How to Keep Your Radiated Turtles in Good Health

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Radiated turtles (Astrochelys radiata) is a critically endangered tortoise; this is because of its colorful shell and unique beauty. In addition, because this tortoise is critically-endangered, there are several important things to remember if you want to keep one as a pet.

However, before these tips, take note that there are different rules regarding keeping radiated turtles as a pet. In some countries and states, transporting and selling captive-bred turtles need a permit that will be valid for five years. Also, only an experienced breeder or caretaker should take care of a radiated turtle.  

What does a radiated turtle look like?

The Radiated Turtles is a tortoise with impressive color and features. It has a high dome shell with a blunt head and large and heavy feet. The turtle’s limbs and head area yellow other than a dark spot on the animal’s head. The tortoiseshell is black with bright yellow lines that radiate starting from the plates; hence the name radiated turtle.

Radiated turtles are common in woodlands in diderae forests and in places where there is an irregular rainfall pattern, which is the natural environment in their native location in Madagascar (the area from southwestern to the southern section of Madagascar called Amboasary and the Karimbola and Mahafaly plateaus). The geographical range of radiated turtles is made up of 10,000 square km.

Other species that are from the genus Astrochelys is the Angonoka tortoise, another critically-endangered tortoise that is native to Madagascar,

How long does a radiated turtle live?

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Radiated Turtles can live up to 100 years, with some specimens able to reach 188 years.  A baby radiated turtle that you purchased today can outlive you and your family. It is important to coordinate the care of your pet to other members of your family, especially the younger generation.

Radiated turtles have three life stages: hatchlings, juvenile, and adult turtles. These turtles require special care in their different stages. During the hatchling phase, the turtles weigh less than 12 grams but are already robust. These young turtles will quickly eat their first meal, and if you are not careful will usually overeat, and this can lead to some health issues. Radiated turtle babies have black and yellow color shells with unique black marks. The heads are round with black eyes. The babies have steady and stable legs that allow them to move about and explore their environment more closely.

Juvenile turtles are like their parents with softer colors. These turtles have a huge appetite and will eat almost anything that is served to them. These juveniles have a lot of energy despite their size but are not as huge as their parents. Meanwhile, adults have round shells and are taller, and rounder and the shells are brighter but sometimes duller, especially when the turtle stays outdoors.

What to feed your radiated turtle?

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Radiated turtles eat in the morning and in the evening. These turtles love the sun and will graze in the morning right after it has attained its best grazing or foraging temperature. After eating, these turtles will laze around in groups to relax and sleep. When kept outdoors, these turtles can be seen moving about and foraging with their cage-mates inside their outdoor enclosure. The best time to offer food is during the morning or late afternoon when the tortoises are very hungry.

Young tortoises may be fed with a variety of green veggies like clover, dandelion, mulberry, citrus pads, kale, collard greens, mulberry, and hibiscus flowers. Calcium is a very important mineral, and this is vital for your pet’s proper health. You must add calcium to your pet’s food by using a cuttlebone. A female radiated turtle will gnaw on the cuttlebone during the egg-laying season. This will make sure that she will lay healthy, well-formed eggs. Calcium powder may be added to food and fed to your pet. 

Foods to feed a captive radiated turtle

  • Dry food such as alfalfa hay, orchid hay, Bermuda grass hay or a Mazuri Tortoise Diet
  • Flowers such as dandelions, hibiscus, daisies, marigolds, petunias, pansies, roses, ice plants, honeysuckles, ruellias, and yellow bells.
  • Fruits like apple, papaya, mango, strawberry, grape, pumpkin, strawberry, squash, guava, banana, pineapple, pomegranate, mulberry, watermelon, and many more.
  • Vegetables and greens such as carrots, sweet potatoes, collards, mustard, turnip greens, frisee, escarole, mushrooms, green leaf, radicchios, and romaine lettuce.
  • Succulents such as aloe Vera, jade plants, prickly pears, Opuntia cactus, Yucca, and Sedum.
  • Weeds and leaves such as chickweed, clover, crimson, white clovers, mallow, purslane, cape honeysuckle, ferns, figs, rosemary, butterfly bush, and many more.

Foods you should avoid

  • Cooked human food should never be given to your pet. Human food may contain spices and other artificial ingredients that could be dangerous to your pet.
  • Pet food that is not formulated for turtles should be avoided. For the best brand of pet food or turtle food, consult an exotics vet.

How does a radiated turtle sleep?

Like all animals, radiated turtles need to rest and sleep. And just like most tortoises, the radiated turtle needs a regular daily schedule, which starts early in the morning as the turtle feeds and basks. Similar to other tortoise species, the radiated turtle will find a comfortable, safe spot and sleep. It is also common to find radiated turtles in large groups perched on a log or in a secluded area as they relax and sleep.

