Australian native animals – Long-necked turtles

Videos about care and management of long–necked turtles.

Introduction to the long-necked turtle

Watch Introduction to long-necked turtle. (1:14)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the characteristics of the long necked turtle

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

So, what we have here is an Eastern Snake-necked Turtle also known as a Long-necked Turtle. In some places they even may call it a Long-necked Tortoise but it’s actually an Eastern Long-necked Turtle.

These guys are found in waterways around the east coast of Australia. They like to live in streams, sort of dammy areas and they’re probably one of our most common turtles that we find. So they’re a very sought after pet.

These guys like to inhabit waterways so they spend ninety, probably around ninety per cent of their time in the water. They will come out to bask on a nice sunny day. They act more like fish. So, unlike other reptiles that spend the majority of their time on land, these little guys just spend a lot of time swimming around searching for food like small fish, insects, crayfish. So, these guys are called Long-necked Turtles. Some people like to call them tortoises.

What a tortoise is it’s an animal that lives on the land and there’s no true tortoises in Australia. A turtle has webbed feet or flippers like this little guy. A tortoise has feet like an elephant so that lets us know that it walks on the land and that’s how we tell the difference.

So, if you ever see one of these on the ground crossing the road because they like to cross the roads when it’s raining, it’s actually an Eastern Long-necked Turtle, not a tortoise.

[End of transcript]

Feeding long-necked turtles

Watch Feeding long-necked turtles. (0:45)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the components of a balanced diet for captive long necked turtles

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

So when keeping these guys we like to feed them a variety of different items. In captivity we feed them on fresh prawns, small fish like whitebait, insects like crickets. They are carnivorous so they do like to eat more meatier foods and if you just chop it up and place it into the water the turtles will smell it and come and eat it.

A turtle like this we’d offer food every second to third day. The more you feed them, the quicker they grow. And there’s times of the year depending on the size of your turtle that you wouldn’t bother feeding them at all. So, during the cooler months if it’s a large turtle you can let them hibernate and they won’t eat for six months of the year. A little guy in a tank like this I’d recommend feed every second to third day.

[End of transcript]

Housing long-necked turtles

Watch Housing long-necked turtles (5:21)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the requirements when housing long necked turtles

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

Another characteristic about these turtles is that they do surface for air. So, just like all reptiles they need air to breathe. These guys will climb out of the water and sunbake, they breathe air like you and I do or even when they’re swimming they’ll surface, stick their nose out of the water and take a breath. So, it is important that we do give them an area for them to climb out on so they can have a rest and breathe as well.

This is our turtle’s home. You can see over here we have a land area so our turtle can climb up if it wants to and dry out and sunbake. And underneath here we have a lamp so the turtle can bask. We also use UV light on our turtles because it’s really important for their shell to keep their shells nice and strong. If we don’t provide them with UV, their shells will get really soft and go like jelly and they will get Metabolic Bone Disease or Shell Rot or different shell deficiencies and diseases from not providing that.

So, we’ll have a look at him, we can just let him go and he’ll just go off into the water. When you do keep these animals you will find that they spend a lot of time in the water. So, a lot of people think why should I have a landing area for them and that’s the reason why, we do need them to dry out. You can provide different logs and heights so that the turtles can hide and feel comfortable underwater. And they’ll spend a lot of time there, they’ll actually sleep underwater as well so we don’t panic.

And they will get quite tame so that you don’t have to worry about them disappearing and you’re never going to see them again, they will come to you. In the first few weeks of setting up they might hide a lot, but as you’ve got them they will get used to you and they will come over to you.

A common thing though, turtles can drown. So, if you notice a turtle in your tank and he’s sitting in a weird spot and he’s been sitting there for a long time, I don’t mind putting my hand in and giving him a little bit of a poke to wake him up. Sometimes they do get stuck and they drown. So, I prefer to wake him up and have him a little bit cranky with me than not having a turtle at all. So, it is a good thing to check.

When you’re setting up a tank like this, I always look for areas after I’ve decorated that could be little traps. So, if I think the turtle can get stuck, highly likely it will so I try and avoid making really tight little areas for him just to make it safer for him to move around.

If you have a look in our tank we have some pipes running down here which is part of the filtration system.

Keeping a turtle is not like keeping other reptiles, it’s more like keeping a fish. So, we need to keep really good water quality because that’s where they spend most of their time. If we have bad water we’ll get sick turtle.

So, in this instance we’re using a large canister filter which lives underneath our tank, it has pipes that come into the tank, it takes water away, pumps it through different media which is to give us better water quality. We also heat our tank. This tank is set up to around twenty three to twenty four degrees for Eastern Long-necked Turtles. It keeps them busy all year round and it’s sort of their current range of temperature.

In the wild they do experience lots of colder temperatures but when we have them inside a classroom or in a house or in an office we try and keep them at room temperature or just a little bit above just so that they’re busy and they’ll constantly eat for us. If you want to have a look down here we have a watermark. There’s a large land area. We have lights that go across the top which are reptile globes which emit UV light and we change those every eight to twelve months on our turtles just to ensure that they’re getting the right lighting source.

