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I add frequently asked questions based on your messages.

Turtles' diet
Nutrient analysis of food
Summer aestivation
Aquatic habitat
Is it male or female?
Buying a new pet
Why the CITES?
Taxonomy, latin names confusion, classification systems

Dietary management

Diet as natural as possible is necessary. If you give a meat or milk products to herbivorous tortoise you risk her health or even life (though some tortoises might like it).

There are some groups of turtles divided by dietary needs. Please use your own brain before you apply some feeding program to your turtle. Similar needs have mostly turtles living in similar original conditions, in similar age etc. Maximal care for hatchlings or sick ones is a necessity. A need for trace elements should have not been underestimated. This is the main reason for widest possible variety in diet. Water bowl is an important equipment of any tortoises' habitat.

Diet rich in fibre and water, minimum in fat and protein. Whole diet must be based on green-leaf:
dandelion, clover, lettuce, carrot tops, thistle, mixed grasses, fodder graze i. e. alfaalfa etc., parsley, kale, cabbages

Only few % of diet can be fruit:
strawberries, apple, pear, any kind of melon or squash, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, kiwi, sweet peppers, (banana), grated carrots, apricots, pineapple etc.

Aquatic turtles
Many turtles become less carnivorous in adulthood. Smaller vegetable part of diet is usual. A ratio meat : vegetable part vary upon species. For this example 2/3 should be a meat components:
live (!!) feeder fish, mice, mollusces, earthworms or insect larvae, commercial trout pellets, driet cat food, snails
The rest should be vegetable:
some water plants, dandelion, clover, lettuce, grated carrot, some fruits and other in similar ratio as for herbivores.

Semiaquatic or boxturtles
A balanced ratio is mostly recommended. Turtles more often eat some berries and insects in wild. Meat part:
live insects (crickets), snails, slugs or other mollusces, earthworms, commercial trout pellets, rehydrated driet cat food

Vegetable part:
berries and other fruits, plums, dandelion, clover, lettuce, grated carrot.


... I think that my Hermann's tortoise eats too much, not anything of course, something she only tastes, but when I gave her curds, she ate it all. The same with clover and dandelions - I picked relatively big heap of it, aprox. as big as she was. She ate it in several minutes. So, should I control the amount of feed or let her eat as many as she can?

You should be careful with a protein-excessive type of feed - curds and similar offer only additionaly if it is really necessary (in my opinion, it means never). Dandelions, clover, alfaalfa are the best suitable diet for this tortoise. Don't forget to water bowl. Anyway, it is great that she is so active - it is a sign of a good health.

Overfeeding should be avoided in case of desert or savannah tortoises as African spurred tortoise, leopard or desert tortoise. Those tortoises need balast feed as dry grass is, rich in fibre, minimum in protein.

Really dangerous can be overfeeding to aquatic or box turtles, whose are fed on nutritious diet. This must be based on very good deliberation.

On the other hand, undernourishment is very uncommon in captivity - turtles have the ability to hold on long-term feed shortage. If turtle looks very thin it is a symptom of acute dehydration in most cases.

Winter hibernation

... they told me in pet shop, that it is not necessary to let this tortoise hibernate, that there is absolutely no problem. You write in Hermann's tortoise sheet, that it is recommended. So, where is the true? I guess that it relatively does no matter and its results in health and longevity is not big. Am I right?

It is not too simple. First, regular hibernation has positive effects in fertility, mating and viability. Highfield writes, for example, that turtles which are not hibernated for years can develop serious liver diseases.

Second pro - during hibernation is usual corpulence supressed (which turtle accumulates during the summer) => it results in better condition. And so on.

Against stands that unnoticed latent illness (common organismus diseases, moulds, parasites etc.) can during hibernation advance into deadly dangerous forms. Second con - it is difficult to prepare really suitable conditions for hibernation. When temperature drops below 4°C (Celsius grades), tissues damage starts, it can continue to chilblain. Healing is difficult and slow. If temperature raises above for example 6°C (both values vary upon species), turtle may awake. If it get asleep again, it means a big energy loss and it may be terminal if turtle is not in perfect condition. This is the reason why fridge is not much suitable - its thermostat has mostly much wors accuracy.BR>(By the way, hibernation does not mean deep sleep and snoring. Turtle is literaly rubber and cold, heart beats very slowly.)

(...) Under no reason should hibernate turtles with uncertain health, sick or underweight. Their stomach must not contain undigested food. Soak them ocassionaly with no access to food at least two weeks before you start with decreasing temperature (very slowly, in several days).
Many keepers never let their turtles hibernate - with no problems.


Summer aestivation differs from the hibernation. It is sometimes confused though the mechanism differs. Tropical or arid inhabitants use to stay during unfavourable periods of time in deep quiet. Excessive hot weather combined with water shortage disable in normal doings. It is practical to stimulate mating behaviour of some species (for instance African helmeted terrapins) - in this case is a good method, if you let this relatively higly aquatic turtle without access to water for several days during the peak of summer.

Some species (for instance Russian tortoises) may have even such bad weather conditions in their natural habitats that turtle instead of short autumn activity period gets directly into winter hibernation.

Importance of water quality in aquatic habitats

Why I cannot put chlorinated tap water in tank?

