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Eastern Long Neck Turtle - Chelodina longicollis - Scott ThomsonCopyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved
Long Necks, Flat Heads and the Evolution of Piscivory - Scott Thomson
This care sheet is intended only to cover the general care of this species. Ongoing research to best develop a maintenance plan for whichever species you are caring for is essential.
The Eastern Long-neck Turtle (Chelodina longicollis) is found in eastern Australia from just south of Rockhampton in Queensland to Victoria. It is a carnivorous species that in the wild mostly eats aquatic insect larvae, small invertebrates, tadpoles, frogs and occasionally fish. This species is one of Australia's most terrestrial turtles, spending many months per year on land, the species has been observed feeding on land and the analysis of gut contents has found terrestrial insects. It is important to understand that this is a cold climate turtle. In the wild it is active and feeding in water at 12° C.
Eastern Long-necked Turtles are often sold when very small, about 3cm shell length, however, this species will grow to a shell length of 20 - 30cm. As the turtle grows, depending on the size of aquarium you have, it may need a bigger home. Turtles in general are long term pets. They can easily live for 100 years or more so this is a pet you may have to leave to your grandchildren. I say this not in jest but to make you aware of the commitment you must make to this species. Understand that, like all reptiles, this animal is not a mammal. They do not take kindly to and suffer stress from excessive handling; you should not handle reptiles at all unless necessary. Handle your turtle gently but firmly - remember he may try to kick himself out of your hands. A good method for many turtles is to hold them from behind with your hand under the plastron (belly). Don't ever drill a hole in the shell to tether the turtle - this is cruel as the shell is living bone. Wash hands before and after handling and between animals- this is basic animal hygiene. Seek veterinary advice if your turtle becomes ill. If the basics of turtle care as listed below are followed illness should be minimal.
Housing Inside: The aquarium needs to be a suitable length - a 3 or 4 foot aquarium will suit the turtle till it is old enough to go outside. I find a substrate of coral rubble particularly suitable, as it will also help buffer the pH level. An undergravel filter can be used but I tend to use either straight through system (continuous water replacement) or large multi layed power filters with one chamber filled with bio-balls, talk to the local aquarium for details. The water depth must be more than the width of the turtle's shell - if it tips over on it's back and can't right itself it will drown. I find a depth of between 15 and 20 cm suitable; it should be deeper if possible. Provide a totally dry basking area for the turtle, preferably sandy rather than rock. Long-necked Turtles need be able to dry out completely. The basking area may be a rock but should not be abrasive, nor should it be too smooth as the turtle needs to get on and off easily. Adding extra pieces of glass using silicone glue is an easy way of doing this, again see a local aquarium shop for advice on this. There needs to be plenty of ventilation - too much humidity will cause health problems, hence do not use the glass lids supplied with your aquarium, replace them with pegboard or a similar material.
Housing Outside: When the turtle is 3 years old it is better for it to live outside. Remember that turtles can walk quite a distance in a short time. You will need an area fenced with material other than wire for your turtle - the turtle can damage its snout by pushing at the wire. The fencing will need to be about 30cm into the ground - turtles can dig. A non-abrasive pond of suitable depth that the turtle can easily get in and out of needs to be in the enclosure. Also provide plants and ground cover for the turtle to hide in or get shade. A dry place needs to be provided as well - curved driftwood is good - so if it rains for days the turtle can be dry if it wants. Make sure the enclosure is positioned to receive plenty of sunlight and that it is totally predator proof.
The most important factor for turtle care apart from diet is water quality. Buy a marine pH test-kit and test water weekly it should be 7.5 to 8.2, the higher the better. Buffer water as necessary using a marine aquarium buffer. A filtration system or continuous water replacement is essential. Using a power filter that allows for multiple substrates is the best method. You need to use bio-balls and filter foam, use charcoal as well if you desire. The best way to look at keeping a turtle is that you have a marine aquarium with less salt. You want high pH, high conductivity (salts), low ammonia and nitrite. Of course these animals do not breathe water but they are prone to skin and throat infections that are increased in poor water. Add some salt to the water, not table salt, use the marine salt mix available at aquariums for making seawater. I use about one cup per 50 litres. Remember to do this at water changes also. See table 1 for water quality parameters suitable for this species.
