Raising Baby Turtles

Tour Twenty One
A Muddy Pool for a Pet Snapping Turtle

   After Tiny, our very docile snapping turtle was seen on the wall of the large pen he was in (see pictures on the Musk, Mud, and Snapping Turtles Pictures page ), we decided to install a muddy water feature just for him. We had put off installing this experimental water feature for some time; we waited too long to keep Tiny around, but Tinytwo enjoyed it for several years.

     Before we show you how we made this water feature, lets look at some pictures of the finished product. Then we will describe how we made it. The picture above was taken in the first year of use. The next four pictures show it in the second year of use completely naturalized. In pic 4 the muddy pool is located at the end of the brick walkway at the top of the picture. The rock is setting in the outlet of the pool. So when Tinytwo wanted to move to the pond, it is just a short walk between the two.

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

     Before there was a TurtleTails.com, we were experimenting with water bowls. We place box turtles and water turtles in the same pens. Water turtles are good at exiting water, but box turtles can be clumsy. We were placing river stones in rubber bowls for the young turtles to use. We figured cleaning would be much easier if the stones were not needed. So we cut a bowl to make a sloping bottom for a more natural exit. It worked but the depression in the ground in which it set needed constant attention. Our muddy pool builds on this idea.

| pic 5 | pic 6 | pic 7 |

     It is also important for you to know that snapping turtles spend most of their lives buried in mud. In spring snapping turtles will enter shallow water and bask with just their carapaces (top shells) out of water. Some will perch high on logs to bask in summer. But most of the time they are buried in mud under shallow water. Tiny did not have mud so he would bury himself in loose soil or in the leaf pile and just enter the pond to eat.

     Another idea we long held but had not attempted was to build a small water feature like a spring or seep concealed in tall vegetation. It did not have to be a flowing stream pouring into a pond. It was an idea we planned to try one day.

     Then one day our hot water heater died and was replaced. The old hot water heater was available but for what. You know by now that we like to experiment with inexpensive items. Well the old heater was now scrap to be discarded and ideal for no cost experimentation. Hot water tanks are glass lined on the inside to prevent rust so the old tank had possibilities.

     The outer jacket was cut away and the foam insulation scraped off. It was work and the work was questioned many times. Still we had to play with it off and on until just the tank remained. The thought in mind was to use it like a trough for baby turtles. A line was drawn to cut off most of one side. The cutting was done with an abrasive cutoff wheel in a right angle grinder. After the cutting was done it was given a coat of black paint, holes plugged, and set on blocks. It was not at all attractive.

| pic 8 | pic 9 |

     After setting behind the shed for some time, we came up with plan B. We would cut it on an angle removing the bottom completely. It was propped up and filled with water to establish the cutting line just the way we did with the rubber bowl. We were disappointed with the result and never took a picture of the final shape. It went back behind the shed again.

| pic 10 |

     When we needed to do something to try to convince Tiny to hang around, the tank was quickly buried and filled with soil and water. No pictures were taken. It was too little too late; Tiny had departed. Then Tinytwo moved into it.

     In the fall when it was time to take Tinytwo inside for the winter, the heavy soil in it had caked around Tinytwo more firmly than we expected. We made plans to refill it with softer soil in the spring.

     What we had learned the first summer was that all our plans worked. The snapping turtle was content in water covered mud. Other turtles could enter and exit it without any difficulty. It looked natural. And the deep shade prevented algae from making an unsightly mess out of it. In fact we had no algae at all.

     So in spring we emptied the tank in place and refilled it with fresh compost made from our own yard waste. Water was added making a muddy pool. Into it we added one clean still sleepy snapping turtle who quickly disappeared in it. The surrounding garden plants grew tall almost concealing it from view. After a questionable start with the tank, we were very pleased with the results.

| pic 11 | pic 12 | pic 13 | pic 14 | pic 15 | pic 16 |

     We do not try to grow bog or marginal plants in the pool. Besides being heavily shaded, the snapping turtle would destroy them. The plants surrounding the pool were lily tuffs and day lilies. The stones at the exit end were just for decoration.

     When we needed to add water, we just used a hose or sprinkling can. A mosquito treatment was used as needed. Other than that, it was not cleaned. Nothing was done to prepare it for winter.

     Food was placed in the water for Tinytwo. Sometimes he was ready to eat and other times the food remained until after dark. Snappers are often nocturnal and have an excellent sense of smell. Most food disappeared by the next morning. We also took a small stone and rapped on the edge of the steel tank to signal to him that we had placed food in the water.

     We kept a small stick nearby to probe the mud for the snapping turtle. Tinytwo does not like to be handled and he snaps vigorously. We did like to check on his location. Sometimes we had to dig him out to show him to visitors who requested to see him.

     We find that putting turtles outside in pens does not change their personalities; they do not "go wild". As Tinytwo's personality developed while in an aquarium, he became less comfortable in close proximity to the other turtles in the aquarium. After being outside for a summer he disappeared for nine months including hibernation. When we found him and dug him out from under a vine covered stump intended as a hiding place, we placed him in water to eat. He immediately raced back to his hole where he stayed for another two weeks. For not having eaten for nine and one half months, he did not look like he missed any meals.

     Now Tinytwo eats a few times a week, not nearly as often as the daily feeding of our other water turtles. This also means he is not growing as fast as we know snapping turtles can grow. As long as he is healthy we are happy. He is given all he wants to eat when he moves to the pond.

| pic 17 | pic 18 | pic 19 | pic 20 |

     After we built the bog garden featured in Tour 7: Building a Bog Garden for Turtles on the Backyard Turtles page, we removed the muddy pool from service.

     We hope we have inspired you to try building your own unconventional low cost water or mud features for your mud loving turtles or other reptiles or amphibians. Granted you will not see them as often. You will also not spend time trying to keep water clear and clean for mud lovers and you will also not use much water. So have some fun creating something unconventional that looks entirely natural.

     We hope you enjoyed our twenty-first behind-the-scenes tour. More tours and more ideas are coming.

P.S. We have often mentioned how some of our turtles seem to know when we are preparing a new tour and get into the act. Tinytwo must somehow have known we were writing about him. He visited the pond everyday to eat for each of the few days we were working on this tour. After eating he slipped back to his muddy pool before we remembered to get our camera. Could they really know?



Revised 1/15/2010

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