Turtles are reptiles with their body inside a shell.
Their head, legs and tail are not inside the shell.
They can tuck head,legs and tail under the shell if they need to.
Turtles and tortoises are in the same family.
Some are pets but most are wild.
There are a number of freshwater turtles that people can have as a pet.
In Australia, you are not allowed by law to catch any animal from the wild and make it a pet.
To have a pet turtle you have to go to a pet shop that specialises in pets such as these. They will tell you if you need a licence to keep the kind of turtle you choose, and if so, they will tell you how to get one. A specialist pet shop like this is also the best place to buy your turtle food.
In Australia, the most common pet turtles are eastern snake necked or long necked turtles. These are common and also the easiest to care for. Other favourites are the Murray turtle and the sawtell turtle. Australia has only native turtles and no tortoises, but in other countries, people have tortoises as pets.
Housing your pet
Before you buy your turtle, you must have a home ready for it.
To house a turtle indoors
A turtle up to 10 cm in diameter should be kept indoors and can live in a 90 -120 cm long glass tank, about 50cm wide. There should be a 3cm layer of shell grit and sand on the bottom. The water needs to be deep enough so the turtle can swim completely underwater, and there should be a place for it to come out of the water to bask. Usually a log that sticks out of the water is enough, or a ledge above the water. Places that sell turtles and tanks may also sell floating platforms.
A light with a special bulb from the pet shop should hang 10cm above the basking area, so that the turtle can bask in the 'sunshine'. A 40-60 watt spotlight hanging 10-15cm above the water can be used. Your turtle should receive 8-12 hours of this light each day. In the wild, sunlight helps keep a turtle's shell hard and healthy.
Water needs to be kept around 22-25ºC so a water heater will be useful. It is very important to keep the tank and water clean so your turtle does not get sick. In spring and summer, your turtle should be placed outside twice a week for about 10-20 minutes, in a tub of water about 10 cm deep.
To house a turtle outside
You need a fenced area about 4m x 2m. The fence should be smooth (e.g. fibro cement or corrugated iron) and go about 30cm into the ground.
Turtles can dig very well, and they can get hurt on chicken wire.
There should be a pond, at least 2m square and over 30cm deep, and easy to clean. It should have sloping sides and a large rock or log so the turtle can climb in and out of the water. The land surface can be gravel or grass, and there should be some shelter such as a bush, or some rocks or logs. In the colder months (in Australia that is generally from April to about September in southern states), turtles will be inactive and spend time buried under shelter or in mud at the bottom of the pond.
Feeding your pet
Turtles eat meat and will eat plants as well. They will eat raw fish, yabbies, shrimp and worms. They will also eat mosquito larvae and other insects they find in the water. They only feed in the water. Calcium is important for turtles and can be provided by putting a small hard block of plaster of paris in the water so it dissolves gradually, releasing calcium.
Turtles should be fed in water that is about 23-30ºC. Cooler or warmer temperatures can result in digestion problems. Feed about ten bite-sized pieces once or twice a week. You can also buy commercial dry turtle food or live crickets. These are better than meat that you buy from the butcher or supermarket, which can be too fatty and don't give many nutrients to a turtle : these meats are too different from the food a turtle would naturally find, and will upset its digestion.
Choosing a turtle
Make sure the turtle is active, with bright eyes. It should pull back its head if touched. There should be no mucus coming from the nose or mouth and there should be no white or soft spots on the shell or skin.
Responsible pet ownership
Pet turtles depend on their owners for food, protection and shelter. Before deciding to own pets think carefully about all the things you will have to do to care for your pet responsibly, including regular vet check ups, food and shelter.
Always wash your hands after handling your pet turtle.