Maintaining good water quality in the turtle tank

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Radiated Turtles may live inland and in shallow water where you can find aquatic plants and animals. For a radiated turtle, there must be water habitats like a tank or pond with water up to 105 cm deep. If you will keep this turtle in captivity, an outdoor enclosure that has a manmade pond is a good trip. And with water comes aquatic plants that your turtle can eat and hide in. And indoor enclosures also need a clean water tank, so install one that’s shallower to encourage your pet to take a dip and swim in.

Take note of radiated turtle health issues

One way to provide the best care for radiated turtles is to take it to the vet for proper medical care. An exotic pet vet or a reptile specialist is the best person to go to for help.

Radiated turtles are known to be very healthy and hardly affected by a specific illness. However, these are not immune to common tortoise and turtle health issues. For these, you must consult a vet for the right care and medical treatment.  

Radiated turtles may suffer from abscesses. An abscess is any kind of bump, swelling, or any tumor on any part of the turtle’s body. The most common areas where abscesses can form are the eyes and the opening of the ear. The most common cause of abscesses is vitamin A deficiency, and therefore, supplementing with vitamin A is necessary.  

Vitamin A deficiency is another health issue that is common in radiated turtles. Deficiency of this vitamin leads to skin changes, poor appetite, swelling of the eye and eyelids, respiratory conditions, and poor energy. To counter vitamin A deficiency, feed your turtle a vitamin A-rich diet or give it supplements of vitamin A.

Radiated turtles are also prone to parasites. Suspect that your turtle has parasites in its intestines if you spot diarrhea and weight loss. The most common parasites are roundworms, and these should be treated as soon as possible. Most of the time, turtles don’t show any symptoms and may only have diarrhea and weight loss, which means its condition is too late. Take your pet to the vet as soon as you notice these symptoms.  

Radiated turtles are better kept in an outdoor enclosure. It also loves the company of other turtles and even other turtle or tortoise species. And because of playing and living with other turtles, it can be prone to many kinds of injuries. A young or adult turtle may fall and break its shell and suffer from serious injuries.

For injuries, a radiated turtle should be taken to the vet for treatment. If you spot any injury on the eyes, nose, or head and any kind of bleeding, take it to the vet at once. If you see vomiting, diarrhea, or blood, take your pet to the vet to prevent suffering from dehydration, blood loss, and other problems.

Respiratory infections can also affect radiated turtles, and infections can be due to bacteria and vitamin A deficiency. Symptoms of respiratory conditions include open-mouth breathing, wheezing, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Any discharge coming from the nose or mouth is also a sure sign of a respiratory condition.

Shell problems can be due to bacterial or viral infections and fungi. Never overlook shell problems because this can crack and lead to fracture. Most often, females may suffer from shell problems after mating aggressively. As much as possible, you must watch out for physical injuries like bleeding, abscesses, and poor healing.

The best way to avoid illness is to maintain cleanliness. Change the water in the tank at least once a  week. Use a powerful water filter to efficiently clean the water in the tank and change the filter in the equipment often.

Use a powerful disinfectant to clean the tortoise enclosure; You may also use warm water. Change the water to avoid the growth of bacteria. Remove food remnants in the tank and any poop. Remember that turtles may poop in the water, so you must be very diligent in cleaning the enclosure. You must spot clean every once in a while.

It’s very important that you take your tortoise to an exotics vet for regular checkups. Radiated turtles are critically-endangered, and so any medical condition must be consulted ASAP. Never overlook any  health condition to avoid any dangerous illness.

Understand radiated turtle behavior

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Experts have very little information about the behavior of radiated turtles, but the following information can help you understand what your pet is telling you. 

Radiated turtles love to be with other tortoises. You will notice that in almost all photographs of the radiated turtle, all the members of the clutch eat, graze, bask and sleep together.

Radiated turtles are very friendly. These turtles are actually very intelligent and can learn how to tell if he is being handled by its owner. A good way is to take time to get to know your pet and to handle it early to develop trust between you and your pet.

Despite being fond of water, turtles and tortoises can also drown. Tortoises can stay underwater for a long time, but despite this, it can also drown. Turtles should come up for air to breathe, but if they cannot come up for any reason, your pet can drown. If you suspect that your pet has drowned, do not turn it upside down. It may still have air left inside their lungs. Doing this can reduce their chances of living. To revive your drowning turtle, place it on a flat surface, and use your thumb or forefinger to perform turtle CPR.  

To perform turtle CPR, hold the turtle’s two front legs and push in and out the shell. This can remove water out of the lungs, so water may come out of its mouth and nose. Allow your pet to rest, and afterward, take it to a vet for a complete checkup.

Maintaining radiated turtle habitat

Radiated turtles are easy to house outdoors and need a lot of space. Radiated turtles don’t hibernate, and this is because these turtles can tolerate hot or cold environments. An indoor enclosure that measures 8 x 4 is a good cage or enclosure size for only two regular adults. Males and females are usually kept apart and may only be allowed to meet during breeding time.

