Raising Baby Turtles

Tour Six
In the Leaf Litter


    In Tour One we show how we set up a vivarium using plants planted directly in a substrate of potting soil to create a natural environment. We mention the use of tree leaves to add a seasonal touch. More leaves and pine needles are clearly visible in the pictures in Tour Five. In this tour we want to focus on our increasing use of leaf litter in our vivariums.

    In the deciduous forests in eastern United States, forest floors are covered with leaves which fall every year. This is the home turf of box turtles. Leaf litter provides natural cover to hide in. It is also a place to fine food such as worms and bugs. So using leaf litter in our vivariums provides natural environments for our young box turtles. We also like using white pine needles because the space is so limited.

    We start by looking at the left side of the 30 gallon tank. This vivarium has established plants including tropical moss. Birch leaves and pine needles add to the natural look.

| pic 1 | pic 2 | pic 3 | pic 4 | pic 5 |

    The right side of this tank gets much more abuse from digging turtles. Creeping fig plants are established but can use help. Here we use many white pine needles tucked in among the plants to add cover and reduce the wear and tear on the plants.

| pic 6 | pic 7 | pic 8 | pic 9 | pic 10 | pic 11 | pic 12 |

    Some time after the pictures in Tour One were taken, our 20 gallon tank was emptied and replanted. The soil mix in the original setup was not providing enough nourishment for the plants. At that time we did not wish to add fertilizer with the baby turtles in it. The pictures for Tour Five were taken in the replanted 20 gallon tank.

    Here are more pictures of the 20 gallon tank. Notice the use of leaves and pine needles. The three box turtles were also in the pictures of the 30 gallon tank above. You may recognize them. They are Laura, Bush and Atom.

| pic 13 | pic 14 | pic 15 | pic 16 | pic 17 | pic 18 |

    Here are some additional pictures for the fun of it.

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    So if you decide to try leaf litter, pick up leaves and pine needles by hand to avoid unwanted things collected by raking. And experiment by trying different items. If you do try leaf litter, you will find that it does get tracked into the water dish and slowly disappears as you clean the water dish daily. Simply replace the leaves as needed. You can pull leaves off trees in summer if needed. That's exactly what happens in nature; leaves decay and are replaced with new ones.

     We would apply the same technique if we were setting up a vivarium for turtles that would normally live in drier environments. Perhaps dried grasses would be more appropriate or leaves from desert plants. Like growing appropriate plants, leaf litter helps hold humidity.

     Some time after writing this tour we began using plant food intended for house plants with no ill effects on our turtles. We use a liquid that is diluted in water and applied directly to the plants. We take care not to get it on the turtles.

    We hope you enjoyed our sixth behind-the-scenes tour.


Revised 1/15/2010

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