Reptile

My Pet Turtle - Part 4

Photo by Jessica Sinatra

Photo by Jessica Sinatra

Greetings children of the web!

Having a veterinary tech living with me has expanded the way I see and enjoy Sandy the turtle. Now, we have a variety of treats we like to give her and she has even taken to eating right from the hand (If we're careful!). She quite enjoys a small bit of strawberry or banana, but will go on the warpath for chicken. When we gave her a piece of chicken, the next time we put a less exciting banana on the platform, she seemed to ignore it for a while, hoping for the meat. We will put the treat on her basking platform and she will sniff it a moment before snapping it up and dragging it into the water. Turtles can only eat in the water. Of course, when we give her a treat, it is always in a very small quantity.

With chicken, we boil the chicken as opposed to other methods, figuring it will be the healthiest way to present it to Sandy. We don't give her fatty parts obviously. I have always been loathe to give her a live fish because of the possible diseases it might introduce into the habitat. I think, playing with the turtle through light training and giving her a small morsel every once in awhile is a good substitution for that missing stimulation. In any event, I must be doing something right, because she's one big and healthy reptile!    

My Pet Turtle - Part 3

Hello Internet Users,

In the last blog post about my turtle, I hinted that I needed to increase the size of Sandy the Slider's habitat and, after moving to a new apartment, I took the opportunity to make some much needed improvements. There were definite restrictions to what I could accomplish due to time and money restrictions, but I think I met the challenge.

The new configuration for Sandy the Turtle

The new configuration for Sandy the Turtle

The answer was to return to a similar setup I had a few years ago. At that time, I had a product I mentioned in the previous blog: A Turtle Topper. Unfortunately, Sandy became too big for the platform and forced me to buy a bigger aquarium and to place a DIY basking platform in the tank. The problem, of course, is that the water level had to be kept low enough to accommodate the platform which meant the usable volume of the tank was not optimized. "So buy a bigger Turtle Topper, Evan!" Unfortunately, the Turtle Topper only goes so big. Red-eared Sliders are one of those pets that are considered expendable. They rarely live to be as old and as big as Sandy due to neglect and poor care. That means products for full-size adult turtles don't exist. It was time for a DIY Turtle Topper!

My project had several criteria. Firstly, I had a budget to stay within. Secondly, turtles are wily escape artists, so the platform had to be strong and secure. Lastly, the platform had to meet the biological needs of the turtle and be a warm place bathed in full-spectrum light.

For materials, I knew I needed something that was strong and waterproof. I could use wood easily, but it would slowly rot away and treating the wood might slowly poison the turtle. I opted for a few PVC planks from Home Depot. Normally, the plastic planks would be used for exterior projects like sheds or window sills that might be exposed to moisture. They are pricey, but I bought the least expensive variety. To enclose the platform, I needed something that would be strong, match the aesthetic of the PVC, and allow light through. I decided to pick up a large sheet of white plastic lattice. Near the lattice at the hardware store were plastic border pieces with precut channels. The last piece of the puzzle was finding something to use as a ramp so Sandy could climb out of the water. After wandering around the store for a while, I found a perfectly shaped plastic channel called a splash block that is traditionally used to keep water that drains from down spouts away from your foundation. It also had a nice stone-like mold to it to give Sandy some traction. Very durable too. I bought it on the spot to hold the whole thing together. I also bought rust-proof (Aluminum) screws.

Sandy the Turtle basks on her new platform

Sandy the Turtle basks on her new platform

Planning was easy, but assembly was a tad difficult. The PVC planks are incredibly hard to cut cleanly. I used a rotating saw, which left a relatively clean edge, but the stuff throws half melted plastic shavings all over the place that are hard to clean up and stick to everything. Good thing I was outdoors. Anyway, once the planks were cut, I created walls around the platform using the lattice and border pieces. I initially tried to caulk them together, but then I was afraid that the turtle might accidentally ingest some of it, so I used screws throughout. The screws aren't as attractive, but do the job really well. Then I drilled a few holes at the end of the splash block and matching holes on the open side of the platform. Using small zip ties, I secured the ramp to the platform, but not too tightly: It is important that the ramp be able to hinge a little so that the turtle doesn't accidentally lodge herself under it and drown. Gotta think of all possibilities!

Lastly, I used the remaining lengths of PVC planks to create a separate enclosure. The platform only accounts for a third of the distance across the tank and with the water level all the way at the top, Sandy could easily throw herself out without a barrier of sorts stretching the remaining thirds. It also served to hold up the florescent fixture that lights the aquarium with full spectrum light.

