Designing Ponds for Water Turtles

Published on July 1, 2011

Red-eared slider mom with three of her babies.
Red-eared slider mom with three of her babies.

Pond turtles make a great addition to both your pond and your family. Filled with charisma, water turtles can provide literally hours of entertainment and education. Use the term *Water Turtle* loosely. It is important to know that these semi-aquatic reptiles spend a significant time out of the water to bask in the sun. A primary place to bask in the sun is a critical necessity in every turtle pond.

A proper landing, which your water turtle can access to get OUT of the water and completely dry off, is imperative to this fascinating animal’s long-term health. The use of driftwood in a pond designed for turtles not only looks attractive, but also is incredibly useful for these friendly pets. These semi-aquatic turtles have claws for digging, eating, flirting, breeding, swimming, and CLIMBING! It is so much easier for turtles to climb out of the pond on a piece of driftwood, rather than on a smooth granite stone or boulder.

**A turtle tunnel or “Pondominium,”** as we say around here is an important component that should be incorporated into a turtle pond. These turtles are exposed to predators such as dogs, cats, coyotes, birds, raccoons, skunks, opossums and PEOPLE! A hideaway in the rocks, at the deepest point of the turtle pond, literally can be a lifesaver!

**”Can You Dig This?” Water turtles love to dig!** An area in which to forage, comprised of either compost soil or sand next to the pond, is like heaven for turtles, especially for females looking to lay eggs. For those of you who did not know, water turtles DO lay eggs. Therefore, be sure to have an area nearby where females can build a nest. This area may also serve as a basking spot.

A male turtle, undoubtedly, works on his tan, while the female does all the work digging the nest, laying the eggs and then covering the eggs back up for protection from the elements and predation. Fencing is a mandatory consideration when building a pond for these four-legged creatures. Pond Turtles love to wander! If you have two males, and they get in a squabble or are hormonally eager for a girlfriend, one of them (or both of them) may simply leave.

Girl looking for boy; boy looking for girl: the grass is always greener. The excuses for leaving your pond – no matter how many amenities it possesses – are plentiful; pond turtles simply wander! A turtle-friendly skimmer is a must!

I have witnessed way too many fatal accidents in pond skimmers, where turtles get tangled up and unnoticed before it’s too late! In extreme cases, I have seen where a turtle was pulled underwater down to the pump’s intake and couldn’t get free to come up for a breath of air! With a little ingenuity, most pond skimmers on the market can be modified to be turtle-friendly. Look for skimmers with a smaller opening, tight fitting skimmer nets or baskets with a snug fitting lid for your turtle pond to protect your carapace-toting pal.

**Understanding Pond Turtles and Their Funny Habits**

Aquatic plants, aside from their beauty, are an important element in any waterscape ecosystem. However, water turtles are omnivorous and like to eat vegetation, too! Here is where you have to pick your battles. When designing a pond for turtles the number ONE priority must be the turtle, while aquatic plants that thrive are just a bonus!

I’ll share with you the story of when I purchased this rare water lily, named “Albert Greenberg,” several years ago, with a C-note as the price tag. Well, I placed this very expensive water lily ever-so carefully into my pond, which housed “Terry the Turtle,” and daily observed the first bud of this magnificent aquatic plant inching its way towards the water’s surface.

Finally, the day was so close that I could taste it! By the next day, this rare lily would grace its beauty with the very first flower! I remember heading to the pond that anointed day, and, as soon as I had made the turn, with the pond in my line of sight, my stomach sank as I noticed the unopened bud in Terry the Turtle’s mouth! If you could have seen his face – and mine – as he ate my treasured, water lily bud, you very possibly would have lost your mind laughing!

Fish also are an important element for a working ecosystem, but, once again, remember water turtles are omnivorous creatures. If you keep turtles well fed, it is unlikely that they will hunt down your fish and EAT THEM, but it has been known to happen. One of my long-time customers had a turtle pond that was home to dozens of amazing fish and one adorable Red-Eared Slider! He swam around with the group of fish like he was just one of the gang, never nipping at a single fish.

Come feeding time, he would be right up in the middle of the group begging for tasty turtle pellet morsels and, of course, the koi food, too. The problem was, as he swam next to the fish frenzy, he would on occasion unintentionally scratch his pond mates to the point that several of his scaled buddies had scars on their flanks from feeding next to the turtle. Keep this in mind, as a pond turtle will offer cons, along with his numerous, adorable pros! When designing a pond for these amazing reptiles, note that the Red-Eared Slider, along with other water turtles, may grow up to be one-foot-long. Females tend to be larger than the males. Because of their ultimate size and attendant food consumption, these turtles require a filtration system to remove their waste products, as they prefer pristine water quality.

They also need plenty of room for long-distance swimming, which they very much enjoy. Providing them with an environment with room enough to move around will help increase their chances of living in captivity up to age 40!

**Make these elements that we have reviewed here a part of your turtle pond design**; by doing so, these creatures will reward you for decades with their charm and captivating personalities. Be prepared because they will steal your heart away, along with those of your family and friends!

**Turtle Pond Construction**
Building a turtle pond doesn’t have to be a big worry. We’ve installed dozens of pond habitats specifically for water turtles and would love to help you design a proper feature and life support system to match your property and budget. Whether you want to build the feature yourself or have it professionally installed we are more than happy to help assist you. Review our Pond Design Consultation page if you would like assistance designing your turtle pond.

Aqua UV

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