• By Amanda Blackburn.

Meet our new pets!

Our dog spot died and we haven’t been able to replace him with another dog. I’m slowly getting over his death but I’m still not ready to commit to the big responsibility of another. My two children have been desperate to get another dog for a while and I was feeling guilty that they hadn’t got any pets. Still, it’s usually us adults that end up taking care of the pets once the novelty has worn off, so they will just have to wait till I’m ready. Until that day, meet our little musk turtles Poe and Godzilla.

Common Musk turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) are a species of small turtle native to southeastern Canada and much of the Eastern United States. This turtle rarely exceeds 4 inches in length (record: 5 3/8 inches); males average 3 inches. The musk turtles tough looking shell is olive-brown to black and it’s skin grey to black. On equal sides of the musk, the turtles head is two yellow stripes that my son thinks looks like a Nike tick. Musk Turtles bear glands that can emit a foul-smelling secretion designed to deter predators. Fortunately, this only happened on the first day of homing them, and it wasn’t that unpleasant, they haven’t omitted any smells since. We have been handling them from the first day as the turtles only let out the scent when they are nervous, frequent handling has definitely helped.

Although it is not known for certain, common musk turtles are suspected to live 30 to 50 years in the wild. If this is the case they will probably outlive me! Males are presumed to become sexually mature by 4 years of age, whereas females may take up to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. We are not able to tell the sex of our turtles till they are fully grown. When they are fully grown we will be able to examine the turtle’s plastron. The underside of the shell, which covers the turtle equivalent of a belly, is called the plastron. Another clue to the common musk turtles sex is it’s claws and tail, again you will need to wait till your turtle has fully grown to determine it accurately.

So there is a little bit of musk turtle information, I’m sure I will be sharing more over the years, especially because they live so long. So far our little turtles have entertained us and all the children I look after and my children absolutely adore them. You can meet our new friends below;

Godzilla -named and chosen by my son Zac is the largest of the two, hence the name. When we went to pick our turtles Godzilla was the only turtle that was basking with his head out of the water. Zac thought he looked like the king turtle that was in charge of all the others, this turtle had to be Zac’s. He is very friendly, loves his food and is always helping Poe (the smallest turtle) by holding food still for Poe while he/she eats. When Poe struggles to swim out of the little filter current Godzilla lets Poe jump on his/her back and takes Poe back to their resting plant.

Godzilla is more confident than Poe and is the first to swim to you when you say hello. Godzilla likes the underneath of his neck stroked but he’s not a fan of being carefully cleaned with a fine toothbrush. We have only started doing this so hopefully, he will relax eventually. He hasn’t bit us yet but tried to take his mood out on the toothbrush.

Poe is tiny and my daughter chose Poe because she thought she looked the cutest. Don’t ask me why Skye called he/she Poe, she doesn’t know why either it just seemed to suit. During our turtle choosing Poe followed Skye’s finger when she put it to the tank, this apparently was a sign that she wanted to come with us. Of course, this is what Zac thought anyway so we went along. Poe is shy and cautious but kind and friendly once he/she gets to know you. Poe likes to hide in small spaces which used to frighten us as we sometimes struggled to find her/him. Poe comes out when we call her/him at the glass now luckily. Poe doesn’t eat as much as Godzilla but this is changing every day. Poe doesn’t seem to mind having a clean with a fine toothbrush and seems to like it.

I didn’t really know anything about turtles until my friend had recently told me. She was planning to get some for her children for Christmas. I had been thinking about getting a lower maintenance pet and when she told me all she knew it really interested me. I made sure I would be able to manage by finding out information online about how to care for musk turtles, where to purchase from and what I would need, cost etc. Taking on a pet isn’t something that shouldn't be rushed, we made sure we were ready and knew everything we needed to know beforehand.

We wanted to make it a magical experience for my younger son Zac, it had really upset him losing our dog Spot and he often cries about him. Zac loves our Alfie Elf on the shelf that visits us during December every year, it’s his favourite part of Christmas. We decided to get the tank and everything when he was at school on Friday. When he arrived back from school and went into his bedroom a glass tank was placed on his bedroom shelf sat with his Elf. In the Elf’s hands was a little note explaining that Alfie Elf had won the elf lottery and wanted to get Skye and Zac a present to say thank you for always being so kind and good. The note also gave some information about Musk turtles and how to take care of them, how to set up the tank and why Elf’s like them as pets. Alfie thought Zac was responsible and old enough to have a pet. There was also an envelope with some money to pick some turtles and chose some tank decorations in the morning with directions on where to purchase these very special pets. His excitement will not be forgotten and although teenagers don’t like to show excitement in the same way, my daughter couldn’t wait till the morning.

That evening we all set the tank up together to make sure it was perfect for our new little friends that would be coming in the morning. We had purchased a 30-gallon glass tank, a 20-gallon tank would have been adequate for keeping one turtle but for two we were advised a long length 30 gallon. We chose glass for ease of cleaning and good visibility. Our tank came with a basking platform, that we have since changed as we didn’t like the look of the one supplied. Musk turtles spend the majority of their time in the water but also like the option of dry land to bask when they choose. Musk turtles require their water to be gently heated to around 22’C so we had purchased a turtle water heater to get the temperature correct. We had also purchased sand to line the bottom of the tank with, water conditioner, natural minerals liquid, a vitamin block and a filter to help keep the tank clean. The water conditioner helps to remove chlorine from the water and the block and minerals liquid helps to provide the turtles with vitamins needed for their growth.

Morning couldn’t come quick enough for Zac, he was awake far too early for his teenage sister's liking, but usually, half the day is gone by the time she emerges from her quarters. Once my daughter had got over the fact that she was up and out for 10 am on a Saturday we made our way to the garden centre to purchase our new little friends. The children chose their turtles and then we let them pick some tank decorations. Zac chose a submarine and some stones and Skye chose an artificial bush and a bridge. We also purchased some food for them. Musk turtles occasionally consume plant matter such as Elodea species or duckweed. We haven’t tried this with ours yet. Pet common musk turtles will eat earthworms, cut-up fish and shrimp, crickets and bloodworms.

One very important thing that you should be aware of before purchasing any reptiles is that they carry salmonella bacteria, which can be easily transmitted to people. Salmonella can cause a serious or even life-threatening infection in people, even though the bacteria do not make reptiles or amphibians sick. People infected with Salmonella may have diarrhoea, fever, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and headache. We have been very careful when handling our turtles and during cleaning their tank out. My children are old enough to understand the importance of washing their hands with antibacterial soap thoroughly after handling. We also ensure we clean the tank out with cleaning tools that are kept away from food and cooking and thoroughly clean the area with disinfectant after. I wouldn’t advise younger children to have them as pets for the risk as younger children often put their hands to their mouths regularly. I don’t let the children I care for handle the turtles, they love to watch them swim around the tank and I let the older children feed them making sure they always wash their hands correctly after.


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