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FAQs About Turtle Systems: Substrate, Decor

Related Articles: Turtles, AmphibiansRed Eared Slider Care The Care and Keeping of the Red Eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans by Darrel Barton,

Related FAQs:  Turtle Systems 1, Turtle Systems 2, & Further Subdivided FAQs on Turtle Systems: Turtle Enclosures, Turtle System Filtration, Turtles & Light (UV plus), Turtle System Heating, Aquatic Turtle Basking Areas, Turtle System Maintenance, Overwintering Environments, RES Systems, & Turtles 1, Turtles 2, Red Ear Sliders, Turtle Identification, Turtle Behavior, Turtle Compatibility, Turtle Selection, Turtle Feeding, Turtle Disease, Turtle Reproduction, & by Species: Cooters/Mud Turtles, Softshells, Snapping Turtles, Mata Matas, Tortoises, & AmphibiansOther Reptiles

Can RES eat sea shells?         9/17/16
Dear Crew,
<Hiya, Darrel here>
I have a question.
<Unlike Radio Shack, we have answers!>
Ever since i got some small sea shells from the beach my turtles have been biting them and chewing on them. I've come to see the shells chewed on and bitten. I want to know if it is at least ok for them to eat it or should I take them out of the tank. Some of the shells in the picture are chewed up.
<Yes, it's OK. The shells are mainly calcium, which is good for them, and for the most part anything they can bite small enough to swallow can be digested. Some turtles will go after them as a delight, others not at all, so it could be that one is in need of calcium ... or maybe the shells just taste good,>
<As a General Rule: I don't put sharp things like sea shells in the tank any more than I would put chips of glass --- the sharp edges of the remaining shell can become a source of cuts or scrapes as the turtles go about their daily business>

Sand substrate for turtles, toxic gas bubbles?    3/23/12
Hi there,
So I've heard that using sand as substrate can have toxic gas bubbles build up which are harmful to fish so you have to occasionally stir it up and let the bubbles out... but would it be harmful for turtles? I've tried searching everywhere, but couldn't find any answers.
<You only need enough sand or gravel to cover the bottom pane of glass. You won't be planting plants, so a deep substrate isn't needed. So an inch depth is fine, and that poses no risk at all. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Sand substrate for turtles, toxic gas bubbles?    3/24/12

Dear Crew
<Hiya Jenny - Darrel this time>
Hmm, you didn't exactly answer my question. I didn't ask whether it'll be okay to use sand substrate, I asked whether the toxic gas bubbles would affect the turtle's health. Please answer that.
<The quick answer is no.  The toxic gasses, mostly Sulfur & the like, are far more an issue for fish that they are for turtles.   The other issue is how quickly the gas is diluted and disbursed in the water after it's released from the substrate. High filter rates and surface water turbulence greatly lessen the impact. The technical term that I use is that the gasses are far more "icky" than they are poisonous.>
<On a practical matter, Neale was spot on.   The depth and compositions of the substrates that would be beneficial for a burrowing turtle such as a Mud or Musk turtle are the exact opposite of what is called for in order to keep a clean, healthy and odor-free aquatic environment.>

