Turtle "Why?"s. When you first become a member, you are often directed to the ‘AFT Care Guide’, which lists everything you need to help keep your turtle friend in tip top shape. But I know myself that when I joined, and I read/was told I needed x, y and z, I felt completely overwhelmed. Why do I need x, y and z? Especially if the pet shop said I only needed a, b and c? After finally working out the ‘why’, I felt it important to share, so that others, instead of feeling overwhelmed and depressed at how much they are now being told they need, can understand why, in simple form. Bigger tanks. Everywhere here, bigger tanks are always mentioned. Minimum 4ftx2ft tanks, preferably 6x2ft. Why? To give you an understanding, I’ll use a dog analogy. If you bought an 8 week old Great Dane puppy, would you buy a kennel that it fits into now, or one that it will fit into as an adult? Most people buy a kennel to fit the dog as an adult. Otherwise, they need to keep buying bigger kennels, or make their Great Dane fit into a kennel designed for a Spaniel – squishy, uncomfortable, and cruel. If you bought a 3ft tank, you can use it for a while, just like if you bought a small kennel for your Great Dane puppy. Remember that this tank is their kennel and backyard in one, so they need decent space. Don’t create ‘battery turtles’, as this can lead to deformed and sick turtles. How long you can use this tank for will vary with the species. Some species, such as Murray River turtles, grow extremely rapidly, and you may only have then for a year before they have outgrown their ‘kennel’. Other slower growing species, such as Eastern Long Necks, may be able to remain in the 3 foot tank for a few years. But eventually, your Great Dane puppy-turtles will outgrow their Spaniel kennel/tank. This is why we recommend as big an aquarium as possible, unless you plan on setting up a pond for your turtles - so you don’t have to keep upgrading your ‘kennel’. There is no such thing as a small ‘penny’ turtle in Australia, they all grow to a minimum of 16cm shell length (straight carapace length, SCL), up to 48cm. This varies greatly with species – Murray River turtles grow to around 35cm. Imagine if your ‘kennel and backyard’ was only 1.5 foot (45cm) wide – barely enough for your turtle to turn. That’s like keeping your Great Dane in your laundry…for life! UVB 10.0 – why is UVB important? And why is UV 10.0 always requested, when many pet shops and reptile stores say you only need a 5.0? UVB is important in Vitamin D synthesis, and Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our diet – that’s why we all need sunshine, to keep our bones strong. Turtles’ shells are literally their bones – if they get weak or soft bones, instead of just ‘fracturing’ an arm underneath muscle, their entire armour is potentially at risk. Turtles need to keep their shells strong, as they cover their vital organs such as lungs and heart. Any animal that would normally encounter sunlight but is kept entirely indoors needs UV for Vitamin D synthesis, whether they be mammal or reptile. Since reptiles eat less than mammals, size for size, they may not get all Vitamin D in their diet that they require, so UVB is even more important. Crucially, the difference with turtles compared to other captive reptiles is that they spend most of their time under water. Water limits most UVB from penetrating. How many of you have gotten sunburnt on your legs when paddling in the water? Compared to your face, where UVB reflects off the water’s surface, hitting your face with a double whammy of UV. Hence, when turtles do come to the surface, they need UVB of a good strength, so they can get as much UVB in the short time at the surface as possible. Stronger UVB can also penetrate water to a certain degree. Other reptiles spend their whole day directly under their UV lights – hence turtles need a 10.0 and other reptiles may only need a 5.0. Floating Dock – turtles in the wild naturally don’t spend all their time underwater. They come up onto logs, rocks, or the edge of the water body to move overland, nest, or just bask and dry out. They bask to get their UV, dry out to help shed scutes, and also to increase body temperature. A dock in a tank allows them to do this whenever they want. Floating docks that adjust to the water height are best so that if the water evaporates, you don’t have to monitor the levels 24/7 to keep the water at the right height. Also, hatchlings require much shallower water, and adults much deeper water. With ‘fixed’ docks, such as those in dedicated turtle tanks, they don’t allow for this requirement. Floating or water adjustable docks adjust with the water level, and therefore with your turtle’s age, and can be moved to other tanks if need be. Basking light (basking area around 30° Celsius) – Turtles are reptiles. Although labelled as ‘cold blooded’, this isn’t entirely true. They are