Pelodiscus sinensis

How to arrange an aquaterrarium for semi-aquatic turtles?

Turtles are one of the most attractive animals in the reptile world. As with any living creature, its owner is required to acquire the proper knowledge of species biology and husbandry techniques. With the decision to own a turtle it is our responsibility to provide it with the best possible living conditions. The turtle’s fate will become almost entirely dependent on us! Turtles tolerate captivity well if the basic guidelines are strictly adhered to. These animals are known for their long life span and when they are in good health, they can live up to several decades. It is something you need to remember before buying a turtle. Semi-aquatic turtles will feel good in a properly prepared aquaterrarium. The pond for turtles is the biggest challenge to keep these animals captive.

Aquaterrarium for semi-aquatic turtles and zone size

Semi-aquatic turtles require a large aquaterrarium. The tank should consist of two parts: water and land, where the water part (depending on the species) should cover 50-75% of the tank area. The aquaterrarium must be large enough to allow turtles to swim with the possibility of complete immersion. In addition, it should have a sufficiently large space to allow each individual to go freely to dry land with the entire body. It should be assumed that for a pair of turtles with a length of 20-30 cm, the volume of the water part should be 200-300 l of water. It would be good if the depth of water was at least as deep as the length of the turtle’s shell.

Aquaterrarium for young turtles (fot. Daria Tereszczkiewicz)

What kind of material will be best for an aquaterrarium

The best materials for water tanks will undoubtedly be glass and plastics. One of the simplest solutions for young and growing turtles may be the use of a mortar pan or large plastic containers designed to hold various things (popular among turtle lovers “SAMLA” boxes).

Filtration in a water part of the aquaterrarium

The water should be always clean, free of food residues and metabolic products. Due to the production of a large amount of feces and the extremely sloppy way of feeding turtles in the water, an efficient filter will be essential to keep it clean. The principles of effective filtration are similar to those of monster fish aquariums. You need a suitable prefilter and mechanical filtration + a large deposit for biological filtration. However, the water needs to be changed regularly anyway.

Heating in a water part of the aquaterrarium

Semi-aquatic turtles prefer 24-26oC water in the aquaterrarium. The heater with a thermostat to warm it up must be secured against breakage. It can be placed permanently in a protective plastic mesh basket or in a perforated (with drilled holes) PVC tube with a larger diameter. The power cord should also be protected against strong and sharp turtle jaws. These issues should not be underestimated.

How to arrange a water part of the aquaterrarium?

The bottom can be a thin layer of a mixture of fine-grained gravel and sand with rounded edges. Thick gravel makes it difficult to desludge, as large amounts of sediment accumulate in the spaces between it.

How to arrange a land part of the aquaterrarium?

The island, as a land part, is usually located on one of the side walls of the tank. It can be hung or placed on ceramic or concrete cubes immersed in water. It is important that the exit from the water is gentle, not slippery, giving support to the claws. Be careful not to create a trap that could keep a turtle underwater. We can also make a suitable superstructure above the water section or place the land section on the side (outside the water section). This will give us even more space for our turtles. The substrate in this part may be a mixture of soil, peat and sand. These reptiles are efficient climbers, so the tank should be secured against escape, e.g. with appropriately high walls ended with a limiter.

Semi-aquatic turtles aquarium (Fot. Piotr Libert)

Thermoregulation of turtles

Turtles, as cold-blooded animals, cannot produce their own heat, but regulate their body temperature by external factors. Their body temperature can be higher than the ambient temperature only by warming up in the sun’s rays. In the wild, on warm, sunny days turtles like laying on the land, usually pulling their hind legs behind. In this way they reach the maximum surface area of the body exposed to radiation. Warming up also helps to combat skin infections, to shed scutes from the carapace and plastron and inhibits the growth of algae on the shell.

Turtles are able to get heat much faster than they lose it. They can also control the blood flow in the circulatory system to retain heat as long as possible during immersion. The colour of the turtle’s shell also plays a role in thermoregulation. Darker shell heats up faster than a light brown or other bright color and is able to reach a higher temperature.

Sources of heat above the land part

Above the land part, we place sources of heat and UVB radiation, necessary for the synthesis of vitamin D3. UVA radiation is also desirable because it stimulates reptiles with daytime activity to behave naturally and increases their appetite. To provide thermal energy, heating bulbs or ceramic radiators are usually used. Metal halide lamps, tubular and compact fluorescent lamps are used to provide a UV source. Heat source should be placed at a safe distance from the reptile, so that it is out of its range (risk of burning) and the temperature directly under the radiator id about 35oC.

When using metal halide lamps, a special ignition system is also required, which may affect the final cost of the lighting set. These lamps, however, have the highest efficiency in UV radiation emission, giving additionally strong, bright light of a color similar to that of the sun and emitting large amounts of heat.

Use only specialized terrarium lamp holders, as those for everyday household use may not be resistant to high temperatures and may even cause a fire. UVB sources should be placed at the effective distance, as the intensity of this radiation decreases as the distance from the source increases. For fluorescent lamps it is usually a maximum of 30-40 cm. Each manufacturer should communicate the most effective distance between the UVB source and the reptile.

It should be remembered that in the case of tubular and compact fluorescent lamps, their effectiveness in UVB emissions decreases with time. After 6 months, their UVB performance (this radiation is not visible to the naked eye) can drop by up to half, so they should be replaced with new ones, even though they still shine in the visible spectrum. They can then be used for purposes that do not require UV radiation, e.g. aquarium lighting. Information on their UV-emitting life should also be provided by the manufacturer. The glass is not permeable to UV radiation so it should not be in the path between the animal and the source of that radiation.

Outside paddock

If we have a garden, in the summer when the night temperature does not fall below 15oC, it is a good ideas to arrange an outdoor paddock for turtles, including water and land parts. It must be adequately protected against escape and predators (dogs, cats, birds). And rememeber to provide a shaded place where the animal can hide from excessive heat.

Dawid Krótki

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