When it comes to cleaning these guys I like to do ten per cent water changes weekly preferably. But if we don’t have time and it can be a bit of a chore at least if we do a third water change every three weeks. And when I do a water change on this, I don’t want to take the turtle out, put him in a bucket every time, I don’t want to strip all my rocks out because it becomes a lot of work and then we’ll stop keeping him. So, what I usually do, I use an aquarium siphon like you would in a normal fish tank and I actually vacuum the gravel to remove any waste.

Now, I’ll just take ten per cent of the water out, replace it with some fresh water, then I’ll put in a water ager, a conditioner to condition the new water that goes in there. And the turtle’s happier, I haven’t had to pull him out. I haven’t had to dismantle the tank, it’s only taken me half an hour, not four hours and dread doing it. So, if I just do small, little bits of maintenance it makes it a lot easier to look after. You’ll also find that your tank will stay a lot clearer and a lot cleaner by doing small water changes more frequently than big dump and cleans every few months and it’s less labour intensive. There’s less chance of us damaging our tank especially when we have big rocks like this, carrying them in and out we do have the risk of breaking things.

So, if we can avoid moving these items there’s less chance of our animals getting caught in them when we put them back. So, just some general care when we’re keeping turtles because they’re not like other reptiles, they do live in the water we are prone to different problems. So, sometimes if our water quality’s not good our turtles can get blemishes on their skin.

So, sometimes they get grey patching on their feet, on their legs, on their necks and the first thing I normally do is check my water quality. So, I check my pH ammonia nitrates just to make sure that the tank is working properly. If that’s all good then I look at other things that it could be a fungus or actual skin problem. But nine out of ten times a lot of things that go wrong with our animal generally comes from the water. So, I try and fix the water before I try and fix the animal or the turtle.

[End of transcript]

Long-necked turtle basic health check

Watch Long-necked turtle basic health check health check. (2:41)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the basics of maintaining good health in long necked turtles

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

As turtles grow just like all reptiles, they do shed their skin and their shell but they never shed their shell as one big piece, so they never lose the shell and grow a new one. Their shell grows with them and the scutes, which is the outside part of a shell or the carapace as we call it, they will slowly lift off.

So, as the turtle gets bigger they just stay small and slowly just peel off. So, if you have a turtle out of the water for quite a while and he dries out you may notice flaking on the shell. You maybe noticing the scutes lifting off and that’s just the turtle growing and just peeling like our skin. And it’s best never to peel them off because you can damage the scute underneath. So, if you notice it just let the turtle do his thing.

And a very common thing that we see with our turtles is that when they’re swimming around and you may see like a spider webbing or slime coming off their legs and it normally happens in the first few months of getting him or her and our alarm bells ring, we get a bit worried thinking our turtle’s got a fungus growing on it. And what it is turtles do shed their skin as well.

So, it will slowly just slough off their legs but it can look a little bit like a fungus or a bit of a slime coming off them, so there’s no need to panic, it’s just your turtle growing. And normally when you get the turtle for the first time, probably within a month you’re going to feed it a lot more than it was previously getting at its existing house and it will just start to grow and it will start to shed.

You’ll notice the shell starts getting marks on top as well and it’s just his shell growing, so it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Some of the main things that also we do need to worry about is if our shell does get soft then we do need to make sure that he’s getting the right amount of calcium in his food. So, we want to give him whole bodied items.

So, when we feed him things like prawns and fish we don’t shell the prawn, we leave the shells on the prawn, we just remove the head so it doesn’t spike them. And you should have happy days. If we feed them things like crickets we dust the crickets with the calcium powder just so that the turtles can get extra calcium in their diet and that will help keep their shells nice and firm.

Another common thing that can happen to your turtle is they can get respiratory problems which will need vet interaction. And sometimes you might notice your turtle just floating listlessly around the top of the tank and that can because especially in the Winter months if your heater breaks, you’re not checking your water temperature regularly, your basking lamps have stopped working and you haven’t got around to changing them that can lead to your animal getting some respiratory problem. And especially if the water’s really cold and we keep feeding them they can get upset stomachs and the food can rot in their belly.

So, it’s important to keep an eye on as a daily check, water temperature and check your lights just to ensure that the basics are working fine for our animal. I always recommend that if you’re not sure about what’s happening with your turtle, get a vet to check it.

[End of transcript]

Handling long-necked turtles

Watch Handling long-necked turtles. (2:22)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the best practices when handling long necked turtles

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

So, now we’re going to handle our turtle. There are times when you do need to handle them. They’re not an animal that we handle a lot like other reptiles, we like to put snakes on us. Turtles tend to be happier when they’re in the water.

So, we are going to need to handle them at times for a vet check or we just might want to see how they’re going, feel their shells or we might need to clean the tank because we’ve fed too much and our filter just can’t do the job. So, probably the easiest way to get them is just by gently coming in, grabbing behind them. And when I grab these little guys I have two fingers on the bottom and I put one finger on top. I’m holding them with just enough force for him to sit in my hand. I’m not squeezing.