When it comes to the ideal substrate, use cypress mulch as deep as two to three inches. Male and female cages are similar, but the female should have a nesting box that must be positioned under the basking light.

When turtles are kept outdoors, the enclosure should be at least 12 x 20 feet for a family of tortoises. Use timber for the enclosure walls. Do not create gaps in the enclosure walls because your pets can escape. Create a small greenhouse that you can use as a home for your pets, which can be easily accessible. You must place this pen in a sunlit area of your yard and on good, well-drained soil. Areas where water can accumulate or may be soaked after a rain is not a good place to build an enclosure or outdoor cage for your pet.

Lighting for a radiated turtle

Tortoises cannot control their own body temperatures and, therefore, will need efficient lighting. So for radiated turtle, use a full-spectrum UV lamp and a basking or heating lamp. There are many types of lamps, but the best is an incandescent light which will shine brighter and warmer. The lighting, temperature, and height should be adjustable. Lighting should not be overlooked because this can affect your tortoise’s health.

Filtration for a radiated turtle

For a turtle cage with a water feature, use a reliable filter that will clean the tank water. When overlooked, the tank water can easily become dirty, especially if you have more than one turtle inside the tank. Also, prepare for a power interruption by having a battery-powered backup filtration unit on standby. You must consider spot cleaning the water inside the enclosure or changing the water at least twice a day because turtles are known to poop in the water.

The ideal tank accessories

As much as possible, keep the tortoise enclosure simple and clean. Never place any décor that can injure your tortoise. The tank also needs water, soil, sand, and rocks where your pet can sit on and bask for hours. For accessories inside a female turtle’s tank, place loose soil inside the tank because the turtle needs a lot of soil where she can lay her eggs.  

Sanitation for the tank

Sanitize the turtle tank to prevent the spread of parasites. Tortoises may also spread salmonella and other diseases. Salmonella is a danger that can cause diarrhea and vomiting in humans. To prevent Salmonella, clean the tank regularly, especially if you are taking care of more than one turtle in a tank.

Use a good disinfectant to clean the tank well. Use warm water and soap, and if you are keeping your tortoises in an enclosure, use a sturdy brush to scrub the floors and walls. Use a hose to rinse the cage completely. Wear protective gear when cleaning your pet’s enclosure. Everything should be dry and ready before you put your pet inside the enclosure. You must use paper towels to dry the tank and any accessories.

Where to find healthy radiated turtles?

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Radiated turtles are listed as a critically-endangered species. Therefore, the sale of these animals is prohibited. But despite this, the illegal trade of this tortoise continues in exotic pet shops and online pet stores.

In the black market sale of radiated turtles, a baby or hatchling may cost $2500++ or more. The price depends on the age, size, and gender. The more colorful and well-defined the shells are, the more expensive a radiated turtle can be.

And if you want to help stop the illegal trade of radiated turtles, don’t buy but adopt a turtle from a friend or from a center. Never recommend turtle pet shops or pet stores.

How to care for radiated turtles

Here are important tips on how to take care of radiated turtles

Before and after handling radiated turtles, wash your hands to prevent the spread of Salmonella and other dangerous diseases. Radiated turtle may be affected by parasites, and therefore, proper handwashing and wearing protective clothing can stop the spread of this parasite to pets and other people.

This tortoise will not mind being handled as long as it is used to handling or frequent handling early in its life. Be careful and don’t drop them or place them in a cold environment. Doing these can cause stress to your radiated turtle and can also kill it.

Your pet radiated turtle may roam the yard or outdoors as long as you are in the area to protect it. You can use a small cage so you can carry it wherever you want to go. As much as possible, monitor the temperature of the tank or enclosure and keep the area perfect by using a reptile lamp, especially when there’s no sunlight.

You must make sure that your turtles are in good health by taking it to a vet regularly. Do this more when your pet is young and in its late adult years. You should monitor your pet for any problems like respiratory and shell conditions problems.

If you have a new pet turtle, do not immediately place these in the tank or enclosure. Quarantine these to rule out any diseases for a few weeks. After a clean bill of health, you may allow it to join your turtles in a communal tank.

You must always feed your turtle the right kind of food. Food must be fresh, organic, and safe for your pet. A well-balanced meal is important to avoid deficiencies and infections. Consult a vet for the ideal type of food according to its developmental stage. Your vet can also help you with the right supplements for your pet radiated turtle. You can buy food from an organic, natural foods supermarket, or you can grow your own safe food for your pet.

Future of the Radiated Turtles

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As of writing, the radiated turtles’ future is unknown because of many threats to its condition. With the efforts of organizations in breeding and reintroducing radiated tortoises in the wild, the numbers are gradually improving. However, there is a chance that this number may not be able to improve or remain low because of the collecting and trading of radiated turtles.

As long as breeding conditions are followed strictly, organizations and groups involved in the breeding of this turtle will find success in their endeavors.

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