ectotherms. They can produce some heat through metabolism, but basically they have less control over their body temperature than we do. This is why they can eat so little compared to mammals of the same size – they are not wasting precious energy from food on warmth, but it does make them rely on environmental sources of heat. A basking light gives your turtle a source of heat, so he can make himself warm as required. Warmth is required in reptiles to properly digest food and perform all metabolic activities that we, as heat producing mammals, perform automatically. Splash proof lights (e.g. Exo Terra Swamp Glo) are brilliant, as turtles have been known to ‘plop’ back into the water, sending droplets everywhere, and hot globes have been known to shatter and break when water contacts them. Water heater – similar reasons to the basking light. Cold water can be like us having a cold shower, or constantly being kept cold – chills, viruses, and even pneumonia. Turtles get lung infections too, for the same reasons – cold! Again, warmth is required to digest food and keep body cells active. Without adequate warmth, food can remain in the digestive tract, rotting, for weeks or even months. While rotting, it can release many toxins into your turtle, slowly killing it either directly by the toxins or weakening your turtle, causing other infections that harm your turtle. Keep the hood and lid off your aquarium! This is recommended as the humidity from the closed environment is a perfect breeding ground for mould and bacteria, which may then infect your turtle and cause a respiratory infection, which can be deadly. Canister/external filter – Turtles produce more waste than fish. Think of the amount of food you feed your turtles compared to the amount of food you’d give fish. What goes in, must come out! And lots of it. Remember that your turtle is living in his own toilet. Internal filters only do so much, a bit like only ever being able to do a half flush of the toilet, regardless of what was ‘evacuated’ – eventually, ‘bodily excrement’ will build up (imagine trying to do a half flush if the toilet bowl is FULL of…erm…waste!). External filters are like a waste water treatment – they break down solids, followed by using bacteria to convert harmful chemicals (ammonia and nitrite) into a safer product (nitrate), getting rid of ‘bodily excrement’ so the water can be returned to the system. In order for it to do this properly, water must be moved through it a large number of times per hour – hence the recommended minimum of a filter turning over tank water an absolute minimum of 4 times per hour (preferably minimum 7) – the more water is filtered, the less waste is left behind. If you don’t want to live in untreated pee and poo water, don’t make your turtle! Canister filters really are absolutely superior to internal filters. Substrate – use river sand or calgrit/turtle grit, NOT gravel! This is simply answered. Turtles are curious, like children, and often swallow things they shouldn’t. If this object is big, it can cause a blockage. Gravel cannot be digested, and can get stuck. It’s a bit like a child swallowing big marbles – indigestible and may not come out! For a visual: http://www.australianfreshwaterturt...ead.php?8303-Gravel-Blockage-Very-sick-turtle! River sand is like a child eating small rocks the size of the confectionery ‘Nerds’ – indigestible, but passable. Turtle grit, on the other hand, is completely digestible, as the stomach acid reacts with the grit, breaking it down into water, salt, and carbon dioxide. So your turtle may burp and fart (it’s like swallowing an antacid), but be ok because it disintegrates if swallowed. Coarse river sand is the preferred substrate as it is what a turtle would naturally live in, and the particles are rounded. Beach sand or manufactured is sharper, and can cut into your turtles skin and shell, causing infections. Turtle Grit is calcium carbonate, which increases levels of calcium in your tank, increasing your turtle’s chances of getting calcium. Calcium carbonate reacts with acid (it is alkaline) to release the calcium as a salt, as well as carbon dioxide and water (acid + alkaline = salt + water + carbon dioxide), therefore it also helps to keep the pH of the water in the right range (7.4-7.8 is best, or slightly alkaline). Calgrit or Turtle Grit is the best size for the job – I personally tried to cut corners by buying limestone from a local quarry, but unfortunately they were too big and I had to find an alternative way to use it. No rocks! Rocks can cause significant issues in turtle tanks. Using smaller rocks as a substrate, even ones too big for your turtle to eat (until he grows…), can cause health issues. Food and waste particles get trapped in between the rocks, causing water chemical problems due to this waste rotting. If you move the rocks, the ammonia released can cause issues for your turtle. I’ve