We have to be careful because if you’re not checking your turtle regularly and we grab it, they could have a soft shell so we could squash them. So, just by holding them back like that, bringing them forward.

I always like to keep my other hand underneath as well just in case he jumps out of my hand. So, sometimes they grow long nails and it’s not uncommon for them to scratch you and you can drop them because they get you unaware, they scratch and you let go. The bigger the turtle is there’s more chance they’ll try and kick off.

You can see now he’s trying to … they try to flick you away with their little legs. And they are quite strong. So, I always use two hands. And if I am handling them and I have other people having a look I tend to make everyone sit down on the ground and keep the turtle quite low to the ground because even though they do have a hard shell if they do fall and hit the ground it can crack them and that becomes a whole another issue we have to get the vets to check them. So, that’s just one thing. And turtles are not slow.

Unlike the hare and the tortoise story that we always refer to turtles being slow, turtles are not slow, they can move quite quickly and can move quite unpredictably. So, if when in doubt, two hands just to be safe. And then if you want to stick him back in you just put your hand in and just let him swim off. They’re quite happy to just go about their business. In when handling them you handle them a bit rough, these Long-necked Turtles can emit a musky odour.

So, they’ll get a bit stressed and they’ll squirt a really smelly liquid on your hands and that’s to help save them in the wild if say a dog or an animal grabbed them, they’d emit this musk and it stinks and you drop them. So, just to be aware that if you’re rough handling your turtle or you don’t handle them a lot, it’s not uncommon for them to musk you and it can be quite smelly and your hands smell. So, if you ever see a turtle run across the road and you pick him up, he’s going to get you.

[End of transcript]

Reproduction in the long-necked turtle

Watch Reproduction in the long-necked turtle (2:40)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains reproduction in the long necked turtle

Narrator: Taronga Zoo keeper

A lot of people often want to know how old or how big should my turtle be before it can start laying eggs? So, just to give you an idea this turtle’s around two years old. You can see how big it is on the palm of my hand, a female turtle she’s usually ready to lay eggs around the seven to eight years old mark and she would be then around the palm of my hand size. So, that’s a lot of growing to do.

Now, when they do breed they actually mate in the water. And turtles tend to mate in the cooler months in preparation for the oncoming Spring to lay their eggs. So, they mate in the water and then after about three to four months the female or the girl turtle will grow her eggs inside her. She can lay anywhere between eight to sixteen eggs in the Springtime and she’ll climb up out of the water, she’ll dig a hole in a sandy area in the pond area and she’ll drop her eggs into like a pear-shaped hole in the ground and then she’ll cover them back over and she’ll have nothing to do with them, she’ll go off and leave them.

So, the eggs take roughly around sixty five days to hatch. They can take a bit longer if they’re left in the ground. If you bring them inside and you put them into an incubator to hatch them artificially then you can get sixty five days, sometimes you get a little bit shorter. Sometimes they can take a little bit longer but on average it’s about sixty five days and then we end up with some baby turtles.

You may find too because we’re keeping these turtles inside aquariums or fish tanks, terrariums or whatever you like to call them, you may find that your girl turtles probably won’t be happy laying her eggs in here or she probably won’t have a suitable site for the eggs to develop. So, most times when you keep a turtle in a tank like this, she’ll lay them in the water. So, by the time you find them which is usually the next day in because she’ll probably lay them that night the eggs will have drowned in the water. So, they’re going to be no good, there’s no point trying to incubate them.

Also, some of us don’t have the facilities to grow baby turtles or we don’t have places to put the baby turtles. So, at times to be smart we just don’t let the eggs go the full distance to incubate. We destroy the eggs once we notice them we can put them into the freezer, they don’t develop and we don’t have to worry about what to do with the offspring because the responsibility for us looking after these animals is we want to make sure that our animals that we keep are doing great.

We don’t want to bring animals into the World that we don’t have time for or the facilities to look after. So, sometimes doing the right thing is not letting our eggs incubate. And in a classroom situation you find it very difficult to get the animals to breed properly like they would outside in a pond or in the river where they come from.

[End of transcript]

Determing the sex of the long-necked turtle

Watch Determining the sex of the long-necked turtle (0:56)

A Taronga Zoo keeper explains the differences between male and female long necked turtles

Narrator: Toronga Zoo keeper

One of the most commonly asked questions we do get asked is ‘What sex is my turtle?’ ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘Do I give it a boy’s name or do I give it a girl’s name?’

Long-necked Turtles it’s really hard to tell the sexes when they’re small. If you turn them over and we have a look at this part of the shell here, if the bottom part of the shell near their tail is a v-shape, it’s usually a male. If it’s shaped as a ‘u’, it’s normally a female. So, the tail can be a little bit wider to allow eggs to come out when she’s older. But at this age it’s really hard to tell because the turtles are still growing and a ‘v’ could turn into a ‘u’. Also, males tend to have a longer tail. But in this particular species of turtle, they’re very similar in size, so it is really hard to tell. And normally you wouldn’t be able to tell the sex of one of these guys till they’re at least six to seven years old confidently.

[End of transcript]


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