Chelodina longicollis – Eastern Snake-necked Turtle
The Eastern Snake-necked Turtle, also known as the Eastern Long-necked Turtle, can be found across most of NSW and is the most widespread species of freshwater turtle in Australia. They typically reside in lakes, swamps, dams, slow moving rivers and inland waterways and can be found wandering on land.
Eastern Snake-necked Turtles can be successfully kept in captivity given they are kept in an appropriate indoor or outdoor enclosure but as they can live up to 50 years, a long term plan needs to made for their care.
In outdoor enclosures, the water and air temperature is variable and cannot be precisely controlled. This replicates a more natural situation for the turtles and will encourage the natural hibernation cycle during colder periods. Eastern Snake-necked Turtles thrive in water temperatures between 20 – 25 degrees. When temperatures begin to drop below this in the cooler months, turtles will typically become less active and they will eat less and their movement around the enclosure will be reduced as their metabolic rate slows.
The ideal temperature range for an enclosure is between 20 – 35°C and a temperature gradient should be created within the enclosure, providing both warmer and cooler areas. Temperature gradients are created by providing a basking area in direct sunlight or under a UV heat lamp that is large enough to allow turtles to move away from the heat source to a comfortable temperature. While the air and water temperature cannot be precisely controlled in outdoor enclosures, it is important to still provide adequate basking area for the animals in an area that has direct sunlight but also areas of shade throughout the day. Consider where shade will be created throughout the day and provide a basking area in an appropriate area that has plenty of sunlight.
The site selection for an outdoor enclosure must consider protection from predators.
The ideal water temperature range for an indoor enclosure is between 20 – 25°C. Enclosures should provide a temperature gradient, with warmer and cooler areas. This can be achieved by using a heat lamp to one side of the basking area during the day. The basking area directly under the lamp should be around 35°C but the land area should be large enough for turtles to move away from the heat source to cooler temperatures if they choose.
As Eastern Snake-necked Turtles also require UV lighting, the heat lamp and UV light source can be combined or separate. The light should be 20cm away from the turtle with no glass or perspex to block UV rays. UV lights and any other form of lighting used in the enclosure should be turned off overnight to replicate the natural day and night cycle. It is recommended to use a timer to control lighting times.
Temperature is best measured in the enclosure by using a temperature gun that can be pointed at areas to identify the temperature. The basking area temperature should be a maximum of 35°C. Ensure that the basking area is large enough that turtles can move away from the hottest area to areas that are slightly cooler. In areas where overnight temperatures are low, a water heater may need to be used to ensure water temperature does not get too cold.
In an indoor enclosure where the temperature is kept constant, turtles will most likely remain active year round and will instead continue to eat and be active throughout the year. Turtles that do not hibernate will typically have increased growth rates and reach their mature size more quickly than animals that hibernate. While hibernation in an indoor enclosure can be encouraged by lowering the temperature of the water and enclosure, this must be done precisely and for the correct period of time to ensure turtles remain healthy. Encouraging hibernation in indoor enclosures is not recommended for schools.
Eastern Snake-necked Turtles require good ventilation. Turtles kept in outdoor enclosures will have adequate ventilation. Turtles kept in aquariums must have an open top or a fly screen top to provide adequate ventilation. It is recommended to always use a fly screen top to reduce the risk of objects accidentally falling into the tank. A metal framework can be used as a structure for fly screen attachment on the top of the tank.
Humidity is kept at an adequate level by having a body of water within the enclosure. Humidity will not need to be created or monitored where turtles have access to an amount of water that they can swim in.
Outdoor enclosures must have plenty of sunlight so that artificial lighting or a UV heat lamp are not required.
Indoor enclosures require a UV heat lamp in the basking area. This should be turned off at night to replicate the turtles’ natural day and night cycle. A timer should be used to ensure that lighting is switched on and off daily.
Outdoor enclosures are typically larger than indoor enclosures and can be more – suitable for multiple turtles. Both outdoor and indoor enclosures must provide the minimum spatial requirements for turtles. These minimum requirements are based on the maximum length of the shell of the largest specimen in the enclosure and written as L.
For an enclosure containing up to two specimens the following formula should be used:
- Minimum floor for aquatic components of enclosures: 12.5L2 (5L x 2.5L) with no dimension being less than 1.5L
- Minimum average water depth: 1.5L
The enclosure must allow all turtles to submerge themselves at the same time.
The enclosure land area must be large enough to allow all animals within the enclosure to simultaneously lie fully stretched, out of the water without any physical obstructions.
