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Chelonia (that’s turtles, terrapins and tortoises to you and I) tend to be divided as to where they live. For those that don’t keep them turtles are the graceful huge creatures that live in the oceans, terrapins live in rivers lakes and swamps and tortoises live on land.
Once you start keeping them you realise that the name terrapin is the most misused and that everything that lives in water is a turtle, so does that mean that everything that lives on land is a tortoise? Well no, there are a number of turtles that spend most of their time on land. Here’s just a few of them.
Rhinoclemmys are a genus found throughout Central American and the northern parts of South America, R. p. manni variously known as the Ornate Wood Turtle or the Central American Wood Turtle or on occasion the Painted Wood Turtle. These names hint at the appearance and habitat of these small turtles. Brightly coloured with red and yellow rings decorating their shells and various brightly coloured stripes on their skin they are a striking species. Remaining a manageable size only reaching a maximum of 20cm they live mostly on land as adults, but do need a pond big enough to have a swim in. Whilst they will eat on land, they do use their water bowl as a toilet, so fresh water is a must.
Behaviour wise they are extremely friendly and will often hand feed and will certainly have favourite people. One of mine is particularly fond of one of my dogs and the two animals will spend hours looking through the glass at each other.
Leaf turtles get their common name from the appearance of their shell. Brown with a serrated edge they do appear somewhat leaf like, their scientific name refers to their almost circular shape.
Although their size doesn’t seem to be drastically larger, a maximum of 24 cm their bulkier and rounder shape makes them a much bigger turtle. From South East Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo the species is one of many somewhat threatened by the Asian food trade.
At present the species is being studied and it is likely that it may be split into individual species rather than the one large species it is at present. They do occasional come up for rescue, although they are one of the rare species in the pet trade.
Growing to 20 cm they are less brightly coloured than Rhinoclemmys species. Found across a large area of North America they are often found close to water and will go into the water every few days. They often hibernate over winter to avoid the cold and estivate over summer to avoid the heat. They can cover a surprising distance for a turtle of around 100m a day.
A real prize in anyone’s collection G. spengleri are one of the more difficult species to get hold of, and have the price tag to match, expect to pay around £200 for an unsex juvenile and a lot more for adults. A tiny turtle getting to a maximum of 10-11 cm they are one of the species on the list that need very little water, although they do prefer high humidity and plenty of places to hide. Looking like a small leaf with a habit of sitting on the highest point of their enclosure looking around both for predators and food.
One major issue with this species is their scarcity in the wild. So there are three options for where your turtle came from, firstly is from the wild, which given its status is pretty much illegal. The second option is from the food market, and whilst the turtles are bred for the food market in large farms, some reporting as many as 10 000 a year being sold to food markets, they are often in poor condition and frequently die from various infections and parasites. Yet another reason not to eat rare turtles. The third and much preferred option is that you buy your turtle from a breeder.
Do your research and find out about the breeder if you can. You often have to go on a waiting list to get a good quality turtle, or they are frequently available at some European reptile expos.
Living 80-100 years these are pretty, hardy and interesting little pets, found on the edge of woods and often buried in leaf litter or resting in shallow streams box turtles are considered a great beginners turtle.
Most terrestrial or semi terrestrial turtles will need a large land area and a varying size of water area. With many needing a shallow water are filtration can be difficult, although external filters can be set up to solve this issue. If the water area is small enough then purchase two identical containers and place one in the substrate to hold back the soil or sand and the other in the first to hold the water. This way you can lift the water container out without disturbing the substrate. Even though they don’t go in the water too often they do need the water to be clean and fresh so you may have to change it daily.
Some turtles require high humidity and so do better in a vivarium where the humidity and temperature can be controlled. Whilst others from drier climates need open topped enclosures. Depending on the species and where you live it may be possible for them to be housed outside in a well-built enclosure. They tend to have a different diet to aquatic turtles and it’s important you do your research and find out the exact requirements of your particular species.
Terrestrial turtles are the link between turtles and tortoises and need the care requirements of both. But many of the species are extremely friendly and will come running for food. Overall they are rewarding and great pets.
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