Backyard Turtles
Tour Six
Introducing New Turtles


     From time to time we have the pleasure of adding new members to our family here at TurtleTails.com. Generally the introduction of a new turtle into one of our pens goes quickly and without incident. We never know if a new turtle will hide for long periods of time or be comfortable, relaxed, and outgoing. It is not a result of how we introduce them.

     Let us begin by telling you the story of three Rio Grande cooters that joined us. Their names are Sam, Sandra, and Sarah. You can see pictures of them on the Sliders, Cooters, and Red-bellied Turtles page. These three turtles were originally listed on TurtleTails.com as available for adoption before we decided to invite them to join us. They were living in New Jersey and we are in Pennsylvania. At the same time there was a fellow in New York who wanted to visit us and talk about turtles. It turned out that he was from the area where these turtles were living and he still has family there. He picked up the turtles when he visited family and brought them to Pennsylvania when he came to visit us.

     In preparation for visitors, we cleaned our turtle pond and put everything in tip top shape. A stock tub was prepared to receive the three cooters. In the stock tub we placed a log, a concrete hide box/basking rock, water, and editable bog plant leaves. The tub was placed on the patio where it would get some sun to warm the water and some shade so as not to overheat the turtles.

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     We had a good visit on a very warm spring day. Our turtles were active, but many of the water turtles had scattered when the pond was cleaned. Some were in the pond, some were in our new bog and some were simply moving about the turtle pen. As usual Emily, our Florida red-bellied turtle, was a good hostess.

     The cooters traveled in individual white buckets which did not phase them. They were relaxed when they arrived here which was the first sign of how domesticated they are. They were placed in the stock tub where they also appeared relaxed.

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     After our guests departed for home, it was time to take a good look at our new arrivals. Emily also wanted to take a look. Yes Emily wanted to see who was in the stock tub. Yes we are talking about Emily our Florida red-bellied turtle. This was nothing new. She has done this numerous times before. Let us explain.

     Everything that we are describing had happened in full view of Emily. She was right there when the pond was cleaned and the turtle pen tidied up. She saw the tub being prepared; she had been in the tub numerous times before. She helped entertain our guests. She knew the routine.

     When she wanted to move to the tub, she went to the fence of the turtle pen nearest the tub and made it known she wanted out. When placed outside the fence she moved toward the stock tank. When Emily was placed in the tank with the three new cooters she introduced herself. Yes Emily introduced herself to the three Rio Grande cooters as they also introduced themselves to her. Yes turtles do introduce themselves to each other.

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     To recognize each other, turtles lower their heads and go nose to nose. I assume they are smelling each others breaths or odors. Water turtles will do this underwater or out of water. They do not rely on sight or smell butts like dogs. The first time I saw this was decades ago between our large snapping turtle named "Turtle" and our large dog. Turtle had climbed out of his tank and was on the floor. As the dog approached he pulled his head in and planted his feet ready to defend himself with an snap. The dog proceeded to go nose to nose with Turtle and smell him. Turtle did not snap. How our dog knew this behavior I do not know, but it was the right behavior. Of course the dog concluded the confirmation with a lick on the face of Turtle.

     That is what happened in the tub. I expected the three cooters who had probably not seen other turtles before let alone a turtle much bigger then the three of them put together to be apprehensive. They were calm. Each one approached Emily and they introduced themselves nose to nose. There were no excited movements. Emily was completely relaxed and content to be in the tub. After the introductions, Emily helped herself to some of the bog plant leaves.

     We took some pictures of each turtle so that we could tell them apart by their markings. Having never seen Rio Grande cooters before, we wanted to confirm their species identification. There was not much to be found on the internet. We found pictures of the three where they had been offered for sale on the internet before being put up for adoption on TurtleTails.com. We also found pictures of the three where they had been originally offered for sale. They were comfortable being handled.

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     The three cooters spent the night in the tub and were placed in our turtle pond the following morning. Again they were relaxed and soon began introducing themselves to other turtles. The pictures below tell the story.

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     The purpose of the stay in the stock tub was to retain easy access to them for a short time while we got to know them a little. We do not quarantine new arrivals unless they show signs of illness or stress. We were not apprehensive about releasing the three cooters into the midst of our other turtles. We just wanted to hold them a brief time where we could reach down and pick them up. We use the stock tub for the same purpose when we want to hold other turtles for short periods of time.

     Not all introductions go this well but most do. The three cooters are juveniles not sexually mature so we did not expect any problems. Usually if there are problems it will be with males of the same species establishing dominance. Box turtle males can be hard on each other. And when we put snapping turtles Tiny and Tinytwo together for the first and only time, they were instantly locked in battle. Since we have lots of space it is our ability to get to know new arrivals that matters. Some will go into hiding for long periods of time.

     We are often asked about introducing turtles that are confined to aquariums. Many people think their turtles will be happier if they have tank mates to keep them company. There is no right or wrong answer. We remind people that their pet turtles have friends - their owners. Some turtles are happy together and some not. Baby turtles are safer housed separately from larger turtles just because they are fragile by comparison.

    When introducing aquarium housed turtles for the first time, we suggest introducing them in neutral territory where both may be distracted such as on the floor. This can be done several times over a day or two period. Then before introducing a new turtle into the aquarium or vivarium of an established turtle, we suggest feeding each the same food but separately. By doing so both will smell of the same food and not smell interesting to the other. Then it is a matter of putting them together and keeping an eye on them for a few days.

     Baby turtles that are basically the same age and size need no introductions. Our nursery for baby box turtles, the 20 long vivarium featured in Tour One on the Raising Baby Turtles page, often receives other baby turtles such as our baby mud turtles and baby water turtles. It is the best place we have found for the baby mud turtles. If we find a baby water turtle, it is a good place to put it for a few days.

     Sarah the smallest of the three cooters spent the summer in hiding. When we found her we would place her in the pond to eat and drink. In a day or two she would leave the pond again. This is a typical behavior of turtles who were confined to aquariums before joining us.

     Sam and Sandra enjoyed the pond and were always front and center when we approached. They also bounded with Emily and followed her everywhere. They were always in her face when she ate something. Emily took it all in stride and never tired of them following her. On one occasion Emily came up behind one of them, reached around with both front legs, and fluttered her claws in front of it. Fluttering claws is a mating behavior of many water turtles and we see it often between females of different species of turtles. We take it as a sign of affection. Here are a few more pictures.

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     Did you catch the significance of what we just said. Turtles show affection to each other that is not part of mating behaviors. That may be a profound statement never advanced before. We just take it as common behavior. It is another subject we will have to cover someday. 

     We hope you have enjoyed this tour and find it informative.

 Revised 1/14/2010

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