Re: heyy... Please, no heyyyys! What is the subject? RES toys/decor  1/3/12
hey sue.
<Hi Jasmine.  Sorry Im just replying now; was away for a few days over the holiday.>
my sis  a new tank for squirt and some other stuff.
<That's great!  How thoughtful of your sis to do that for you.  Tell her we said Thanks too!>
is this tank alright for him?
<It seems to be a nice size tank for him (based on his size).  I didn't see a UVB and heat lamp over his basking rock, but if I recall, I believe you have them.>
and there's a filter in it to! :)
<That will be (of some!) help.  Just keep in mind that when it comes to turtles, even with a filter you'll still need to clean but hopefully not as often -- 50% water changes at least once a week (or more often if you see it needs it), replacing the filter media when you see it getting gunked up, and breaking down and cleaning the whole enclosure at least once a month.  It will also help to continue to net up whatever debris the filter doesn't catch.>
and she got my dog a new toy :P
<That's nice she remembered him, too! >
<Some nice improvements, Jasmine!  Just a couple of things re: your new set-up:>
<1)  Id recommend you raise the water level a few inches for a couple of reasons.  One to give him more swim room; hell appreciate that. The other (and more important!) one is that the level your water is at right now presents a drowning risk for him.  Turtles sometimes fall on their backs when they're exploring and climbing about.  If the water is deep enough they can easily turn themselves back over.  However, the way you have it now, its possible Squirt may not be able to, and could get stuck (with his head under the water) and drown. >
<One way to raise the water level without submerging the basking rock is to place some bricks or other taller flat stones underneath it.>
<2)  Re:  your decor:  I like the natural stone look, but a word of caution anything with openings, tunnels or caves also presents a risk that Squirt could get stuck inside of it and drown.  Whatever he easily fits through today may allow him in (but not out of) tomorrow!  Im glad to see you have them above water.  In particular with the taller tower, just make sure its wedged in good and cant topple over accidentally.>

Red-Eared Slider question about eating decorative plastic plants 7/3/2011
Dear Crew,
<Hiya - Darrel here>
I have a Red Eared Slider named Lucy. Got her around Halloween of last year, after my previous slider died. (Previous one was a female named Shelldon, who had no eyes and no tail, along with an asymmetrical shell.
I'd gotten her as a teeny, illegally-small turtle from a friend who'd bought her for her niece. Shelldon died suddenly at about 7.5 years of age.
I found her at the bottom of her tank. She looked strangely peaceful. I took her to my turtle vet to see if they could see any obvious reason, but they could not. They assured me that it was likely a miracle she'd even lived that long. I donated her body to a local veterinary school. A week or two later, the vet's office called to see if I wanted Lucy, who'd been surrendered to them with a bad respiratory infection, which was cleared up long ago).
<That was very nice of them>
Tank set-up is pretty good, if a bit smaller than I'd like, at 55 gallons-ish. Lucy is 8-9" shell-length.
<She's good-sized!>
I have a UVB light and a heat lamp and don't use a heater anymore (thanks to reading your site). Her filter is sufficient and I do periodic water-quality testing, although I am never sure how reliable the results are. She has a basking platform and eats like a pig, typical Red Eared Slider.
<So far, so good>
The problem is, I had some floating decorative plastic plants in the tank and in March I noticed that she had been eating them! They were sort of flimsy, in that they had a rather filigree-type look, lots of tiny sub-pieces, if you will. As soon as I discovered her bad habit, I removed all plants from the tank (there is also no gravel, never has been).
Previously I'd seen her eating this felt-like stuff I'd put on her basking platform, which I'd gotten to help Shelldon get up onto it, since the adhesive-y/felt-y stuff that had come on the platform was long gone. So I got rid of that too, and now use what is basically "boat tape," waterproof stuff with a bit of traction.
<Amazing what they'll eat, isn't it?>
For a time, I found little pieces of the plants in her poop, but figured that was "normal," all things considered. Then I found no pieces after a time, but she eats her poop (gross, but also pretty normal, I assume) so I wasn't always able to truly monitor. Fast-forward to about a week ago and I saw a bit more of the plastic bits in her poop. That means that almost THREE MONTHS after I removed all that material, she is STILL digesting it.
<Yes, non-digestible parts will impact in various places in the gut and not move for long periods of time>
Should I be alarmed?
<Not alarmed, just a tiny bit concerned>
Should I take her for an x-ray or something?
<An x-ray might show pieces of foreign material in the gut, but it's not going to show the conditions with any clarity. For that you'd need a colonoscopy which you're unlikely to be able to get at a local vet's office. Certainly not here in Torrance.>
Not sure what to do, as she is acting normally and has been all these months.
<Here's what I think you should do: Add some Metamucil to Lucy's diet.
About a half teaspoon rolled and mixed in with some chopped chicken.
Feed her that in a separate bowl once a day for three days. Metamucil won't have the same effect as it does on humans because they're diet is already high in fiber, but in concentrated amount it will make Lucy's bowls move a little faster and it may whisk some of any remaining debris through here system.>
<Beyond that, I'd just keep one eyebrow arched for a few more months. If she's active and eating I'd just let it pass (bad-pun-alert)>
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
<well, there you go>
Thank you so much for your website,
<Thanks again>
Linda Abbott

