If you’re new to keeping turtles as pets or have been considering it but are not sure how they would react to being kept outside of water for any period of time then this article is perfect for you.
Today we’ll be talking about whether turtles should ever be allowed to go outdoors and find themselves living on land.
To start off with what exactly does ‘going out’ mean?
The simple answer is that when I say “outside” I just mean that they shouldn’t remain completely submerged under water all day (which is why many people recommend having some form of water dish).
This means that at least one part of your turtle’s body must always be above the surface of the water.
The question most often asked by potential pet owners is, do they need water?
If so where from?
Also once they’ve got used to spending more than 90% of their life underwater how much water do they actually drink?
Lots to discuss
Let’s get started!
How long can turtles stay out of the water?
As mentioned earlier there needs to be at least one area of the animal which remains above the surface of the water – therefore this section will focus on finding an appropriate location for this area.
In terms of size, the best place for this spot is somewhere around 8 inches wide.
As far as depth goes, the ideal level would be 1-2 feet deep.
However unlike fish tanks, turtles cannot tolerate extremely high levels of dissolved salts found within ponds or lakes, so make sure you pick up a freshwater aquarium pump to help keep the salt content low enough for them to thrive.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that whenever possible try to put your turtle inside its shell.
This is because while the animal may feel comfortable swimming through the water, doing so puts unnecessary strain on both the respiratory system and digestive tract.
Instead if you want your turtle to spend as little time as possible submerged in water then it’s recommended that you buy a large terrarium that has multiple compartments with plenty of space between each other.
These spaces allow air to circulate freely to prevent suffocation.
Another option is to use something like a pond liner instead of actual soil.
Pond liners simply act like padding between the ground and the bottom of the enclosure, again ensuring proper circulation of fresh air and preventing any build up of moisture.
Can a tortoise live without water?
Although turtles are amphibians they don’t require regular access to water throughout the year.
It’s common knowledge that tortoises only drink every few weeks, however although they aren’t technically true reptiles, they still experience similar problems such as dehydration and salinity changes.
Therefore just like mammals, birds and even crocodiles who undergo periods of prolonged drought lasting several days, tortoises too suffer from severe thirsts and become weak and lethargic until they finally manage to quench their voracious appetites.
However despite the fact that tortoises are capable of adapting to a dry climate over short periods, it’s important to remember that they won’t be able to sustain themselves indefinitely without food and water.
Tortoise shells tend to contain a layer of fat which helps protect them during times of extreme heat.
When temperatures drop below freezing tortoises store this energy source away into hibernation mode until springtime arrives and warmer weather returns.
During winter months however when no sunlight penetrates the dense foliage covering surrounding their burrows they rely on stored carbohydrates to see them through until summer comes along.
They can also draw upon internal reserves of glycogen located within their liver and muscles.
While animals like snakes and lizards retain water within their bodies, tortoises lose significant amounts of fluid daily due to the amount of sweat produced by the numerous glands situated across their thick skin.
Without sufficient water intake they risk developing health conditions including kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
To avoid this happening it’s essential that you provide your tortoise with adequate drinking facilities.
Can turtles get dehydrated? Signs to look out for
It’s quite easy to tell when your turtle isn’t getting enough water as they will begin to show signs of distress.
Their eyes will dilate, their gums will turn pale yellow and their tongue will appear blue and swollen.
Once their condition begins to deteriorate the pace of dehydration becomes quicker and symptoms develop further.
Eventually after showing obvious discomfort the turtle will stop eating altogether, their breathing will slow down and eventually they will unfortunately die.
There are two main reasons why turtles struggle to maintain hydration; firstly their unique physiology requires very specific temperature ranges and secondly their highly efficient kidneys produce vast quantities of urine, making it difficult for them to absorb excess water.
While turtles can last without water for extended periods, they usually need to replenish their fluids at least twice per week.
A healthy tortoise should drink approximately 2 gallons of water per month.
Keep in mind though that since tortoises are ectotherms (meaning they depend on external factors in order to regulate their own body temperature) they can’t control their metabolism to generate warmth naturally.
This results in increased expenditure of energy which in turn leads to excessive urination.
This process alone accounts for a quarter of their total water usage.
Do turtles need water in their tank?
Keeping your turtle indoors doesn’t automatically mean that they should have unrestricted access to water 24 hours a day.
You might already know that turtles will sometimes crawl onto surfaces such as glassware, rocks and even walls in search of a suitable pool to cool down in.
But did you realize that they could potentially harm themselves if left unchecked?
Turtles can easily knock things over and injure themselves while roaming free.
In addition many species of tortoise enjoy using their claws and tails to dig small holes into soft materials.
Unfortunately leaving anything lying around loose could result in serious injury to the animal.
For example sharp spines concealed beneath hard shells can cause painful injuries to sensitive areas of the carapace and plastron.
Even worse, the same spikes can pierce the delicate scutes protecting the turtle’s lungs causing fatal damage to vital organs.
So before bringing home a new family member, ensure that you purchase a tank containing enough water to accommodate them properly.
Many breeders prefer to house individual turtles in separate containers rather than trying to cram them together into a single habitat. (Check out my article – Can a baby turtle live with a big turtle?)
This approach allows them to better socialize and prevents unwanted cross breeding from occurring unintentionally.
When placing your turtle into its new home consider the following points:
* Is there enough room for them to move around comfortably?
Don’t place your turtle in a cramped environment or leave objects close to them which obstruct their movement.
Make sure that there is plenty of open space available.
* Ensure that the water level is at least 3/4 of an inch above the top of the container.
Use a bucket or plastic tub filled with warm water to test the correct height.
* Do not cover the lid of their enclosure.
This keeps predators and pests away and protects against overheating.
* Provide shelter from direct sun rays.
* Consider installing a skimmer device to remove waste debris floating near the surface of the water.
Skimmers work by creating suction via various impellers positioned underneath the base of the container.
By removing debris you reduce opportunities for harmful organisms to invade the tank, leading to fewer illnesses later on.
* Take care when cleaning and maintaining the filter.
Never clean the entire unit yourself, instead hire someone experienced to take care of this task.
Failure to correctly sanitize filters can lead to bacteria forming on the mesh material resulting in poor filtration efficiency and ultimately death.
* Check regularly for leaks, cracks, tears etc.
Any of these types of issues can compromise the integrity of the enclosure allowing dangerous substances to enter.
* Always check the temperature of the water periodically.
Ideally the water should reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit but never let it fall below 80 degrees F.
* Remove any dead leaves, branches and other junk floating in the water.
Anything that gets sucked into the filter poses a danger to your turtle.
* Never add chlorine tablets directly into the water.
Chlorine kills beneficial algae required by turtles to digest food and produces toxic fumes which irritate their respiratory systems.
Check out my article – Can turtles swim in chlorine pools?
* Avoid adding calcium supplements and dyes.
Most of these products are poisonous to turtles.
* Be careful when handling your turtle.
Never handle them bare handed or touch their snout.
Also avoid putting any fingers or toes anywhere near their mouth.
* It’s important to note that turtles are egg layers and when mating season approaches females lay clutches of eggs.
After laying her eggs she covers them with a protective mucus coating to shield the fragile embryos.
Should anyone disturb her nest during this stage she can inject lethal doses of toxins into the babies.
To save yourself the hassle of accidentally killing hatchlings, be sure to watch carefully for any signs of emerging offspring and immediately remove them from the vicinity.