There are a number of commonly kept Australian Turtles. This care information is directed more towards the Macquarie Short Neck Turtle (Emydura macquarii) and the Eastern Long Necked (or Snake Necked) Turtle (Chelodina longicollis)
Basic Set-Up: The basic requirements for these animals are UV lighting and a area of water with a place the animal can completely surface. It is important to provide a ledge or island, especially for young turtles. If this is not provided, they can become exhausted from continual swimming and can drown. It is also highly recommended to heat the aquarium water of young turtles to maintain a constant body temperature and metabolism to allow them to build up body fat. This gives them a head start to their life. At low temperatures they do not usually eat or if they do, their food is not digested properly and they can die.
Aquariums are ideal for keeping young turtles. If you have an existing aquarium, the easiest way to adapt this for young turtle is by gluing a smooth edged piece of glass, the same size as the width of the inside of the aquarium, and only a quarter of the length. You can use a silicone rubber sealant to glue the glass together. Also glue a small piece of glass to the edge of your platform, to form a lip, for easy access in and out of the water. This platform is your dry area. The water level should always be right up to the platform as turtles cannot jump! There are also specifically designed turtle tanks on the market.
Ultraviolet light must be provided for healthy shell formation. URS Outback Max UV tubes or Compact Max fluorescent UV bulbs aid in preventing soft shell problems in captive turtles and also help in overall health. Lighting fixtures should be mounted to the top of the enclosure minus the glass lids (most UVB does not pass through glass). The UV output of these tubes has a limited life and the tubes should be renewed every 6 to 12 months even though they still show visible light. Turn these lights on only during the day. DON'T EVER put the aquarium in direct sunlight. The water may overheat causing the turtle to die. Ultraviolet tubes emit healthy forms of UV for your animal and are not harmful.
HYGIENE is very Important! you need a powerful aquarium water filter to keep the water clean. The water will also have to maintain a neutral level of pH 7, to reduce disease. A pH testing kit, together with chemicals to adjust the pH level, can be purchased from most pet shops. Temperature should be maintained at 22-25°C. Too cold can cause health problems but even more so - overheating can cause a painful death. It is best to use an aquarium water heater to properly control the temperature. These are thermostatically regulated. Always use a water thermometer to ensure you can easily check to make sure the water heater is functioning correctly. If using tap water, you should always consider using a tap water conditioner that removes chlorine as this can be harmful to your animal.
It is very important to provide young turtles with a variety of nutritious foods. They grow rapidly and need a good diet so they can produce a strong shell. These foods are suitable: Raw lean meat (e.g: steak with the fat removed, lambs heart), raw fish, Mealworms and Earthworms (chopped), Pond snails, Mosquito larvae (wrigglers), Commercially prepared turtle food (fresh & dry). Vitamins are an important part of your turtles diet. If not using a vitamin enriched food, vitamin supplements should be given weekly. Also try to establish various water plants. With these plants you will find small invertebrates upon which the turtles will feed. It is best to feed your turtle outside of the main aquarium in a smaller container using some of the established aquarium water. This water can then be discarded after feeding so disposing of any uneaten food. This keeps the main tank cleaner. Feed turtles daily for the first few months, decreasing to three times weekly at two years of age.
Young turtles sometimes develop a fungal infection. This requires immediate treatment from the vet. It spreads rapidly to the internal organs and is fatal if left untreated. Fungus looks like small, white spots on the turtles head and limbs. These spots grow into round, white patches. The turtle becomes listless and often refuses to eat. To prevent this from occurring, ensure the aquarium is cleaned regularly. It is a good idea to use URS turtle blocks to release added calcium into the water and the URS antifungal blocks to reduce the chance of fungus becoming a problem.
Turtles are a protected species in some States and Territories, you may need to obtain a license to keep them. Contact National Parks and Wildlife in your State or Territory for information on protected species.
There are a few books on turtles that are good reading. We suggest the titles Keeping Long Neck Turtles™, Keeping Short Neck Turtles™ and Caring for your Pet Tortoise™, all available from Ultimate Reptiles.