Decorating my Turtle Tank 1/7/10
Hi Jamie here
<Hiya- Darrel here>
I would like to say your website has been one of the best in helping me on occasion when I need help
<Thank you>
I have an Australian snake neck turtle and I never really get any articles on them
<The Genus Chelodina has never been well represented in the pet trade and as a result there is far more literature on their taxonomic place and structure than on their habits, diet and requirements.>
I looked at my tank and noticed it was quite bare with a few plants I heard that sand is bad so I avoided that
<That depends entirely on the turtle. Typical freshwater Aquarium gravel is thought to cause intestinal impaction in turtles that ingest it while foraging for food.>
I heard rocks trap lots of dirt and I have had that experience so I took those out.
<Yes, large rocks allow waste to accumulate, small rocks, gravel and sane have to be stirred in order for the filter to clean the water it all makes for a lot of labor>
I would like to ask would duck weed be OK for my indoor tank around 75 gallon .
since they are carnivorous they will not eat it
<absolutely, but keep one thing in mind: All live plants require proper lighting and proper nutrition or they die in the water, making an even bigger mess.>
can you think of anything that wouldn't be harmful to my turtles in any way yet
would add some "life" so to speak.
<Several things. A few live plants aren't bad, especially when mixed in with a few plastic plants. A few fist-sized rocks give the tank some texture and take the eyes away from the bare bottom and, depending on the size of the tank, a submerged log. These are all the old stand by tricks for decorating a tank without a gravel bed>
<Yer welcome>

Re: decorating my turtle tank   1/17/10
hi Jamie here the guy with the snake neck turtles
<I remember. Darrel here -- the guy with the answers>
History :
I've had these turtles for a good 10 or so years and they've "known" each other from young they are kept in a fairly large tank. There was a time where the smaller had scratches of red ( not drastically smaller but maybe small enough to make a significance )
and separating while feeding helped the scratches healed and that was that , from then on separated while eating .
<Always a good thing to do with animals of different size and/or disposition, the dominant animals always eat too much and the secondary animals never get quite enough.>
I have noticed the smaller one has 3 claws on different "feet" bent upwards I have the big one biting the little ones foot. It doesn't exactly tear seeing as they don't bite just try to swallow whole so it does look like any real harm just bent claws *note this may have been done slowly overtime* and I have just realized it but they only bite when there's food.
<Another reason to separate them at feeding time>
I dropped a calcium tablet they thinking it was food attacked and one occasion each other and on other occasions just randomly bite at each other I don't know if I should leave it be seeing as its not doing real harm or should I add live fish to keep them occupied?
<I don't think fish would keep them occupied. More that likely adding fish would just bring new parasites and new problems to your system>
or more plants to let them "find" there way around. they really seem to like the plants they like hiding and playing in and with it should just put in heaps of plants and make like a water forest? ever since I added plants in they seem to be happier the big one bites at anything filter leaves etc but does no hard as there mouths are flat and not beakish.
any help appreciated
<Changing the decorations is a standard trick for fish & reptile keepers, Jamie. When you rearrange "home" they suddenly lose their familiar territories and with that they lose a lot of the confidence that allows them to be aggressive. Many times when adding a new fish to an established aquarium, a keeper will rearrange the rocks and plants so that the existing fish have enough to worry about and not concentrate on the new guy. The same thing applies here. Also, decorations that allow each turtle to get 'away' from the other one where they can't see each other (called "Visual Privacy") is known to be a good and healthy thing.>
<I think you ideas are good ones>
many thanks
<Yer welcome!>

