Over the past month or so, baby turtles have been featured in the news quite a bit.
As the FDA and individual states plan on lifting the ban of selling baby turtles, the general census of the news outlets is baby turtles are great! go buy one now!
Unfortunately, it's not that easy. And the way baby turtles are being portrayed in these media outlets are necessarily true. They are claiming baby turtles are hatched salmonella-free and are easy to care for.
First of all, even if turtles are hatched salmonella-free (which? what kind of witch craftery is that?), it doesn't guarantee that they will not contract salmonella.
Yeah, baby turtles are not that easy to care for.
As you may recall, we were gifted our baby Western Painted Turtle a little over a month ago. My dad found him on a golf course a few feet away from lawn mower. He thought the baby turtle would make a great pet for the kids, given the extensive allergies in our home.
Tuckie does make a great pet, but the most the children are allowed to do is watch him and help find food for him.
The day my dad brought him over, Tuckie was in a small plastic container with some water, a rock and a piece of iceberg lettuce. We immediately went to the garden and dug up some worms to feed him. By that night we had made him a habitat.
Left to right -- a thermometer (to keep his temperature in the correct range) Tuckie's habitat, a small aquarium with strained rainwater and two rocks from the garden (for places to hide and bask in the light), behind that, bottled spring water. Tuckie's food dish with a rock. The worm habitat, with lots of dirt and leaves with worms, snails and millipedes. To the right of that is a water mister (because the worm habitat needs to be kept moist). And behind that a heat lamp.
Now, this is the least amount of shit one can get by with (unless you believe in packaged voodoo food, which we do not; we believe in making his habitat as close to natural as we can).
And there is still more shit we should get him, like a "proper" heat lamp and a full spectrum lamp. As it is now, I take Tuckie outside about every other day (with the lid on his habitat so no birds swoop in and eat him) and place him in dappled shade so he gets some sun. He will also need a larger habitat in the coming years, especially as he grows to be an adult, with a water filtration system.
Other stuff for Tuckie, the long plant is elodea (also known as water weed) which he likes to use as a floatation device, purchased at a local pet store. And the floating stuff is frog bit, scooped from a local pond, which Tuckie loves to munch on between meals.
We feed Tuckie in a separate container. This is because turtles do most of their elimination while eating. And since we don't have a filtration system, it would get too dirty too fast. Also, getting him out and feeding him acclimates him to us and being held. It keeps him social.
We put him in his small container with spring water (tap water is detrimental turtles), because turtles need water in order to swallow their food.
In addition to feeding baby turtles daily, you need to offer them a wide variety of foods. We feed Tuckie small bits of grapes, apples, carrots and leafy lettuce. And just like children, we feed him the healthy stuff before the good stuff (and we're lucky if he takes a bite or two in 30 minutes). His main nutrition comes from earth worms, but he is also offered flies, snails, termites and millipedes. We have also looked into getting him some feeder fish, but we haven't found any small enough for him; but now that he's growing, some baby fish may be added to his diet soon as well.
We do not feed him any purchased package food.
Every week we do maintenance on Tuckie's habitat. This includes cleaning the bottom of his habitat with a dropper and taking out about one-fourth of this water and replacing it with fresh water. He also gets a new piece of cuttlebone (to keep his shell healthy) each week, even though he hasn't "discovered" it yet.
I spend about an hour a weekday taking care of Tuckie, and two hours on the weekend days. This doesn't include time just watching him and the kids watching him. And I'm not even gonna get into how much I wash my hands. And the children wash their hands after looking at him, even though they don't touch Tuckie or any of his supplies.
I'm sure there's some other details I'm missing, but the sum of rambling is this: baby turtles are not the answer to a fast-paced family's desire to have a pet. They cannot be ignored for days on end. Get a fish tank if you only have 30 seconds to commit to a pet a day.