HEADSTARTING PROTOCOL FOR RED-BELLIED TURTLES
The following guidelines for raising hatchling Plymouth Red-bellied
Turtles have been developed in order to provide a standard and proven
protocol which will result in the highest survivorship possible. These
guidelines contain the best information to date, and no cooperator should
deviate significantly from them without first consulting with Dr. Tom French
who can be reached at 508 792-7270, extension 163 during the weekday
or David Taylor who can be reached at 978 465-8673.
Any glass or plastic (Plexiglas) aquarium is suitable. As they grow, a
minimum size should be five gallons per turtle however in the beginning a
smaller tank can be used.
A haulout is suggested but not required. It can be made of plastic
egg crate or vinyl coated hardware cloth. Avoid rocks with sharp edges. A
light source is suggested. Infrared and/or ultraviolet (Vitalite) lights work
best. Run the light on an 8-12 hour cycle. Avoid a 24 hour light cycle.
Two things are important for maintaining ideal water quality. One is
fresh water. The second, needed when the turtles begin to grow rapidly, is
a large volume filtration system. Aquarium filters are useful for the first few
months but as the turtles grow most filters will quickly clog in a matter of
hours. An alternative to large volume filtration is to change the water often,
usually daily when the turtles get bigger. To date, no system to date has
proven to be ideal and this is one area in which additional study and
experimentation is needed.
The tank should be ready and operating prior to the arrival of the
turtles. Water temperature should be stable at between 82º and 86º F.
Upon arrival the turtles should be carefully evaluated for body
temperature. Often turtles are transported in the late fall and they can be
quite cold when delivered. If so, they should be warmed slowly over a
period of hours to the approximate temperature of the tank water. At that
time they can be placed in the tank. Check them for abnormal swimming,
breathing, or floating and remove any with apparent problems. Any
hatchlings that do not swim vigorously should be placed in a container of
shallow water until they have gained strength. Most adapt effortlessly to the
deep water of their new homes.
Fresh romaine and/or red leaf lettuce should be introduced to the
tank. Most turtles should be eating aggressively within twenty four hours.
Lettuce should be replaced every twenty four hours whether eaten or not
as it deteriorates rapidly.
The primary diet for the turtles should be romaine and/or red leaf
lettuce. After the turtles are readily eating lettuce (one to two weeks) it can
be supplemented with ReptoMin (Tetra Inc.). Turtles will readily eat the
lettuce from the first day but may take weeks before acquiring a taste for
ReptoMin. Avoid iceberg lettuce because it has almost no nutritional
value. Also avoid animal protein because it can and has produced
abnormal shell formations.
As the turtles grow be prepared to supply several heads of lettuce
per day. For example, twelve turtles with an average weight of 200 grams
each can eat as much as four heads of lettuce per day. When the turtles
are small, each head of lettuce should be broken apart before it is
discarded. One sixty five gram turtle was accidentally thrown out with a
partially eaten head of lettuce but was later discovered when a head- count
revealed that one was missing.
The range of water temperature should be between 82º and 86º F.
Temperatures below 80º will retard the growth rate of the turtles. Turtles
should not be maintained at temperatures above 86º F.
Water temperature seems to be the singular most important factor in
determining the growth rate of the turtles. The difference of just a few
degrees can result in a dramatic change in growth.
An infrared and ultraviolet (Vitalite) light source may be positioned
above the haulout. Turtles may bask under the infrared light to warm up
and dry out. This also helps in preventing the growth of fungus on the
turtles' skin. The Vitalite should be positioned no more than twelve inches
above the haulout since its effectiveness rapidly diminishes with distance.
It should also be noted that Vitalite bulbs produce the necessary UV light
for only four to six months, and should be replaced after that period.
Since all of the turtles being headstarted will be released into the
wild. The turtle's exposure to both physical and visual human contact
should be kept to a minimum. Of course, contact is necessary during tank
cleaning, feeding, and growth measurements.
Record keeping is an important tool for improving the protocol and
insuring the health of turtles presented for release. You will need a good
quality scale and calipers. All turtles should be measured and weighed on
a weekly basis. It is also useful to record the water temperature. Data
sheets should be submitted or e-mailed to David Taylor, P.O. Box 263,
Byfield, MA 01922, firstname.lastname@example.org, at least monthly. This
information will then be entered into the computer data base.
A day or two prior to release (usually in early June) the water
temperature of the turtles should be lowered to room temperature, (72º to
75º F.), final measurements made, and the turtles prepared for transporting
in containers lined with wet paper towels but no water. Styrofoam ice
coolers with air vents are ideal for this purpose.
If any problem appears, particularly one relating to the health of the
turtles, Dr. French or David Taylor should be contacted.
If any mortalities occur they should be reported to Dr. Tom French or
David Taylor and all dead animals must be saved. Dead specimens
should be frozen and delivered in the spring when the remaining turtles are
being turned in for release.
These guidelines have served their purpose well over the past few
years. However it is only through the recommendations of cooperators that
we can improve the quality of this manual. Your contributions are
Turtle numbering pattern:
The following key shows the notch pattern for Plymouth Red-bellied
Turtle #3578 would have:
One notch on the #3 marginal in the thousands section.
One notch on the #5 marginal on the hundreds section.
Two notches, one on the #3 marginal and one on the #4 marginal in the tens
Two notches, one on the #3 marginal and one on the #5 marginal in the ones
Turtle #790 would have:
No notches on the thousands section.
Two notches, one on the #3 marginal and one on the #4 marginal in the hundreds
Two notches, one on the #4 marginal and one on the #5 marginal in the tens
No notches in the ones section.