Frequently Asked Questions

The following are questions that we are often asked. Simply click a question to see the answer.

First - thanks for caring. Returning a captive water turtle to a natural wild habitat may sound like the best thing for you to do, but please carefully consider the following information:

* A captive turtle may harbor diseases (respiratory infections, shell rot, etc.) that are not recognized by the owner. When released, the former captive can make other turtles sick. Undiagnosed and untreated illness can lead to the death of your turtle as well as others that it may come in contact with.
* Captive turtles, especially ones that have been kept indoors in aquariums, do not have an immune system as strong as turtles that have been kept outside. Your turtle may not survive being suddenly thrust into an environment where it does not have the immunity to fight off naturally ocurring disease causing organisms.
* It is best that turtles that have been kept indoors and have never been allowed to hibernate should be allowed to hibernate naturally, outside, at least one winter before release.
* Some turtles may not recognize natural foods found in the wild.
* The GCTTS has a native water turtle release program that will take captive water turtles that are no longer wanted by their owners. GCTTS members with the proper experience and facilities can care for your turtle temporarily and will:
o evaluate its health and treat any illnesses (vet care is available if needed)
o help it to recognize natural foods
o allow it to hibernate naturally in an outdoor in ground backyard pond for at least one winter.
* By doing these things under qualified supervision, your turtle will develop the strong immune system it needs to live a happy, healthy life in the wild.
* We only release water turtles into environments that are appropriate for that particular species and safe from humans, roads and vehicles. If your water turtle, for some reason, can not be released, it will be adopted by an experienced GCTTS member who has proper outdoor facilities that can allow it to live a quality life in a natural backyard pond-type setting.

First - thanks for caring. Returning a captive turtle to its natural habitat may sound like the best thing to do, but please consider the following:

  • Research has shown that box turtles often have very limited home ranges and when released into a strange area seldom do well. To read more on this, please refer to: The McKeever Study.
  • A captive turtle may harbor diseases (respiratory infections, shell rot, etc.) that are not recognized by the owner. When released, the former captive can make other turtles that they come in contact with sick. Undiagnosed and untreated illness can lead to the death of your turtle. It is likely that released captive tortoises are responsible for the severe die-offs experienced by some populations of desert tortoises - see: Demographic Consequences of Disease in Two Desert Tortoise Populations in California, USA.
  • The GCTTS has a rescue / rehabilitation / adoption program that will take captive box turtles that are no longer wanted by their owners. The turtle will be evaluated for illness, rehabilitated if needed, and adopted to a GCTTS member with the proper experience and facilities to properly house and care for it. We only adopt to members who can house native species outdoors.

GCTTS is unable to provide boarding or pet sitting services. Please contact one of our Recommended Vets if you need a pet boarding service.

The 4 Inch Law is actually an FDA regulation and not a law. It was first written in 1975 as a response to the concern about salmonella poisoning resulting from the wholesale distribution of baby water turtles that was occurring at the time. One unfortunate unintended consequence of this federal regulation is that that the commercial breeders of these turtles were forced to seek other markets. As a result, there are thriving colonies of red eared turtles in England, Europe, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. These turtles are very hardy, and often they often displace native turtle populations.

See a longer discussion on this issue.

There is an exception to the regulation that allows the sale of small turtles for "bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes, other than use as pets." Many stores operate under this exception, or claim to. They will post a notice that the turtles are being sold for educational purposes. It is difficult to prove otherwise. Another way that the regulation is skirted is to sell the supplies needed for the turtle (a "turtle bowl", turtle food, and other supplies) and then give the customer the turtle. Since it is an FDA regulation, you should try to contact a local office of the FDA. Be aware that the penalty imposed by the FDA is to destroy the turtles. See the above link. None of this is to say that you shouldn't try, but it will be frustrating. It is possible, if unlikely, that the seller is simply ignorant. You might try providing the seller with proper care information, for example a copy of .