Turtles are very tough and chlorinated water is detail - but it is very harmful to microflora in tank. Biological filtration is the action of bacteria on ammonia to change nitrite to nitrate as a product of their metabolism. It is the most important thing in keeping the stable environment in tank. They need oxygen to work properly and a place to live inside filters (undergravel or mechanical). The production of oxygen, important to water quality, comes from water plant, but much more from algae which live on their surface. If you pour chlorinated water in, a disinfection would become successful and it'll die. Many inexperincied keepers change water very often with worse and worse effect. Water “curdles” and its quality is poor.
It is benefitial to lose the water stand at least overnight. Similar situation is in any filter. If you rinse out the dirt with tap water, you considerably diminish its force which is in bacteria use (on surface of its filling).

On the contrary - some experiencied keepers intentionally use chlorinated water. They use the benefit of its desinfection quality. Of course, each person has a different opinion.

The higher water level, the better stability - under any circumstanies.
For most species is suitable higher water level, some, like snappers, hardly swim and could even drown. For this species should be chance to reach to air from bottom.


General rules:
- only females lay eggs
- male has longer and thicker tail, between cloaca and tail root is penis, i. e. cloacal opening is closer to end of tail
- female's plastron (lower part of shell) is flat, male's is concave
- an angle of female's anal scutes (plastron near the tail) is more sharp, male's are more straight
- females in many species are broader

Aquatic turtles:
- male is often smaller
- male in some species has much longer front claws than a female

Box turtles:
- male differs with mostly red color of eyes (female's are black)
Recognition is very problematic in juveniles for this distinctions are often not yet developed.

It is said that in monosexual packs should some specimens even change their sex (the same as fish or birds) - which can end with succesfull eggs incubation.

We often found situation caused by disgusting behavior of wholesale-breeders (for money). A male : female ratio of most turtle species is usually 1:20, maybe worse. Sex can be determined with temperature during incubation.

Compare this two pictures - Russian tortoises at left, red-eared sliders at right.


... how two females (or two males) tolerate each other?

Some turtles as softshells or snappers are very intolerant. It is recommended to keep them separately. It is inappropriate to mix different species, even if their size is different.

Very dangerous situations can happen if you feed aquatic turtles of various sizes. During the fight - which always starts - turtles don't see or hear or even feel pain. They may inintentionally bite head of smaller ones off.

Some parts of mating or fighting rituals may be relatively dangerous. Highly motivated male can do a serious harm to female during the sexual activity.

I have controversal information regarding common nonsexual agresivity in otherwise tolerant turtles. In rec.pets.herp sometimes some keeper desperately asks what to do with behavior of red eared sliders. Mostly they say that the bigger bites to back parts of bleeding smaller one. One even wrote, that he hadn't watched them for a short time. When he was separating them, the small female had the whole tail bitten off (by other female) and some meat of legs too. Now, a year after, she is completely healed and nothing wrong can be recognized. I do not remember any case in which such agresivity shows male insteaf of female.

On the other hand, most of keepers (including me) has practicaly none of this problem - turtles keep social hierarchy and slightly bite each other in its intentions.

Separation should be advisable. In most cases helps enlarging of space and preparing of natural hidings.

How to buy a turtle

Turtle is not a toy!

First you should be sure that you want it and that you can look after it as good as a member of family.
Most important issues are the next three: Excelent turtle's health, exact information about their origin and the legalised selling channel.

For the qualified check of their condition is necessary to watch them for a longer time (which is mostly impossible). Check the general look of turtles, their activity including the apetite. Sick aquatic turtles often stay on land and avoid from water. Check the major shell and legs injuries. Look at their eyes and snouts. At the end, check their weight - it's signal of a good condition and good health.

Exact information about the original location helps with the proper feed and temperature handling. If you find that the turtle is not captive bred but wild caught you should refuse to purchase especialy it if you are in doubts about your abilities to make the suitable conditions. Moreover, you should decide whether you want to support the wild caught trade (and, what is very serious, nearly 100% of caught specimens are literally full of parasites).

For the last, in spite of the fact that nearly every turtles' species are in danger of extinction, it is necessary to take them not for the same as for common goods. Our legislative commited to respect renovated international treaty CITES about endangered species. It results that all these creatures should be registrated. The seller of the turtle should manage the registration or at least inform you about it.

CITES restrictions

The Czech Republic joined the renovated international treaty CITES. Since the most of species are in danger of extinction and are listed in CITES I, II and III, the purchasing and selling of turtles must be limited by conditions in these documents. In fact it means that unregistered animals can be confiscated and returned to their origin, shipping charged to the owner. Registration of turtles shall be solved by implanted microchips, no one knows. Ask the clerks on the Ministry of the Environment or at the local mayor houses. There the keepers should try to registrate their pets according to regulation 82/1997. (Look for the English versions there).

Classification / Taxonomy notes

The list of current species and subspecies is now up-to-date. I had been using the system from Mr. Pritchard's Encyclopaedia of Turtles (1979). My special thanks belong to Mr. H.-D. Philippen who completed and renewed this list.

A small view into taxonomy is shown here (latin & czech):

Systematická zoologie

59        Zoologie
598.13    Testudinata.Chelonia.Želvy
598.132   Cryptodira.Skrytohrdlí
598.132.2 Chelydridae.Kajmankovití
598.132.3 Cinosternidae
598.132.4 Testudinidae.Želvovití
598.133   Cheloniidae.Karety
598.133.1 Cheloniidae.Karetovití
598.133.2 Dermochelydidae.Kožatkovití
598.134   Pleurodira.Skrytohlaví
598.134.1 Pelomedusidae.Terekovití
598.134.2 Chelyidae.Matamatovité
598.135   Trionychidae.Kožnatkovití
598.135.1 Carettochelyidae.Karetkovití
598.135.2 Trionychiae