How to Care for a Western Pond Turtle

Judith Willson

Western pond turtles (Actinemys marmorata) require a large, secure outdoor enclosure with a pond. If you have this and live in a warm climate such as that of the southern states, their care is fairly straightforward. Bear in mind that these turtles, like most reptiles, are long-lived. This means that these turtles are a long-term commitment, especially since reptiles are particularly difficult pets to acclimate to a new home. The average Western pond turtle lives to 40 to 50 years old and some have lived to 70 years or more. For this reason and several others, Western pond turtles are not suitable pets for children.

  1. Create a suitable outdoor enclosure. The enclosure needs a land area, which you should plant with thick vegetation to provide shelter, and a pond. Include an area of loosened bare soil in the land area to allow the turtles to dig. Allow at least 5 square feet of land area and the same amount of pond area per turtle, but the more space you have the better. The fence around the enclosure can be of any durable material but requires a solid, not wire, base, to avoid turtles becoming entangled. Because turtles cannot climb, the fence doesn't need to be higher than 2 or 3 feet.

  2. Add sheets of bark or pieces of wood resting on bricks to the enclosure. These provide additional resting places. This is a relatively timid species and needs plenty of hiding places to feel secure.

  3. Feed the turtles two to four times a week. They are primarily carnivorous, although they will eat naturally occurring algae and aquatic plants, so their diet should consist of a variety of live food such as mealworms, earthworms, feeder fish and crickets. Each turtle needs a portion of food approximately equal to the size of its head and neck combined. Your turtles may or may not accept commercial brands of turtle food. You can experiment, but check to make sure that any food you purchase is suitable for the species and do not use store-bought food as the turtle's primary food source.

  4. Dust the food with a calcium and vitamin supplement once a week as per the package's instructions.

  5. Remove about one-fifth of the water from the pond each week with a bucket. Replace it with fresh, dechlorinated water. The easiest way to dechlorinate water is to leave it in buckets exposed to air for 24 hours. Otherwise, purchase an aquarium dechlorinator from a pet store and use it according to the manufacturer's instructions.