Re decorating my turtle tank 2 1/9/2010
Hi me again
<Hi You - Me again too!>
thanks for the reply I never really thought you would answer cause I live all the way in New Zealand
<The wonderful thing about the Internet is that we're all HERE in the same place, regardless of where we live. The down side is that it's caused us to raise a generation of people with the attention span of gnats and the critical thinking abilities of a speckled perch - but that's another story>
but thank you .
<You are VERY welcome!>
is alright if I get garden rocks?
<No problem. >
I know you have to do so many things when doing it with fish but are turtles less touchy"
is it okay to just give it a quick rinse and put it in?
< Rinse them off and then soak them in a bucket of water for a day or two to loosen any dirt & grime. Just make sure they have no really sharp edges>
thank you

Substrate, Terrapin sys.   2/19/09 Hello! I'm quite worried, as my red-eared terrapin, housed alone in a big tank, keeps trying to climb out non-stop. It's VERY restless... climbing and digging away at the sides of the tank. Currently it's about 7-inches in length, and I'm worried it may have eggs. It laid eggs in the water before, because I only have a rock as its basking area. Just need to check, would it be safe for me to place a small basin into the tank, with a mixture of soil and sand for it to lay its eggs? Thank you! Best Regards, Alex <Hi Alex. It does sound like you have a female anxious to lay her eggs. It's important to let her do so: if not, she'll be prone to egg-binding, and that's a painful (and expensive) problem to deal with. Yes, putting a dish of dry sand somewhere above the waterline is recommended. It will need to be reasonably big and deep so that she can sit on the sand comfortably, and dig a nest a couple of inches deep. Something like a cat litter tray is ideal, filled with silica sand or river sand to a depth of 2-3 inches, at least. The nesting site will need to be bigger than the turtle, otherwise she won't be able to climb in and make her nest. Obviously these eggs will be infertile and won't hatch if she's not mated with a male in the last couple of weeks. Cheers, Neale.> Hello Neale, Thank you so much! I will get cracking on it! Cheers, Alex <Happy to help. Good luck, Neale.>

Turtle Toys  - 05/17/2006 I was wondering if you guys have any ideas for turtle toys. Our 2 turtles (Tank and Diesel) get bored. I was wondering if there were any toys made for turtles or any thing that could be turned into a toy. Thanks, Lisa < Turtles are always interested in food. I would recommend that you vary their diet with live earthworms, crickets, mealworms and kingworms. If they are somewhat larger you could add vegetable matter like spinach and kale. Zoo Med has recently come out with a floating turtle log. It is a hollow floating log that turtles can climb out on as well as go inside to feed. I am confident they will love it.-Chuck>

