soon find salmonella. Put a turtle in 1" of water, add food and poop and let sit for a week without cleaning. That's what you saw with the turtles sold with the little plastic bowl and palm tree. That is a perfect bacteria culture mediaum. Do the same with some chicken you bought at the store, or an egg. All will give you a salmonella culture. The way a good keeper keep their chelonians today, there is more risk of salmonella from your supermarket than from your chelonians.

sorry for getting carried away - but this touched a topic of great interest to me!!
 

Mfields72

New Member
Joined
Jun 14, 2019
Messages
5
Location (City and/or State)
Columbus
I have a little bit of turtle experience from years passed, but not a whole lot. I'm interested in getting a turtle, but I'd love to converse with people who know them better than me. I've narrowed down the species I'm interested in, but I need tips and advice from people who know turtles better than I do.

Here are my priorities, or likes and dislikes, to put it another way:
  • I don't like shy or reclusive animals. Bold, curious and outgoing is my preference. I don't mind if they are aggressive either as long as they are out and about, active and "friendly".
  • I like easy keepers. Don't want anything that is difficult to set up, feed or maintain.
  • Since it will be mostly indoors, I think, Something on the small side is appealing. I can do an outdoor set up too, but I'll need help and ideas with that as I'm really lacking in experience with housing any turtle species outdoors full-time. I've done temporary sunning enclosures for fair weather, but that is the extent of my experience. Mostly kiddie pools with shade and a haul out.
  • It gets hot here in summer. Heat tolerance is a plus.
  • I don't like delicate animals that get sick easily. Hardiness and adaptability is a plus.
  • I find all of the following species attractive in their own ways, so appearance doesn't matter that much.
Here is my narrowed down list of top prospects. Please shoot them down, tell me why they are great or awful, or tell me why they do or don't meet my criteria. I'm mostly interested in just having a single "pet" at the moment, but I won't rule out a group at some point in the future.

  • Southern painted turtle. Just learned about these the other day. Seems to me like they have the good points of a RES with out the bad points.
  • Western painted turtle. Same as above. Which would be better suited to my above criteria? The southerns are smaller, but the Westerns certainly aren't too big for my intentions. And so pretty.
  • Snake necks or side necks. I've been intrigued with this group for a while. I know very little about them. Internet searches don't turn up much useful info. Anyone got tips on these?
  • North American Spotted turtles. These have always been a favorite, but how outgoing are they in an indoor tank or tub?
  • Indian spotted turtles. I dig these. They seem to have good personalities too. I have several sources for them in CA, so CBW permit isn't an issue.
  • Chinese big headed turtle. This one has been a favorite for decades. More people are captive breeding them now, so getting one has become an option again.
Share your thoughts?
I had aquatic turtles for quite some time, I think they’re awesome however I got tired of the maintenance but I had a western painted, a pink belly side neck, a map turtle, an eastern musk and a reeves. Out of all of these I absolutely loved the reeves turtle. They are so cute and they don’t get too big. The eastern musk is one of the smallest aquatic turtles in the world. Stay away from the common sliders, they get huge!
 

Pastel Tortie

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Tortoise Club
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Jul 31, 2018
Messages
3,068
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North Florida
Interesting topic that would benefit from some real science. It seems everything we have is based on anecdote and Disease issues mostly applied from animals totally unrelated to chelonians. I do mix aquatic species, but not from different continents or from differing major climate differences and very careful about introducing a new and especially wild caught animal without thorough quarantine and checks. I do not mix tortoise species at all, however, I am not sure if I have good reason with tortoises raised in the same captive environments and similar habitat / diet needs.

Short answer - I see no issue in mixing species with aquatic if you meet each one's needs in the enclosure you have created.

LONG ANSWER-

I see four major issues in this regard - Habitat. Diet. Parasites. Disease.