Another view of the basking platform

Another view of the basking platform

With everything assembled, it was time to put it in place. Everything fit very well on top of the tank. I bought a rubber bathmat to give the platform and the top of the ramp a little extra traction and waterproofing. In my parents' basement, I also found a silver sun reflector that you would normally place in your car's windshield on sunny days to keep the interior cool. With the tank in a very sunny window in my apartment, the sun reflector not only concentrates the sunlight onto the platform, but also provides the turtle some privacy. Turtles are very flighty when outside the relative safety of the water. Simply walking by the tank might needlessly scare Sandy off the platform and so the added cover works well.

Lastly, changing the configuration of the aquarium forced me to buy a new filter. As detailed in my previous blog, simple and powerful filters are the best. This time I chose a fish filter made by Tetra. It hangs on the side of the tank, it's easy to clean, and the carbon inserts last about 20 days and are inexpensive. The only drawback of the hanging filter is that the water level needs to be managed. In the warmer months, as the water evaporates very quickly. I have to make sure the minimum water level is met before I turn on the filter for the day.

Sandy is giving me the stink eye

Sandy is giving me the stink eye

All in all, both Sandy and I have been happy with the new setup.  Lots of sunlight for her, easy to clean for me, and it doesn't look half bad which is important as the tank is in a more public area of the apartment. She shouldn't grow too much bigger if at all, so it just might be the last aquarium setup I need for her barring maintenance. Although, I did say the same thing about the last platform . . .

My Pet Turtle - Part 2

turtletank

Salutations!

In part 1, I told you that I had a turtle named Sandy and how I came to have her. In this post, I will write a little about caring for the beast and my current enclosure I have for her.

Over the years, I have had to upgrade Sandy the Turtle's tank many times to keep up with her growth. Turtles need several things to survive and thrive as a pet. Turtles need an area of water to swim around in that is heated between 76 and 86 degrees, and area to crawl up out of the water to bask, and full spectrum light with both UVA and UVB rays. As far as the enclosure, I was always told that a tank should be, at minimum, 4 times longer than the turtle (head to tail), 3 times wider, and 1 1/2 times the length of the turtle tall. As of this writing, my current set up is on the small side. Despite having a 50-gallon, 36"x18"x17" tank, Sandy is huge, measuring approximately 9" in length. With the basking platform, I only fill the tank 3/4 of the way, limiting the overall height. I also use two modified carbon fish tank filters and I like to subtract the area they displace from the dimensions as well. Needless to say, I will need to find something even larger soon, but I'm waiting for warmer weather, as now I have exhausted what you can buy off a shelf and will need to build something. That will likely be another blog post of its own.

Despite the current size of her tank, she has grown rapidly and appears very healthy and I attribute this to my cleaning and care regimen. Throughout the years I have tried many different methods to keep the tank water clean, but I have finally realized that simple is better. To help prevent the tank from getting dirty too quickly, you have to be smart about how you feed them and filter the water well.

turtlefood

When it comes to feeding, I am not scientific. You are supposed to feed an adult turtle every other or every 3rd day and by the time they are adult, they need a diet that is not only comprised of those little pellets you can buy at the pet store, but also leafy veggies. Turtles are notoriously messy eaters and as much as half the food they chew gets in their stomach and the other half floats around the tank. After years of practice, I don't measure how much I put in the tank, but kind of guesstimate what Sandy will eat. I know I've nailed it when I feed her and return 15 minutes later and find only a few scraps left over. No waste! Then I'll take a fish tank net and get those scraps out before they dissolve into the water. To make it easy, I usually feed her right when I wake up every 2 or 3 days, then take a shower, and return to scoop up the leftovers. If she has pooped, I'll scoop that up too before it dissolves. This goes a long way to keeping the water cleaner longer. When the turtle is young, it is suggested that you have one tank for the turtle to live in and another to feed it. When turtles are small, you can get away with 2 tanks, but when they are bigger, the amount of area and the risk of the thing biting or scratching you to pick it up makes it unfeasible. 

Filtering the water is very important. You have to remember that the water in a turtle tank serves as a drinking supply and toilet at the same time. Carbon filters capture and neutralize most of the excrement to keep the water at a 'potable' level. The first lesson you learn when you own fish, turtles, or other aquatic animals is that the expectation should be that the filter keeps the water safe for the animal for a period of time, not that it keeps the water perfectly clear indefinitely. Turtle poo is especially putrid and viscous and will clog your beautiful filtration system. No matter what, the water will become visibly brown and cloudy after a time. What do you do then? Well, change out the water, of course! For me and my set up, I completely empty the tank and refill it with fresh water once a month. That means that I scoop up the water a little at a time, pour it down the toilet, heat up fresh water, and refill the tank. This process takes me up to 4 hours, start to finish. Also, while I do this 'deep clean', I take out the basking platform, filters, heater, and anything else in the tank and scrub all the excrement off of them. In the case of the filters, I completely take them apart and get all the goo out of the motor as well. This is the cost of having a turtle as a pet: Time.