It is very important to consider the spatial requirements of turtles when setting up an enclosure. While it is recommended to provide a larger space than the minimum spatial requirements if possible it is also important that the enclosure is not too large for the current size of the animal. This is extremely important for young turtles that have not reached adult size as they need to feel secure in their surroundings.
The general recommended aquarium size for indoor enclosures is 4ft for an adult turtle, and 2ft for baby turtles however the minimum spatial requirements should always be referred to.
Enclosures must also provide enough space out of the water for all animals to lay without any physical obstructions and include a basking area. The basking area or dock must be bigger than the turtle or turtles in the enclosure and be large enough for all turtles within the enclosure to simultaneously bask.
The water area of the enclosure must be big enough for all turtles within the enclosure to be submerged simultaneously.
Outdoor enclosures must have a solid base and walls to prevent turtles from escaping, provide a water holding area and prevent entry by predators. A suitable base for an enclosure is concrete with solid walls. The swimming area can be created using concrete, a fibreglass shell or a pond liner. The enclosure must be fenced and secure to prevent unauthorised entry, theft and attacks from predators.
Suitable substrates for the floor of the enclosure include soil, aquarium gravel, sand/soil mix, coco peat and leaf litter. Substrates that can cause abrasion or become lodged in the turtles shell such as wood chips, should be avoided. A suitable floor for the swimming area is concrete or rock. The floor from the swimming area to the land area must be sloping to allow the turtles to easily enter and exit the water. A material that reduces slipping may need to be placed on the sloping surface from the water such as astroturf or thin rubber matting.
Appropriately sized glass aquariums are the most suitable indoor enclosures for turtles. The floor of the swimming area should be glass and the floor of the land area can be aquarium gravel, sand/soil mix, or coco peat/soil mix. Leaf litter can also be added to provide a more natural setting. The floor from the swimming area to the land area must be sloping to allow easy entry and exit to the water. A non slip surface will need to be provided on the ramp, e.g. astro turf, rubber matting.
Furniture within enclosures is used to replicate the turtles’ natural environment, provide hiding places, environmental enrichment and to make the animal feel secure. Turtles have reasonably basic furniture needs, requiring a dock or basking area and a hiding place.
The dock or basking area is placed under the heat lamp in the aquarium and must be bigger than the turtle or an area large enough to fit all of the turtles that are kept in the enclosure simultaneously. The dock should be a log/rock or other flat surface be raised from the ground and suitable for the turtle to lay on. Specially made docks can also be purchased from stores. The dock/basking area should also be positioned and of an appropriate size to allow turtles to move away from the direct heat source to cool down
The hiding place can be made of a box turned upside down with an entry hole, or hollow log or turtle house purchased from a shop. Hiding places can be easily incorporated into an outdoor enclosure using rocks, logs and other natural features. It is essential however that any objects designed for the turtle to go underneath, are placed on the base of the aquarium or enclosure rather than on top of the substrate to prevent turtles from digging and causing a collapse.
Nutrition and Water
Turtles must be provided with clean, conditioned drinking and swimming water at all times.
Eastern Snake-necked Turtles are carnivorous and can be fed a variety of meat/fish/insect products to achieve a high level of health. A diet consisting of a range of unprocessed, protein rich natural foods is preferable to a diet consisting solely of pre-prepared turtle blocks or pellets.
Turtles can be fed a mix of:
- Bait prawns
- White bait
- Turtle mix
- Turtle pellets.
Adult turtles should be offered a meal no more than 3 times a week and young turtles can be offered a meal 4-5 times per week.
Hygiene and filtration
Water quality and hygiene in the turtles’ enclosure is extremely important. Dirty water can promote diseases and skin conditions that would not normally occur in a natural environment. The water quality must be tested regularly to ensure that turtles are provided with an appropriately conditioned water. There are many factors that can have a detrimental effect on turtle health including water acidity or alkalinity (pH), salinity, temperature, hardness and levels of chlorine, chloramines, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia. Wherever possible, you should try to replicate the turtle’s natural environment.
Aquarium or pond water must be kept clean through regular water changes and a filtration device. Indoor aquarium water generally needs to be partially changed twice per week, removing 25 percent of the water. Full water changes and aquarium cleans will also need to be carried out at least once per term (10 weeks) or at more regular intervals if required. Outdoor ponds require a filtration device and pond water must be partially changed regularly. Ponds can be emptied and cleaned as required to remove build ups of waste.
Any uneaten food and faeces must be removed from enclosures daily.