Everyone’s heard of red eared sliders and box turtles. Most people have heard of map turtles, snapping turtles, cooters, soft shelled turtles, painted turtles, wood turtles, and assorted terrapins (especially the Diamond Back). But, we mustn’t forget mud and musk turtles. The turtles, tortoises, and terrapins in the US belong to any one of five families:
• Chelydridae (Snapping turtles)
• Emydidae (Terrapins)
• Testudinidae (Tortoises)
• Trionychidae (Soft-shelled turtles)
• Kinosternidae (Mud & Musk turtles)
Many of them make excellent pets. All of them are fascinating. The least promising pet turtle would be Snapping Turtles, of course! Sliders tend to be on the large side and unsuitable for someone seeking a first time turtle. Painted turtles also are a little large. Some of the soft-shelled turtles are very large! Some of the smaller tortoises (like Greek and Russian) are nice first tortoises, but if you’re looking for a water turtle, they’re not on your list. Spotted turtles are great for size and minimal water requirements, but they’re pricey.
Mud and musk turtles are the focus of this article, because of their small sizes, ease of care, and inexpensive cost.
There are eight American Mud and Musk turtles:
• Common Mud ( Kinosternon subrubrum) - 3 - 4.8 inches
• Striped Mud (Kinosternon bauri) - 3 - 4.7 inches
• Sonoran Mud ( Kinosternon sonoriense) - 3 - 6.8 inches
• Yellow Mud ( Kinosternon flavescens) -3 - 6.5 inches
• Common Musk ( Sternotherus odoratus) - 3 - 4.9 inches
• Razor-backed Musk ( Sternotherus carinatus ) - 3 - 6.3 inches
• Flattened Musk ( Sternotherus depressus) 3 - 4.5 inches
• Loggerhead Musk ( Sternotherus minor ) - 3 - 5.3 inches
Some of the above mentioned Mud and Musk turtles are endangered, but you can find other species, like the Striped Mud Turtle, at reasonable prices. They may not be as colorful as some of aquatic turtles available, but their small sizes and ease of care make them much better potentialpets. Keep in mind these are not short-lived animals. They can live 30-55 years!
Basic care requirements include strong filtration. Water quality is key for the aquatic turtles like the Musk turtles (Mud turtles can be terrestrial depending on the species). Other basic care requirements include a heat source, a basking site, proper food items (do not overfeed), full spectrum lighting, and proper water height (musk turtles are bottom walkers).
Mud and Musk turtles tend to eat off the bottom of the tank. They’re not prone to surface feeding, but they may occasionally choose to surface feed.
FOOD: insects, small fish, crayfish (and other crustaceans such as crabs), fish eggs, snails, freshwater clams, frogs, leeches, worms, and tadpoles.
They will also eat algae (depending on the turtle)), duckweed, and other vascular aquatic plants. A number of commercial turtle diets are excellent for Mud and Musk turtles.
A 40 gallon long or bigger is suitable for one turtle. Bigger is always better (as with most pets), especially with water turtles. The smaller the environment, the more closely you must monitor the water quality, the more often you must perform water changes, and the faster your filter may wear out.
Happily, Mud and Musk turtles don’t require deep water (6-8 inches), but they do require as much horizontal space as possible. They are foragers and need space to follow their natural instincts. A small child’s pool would be excellent, if you have the space indoors.
Watch your hands! Musk turtles have very long necks and can often reach back to their BACK FEET. When disturbed, musk turtles can secrete a foul-smelling yellowish fluid which has earned them the nickname “stinkpot.”
WHERE TO BUY
As usual, avoid wild-caught. Check the rescues first, then check for breeders. Another option is Glades Herps who often has both captive bred (CB) and wild caught (WC) specimens.
Thanks for taking a look at Mud and Musk turtles. They’re the most easily overlooked yet the most suitable as pets. If you’re interested in an aquatic turtle, check them out. They’re so much better suited to a home aquarium environment than some of the larger turtles (like Red-Eared Sliders), especially for the first time aquatic turtle owner.
Just make sure to research the turtle species you’re interested in before you buy. It will enable you to create the best environment possible.