Habitat - this would be the ecological niche the animal will best thrive in. Temperature, humidity, photo periods, and physical structure of the environment. = what we create with our enclosure. Most tortoises from similar climate zones do well in very similar setups with a few exceptions like the pancake tortoise. However, I feel aquatics are more differing in this regard. Deep vs shallow water. Great swimmers vs bottom walkers. Fully aquatic to mostly terrestrial. Rocky bottoms to sandy bottoms. Open water vs cryptic in plant cover. Open baskers vs cryptic or floating baskers. Etc, etc. My best tortoise enclosures look almost identical for sulcata, or leopard, or star, or radiated, or hinge-back. However, a cooter or a spotted turtle, or musk turtle or a box turtle from the same river system needs very different setups. So I feel it is important that the enclosure in which we put these animals accomplishes what that animal needs.

Diet - Most chelonians are opportunistic feeders. They will eat whatever they can find. Tortoises have evolved a much more similar dietary need relying heavily on plant material so lower protein intake and gut flora to digest/handle high fiber. Aquatics can be more specialized. However, almost all will thrive on a well balanced higher-protein pellet diet. I don't understand why so many folks seem to automatically disdain commercial pellets. A ton of research and science goes into mixing the required nutrients, vitamins and minerals into a readily eaten and liked pellet. The variety of foods that would have to be given to ensure the same availability of nutritional value would be overwhelming. Gut flora is a big part of diet. So lots of talk is about the gut flora a particular species has and therefore the diet that is best. However, I hear little talk of how the gut flora of any animal changes dramatically in total profile to the environment and diet subjected to. The gut flora adjusts to what is available. That is a big part of why I believe captive raised individuals, started on the right diets, do so well compared to wild caught or even poorly started individuals. With aquatics, I have not had one species that will not thrive on a good pellet diet. They get other things for fun and treats. Probably more fun for me to see them go after something that really gets their attention. But I have turtles that I am on at least the 8th generation of offspring in my pond. At least 98% of their diet is pellets. The same with my koi. An animal that can and has lived to be well over 200 years old thrives on commercial pellets alone.

Parasites - Most are benign and indeed a part of the gut flora. Some are problematic in captive environments with a direct life-cycle where re-exposure and re-infection continues to build if animal density and cleanliness is not watched. The few of great concern are going to be introduced from outside or wild caught sources and of especial concern in mixing species in that regard. Most parasites are quite species specific. OR - more correctly certainly Class and Order specific. The ones that can effect our chelonians by introduction by and intermediate host are more limited by diet to the chance ingestion of snails / worms/ or a dead frog for example. But these are normally controlled by good hygiene and reduced chances of reinfection as the intermediate hosts required are not always contaminated nor that available on a regular bases with our chelonians. Especially if we are feeding a pellet based diet. So again, with captive raised individuals from a good keeper, parasites are a rare problem. I have never had a parasite problem I have had to treat with any aquatic turtle. Mixing species is not the issue. Where the individual come from is the issue in my opinion.

Disease - How much of this is overblown hype due to mammal experience is a good question. Most all chelonians seem extremely resistant if not immune to most all diseases we normally fear. For example in his book The Crying Tortoise, Devaux talks about his finding that Sulcatas have no natural pathogens whatsoever. They don't naturally get sick! The diseases we do see in chelonians are normally the result of husbandry issues, not infection from other sources. RI, impaction, gastro enteritis, shell rot, vitimain/ mineral deficiency. Not because a sulcata gave it to a radiated. Or a cooter gave it to a map turtle. Even the dreaded salmonella that so much ado was about and still is - chelonians don't "get" salmonella! They never are affected by the disease. They don't carry it because they are infected. Salmonella is a ubiquitous bacteria. Most anywhere bacteria is allowed to grow due to poor hygiene - you will soon find salmonella. Put a turtle in 1" of water, add food and poop and let sit for a week without cleaning. That's what you saw with the turtles sold with the little plastic bowl and palm tree. That is a perfect bacteria culture mediaum. Do the same with some chicken you bought at the store, or an egg. All will give you a salmonella culture. The way a good keeper keep their chelonians today, there is more risk of salmonella from your supermarket than from your chelonians.

sorry for getting carried away - but this touched a topic of great interest to me!!
Well said. :)
 

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