Turtles and tortoises are among the reptiles known to live the longest. Even the small species that you may have as a pet will live for a surprisingly long time. Science has not come up with any hard facts to explain this interesting phenomenon, though possible answers could lie in their lifestyle, which is healthy and more natural, their evolution, and their slow metabolisms.
The factors determining the length that turtle or tortoise will live is based mainly on predators, pollution, risk of getting sick or injured, and other aspects of their environment. If you have a pet turtle at home, the kind of care you give them is the biggest determinant of their lifespan.
A pet turtle can live for anywhere between 30 and 40 years if kept in a healthy environment. Larger turtle species like the sea turtle can live for up to 80 years. The largest of all terrestrial turtles, the giant tortoise, can live for up to 100 years, with some taking on up to 200 years.
If you have had a baby turtle at home, you may have noticed their slow rate of growth, which is due to their slow metabolisms. Slow metabolism may not be great for humans, but it may be one of the reasons why turtles age so slowly. Their lifestyle is also something to look out for.
The Galapagos giant tortoise, for instance, lives on a purely vegetarian diet. This means no cholesterol or animal fats, just lots of greens, minerals, and vitamins. These animals also move slowly, love peace, and enjoy a stress-free life. A calm and healthy lifestyle is probably another reason why this turtle lives such a long life.
How Can I Help My Turtle Live A Long, Healthy Life?
Start on the Right Note
To help your turtle live a long, healthy life, you need to take excellent care of them while they are still young. Baby turtles are not difficult to care for, only offer them the right temperature, food, and environment. For the first few days, they will feed on the yolk in their eggs and will not require feeding, but after, you will need to feed them daily.
Offer them blood worms, shrimp, live crickets, and smaller pieces of squash. If you have an aquatic turtle, place him in a small tank with water so he can swim around. Box turtle species require a moist nursery with a 2-inch layer of rinsed cypress bark followed by a 3-inch layer of sphagnum moss as substrate.
A saucer with water should offer them someplace to dip. For all species, the tank temperature should be between 75-82⁰F.
Provide the Right Diet
Just like in humans, food is essential for excellent health and development. What you feed the turtle will be vital in determining his quality of life since, unlike his wild counterparts, he cannot forage around for a wide variety of naturally-occurring healthy, safe, and nutritious plants and animals. They also do not have access to sunlight, and the benefits they miss out on can only be provided by you through a proper diet.
Feeding a turtle is not at all difficult; they are opportunistic eaters, and if you take them outside, you might find them eating fungi, seeds, and roots. However, supplement this diet with additional foods for optimal nutrition.
Provide a Variety of Foods
If your turtle is no longer interested in food, he may be bored, and it is time to switch things up. Providing variety in meals will also ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they require. Some examples of items you can give your turtle include:
- Commercial brands/ pet food
Most pet stores have a shelf with a wide variety of foods for your turtle. Get some pellets, turtle sticks, or any other formulations available. You may also find species-specific foods, which will better because these consider the turtle’s natural preference (herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore).
When shopping, avoid brands whose formulation is grain-based and choose those with protein ingredients. If in doubt, ask your vet about a reliable brand. These foods often have enough nutrition, and you should offer it as per the instructions on the packets for maximum benefits. If your turtle starts avoiding the food, mix it with his favorite foods to boost appetite.
- Fruits and vegetables
Alfafa, grass from your yard (provided it is not treated with pesticides that can harm him), hibiscus, carnations, and timothy hay are all great options for your turtle. For fruits, offer apples, bananas, blueberries, mangoes, melons, strawberries, and raspberries. Other vegetables that humans eat but are still great for a turtle include carrots, green beans, squash, peas, parsley, lima beans, zucchini, and cauliflower.
- Protein sources
Your turtle requires proteins to build up his tissues. Some excellent and safe protein options for a turtle include boiled chicken, cooked turkey, beef heart, ground sirloin, bugs like live crickets, grasshoppers, flies, and June bugs, and grubs like earthworms, mealworms, silkworms, slugs, snails with shells, and nightcrawlers.
Look Out For Your Turtle’s Weight
This may sound strange, but just like humans, cats, or dogs, turtles can become fat if they eat more calories than they require. The same principle applies to turtles: energy in, energy out. If your turtle eats more food than he expends, the excess will be deposited as fat around his organs, and he will gain an unhealthy amount of weight.
Do not give excess food to your turtle, as he will eat it all up, then continue to grow bigger. The fat will stress his organs and thus reduce his quality of life. One of the symptoms to look out for in an obese turtle is the inability to retract all his legs simultaneously. You should also examine the areas near his neck, armpits, and groin for bulging tissues.
An obese turtle can be helped using diet and exercise, and a vet can help you set up a calorie-restricted diet. For exercise, encourage your turtle to play by providing a motivating and complex environment so that he can forage and play around. Confirm your turtle’s species to ensure that he is not herbivorous; giving an herbivorous turtle animal protein will cause obesity and nutritional problems. Weigh him and consult your vet regularly to track his progress.
How Often Should I Feed My Turtle?
Feeding your turtles should not be a daily affair, but the schedule depends on age and size. 3-4 times a week should offer sufficient food for him. However, if you have a baby turtle, feed them daily until they grow in size.
When they reach 2-3 years of age, feed them every 2-3 days, and once they are over three years old, feed them every 3-4 days. If they are overweight, feed every four days, while food offered every two days should help an underweight turtle gain weight.
If you have more than one turtle, feed them separately so that you notice any changes in feeding habits and so everyone gets a fair share of food. Again, a feeding frenzy can occur, leading to injuries or extreme cases where one turtle can bite off another’s limbs.
Prevent and Treat Illness
Turtles, like other pets, are quite sensitive and need careful monitoring to ensure they live long, healthy lives. A turtle needs to be checked for subtle illnesses and signs of disease than can quickly cause deterioration, and his environment kept clean.
If you are about to get a new pet turtle, consider dropping by the vet’s office first to get a few tests in before taking them home. Not all vets have the background to treat a turtle properly, so ask around or visit the zoo for a referral. The blood and stool tests will determine the presence of any parasites, infections, malnutrition, or any other issues that require attention.
Take him for a check-up once a year, mostly around the fall, and ask the vet about hibernation before you decide to put the turtle through it. Only strong, healthy turtles old enough to withstand the conditions will emerge safely on the other side of the hibernation process.
What Are The Signs That My Turtle Is Sick?
Turtles do a great job at hiding that they are seriously sick. Naturally, turtles hide any signs of discomfort or illness to avoid alerting a predator of their weakness. You will have to look well to find the signs of illness because once they stand out, they will have affected your pet for a long time. Some signs to look for include;
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite or anorexia
- Diarrhea or green feces
- Abnormal behavior
- Discharges from his mouth or other openings
- Partially closed or puffy eyes
- Unusual inactivity that cannot be attributed to low temperature
You can also examine him for wounds, cuts, broken claws or limbs, cracked or deformed shells, abscesses, external parasites, and paralysis. Not all problems require a trip to the vet, which is why you require a first aid kit dedicated to him.
The following items should help you address minor problems and prevent infections:
- Cotton balls
- Waterproof bandages
- Polyurethane film coating with adhesive
- Sharp scissors
- Antibiotic ointments
- Cornstarch to help with bleeding
- Spray bottle with clean water to flush wounds
- Latex gloves
If your pet is seriously ill, rush him to a qualified vet for expert care. Also, be sure to isolate sick turtles from others in a clean tank to help with fast recovery.