and turtles

Chapter 9 Tortoises and turtles

Chelonia, such as tortoises and their semi-aquatic relatives, terrapins (or turtles) are becoming very popular as pets, especially in Europe where there is a long history of keeping the Mediterranean Testudo species as house and garden pets. Although CITES II listed, this trade is being fuelled by the increasing availability of captive-bred specimens, especially from Eastern Europe.

Table 9.1 Commonly encountered tortoises and turtles: Key facts

Species Notes Common disorders
The Mediterranean Testudo species including the southern European Herman’s tortoise (T. hermanni), members of the north African spur-thighed complex (T. graeca) and the Horsfield’s tortoise (T. horsfeldi) These are small to moderately large species; most can be safely hibernated but see Hibernation for more details. Diet should primarily be leafy greens with added calcium supplementation. No animal protein should be given Metabolic bone disease (MBD), chelonian herpes virus (CHV), ascarids
African spur-thighed tortoise Geochelone sulcata This species from sub-Saharan Africa is a potential monster that can weigh up to 50–80 kg. They require tropical heat with relatively low humidity. Diet as for Testudo spp Metabolic bone disease (MBD), chelonian herpes virus
The leopard tortoise (G. pardalis) Another sub-Saharan African species. Requires tropical temperatures and a Testudo-like diet Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
Red-footed tortoises (G. carbonaria) Tropical South America. They need tropical temperatures, high humidity (70%) and a diet with more fruit that Testudo spp with a small amount of animal protein Metabolic bone disease (MBD)
Red-eared slider (Trachemys picta elegans) Less common in the European pet trade following several scares over Salmonella and concerns over alien releases. It is semi-aquatic and requires a dry, warm haul-out area on which to bask. They are carnivorous as hatchlings and feed on commercially available insect larvae, e.g. bloodworms; graduating up to sea foods such as prawns, fish, mussels and cockles plus calcium supplement. Commercial pelleted foods are available Metabolic bone disease (MBD), hypovitaminosis A
Box turtles (Terrapene spp). Omnivorous, requiring slugs, snails, earthworms, waxworms, mealworms, fruit, green leafed vegetables and mushrooms Metabolic bone disease (MBD), tympanic scale abscesses

Consultation and handling

Most terrestrial chelonia can be safely handled without fear of being bitten, but take care with larger terrapins, or potentially dangerous species such as snapping turtles. These should be held at the rear of the carapace, and in the case of snappers, at the base of the tail.

Start the examination at the head, as this is likely to be withdrawn into the shell precluding further examination. Grasp the head behind the back of the skull and draw it out to its fullest extent. With most tortoises the mouth can now be opened and examined using the tip of a finger as a gag. With terrapins and similar a gag must be used. The rest of the body can then be examined systematically. Useful auscultation of the lung fields can sometimes be achieved by placing a damp towel over the carapace on to which the stethoscope is placed.

Nursing care

Provide appropriate environment including provision of:

Large terrestrial chelonia often appear to have difficulty with transparent barriers and may spend a considerable amount of time attempting to walk through, over or under glass vivarium sides and doors. Blanking off these sides with tape or paint may reduce this behaviour.

With semi-aquatic chelonia such as terrapins, for general care they should be provided with a dry haul-out area which has an overhanging heat source to allow thorough drying of the carapace and sufficient water such that the terrapin can rest with its hind feet on the bottom and its nostrils above the surface. A weak terrapin is at risk of drowning. In some cases a terrapin may need to be ‘dry-docked’ for a period of time. Where possible, this can entail only short periods in a deeper bath. This can be combined with feeding as healthy terrapins will often prefer to feed submerged. Alternatively, serious attention to and monitoring of its fluid status should be undertaking if access to water is felt inappropriate (see Fluid Therapy below).

Skin disorders

The structure of chelonian skin of the legs, tail, neck and head is as in other reptiles. However, the chelonian shell is unique – in most species there are 54 epidermal scales covering 59 dermal bony plates. The epidermal and dermal seams rarely overlap, possibly giving increased strength to the shell structure. These epidermal scales are often referred to as scutes or shields. Even here, the skin still has epidermal and dermal components.

The scute epidermis consists of:

chelonia generally shed their skin in a piecemeal and uncoordinated fashion. Semi-aquatic chelonia will often shed the older outer scutes.

In some species such as the spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) there is hinge between the abdominal and femoral scutes of the plastron, while in others, e.g. the Russian tortoise (T. horsfieldii), there is not. Box turtles, e.g. the Eastern box Terrapene carolina, also have a hinged plastron that enables them to withdraw both the head and all four limbs within the shell, protecting them with the trapdoor-like plastron.

Following injury, exposed carapacial or plastral bone, if allowed to dry out, dies off superficially; new scutes are formed beneath the exposed bone such that eventually this outer layer is shed.

Differential diagnoses for skin disorders

Erosions, ulceration and shell deficits

Treatment/specific therapy

Respiratory tract disorders

Differential diagnoses for nasal tract disorders

Runny nose syndrome (RNS) is a poorly understood clinical syndrome. Linked with chelonian herpes virus, Mycoplasma agassizii and various bacteria. No single pathogenic agent as yet established.

Lower respiratory tract disorders

Treatment/specific therapy

Ear disorders

Aug 21, 2016 | Posted by in EXOTIC, WILD, ZOO | Comments Off on and turtles

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