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home >> Caresheets >> Turtles 


Getting started

Turtle, tortoise, terrapin or penny turtle?

Well none of them actually. Tortoises have clawed feet and live on the land, turtles have fins and live in the water and terrapin is a slang term used in the USA to describe the shelled reptile that does both, and the term penny turtle is a nickname given to describe them when they are young and small.

The species of reptile we are dealing with has clawed feet that are webbed and spends 90% of it's time in the water so they are generally refered to as “fresh water turtles”, also because turtles can go on land and water but tortoises can only go on land!

The two most common turtles sold as pets are the Eastern Long-Necked Turtle (Chelodina Longicollis), and the Murray River Short-Necked Turtle (Emydura macquarii). There are actually about 24 other species of turtle in Australia and we are not allowed to import foreign reptiles.

In the ACT it is only legal for pet shops to sell the Eastern Long-Necked Turtle, because it is native to the region and you do not require a license to own one. It is still illegal to remove them from the wild though so they must come from a breeder. All turtle species, other than the Eastern Long-Necked Turtle, require a license within the ACT.

In NSW you must have a license to own any reptile including turtles.

Eastern Long-Necked Turtle


Turtles are generally sold at about the size of a 20 cent coin, and can eventually reach the size of a large dinner plate when mature. This can take as log as 15 years or more.

Most of the turtle species available in Australia grow large, and penny turtles that stay small are a myth! Dwarfism in any reptile can occur when they are not feed the correct diet or enough which means they are un healthy, but it greatly reduces their life span.
The myth of the penny turtle came about because in the early days of reptile keeping we didnt understand the importance of UV, varied diets and heating.So Turtles kept as pets in doors rarely grew much bigger than a 50c coin.
Of coarse we KNOW BETTER NOW!

Life Spans

In the wild, turtles can live for up to 100 years.

The Tank

Young turtles will spend almost all of their time in the water so it is best to house them in a glass tank.
The size of the tank will not make a difference to the size of your turtle but if the tank is to small it will be harder to maintain and unfair on this very active animal.
We recommend a minimum 2-foot tank for the first year (the larger the better though!).

The tank must be well vented so when you turtle breaths in air, it is fresh and not humid and stale. Leave the lid off or use a mesh top.

Turtles do need the ability to remove themselves from the water completely in order to dry off but it is better to give them lots of swimming room so the best method is to attach a platform to the back of the tank. Platforms are available with suction caps, making it possible to convert any standard aquarium into a "turtle tank". This method is far safer and more practical than stacking rocks or piling gravel in the corner.

A water filter is highly recommended, as turtles produce a lot of waste and it will help prevent the water from becoming cloudy or smelling. Water filters also help to rotate the water, making the temperature more even when using a water heater.


The ideal temperature for young turtles is between 22 – 25 degrees Celsius. If the water temperature is too high for long periods they may die, but if the temperature is too low they will stop eating, food may not be digested properly, or they may even attempt to hibernate which is dangerous for young animals.

The best method for heating is a glass aquarium heater with a plastic heater guard to prevent burning. The temperature should always be monitored with a water thermometer (we find stick on thermometers are not chewed up as easily as floating ones).

For additional heating during the colder months of the year you can also place a desk lamp with an ordinary spot light directly above the basking area during the day only. This will tempt your turtle out of the water as they love to bask in the “sun” in the wild.



All reptiles - including turtles - get an essential vitamin from the sun that allows them to process calcium in their diet. Without this vitamin, their shells will go soft and their kidneys will eventually fail.

Even though short bursts of natural sun light, like taking them for a walk in the garden, is great, it does not replace the need for a constant source of the appropriate lighting. The only correct method for doing this indoors is by the use of a reptile fluorescent light source. Only reptile fluorescent lights contain the correct UV wave length and should have a UVB rating of 5% or higher.
UV lights designed for use on plants are not sufficient for reptiles, and should not be used!

  • This light need only be on during the day and can be left on a power timer to provide a regular day/night cycle.

  • UV radiation is filtered out by glass so it is important that you don’t have a lid obstructing the light.

  • UV fluorescent lights need to be replaced every 12 months, as they may still emit visible light but the UV properties become diminished.


    Feeding should always take place in water as turtles have trouble swallowing on land. Long-Necked Turtles swallow their food whole so pieces should be smaller than their head.

    Feed baby turtles twice a day during their first summer and gradually decrease to once a day. Older turtles (over one year of age) can be feed 3-4 times a week during summer and as little as twice a fortnight during winter. If kept in cooler conditions or outside they will not feed at all during winter.

    One thing to remember about turtles is that they will always behave hungry, as they need to work hard for food in the wild. In captivity, their activity level is lower and they will over eat if you let them.


    Suitable food items include frozen turtle dinners ( not to be used on there own) and dried commercial pellets available from us or most aquarium shops. Bloodworms, black worms, small water bugs, chopped earthworms, mosquito larvae, small fish, chopped white bait (this is our favourite as it is the most balanced if you can get them to eat it), and even some very lean meats like beef heart are also appropriate. Some reptile supplements are also suitable. Remember - VARIETY is the key, none of these foods are realy balanced on there own!

    Never leave any uneaten food in the tank. If practical, you can remove the turtle from it's tank, and feed it in a separate container of water to reduce the amount of waste.


    Hygiene is very important. Be sure to change part of the water every week and keep the bottom of the tank clean with a gravel siphon. Turtles can carry salmonella, so it is recommended that you keep handling to a minimum and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards (their favorite trick is to pee on you when you pick them up!).

    A turtle neutralizer block can be placed in the water to keep the pH down, protecting the turtle’s shell.

    A turtles skin will shed as they grow, which is no cause for concern. A white fungus can often attack their toes and neck. This can be easily treated with a fish fungicide and sufficient time to dry out.

    As they grow a turtle's scutes (individual shell plates) will peel reveling a larger one underneath - just leave them to peel in their own time.

    If your turtle goes off it's food, appears lethargic, and it's shell becomes soft and rubbery then seek advice immediately.

    Keeping turtles outside / hibernation

    Keeping turtles outside is a lot easier because they get all the things they need naturally. They will also need to hibernate in winter. We don't recommend keeping them outside until their shells are at least 10cm across (about 3 years of age); any smaller and the risks of escape and predatation are too great.

    We suggest owners seek more detailed reading, before attempting outside enclosures or hibernating.

    Sexing and breeding

    Forget it! Turtles are very hard to sex at the best of times and impossible when they are young. They will only breed in outdoor style enclosures after hibernation.

    For more advice or reading we have a range of detailed care books and can help you select and set up your baby turtle enclosure, just call us.

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