The filters themselves are very important. I use two, very basic filters that I found at Walmart. They are cheap, expendable, and easy to open and clean. In previous setups, I bought fancy canister filters and others, but they are expensive, hard to get started sometimes, and get clogged easily. Simple is good. Using PVC extensions on either side of my basking platform, I have been able to bring the filters close to the water level. I also bought versions that are rated to move more water per hour than exists in the tank. This is important because, as the filters age and dirty up, they lose effectiveness. At the worst, the filters need to move as much water as there is in the tank at least once an hour. Eventually, the filters break, but that's alright: Just throw it out and buy a new one.

Creating a basking platform is a common problem that turtle owners have to tackle. Turtles absolutely need to get out of the water for stretches of time to absorb vitamins and metabolize their food. I've had a number of different setups. When the turtle is young, they are small enough to climb up on one of these floating docks, which are very convenient as water evaporates out the tank. After Sandy grew too heavy for the floating dock, I bought this contraption called a Turtle Topper which worked fantastically. Unfortunately, Sandy outgrew that as well and there was nothing bigger on the market. That's when I turned to DIY methods. A simple Google search will yield hundreds of homemade basking solutions. I made mine out of a PVC frame, the ramp from the old Turtle Topper, and a plastic cutting board. As mentioned previously, I also incorporated extensions on either side of the platform to hold up the filters. It works very well, but soon I will have to go back to the drawing board to expand the tank for the ever-growing reptile!

For lighting, I have used many fixtures and bulbs over the many habitats I have created. It is suggested that the basking platform include a heat lamp, but in lieu of that, I placed my tank next to a very sunny window and that, together with the full-spectrum fluorescent, is enough for Sandy to stay warm. Keep in mind that glass and windows kill much of the good UVA and UVB out of light (or so I've been told). Similarly, full-spectrum light can only penetrate so far into water. I believe the limit may be a foot of water depending on its clarity and other factors. It's also very important to remember that bulbs have an effective life span of about 6 or 7 months. That means that even though the bulb still turns on and doesn't appear any different to your eye, you still should buy a new full-spectrum bulb after about 6 months. It sucks because they are a little pricey, but it's for the good of the turtle and as generally uncaring and cold-blooded as reptiles are, they will thank you.

SandytheTurtle

And so, that is an overview of what I have to do to keep my precious green friend alive. While it's pricey and difficult at times, I never completely tire of my unique pet and how much she has grown since I first adopted her years ago. Now, the only question is what I'll do next to expand her habitat.

#turtleproblems

My Pet Turtle - Part 1

Sometimes you just got to let your turtle out. Know what I'm sayin'?

Hello Friends!

Here's something unique about me: I own a red-eared slider (or Trachemys scripta elegans). It resides in my room at my apartment and perhaps I'll invite you over so you can see it someday . . . 

Anyway, I came to own a turtle about 7 or 8 years ago (I honestly don't remember). I was visiting an ex girlfriend's house during college and she and her sister had a shallow 10 gallon tank with two sliders: Sandy and Flip. They had obtained the turtles illegally at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire at some point. I say illegally because you are not allowed to purchase turtles with a shell that is less than 4 inches in diameter due to the risk of contracting Salmonella poisoning among other things. They were tiny things and very cute. Unfortunately, Flip lived up to his name and died soon after. Sandy was the sister's turtle, so it became her responsibility to care for it, but she didn't have time. Turtles take considerably more time to care for than you would think between cleaning, changing water, and so forth. Eventually the tank went dirty for long periods of time and I felt terrible for the poor little thing. So I offered to take the turtle for myself.

I remember my ex and I gathering the tank and the filter and the little rock that was in the tank and setting it back up in my room. The happy little turtle!

I've had her ever since, but not without a few difficulties here or there. For instance, during the great ice storm of 2008, the house lost power and heat for 3 days and the turtle's water needs to be, optimally, between 76 and 85 degrees or so. I had to use the grill outside in the cold to heat water for the turtle to keep it at least 60-something degrees while the temperature in the house was dipping into the 40's. Hard times!

The years I've been a turtle owner have been fantastic and I hope to keep them going. Apparently the things can live to about 30 years or so and in some cases much longer. In future installments, I will discuss what it's like to own a turtle and the adventures I've had raising Sandy.