Musk Turtle Care Guide
The Species: Musk Turtles (Sternotherus odoratus) also known as Common Musk Turtles, Eastern Musk Turtles and Stinkpots are native to North America, primarily Canada and Eastern United States, inhabiting wetlands such as shallow watercourses with slow currents and usually a mud or sand based substrates. Musk Turtles, unlike other Turtle species spend the majority of their time in the water, only coming out of the water to bask and for breeding. Usually from wooded wetland areas, these Turtles are also incredibly good climbers.
Enclosure: Musk Turtles are primarily aquatic animals and spend majority of their lives in the water, living in filtrated tanks. As juveniles they should have a minimum size tank of 60L (13 gallon) and need to have a minimum size of 90L (20 gallon) for adults. Musk Turtles are solitary by nature but can cohabit as long as they have a large enough tank to avoid territorial behaviours, although we would generally advise keeping them separate to avoid any aggression.
When setting up a fish tank or aquarium, the filter should be running for a minimum of 7-10 days before adding any animals and a water test should always be completed before adding anyone to the tank. This is to make sure that all the chlorine has been cycled out of the tank and that healthy bacteria has established itself within the water to keep any animals alive. It is important to cycle out the chlorine as this can harmful to aquatic animals. It is also important to make sure that there is water movement in the tank to disturb the surface of the water to make sure that oxygen can enter the water, this can be accomplished by having a filter or air pump within the tank.
Musk Turtles should have their tank filled 3/4 to the top to give them enough space to swim, they should also be provided with access out from the water this can be rafts, logs, rocks or any other way to access a basing spot out form the water. The water level should be high enough for them to swim but not so deep that they can't direct themselves underwater as it can sometimes cause neurological damage especially in juveniles.
Suitable substrates for this species can be gravel, sand or soil as they would naturally come from areas with a sand and mud based substrate. Various decor should also be included to provide as natural of an enclosure as possible. Woods, rocks and caves are all suitable to use for this species however it is important to make sure that they cannot get trapped inside as they will be unable to come up for air and can die. Live or artificial plants are also acceptable. Many people want to keep fish, frogs and other aquatic animals in the tank with Turtles however this is advised against because Turtles are predators and will naturally hunt other animals within the tank.
Heating: Turtles require a heating source of either a guarded aquarium heater or a heat lamp. If an aquarium heater is used, temperatures within the tank should be 22-26⁰C (72-78⁰F) however if provided with a heat lamp, it should sit above the Turtle’s basking spot, this should be controlled with a thermostat and should be kept at an ideal basking temperature of 32⁰C (90⁰F) but can go as low as 29⁰C (85⁰F). The temperatures should drop at night and be on a 12-hour cycle, the same as the lighting.
Lighting: Almost every animal kept in captivity require UVB lighting, this includes Turtles. This species requires a UVB level of 12%, these animals can also benefit from LED lighting especially if there are live plants inside the enclosure. The lighting should be on a 12-hour cycle.
Tank Maintenance: Fish tank maintenance is very important when keeping these animals as they have the same maintenance level. Water changes of approximately 20-30% should be completed every 2 weeks and during this process, any dirt should be syphoned off of the bottom of the tank and any algae cleaned off of the glass.
Filter sponges should only be cleaned whenever the filter starts to slow down and should only be cleaned in the old water removed from the tank, filter sponges or media rarely need changing and if done, should not be changed all at once as doing so can disrupt the system causing the tank to essentially start form scratch meaning all the healthy bacteria has been removed from the tank, this goes for tank water as well, no more than 50% of thank water should ever be removed at a time as removing more than that can disrupt the system and remove the healthy bacteria. Removing healthy bacteria basically starts a tank from scratch and can kill any animals living in the tank.
Diet: Musk Turtles are carnivores and will actively hunt anything that moves past them, they can have a variety of feeds but prefer to hunt. A good varied diet can consist of livefood such as shrimp, worms, bloodworm however some other foods can be given such as frozen bloodworm or Turtle Foods.