already read many posts where someone had rocks, removed them to put river sand in, and commented on all the rotting muck sitting underneath the rocks/within the gravel. Larger rocks as ‘scenery’ can fall on top of your turtle, and if they can’t get out from underneath to reach the surface, they can drown. Rocks can also scratch shells and skin, allowing bacteria easy entry and causing infection in your turtle. Salts – specifically, turtle salts. We recommend AFT salts as they are by far cheaper than commercially available salts, and also better for your turtle as Craig has tested them to ensure they have the right minerals in them. The human body’s salt level is normally at 0.9%, and most medical products used to cleanse humans use this – e.g. saline solution to clean eyes out. Plain water hurts, while the slightly saline water does not. By adding 40g to every 10L, you make a 0.4% solution for your turtle. If your turtle was kept in a salt less environment, osmosis would mean water is constantly trying to get into your turtle (osmosis is where water moves from areas of low salt concentration to areas of high salt concentration if the salt can’t get through. In turtles, the skin allows some water through but not salt.) As the water is trying to make salt concentrations the same either side of the skin, water is trying to move into your turtle, causing huge problems if your turtle can’t handle the excess fluid moving in. By adding a bit of salt, you are putting less pressure on your turtle because the water salt concentration is similar to that of his body. Salt also helps to kill bacteria in the water, leading to safer conditions for your turtle. If you think that freshwater turtles live in ‘saltless’ environments in the wild, and therefore shouldn’t have salt added to their water, just stop and think: do you really think their natural conditions are completely saltless? How many times have we heard that Murray River water is slightly salty? Low salt conditions in the Murray are around 50 Electrical Conductivity Units (one measure of salt), and can go up to 300. This (50 ECU) converts very roughly to around 3.4g for every 10L – and this is the Murray at low salt levels! So it shows that salt is definitely in the turtle’s natural environment. Minimal/no bloodworms. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with bloodworms…if they’re a small part of a balanced diet for hatchlings. They are high in protein, which is good for hatchlings. Think of bloodworms as a piece of beef steak. High in protein, and not much else. If you lived on steak, and ONLY steak, you wouldn’t be very healthy. No herbs, no veg, no fruit, no carbs…just a very high protein diet, with no other forms of protein (you’re only eating beef steak!). So as a small part of a balanced diet (i.e. only as an occasional meal, once a week/fortnight) for young turtles, with aquatic bugs, feeder fish, freshwater shrimp/yabbies, and aquatic plants (for short necks, as long necks don’t tend to eat plants), bloodworms are ok. It is when they are fed only bloodworms that problems such as shell deformities appear, as bloodworms are protein and not much else – little calcium, vitamins, or minerals. Bloodworms are of absolutely no advantage for bigger turtles, purely because of their small size. No "Turtle Dinners". Turtle dinners often have red meat in them, which turtles can’t digest and can affect the absorption of other nutrients, meaning any benefit could be gone. They also have lots of vegetables…carrots, beans, spinach, corn, and zucchini, for instance. A lot of vegetables, such as peas and spinach, also contain anti nutritive factors such as oxalates, which prevent the absorption of calcium – the opposite of what you want! Think about what your turtle would eat in the wild, as this is what their digestive systems are used to getting. Turtle Dinners are made for convenience, and because someone saw the opportunity to make money from making turtle food, didn’t they… No red meat/fruit/vegetables. This is covered under ‘Turtle dinners’ fairly well, but again, red meat is poorly digested by turtles and affects absorption of nutrients. Human fruits and vegetables which we readily eat are not natural for turtles, and many items contain anti nutritive factors such as phylates and oxalates, stopping the turtle absorbing nutrients such as calcium. Just because it is safe for you to eat does not mean it is safe for your turtle – grapes and onions, for example, are fine for us, but are poisonous for dogs. Do not risk your turtle’s health by feeding it something it would not encounter naturally, as you do not know the effect this may have on the turtle, either in the short term (such as a day) or in the long term – it may be many many years before the effect of a poor diet show up in a reptile like a turtle, but even though you can’t see the damage, doesn’t mean it’s not occurring.