the cold months creep up on us, we have to take special precautions for our
turtles. What I mean when I refer to “winterizing”, is to make your tanks
suitable to house your turtles, in indoor settings, through the colder winter
months. Some keepers have their tanks the same all year round and have had no
problems. Most likely, this is because their tanks are already “winterized”
or they do not allow the temperatures in their home to fall below a certain
level. We enjoy leaving the windows open in the cooler months, so we need to
take precautions for our turtles.
Turtles do not adapt well to the cold unless they are housed outside in their
native regions and given the proper conditions in which they need to survive the
colder times of the year. If you choose to let them hibernate, then that is one
way of caring for your turtles throughout the winter. Another method of caring
for them is to force hibernation. When doing this, great research needs to be
done long before attempting this. Death comes swiftly to those ill-prepared for
forcing their turtles into hibernation.
What we are going to discuss in this article is how to keep
them awake and active through the winter months and have them maintain their
main thing that you need to concentrate on, is keeping the water and air inside
the habitat nice and warm. Just keeping the water warm (about 73 F for most
aquatic species) is not enough. You have to keep the air warm as well. In fact,
it is a dangerous situation not to. Should your water temps be in the desired
area but the air temps in the set-up are in the 50’s or 60’s, then your
turtle runs the risk of catching a respiratory disease. It is comparable to a
person wearing a nice, warm coat and going outside into the cold air. Although
your body is kept warm with the jacket, you are still breathing in the cold air.
This cold and hot mixture is what can cause an inner body chill. This can lead
to problems in turtles and humans alike.
turtle keepers have a screen top or nothing at all covering their turtles’
basking area to allow for a nice, warm, basking light. Others use a screen cover
to allow them to keep their turtles inside and not allow the to crawl out while
placing a heat lamp above. This works out great during the warmer months, but in
the winter, it allows all of the desired heat to escape the habitat once the
light has been turned off.
are a couple of methods of maintaining this heat: Submersible water heaters,
Heat lamps on 24 hours a day; alternate heat sources; and enclosing the habitat.
keepers keep submersible water heaters in their
turtles’ water throughout the year. Some, like us, take them out during the
warm months of the year and place them into the set-ups as it begins to get
cooler. There are various brands of submersible heaters. We have used Tronic
Heaters and are happy with their performance and have recently begun using
Ebo-Jager Heaters and they have proven just as good. They are also cheaper, so
that makes it a nice deal. Depending on the species that you keep, the water
temps will vary. For most, maintaining the water temperature throughout the year
in the low to mid 70’s is ideal. Be sure to check the specific needs of your
Lamps on 24 hours a day
is an acceptable solution to the maintaining of heat in your turtle’s home.
The turtles have shown no negative side affects with this method and some
experienced keepers have been using this method for several years. It’s safe,
simple and easy and nothing needs to be done to prepare for the winter.
There are, however, a couple of drawbacks to this. Depending on where your
turtle’s set-up is located, some do not like trying to sleep with lights on.
Some people need complete and total darkness to sleep, and if their turtle is in
their room, this is not a viable option. Another drawback to this method of
heating is the expense. Keeping lights on all the time over the winter months (4
– 8 months, depending on your geographic location) can not only run up your
electric bill (depending on how many lights you need to run), but you will also
need to purchase lights bulbs more often to replace the ones that burn out. They
are going to be used around twice as much, so they are going to burn out twice
as fast. If you have only 2 or 3 heat lamps running, then your electric bill and
replacement costs won’t be that big of a deal. But if you have several (we
have 17 heat lamps), then it can add up. Remember, it’s the Holiday Season,
and every penny counts.
are another practical method of keeping your turtles warm. One alternate heat
source is a space heater. If your turtles are maintained in a room that is
dedicated to them, then this is a great way of keeping them nice and toasty when
it’s cold outside. Simple to use and require no modifications to your set-ups.