Lighting: Lighting is used for heat and light. Heat was discussed earlier.
Light: the turtle must have a day/night cycle. Placing the aquarium near a window for normal light is a good method or if the aquarium is in a dark position a white incandescent light can be used. Make sure any white light is turned off at night.
UV: turtles must have UVA and UVB light in correct ratios to help in the production of vitamin D that is essential for healthy growth. However, I have found through many trials and have conferred on this with colleagues in the USA who keep turtles that UV lights do not work on aquatic turtles. They do not work through glass, plastic or water. These lights are not as strong as the sun and are refracted and weakened by their path through the water. I now supplement vitamin D in all my reptiles and have ceased the usage of UV light for turtles. As sunlight is the best UV source - especially for juveniles - if you keep the turtles outside, they will not need these supplements.
Feeding: It is too easy to overfeed your turtle. If you over feed your turtle the shell of the turtle will grow too fast at the centre of each scute (shield of the shell) causing the scutes to become pyramid shaped. Deformities in the shell will result and the shell won't be as strong as it should be. The frequency of feeding should be 2 times a week and the amount roughly 5 to 10 bite size pieces per animal at each feed. This species of turtle prefers to eat in the water, however, I have had individuals that prefer to feed on the land. Variety is important. Long-necked Turtles are totally carnivorous. Never give food that is still frozen to the turtle. Commercial foods are available. A 50/50 diet of whitebait and prawns (soaked for an hour to remove salt) is another option. Also add bloodworms, blackworms, garden worms, crickets, flies, moths and other insects to the diet. Red meat has very little nutritional value to a turtle and mince should never be offered - it is too fatty. Remove uneaten food after an hour. Give calcium and vitamin supplements weekly. Commercial pre-mixed products are available. Remember the turtle must be warm (water temperature at a minimum of 16oC) for it to be able to both eat and digest food. As they get older they require less food; my adult turtles are fed once per week. Over feeding will cause exceptional growth there are a number of signs of this. A 3-year-old wild Eastern Long-neck turtle is around 5-8 cm in shell length. Also this species always has a black shell, if the shell is brown with clear growth rings, it is growing too fast.
General Health: Don't clean algae off the shell as this may damage the shell and cause infections. If your turtle gets an infection on it's skin or shell it needs to be treated with a suitable medication. Follow instructions. Most of these medications are applied by removing the turtle from the water, gently dabbing the infected area with a cotton wool bud and allowing to dry at least 20 minutes. Do this daily until condition starts to clear. Signs of infection to watch for are a white fluffy growth especially around the claws, eyes and tail or white to grey patches appearing on the shell which can go red if the condition continues. Do not confuse infections with sloughing (the natural shedding of the skin and shell). Here the skin will peel off in a clear to grey film and the shell scutes (sections) will peel. Do not attempt to peel the skin or shell yourself - this can cause damage.
One point on hibernation, unless you are trying to breed the species there is no need to hibernate any reptile. Do not kid yourself that you are allowing it to go through natural cycles. The moment you bring it into captivity that has ceased. I do not kid in this and it is a serious matter. It will not cause any health or phychological problems to the turtle if it is maintained in a non-winter environment all year round. Hibernation is only necessary to bring the species into a synchronised breeding cycle.
Last word: A warning. I personally consider that this is one of the most difficult turtle species to keep (and I can extend this to worldwide). Many long-term keepers of this species agree with me. Do not take the husbandry of this species lightly and the often-recommended tropical setup of this species will eventually kill it.
I want to thank John Cann for letting me use the photo in the article. I have the express permission of John to use this photo and the copywrite belongs to John Cann.
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