Turtles Will eat The Newt 10/22/05 Hello, I would like to thank you for your extensive question database which has provided me with many answers! I was wondering  just how long one red-eared slider baby would be alright in a ten gallon tank. I've been researching and planning for providing a great home for one of these guys for a long time and realize that one day it will need a nice happy pond. < A ten gallon tank would only work for a few months depending on the temps you turtle is kept at.> Would a Whisper internal (10i) filter be good for about 5 gallons of water for the little guy? < Turtles are messy feeders. A filter helps but only as long as you are willing to clean it. Clean it often and do many water changes.> I also have one fire-bellied newt and was wondering (although I am quite doubtful) if they would be okay in the tank together until the turtle grows larger, or if a separate tank right at the beginning would be necessary. < Turtle will try and eat the newt every chance it gets. The newt may also be toxic to the turtle.> If this is possible, my newt tank is planted heavily with live plants. I would not mind if the turtle ate them, but have heard that some plants are not okay for a turtle to eat. I have Mondo grass, Anacharis, java moss, and a few other plants (I don't know the names of the others.) < Turtle would pick at the Anacharis and probably leave the others alone but it would be a bull in a china shop with all the plants being uprooted every chance he gets.> I also have a five gallon tank at home that is not being used and think that either the newt or the turtle could stay in it for a while. (I think the newt would be happier there than the turtle since it would only have about 2-3 gallons of water.) I previously had three newts, but the other two were VERY young and, like many pet store fire bellies, had a rough beginning and came to me with rot which I was unable to cure.  I eventually separated them from my adult, who is still living a happy and healthy life hanging out in her favorite plant, the Anacharis bunch. Also, what is your opinion on the occasional snack of a ghost shrimp for aquatic turtles? < Great.> (I know I am asking many questions here.) There is a very large debate over whether to use gravel or not. Of course cleaning is easier without it. I read where someone had used no gravel but had vinyl flooring in the bottom to give traction. Do you think the turtles really care? < No not really.> Like fish do, would turtles eat their own poo if there was no gravel to trap it? < They have been known to eat their own fecal matter if they are hungry and no other food is around. Many fish stores carry gravel vacs that will do a great job of cleaning your gravel while siphoning the tank water.> Thank you in advance for you time and patience with my plethora of questions. I appreciate what you do in an attempt to rid the world of people who improperly care for their pets. < Just plugging away one question at a time.-Chuck> 

Red Eared Slider Aggression <Hi, MikeD here> I have three red eared slider turtles and noticed that the two of them have been showing what I think are signs of aggression.  They take both of their front feet and vibrate them in front of their face while at the same time, aim for one another.  A friend of mine was wondering if this was a sign of courtship?<It sure is! Males have very long claws/toenails on the front feet and they "flirt" with females by placing their paws in front of their face and doing just exactly what you are describing.  Males MAY do this as a sort of "hand jive" with other males as a stylized form of a dance in lieu of real and possibly fatal attacks. You might also want to consider giving the female access to some dry ground for egg laying, where they dig a pit similar to those excavated by their larger, more famous marine relatives!> Thanks! <You're welcome> Slider Fanatic

Ninja Turtle Rocks! and other turtle banter. Hello, my name is William and I love the site, it rocks hardcore. <Sweet> I have recently purchased a red eared slider turtle for my girlfriend for valentine's day, what better way of telling a person you love them by purchasing a known carrier of disease, <She is a lucky lady.> that she promptly named Ninja.  Ever since the purchase of the feisty little guy I have turned into a turtle fanatic.  Ninja displays such a charismatic personality it makes me wish I was a turtle. After an unfortunate attempt with a laundry basket and a duct tape, I came to the conclusion that this dream will never come to be. <I have a hard time getting the webs between my fingers and toes to grow, once that is done I will work on growing a shell.> Anywho, let me get down to business.  I was curious as to what type of bottom we should use for the little guy.  She currently uses some glittery over-sized plastic shells purchased from a fish supply store.  While this makes Ninja appear less masculine, he seems to have fun running into a big bunch of them and watching them jump around the tank, almost like a big pile of autumn leaves. <As he matures he may want a more masculine substrate for fear that the rest of the ninja turtles will make fun of him.> Would it be better to use a sandy bottom for the little guy?  Also what type of feeder fish would be best for Ninja?  I breed guppies to feed my Oscars, would these be all right for Ninja or would goldfish be better?  Thank you.  And remember,  turtles rock ninja style! <You got that right, but honestly, I prefer bare bottoms.  You can use what ever substrate you like, I keep the bottom of my turtle tanks bare for easy cleanup.  I have also heard of sliders ingesting gravel (it usually passes).  A variety of food will be best, guppies, Jiminy crickets, earth worm Jim, super worms, prepared turtle pellets, salad greens, and the occasional snail.  Check out the link below for more chelonian fun http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/res.html Rock on Brother- Gage>

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