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Turtle Enrichment: Your Turtle's Need For Play - Red Eared Sliders

About Turtle Enrichment: Your Turtle's Need For Play

Previous Entry Turtle Enrichment: Your Turtle's Need For Play Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 11:24 am Next Entry
It has become common knowledge that animals in captivity need special attention in order to stay as happy and healthy as their wild brethren. Toys and simple "hide and seek" games keep animals such as tigers, antelope, and monkeys physically and mentally active. Snakes and lizards get special enrichment with different rock textures, water pools and unique smells placed all around their enclosure. Birds get mirrors, bells and other toys (not to mention jungle gyms that would make an ape jealous). Even aquatic animals such as fish, sharks and whales get a daily dose of mental stimulation (hint, those aquariums are not decorated like that just for visitor amusement). But, what about turtles?

Well, this might come as a shock to some people, but there have been documented cases of turtles and tortoises displaying signs of depression and displeasure while in habitats that are scarce, or where they're housed alone. Self injury, lack of appetite, lethargy, and unprovoked "panic attacks" are just some of the symptoms that have been documented in many captive turtles. Discontent can, also, leave a turtle wide open for infection and illness. Luckily, zoos and aquariums have begun to decode the subtle language of turtle behavior. Are you doing the same?

People, your turtles need to play! And, you need to play with them! We see how our little shelled babies can thrive under attention. But, guess what! It's good for you too!* Following the tips below can ensure a healthy relationship between you and your turtle.**

  • Environment
    Many turtle owners tend to go for a "minimalist" look in their tanks/ponds. A bare tank/pond makes for easier cleaning, and we enjoy seeing our turtles swim around. But, believe me, your turtles Hate.... yes, "Hate" with a capital "H", Hate this.

    In nature turtles bask, dig, swim and make a general mess that Mother Nature takes advantage of. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not offer a reasonable maid service, so we're stuck cleaning up after our little turt-butts. But, a happy turtle is a messy turtle (kind of like children)!

    • Size
      A turtles environment needs to be large enough that the turtle can turn around without having to pull its legs or head into it's shell. He (or she) should also be able to stretch out at any given time without touching a wall.
    • Texture/Color
      Gravel and rocks litter the bottom of my tank. The gravel is small enough that the turtles can dig through it, yet large enough to discourage them from eating it (The benefits and hazards of turtles eating gravel is well documented all over the internet. I'll not get into that here). Mixed in the gravel is a variety of large shells, aquarium gems (various colors), fake plants, different shaped rocks and miniature pots.


  • Toys
    A variety of toys should be easily accessible to your turtle at all times. But, (again like children) your turtles can get tired of it's toys. So, you've got to mix it up a bit.

    • Inside the environment
      The textures mixed in the gravel can keep your turtle entertained hours a day. Digging and foraging never gets old for a turtle. Live fish, shrimp, insects and tadpoles*** can also keep your turtles active mentally and physically. They also double as a snack! But, a good substitute for the squeamish is to float ping-pong balls or rubber duckies. My turtle (Becky) loves to grab her rubber ducky by the beak and drag it around the tank like a dog with a bone.
    • Outside the environment
      I tend to rotate the decorations on the outside of the tank with the seasons. Window decals and ornaments hanging from the top of the tank can keep a turtle curious and inquisitive. When placed correctly, decals and decor can double as "hiding places," giving your turtle a sense of security.

      If you have a pond (and, if you do: More power to you!) it would be a good idea to make an area where your turtle can exit the water. Now, when I say this I'm not just talking about a basking log or small island. I mean an area filled with dirt, plants, grass, etc. We'll discuss this more, next.


  • Interaction
    Not all turtles will tolerate being touched. In fact, most of them seem to hate it. But, there are a few turtles out there that like having their shell scratched. I find that rubbing my turtle's shell with the tips of my fingers or a soft toothbrush can bring fourth the funniest reaction ever seen!

    Just because your turtle doesn't want to be touched doesn't mean you can't interact. Wiggling your fingers outside their tank and getting your turtle to chase can provide the same amount of pleasure as playing fetch with a dog. Discovering your turtle's favorite color can make your baby more excited about this game if you get them to chase that color ball, marble, whatever!

  • Outside time
    Like touching, most turtles don't like being taken out of their tanks. But, some turtles do enjoy a brief romp outside. Never leave your turtle unsupervised when outside their environment!! If your turtle shows signs of stress or displeasure place them back in their environment immediately!

  • Food
    One of the best mediums for turtle enrichment is food! Turtles love food (Don't we all?). So, it's good to give your turtles fruit and vegetables of different colors and textures. You will quickly learn which are your baby's favorites. Tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce are not only good for your turtle physically, but mentally. But, it's good to try to mix it up. If your turtles are like my turtles they'll also love mango, bananas, boiled chicken (VERY RARE TREAT), and krill.****

Remember, you want to encourage your turtle to be a turtle. Being in a tank doesn't make it a fish. And, begging doesn't make it a dog. Every pet has special needs and it's up to you to make certain that your pet is the happiest and healthiest it can be.












