If you are thinking about owning an exotic pet, a softshell turtle is a good idea. These are amazing display animals that come in many varieties. However, the types that are most popular in pet trade are the Florida softshell (Apalone ferox), the smooth softshell (Apalone mutica), and the spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera). The other types of turtles in this group are either rare or grow too big in size to be considered as pets. Their natural habitat includes all continents except Australia and Antarctica. These are quick and alert creatures that are found in every waterway of the world. To make the most of their value as display pets, one needs to have some information about how to care for them.
Softshell Turtles as Pets
It is their shell, that is in fact made from thickened skin, that gives these turtles their name. This makes them more vulnerable than other varieties of hard-shelled turtles to injuries from bites and rocks. That is probably the reason why they spend most of their times buried under sand or mud at the bottom of rivers, lakes, or ponds. Also, certain varieties are aggressive, especially the females. Hence, these are not the petting kind of pets. Also, softshell turtles are very shy creatures. They are extremely shy around human beings and will remain in hiding when you are around. Nevertheless, you will enjoy them as pets as they are intelligent creatures and are known to respond to their name when called. Cleanliness is also very important for these reptiles as they breathe through their skin and hence are susceptible to infections due to impurities in the water.
Ensure that your pet turtle has ample space to move around. Make sure that the tank capacity for a hatchling is at least 10 gallons. A juvenile would require a 20 gallon tank whereas an adult would need a tank with a minimum capacity of 50 to 100 gallons. The tank should have enough water. However, the level of the water should be such that the turtle's proboscis can reach above the surface when it stretches its neck as it lies buried under the sand in the aquarium.
The tank or aquarium should be kept in an area that has low traffic and less noise. Also, do not keep it close to a window where it will be under direct sunlight as the tank may get heated. This could be lethal for your pet. Maintain the temperature between 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a submersible heater to maintain the temperature.
Water in the aquarium needs to be of high quality. It should be free of chlorine, slightly-acidic, filtered, and well-oxygenated. The water should be filtered frequently. One can use gravel siphon for this purpose. Maintain an aquarium filter for providing clean water to the pet. The filter pads should be cleaned frequently and replaced once a month.
The substrate should be made of a thick layer of fine-quality sand to provide for the burying habit of these creatures. Other than around the filter, do not use gravel anywhere in the tank as the sharp edges of rocks and gravel may injure the soft shell. Ensure to provide your turtle with a basking area. Like all other turtles, the softshell turtles need to haul themselves up to a basking area, where the basking heat should be provided by an overhead incandescent light providing a heat of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in that area. Use a full-spectrum fluorescent light in the aquarium that would provide for UVB. This is important for the turtles for absorption of calcium in their intestines.
Do not overcrowd the aquarium with too many turtles. Due to their aggressive nature, they may attack other inhabitants. Hence, it is best to keep them alone or at the most in pairs. Even when kept in pairs, the owner should be careful about injuries to their shells due to fights.
Softshell turtles are carnivores. In the wild, they generally feed on water insects, crayfish, and also certain aquatic vegetation. However, due to their wide-ranging habitat, their diet is also varied. Softshell turtle care includes providing them with worms, tadpoles, snails, other fish, and also mud puppies. They are also found scavenging on fish. Once they are comfortable in their tank, captive softshells readily accept the floating commercial pet food.
This article is a general softshell turtle care sheet. Specific species have special requirements. Hence, in case you plan to buy one, be sure that you are well-aware of all the aspects of proper care and are also willing to put in the efforts required. After all, once brought into captivity, the survival of these creatures solely depends upon you.