If the seller seems teachable, they can contact GCTTS for more information. Also see: http://gctts.org/WS/WS.php/Public/WaterTurtleCare

There are two problems with water that shallow. One is that it is not deep enough to maintain a constant temperature when we get warm days and cold nights. Water warming on sunny days can harm turtles that normally go to deep water to avoid temperature fluctuations. They need to stay cold during hibernation / brumation. The other problem is that it can ice over solid at the top, preventing the turtle from getting surface air. The only way to maintain a water turtle in shallow water is to have it in full shade during it's brumation time and trickle a hose in it if it freezes. A hole drilled a few inches below the surface of the pond will prevent the water from overflowing and the escape of the turtle. Then when it is time to come out of brumation (and you won't really know when that is) it has to be moved back to a sunny area. And then back to full shade when the water temperature reaches 85 degrees. Pretty tricky.

If a shallow pond is the only option, I would bring it in and keep it warm, active and feeding through the winter. A problem with this, however, is that females will often need to lay offseason when overwintered indoors, and if your turtle does not have access to land, she will very likely try to retain her eggs. This can result in eggbinding - a grave and potentially fatal situation for turtles.

If your turtle is a female, even if she has never mated, she could form infertile eggs. Fully aquatic housing (without access to a land area) is not at all appropriate for them.

These big water turtles need big ponds. A foot of water can overheat and kill turtles in the summer. Unless you have a large in-ground pond with a land area easy accessible to the turtle, she really should be released in the spring.

You could be right BUT turtles kept indoors at normal room temperatures can not properly hibernate! When turtles do not receive 12-14 hours of light per day, hibernation mode can be triggered and your turtle will stop eating and become less active.

To properly hibernate (brumate) a turtle must have temperatures under 55 degrees. Temperatures above 55 but below 75 degrees or so, allow a turtles metabolism to slow down enough that it does not want to eat but is still high enough to use up stored energy. Basically, a turtle in this unnatural situation is starving. They can live a long time like this but chances are they will develop major organ damage and eventually die.

Sometimes respiratory infections start first and if not recognized early can cause death.

Turtles (unless it is an exotic species that is not supposed to hibernate) should be housed outside year round and allowed to hibernate naturally under normal conditions. Some species that are not native to your area or have been ill recently may need to be housed indoors over the winter. Otherwise, turtles need to be outside. Any turtle wintered over indoors needs 12-14 hours of light per day and have a warm basking area. See our page on Wintering Over Turtles Indoors.

Read more about turtles kept inside and hibernation HERE.

This can happen as turtles reach sexual maturity. As they mature and start seeking mates, males in particular may become agressive towards other males or may start to harass females. If the turtles are housed in a spacious outdoor habitat, this is seldom a problem as the turtles can get away from each other. When kept in an aquaurium there may be no way for the turtles to avoid contact with each other.

Aquariums are not good permanent homes for turtles. The aquarium will quickly be outgrown by most water turtles and, at least as important, they need access to direct unfiltered sunlight outside to remain healthy (In spite of information that you may find on the Internet and at pet stores). There simply is no available substitute for natural light.

Another problem with aquariums is that female turtles must have access to dirt in order to lay eggs. If denied this access, the turtle can become seriously ill and die.

Note that many male water turtles have very long front toenails. This is natural and should not be corrected, so be sure you know what type of turtle you have.

Long toenails and overgrown beaks in land turtles and tortoises can be nutritionally caused and you should contact a qualified vet experienced with turtles. For help finding a qualified vet click here: Recommended Vets. Seek expert advise for a proper diet for your species.

Even if a nutritional problems can be corrected, the beak or toenails may still need periodic trimming. The beak should always be trimmed by a knowledgeable vet.

This condition is sometimes seen in turtles and tortoises that are raised or kept indoors for an extended period. Turtles should be housed in proper, outdoor, habitats.