* "The benefits of pet ownership are real -- physically, mentally and psychosocially," confirms Dr. Daniel Joffe
** Turtles, like people, have different needs and personalities. Some of these activities may stress your turtle and should be avoided at all costs!
*** Tadpoles are generally frowned upon. But, I get mine from a local creek. I feed them fish food for a week keeping them quarantined for a week before placing them with my turtles.
**** Fresh foods are best for your turtle. Never feed your turtle anything with MSG, seasoning, butter, ect.



Animal Enrichment Program - animalenrichment.org
Having a Pet is Good For Your Health
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Leave a comment
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From:layers_of_eli
Date:September 28th, 2007 08:14 pm (UTC)
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GREAT POST!!! I love it!! I've been worried about Squirt having a lot fewer enrichment objects in his tank lately since he moved to his 125 gallon big home. I'm definitely going to take care of that.
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From:layers_of_eli
Date:September 28th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
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I was inspired and took Squirt out to play today :) He explored the whole living room.
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:56 am (UTC)
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Awe...did you take pictures?

I swear, my turtles are so used to the camera that they will stop and pose for it XD
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
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Thank you so much! I put a lot of thought and research into it :)
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From:weaselwoman13
Date:September 28th, 2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for this post! I thought I didn't "play" with my turtle because I think of playing in more of a kitten and puppy way (mine HATES being handled; he got a hold of my finger last time I was cleaning his tank), but I actually do most of these things already without knowing that it's entertainment for him. I'll have to try the floating toy idea. One question: I've read that fake plants are a bad idea because the turtle might try to eat them (and given the way mine snaps at just about anything, I believe it). Do you ever have a problem with this?
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From:layers_of_eli
Date:September 28th, 2007 11:49 pm (UTC)
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Turtles might try to eat fake plants, but just keep an eye out for it. I buy plants where I can tell if bites are being taken (a big-leaf fern) and watch him with them. I've never seen Squirt bite at a plant (funny since he tries to eat everything else -- and I sure hope he eats the REAL plants I'm about to plant in there).

Basically, just be watchful at first.
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC)
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Yes, my turtles DO have a tendency to try to eat the fake plants. It happens very rarely though... like, they forget it's not edible until they try it again. Usually, they do this after I give them a REAL plant to gorilla-ize ;)
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:58 am (UTC)
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Oh, and...when it's really hot in summer I get ice cubes and float them in the tank. My turtles LOVE this! They chase after them, nipping. When the ice melts down small enough the turts do eat it. But, it doesn't seem to hurt them.
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From:19_crows
Date:September 28th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! I already play "bite the finger" (outside the glass - they can really bite) and feed them most of their pellets by hand, but I could add some enrichment objects. We put some medium size rocks on the bottom and they push them around.

I also notice them doing things like trying to squeeze under the filter tubing. I assumed it was because that's where warmer water comes in, but now I think they're just exploring.
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From:layers_of_eli
Date:September 28th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)
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Squirt LOVES to get "stuck" under his filter tubing and fight his way out repeatedly :) He also like a ramp suctioned diagonally to the wall to "dive" over.
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From:19_crows
Date:September 28th, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)
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Sometimes I worry that they'll get stuck under there and drown, but I don't think there's any danger. Maybe I'll change the tubing around when I clean the tank this weekend to give them somethign to think about.
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From:weaselwoman13
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:00 am (UTC)
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One morning I came out of my bedroom and saw Hats suctioned to the side of the tank on his basking platform (above the water), absolutely stuck in between the two plastic bars that hold it up. I freaked out and ran over to see if he was okay and he just gave me this dogged look like "Well, here I am. Where have YOU been?" He's since moved on to a bigger platform that he can't get stuck behind, but it was so funny to see his big spotted underbelly plastered against the side of the tank!
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From:layers_of_eli
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:07 am (UTC)
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haha!! It used to freak me out EVERY TIME Squirt would get stuck under his filter tubes, but then I started to notice that RIGHT AFTER he managed to get free, he turned right back around and re-stuck himself. haha.

Poor Hats! He bit off more than he could chew...
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 29th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
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I like to hand feed them also. I only get bit once in a while. It doesn't hurt... but, I think that's because my turtles are just to lazy to bite hard ;)
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From:mrs_skellie
Date:September 30th, 2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
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Can this post be put in memories? I think its worth it! Thanks for the great post!
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From:alleykitten
Date:September 30th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
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You are too kind :D
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From:Maiah Phylicia Latoya
Date:March 11th, 2018 07:50 pm (UTC)

Basking lamp

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I live in the caribbean with my red-eared slider. Do I still need a basking lamp?
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