Monday, May 3, 2010

Pet Turtle Care: Turtle Facts, Habitat, and Care

Turtles are a species of reptiles commonly kept as pets. Among the most popular types of pet turtles are Russian Tortoises, Spur Thighed Tortoises, and Red Eared Sliders. They can be fascinating to watch, and may even seem harmless. However, turtles can and do bite, and they can carry salmonella; thus, they may not be safe to keep as house pets, particularly for those families with young children. However, with proper care and knowledge, you should be able to become a turtle owner and safely enjoy your pet. So before you decide to purchase a pet turtle, you should first educate yourself about its habitat and care.

Turtles and tortoises can be found anywhere (except in Antarctica)-in rivers, forests, lakes, oceans, grasslands, and deserts. They belong to the taxonomical order Testudines, in the sub-group Chelonia, and are referred to as chelonians. Chelonians are distinctive due to their round, hard shells, four legs, and tails. Moreover, they have scales, they lay eggs, and they are ectothermic, which means that their body temperature is dependent upon their external environment.

The largest chelonian today is the Great Leatherback Sea Turtle, and the smallest is the Speckled Padloper Tortoise of South Africa. The largest turtle ever was the Archelon Ischyros, which measured more than 13.5 feet long and 16 feet wide from flipper to flipper. Turtles are known for drawing their necks in whenever they sense danger. Their colors vary from species to species. What is common, though, is the presence of a streamlined shell to enable them to swim with ease. They have no teeth. Instead, they use their beaks to break up food. People handling pet turtles should not get too close to their beaks because they are often as sharp as knives.

If you think turtles and tortoises have no skin on top of their structures you are wrong. The external coating of the shell is actually a skin. They may be reptiles, but turtles, as well as tortoises and terrapins, do not molt their skins in one large piece. They molt piece by piece. All turtles have limbs, but they differ in one thing: Amphibious turtles have webbed feet, while sea turtles have flippers. Turtles are likely to take many years before they reach their breeding age. Female turtles produce soft-shelled and flexible eggs. Their albumen is white and has a different protein than bird eggs. For some turtle species, temperature dictates whether the egg will develop into a male or a female. Higher temperatures result in decreased incubation time and more female hatchlings. Large numbers of eggs are placed in holes dug into the mud or sand, then left covered and untended to incubate. When the newborns hatch, they must struggle on their own to get back into the water in order to survive.

Ownership of turtles requires commitment. It is a responsibility that must be taken seriously or it will cause the death of an unfortunate turtle. Turtles require proper housing, temperature, nutrition, and environment, among other things. Pet owners must, for their own safety, be knowledgeable on how to properly care for and handle turtles and tortoises in order to prevent themselves from catching diseases that might make them very sick or even cause death. As mentioned earlier, turtles can carry salmonella, bacteria that can be transmitted through casual contact. This can cause the human disease salmonellosis, a serious infection of the gastrointestinal tract.