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A turtle in the living room – a good idea?

Red-eared slider turtle
A turtle in the living room – a good idea?

She looks so cute in her aquarium. She’s little, and you think she’ll stay that way. Once, she used to be sold with a little plastic container decorated with a palm tree, and fed on a mixture of dried insects. Her life expectancy, normally, was short. Today, conditions in captivity for the red-eared slider turtle have improved. It’s not unusual to see good-sized individuals survive in an aquarium, but that aquarium gets cramped all too soon. Which leads to thoughts about selling the reptile, then giving it away. Or even about setting the turtle free in nature… Big mistake! This is not a native species. It has a hard time with winter and comes into direct competition with Québec species already endangered.

A little turtle will get bigger!

This is a reptile that requires very special care (food, lighting and temperature) if it’s to enjoy good health and normal growth. Remember, the little turtles generally found in pet shops are not dwarfs or miniatures. Moreover, you have to buy supplies and equipment for them that are often quite expensive.

Source of bacteria

Like any reptile, it can be the bearer of dangerous bacteria – including salmonella – that do a lot of harm, especially in young children. Be aware that a turtle doesn’t like to be picked up and cuddled. Generally its stress level will climb. Try to avoid handling it, and if you have to, make sure to wash your hands right away.

Threat to our native turtles

When you buy a turtle, you have to make sure that it’s a common exotic species and bred in captivity, or else you’re putting pressure on the world populations, which are growing increasingly endangered. There are a number of factors involved here, including the disappearance and degradation of their habitats, excessive collection for the pet trade, and human consumption. In many Asian countries, China especially, the consumption of turtles is highly prized. Certain species even enjoy the mythical reputation of effectively treating cancer. With Chinese turtles growing rare, thousands upon thousands of specimens are imported from neighboring countries, something that in turn endangers turtle populations in those regions. In Québec we have the opportunity of observing numerous species of turtle in nature. The easiest ones to see are the painted turtle and the map turtle, two aquatic species that are nevertheless found in different environments. The painted turtle likes living in ponds, marshes and lakes, whereas the map turtle is happier in large bodies of water and rivers. Both like the sun and need its rays to increase their body temperature so that they can move around and digest their food. But don’t forget that none of Québec’s native species of turtle can be kept in captivity.

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