Reeve’s Turtle Care (Mauremys reevesii)
Reeve’s turtle is the smallest member of the genus Mauremys, one of the largest genera of the Old World turtle family Geoemydidae. Their range extends across central and eastern China, as well North and South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, where they inhabit lakes, ponds and small streams. This species shows a preference for slow-moving or still water with soft bottoms, abundant aquatic vegetation and ample basking sites. It has also been recorded in swamps, marshes and even flooded rice paddies.
Although there appears to be several distinct morphological forms (as might be expected with a wide-ranging species like M. reevesii), their habits and requirements are very similar. For the purpose of captive husbandry, they may all be cared for in the same manner.
Reeve’s turtles breed readily in captivity, and are frequently produced by hobbyists and, especially in China, turtle farms alike. As with most temperate species, Reeve’s turtle breeding is seasonally restricted to spring and summer, so captive bred babies are most commonly available from May through September. However, given the significant numbers of babies produced annually, they are usually available year-round, and their pricing is relatively low for an exotic species.
In addition to their charming personality, another appealing aspect of Reeve’s turtles is their manageable adult size. Even the larger ‘megalocephala’ form of Reeve’s turtle rarely exceeds 9 inches, and specimens of the typical form are not normally more than 6 inches in length. Females attain a larger adult size than males, but unfortunately it is not possible to determine the gender of hatchling turtles from outward physical appearance alone.
Reeve’s turtles have been known to live for over 20 years in captivity, so they can truly be a longtime companion. With proper diet, housing, and care, one can reasonably expect their Reeve’s turtle to live for at least 10-15 years.
Provided that some minimal housing requirements are provided, captive housing for Reeve’s turtles can be as simple or elaborate as the keeper decides to make it. Because Reeve’s turtles are not the best of swimmers, the depth should be kept relatively shallow, and about 3 times the turtle’s shell length should be considered a safe maximum. However, water that is too shallow presents a potential drowning hazard as well, because the turtle may not be able to right itself if it gets turned upside-down. So the water depth should never be less than about 1.5 times the length of the turtle’s shell. A basking area, on which the turtle can leave the water completely, with a good basking light to help the turtle thermoregulate, is an absolute must. An underwater hiding place should be provided as well, with care taken to ensure that the turtle cannot get trapped and drown. Non-toxic live or plastic plants can be provided for hiding and foraging, though the turtles will eventually shred any live plants whether they eat them or not. Although the tank bottom can be left bare, substrate (sand, gravel, etc.) can be used but should be sized such that it either cannot be swallowed or will pass easily through the turtle’s digestive tract.
Because they are lively and active turtles, Reeve’s turtles should be provided with as much room as possible. At a minimum, a single baby or Reeve’s turtle should be provided about 5 gallons of water volume; this does not mean a 5 gallon tank, but at least a 10 or 15 gallon tank partially filled so that there are actually 5 gallons of water. Increase the volume of water by 2-3 gallons for each additional baby turtle. As the turtle(s) reach adulthood and beyond they should be provided with a minimum of 20 gallons of water volume for the first turtle, with an additional 10 gallons of water volume for each additional turtle.
Reeve’s turtles are adaptable, and can be readily housed in practically any suitably sized tank. Stock tanks, glass aquariums, plastic totes, and garden ponds can all be furnished appropriately for housing individual or groups of Reeve’s turtles. They can be maintained indoors or out, and adequate protection from predators as well as escape prevention measures should be provided in either case.
Lighting & Temperature
As long as there is a good dietary source of vitamin D to metabolize calcium, UVA/UVB lighting can be provided but is probably not necessary. A good heat-emitting light should always be provided over the basking area, and if necessary either incandescent or fluorescent lighting can provide additional illumination. A household outlet timer can be employed to cycle the lighting on and off to provide a reasonable day/night cycle, and can be adjusted periodically to the appropriate seasonal photoperiod. The sun will of course provide heat and UV rays for turtles maintained outdoors, and no further lighting is necessary.
Temperature gradients should be provided for the water, ambient air, and basking area. Water should be maintained within the range of 70°F-80°F, ambient air between 75°F-85°F, and basking area between 85°F-95°F. Remember that temperatures within an aquarium – especially if there is a hood or cover installed – will likely differ from the temperatures within the surrounding room, so it is important to periodically check the actual temperatures in the tank rather than just relying on a general indoor thermometer/thermostat.
Diet & Feeding
There is a wide variety of commercial turtle food available on the market, and most have been formulated to provide optimum nutrition for aquatic turtles at all stages of growth. Pay attention to ingredient labels, and look for the following constituencies:
- 30%-40% protein
- Low fat content
- Vitamin D
- Calcium (Ca) to phosphate (Ph) ratio at least 2:1
- Vitamin and mineral supplementation
Reeve’s turtles are omnivorous, and in addition to prepared foods they will accept both animal and plant matter with equal enthusiasm. Along with fish, worms, and insects, they can also be offered green leafy vegetables as well as aquatic plants such as water lettuce, water hyacinth, and duckweed.
Provided with suitable housing and diet, Reeve’s turtles will be active and energetic inhabitants of any turtle tank. But as with any organism, illness and disease can adversely affect them. Some indicators of health problems include:
- Swollen or sunken eyes
- Listing or inability to submerge
- Gaping or frothing at the mouth, or bubbles in the nose
- Excessive basking or refusal to enter the water
- Inability or refusal to feed
- Asymmetrical or irregular growth
- Obvious discoloration or open wounds on the skin or shell
- Any other abnormal appearance or behavior
If any of the problems listed above are noted with a captive Reeve’s turtle, immediate veterinary attention is necessary. Be sure to use a vet that specializes in turtles and tortoises, or at least reptiles and exotic animals. A list of local reptile vets can be found at www.arav.com.
Temperament & Handling
Although not truly social animals, Reeve’s turtles are capable of cohabitating with turtles of their own and other species with similar housing needs. Both sexes can exhibit dominant or territorial aggression, but this behavior is usually not severe enough to inflict serious injury as long as adequate space and hiding areas are provided. Still, it may be necessary to provide a larger habitat or even entirely isolate offending turtles if consistent aggression is noted.
Reeve’s turtles are not domesticated animals that thrive on human affection and contact, and they should not be handled except as a matter of necessity. Occasional handling to inspect the turtle for health or injuries, and occasionally relocating turtles to alternate containers for cleaning and maintenance of their primary habitat is acceptable. In any case, handling is best kept to an absolute minimum. Despite appearances to the contrary, handling is stressful to the turtle and subjects the handler to biting and scratching by the turtle. And as always, thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water before and after a turtle or any related materials or equipment has been handled will help to avoid any disease transmission between human and turtle.