The long term, best solution is to house your turtle outdoors where is has access to rough ground. Nails are seldom a problem for box turtles that are housed in natural outdoor pens.

The main concern with trimming the nails is avoiding the vein that is in the nail. The best way to clip nails is to buy a scissors type nail clipper meant for birds, or one with a magnifying glass meant for babies, and cut the nail gradually over several months. Some box turtles have clear nails making it easy to clip them without hitting a vein, but the dark nails may need to be cut next to a bright light or flashlight so you don't cut too far.

If you nick the vein, you can use styptic powder or a silver nitrate pen to stop any minor bleeding. Your vet may carry the silver nitrate pen - remember to use it ONLY on the nails and keep it away from mouth or eyes as it can burn the tissues.

Patient, gradual trimming on a regular schedule will keep the nails short. Allowing the turtle regular access to a concrete patio and a rough surface such as flagstone or a cinderblock for climbing in the pen may help keep the nails down as well.

GCTTS does not sell turtles or tortoises.

If you have a suitable outdoor habitat or are willing to build one, we would like to adopt to you.

We adopt animals to our members that have suitable outdoor housing available. If you are not a member, please join.

For details about Adoptions, see our Adoption Guidelines.

We have an ever expanding collection of turtle and tortoise pictures that might help identify your animal. Please see our image gallery. If you are still having problems with identification, you may email us with photos, if your photos are resized to be no larger than 800 x 600 pixels. Huge photo file sizes will delay our response. Email photos to info@gctts.org.

If you are not positive about the identification of a turtle or its health, we recommnend that you do not release it. Here are some things to consider:

  • Many times exotic non-native species are found by people. These turtles have been pets and may have been released or are escapees.
  • Many are not capable of living on there own in the wild due to specific climate or diet requirements.
  • Quite often the public misidentifies turtles.

  • Some turtles can drown if put into water.
  • Water turtles must be in water in order to eat.
  • Turtles that have been pets can be sick and spread disease to native wild populations.
  • Introducing a wild native water turtle to a different area can be harmful.
  • Introducing a species not native to an area could be bad for the environment.
  • Many non-native species can resemble native species to an untrained eye.

You might be able to identify the turtle using our image gallery. If you are still having problems with identification, you may email us with photos, if your photos are resized to be no larger than 800 x 600 pixels. Huge photo file sizes will delay our response.

Even if you can positively identify a turtle, depending on where it was found, it possibly should not be released. (See the other two questions on pet turtles and release.) Contact the GCTTS and discuss the specific situation with us and we will help you decide what should be done with the turtle.

First - thanks for caring. Returning a captive turtle to its natural habitat may sound like the best thing to do, but please consider the following:

  • Clearly no turtle or tortoise should be released if the same species is not native to the area being considered for release. Please contact GCTTS if you are considering releasing a water turtle.
  • Research has shown that box turtles often have very limited home ranges and when released into a strange area seldom do well. To read more on this, please refer to: The McKeever Study and a study being done by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
  • Any captive turtle may harbor diseases (respiratory infections, shell rot, etc.) that are not recognized by the owner. When released, the former captive can make other turtles that they come in contact with sick. Undiagnosed and untreated illness can lead to the death of your turtle. It is likely that released captive tortoises are responsible for the severe die-offs experienced by some populations of desert tortoises - see: Demographic Consequences of Disease in Two Desert Tortoise Populations in California, USA. Even healthy captive turtles could introduce microorganisms that a wild population has no immunity against.
  • The GCTTS has a rescue / rehabilitation / adoption program that will take captive box turtles that are no longer wanted by their owners. The turtle will be evaluated for illness, rehabilitated if needed, and adopted to a GCTTS member with the proper experience and facilities to properly house and care for it. We only adopt to members who can house native species outdoors.
  • If you are not in the Houston area or are unable to get your turtles to GCTTS, please contact us anyway and we may be able to refer you to a turtle organization in your area.