If your turtles are not kept in a room strictly for them, then this idea most
likely won’t work for you, especially if they are kept in your room. Unless
you like the heat, don’t try it. If your turtles are kept in a high traffic
area (living room, dining room, etc) then I would advise against using a space
of the main drawbacks to this method are money and safety. Space heaters are not
the cheapest things in the world to purchase or run. They suck up a lot of juice
and the electric bill will show you just how much you love your turtles each
month. They are not the safest methods of constant heat either. There are
numerous advances that have brought the dangers to an extreme minimum, but they
still pose a danger none-the-less. Some keepers are not willing to take the
chances with this form of alternate heat. We have opted to go with this method
and have taken some precautions. First, we purchased a safer model of space
heater. We bought the one with everything internal and no heat elements are
exposed. In addition, it has a safety shut off should the heater fall over, it
automatically shuts itself off. Next, we placed the space heater on some bricks,
and the surrounding floor area is also covered with bricks, should it ever tip
over. Not the most attractive spot in the house, but it does the job. The air
temps are kept in the high 70’s to low 80’s in that particular room,
allowing us to make no changes with the habitats themselves.
alternate heating source for the turtles are black heat bulbs and ceramic
heaters. After having a few of the black lights explode into small pieces, we
decided to use them no longer. We are completely happy with the ceramic heaters.
They need to be lower than the basking lights, but they produce a great amount
of heat and there is no annoying light illuminating the room or risk of falling
over and starting a fire. Simply change out bulbs in the basking light fixture
when you want to turn the lights out, and replace them with the ceramic heaters.
In the morning, when you want the lights on, just take the ceramic heaters out
and place the basking bulbs back in. Be careful, because basking lights can be
hot to remove and those ceramic heaters are no joke either after only a few
minutes of being on.
The drawbacks to ceramic heaters are running
the same for the lights being left on all the time. This time, though, you are
saving money on basking lights, but you are spending money on the ceramic
heaters – lots more vs. basking bulbs (around $40 + for a ceramic heater). In
addition to the money, it will require more time. Changing them out in the
morning and evening only takes a few minutes each time, but that is still time
consuming if you are dealing with a large number of habitats. With the other
methods, everything stays the same and no additional time is required by the
last way of heating the tank we are going to discuss here is enclosing
the habitat. This way, you maintain the heat that is created from the
basking lights and warm water. With the top of the tank enclosed, the warm water
to aid greatly in keeping the air warm. There are a few ways to do this.
first way is the cheapest and easiest. If you use the typical aquarium hoods,
then keep them shut at night. During the day, place a basking light in a holder
with a clamp on it so that it so that the light aims directly onto the basking
area through the open lid. Once you are ready to turn the lights off for the
night, remove the basking light from the hood and close the lid. Plain and
simple. You save money on your electric bill as well as the cost of purchasing
new light bulbs more often.
drawback to this is that, if you don’t have the basking light positioned
correctly, it can heat up and warp or melt some of the plastic on the hood
and/or lid. Also, this method requires more time vs. various other methods which
do not require any time after the initial set-up.
method of enclosing a tank for maintaining heat, is to make your own lid. This
can also be used throughout the year. Take either a piece of metal or wood and
cut it to fit, either in the grooves of the aquarium’s top, or so that it fits
over the top rim. Ensure that it is a proper fit. It would not be good to have
it slip and end up falling into the water, bringing the lights with it. Cut out
2 sections to allow a basking light and a UVB light to be placed on top. Ensure
that the holes are a little bit small than the holders of each of the lights.
Don’t want them falling through. For the basking light, I would recommend a
circular hole and then the light screwing into the wood or metal lid. For the
strip light, I would make an elongated cut out so that the strip light is not
blocked in anyway and allows the beneficial UVB rays to get to your turtles.
Once again, this is another method that will not require additional time beyond
the initial creation and placement.
drawbacks to this method are a little more than you would think at first glance.
First, not to be an insult, but there are people out there that just do not have
the skills to create something like this. Or they do not have the tools
available to them to make a custom top. Whatever the material used, either wood
or metal, they will need to be purchased and cut to fit, with holes placed for
lighting. Metal has a tendency to rust is not properly sealed and wood needs to
be treated or it will warp and begin to fall apart. Heat lamps may melt away the
water-resistant coating placed on wood if the hole and basking light are not
done properly. The hole needs to be large enough to encompass almost the entire
face of the basking light fixture, leaving only enough to affix it to the lid.
the method you use, something most likely needs to be done to your turtles’
home to prepare them for a safe winter. If you are planning to allow them to
undergo a cooler winter period to assist in mating in the spring, then adjust
your temperatures accordingly.
remember a rule of thumb: If you are cold, then your turtles are even colder,
unless you have taken those extra precautions.