Expert Advice on Pet Turtle Care for Beginners | Interview With Bradfield Johnson

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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First, let’s introduce Mr. Bradfield Johnson. He is from Maineville, OH.

Bradfield has been a reptile hobbyist most of my life and began rehabbing about 12 years ago. I primarily care for dozens of species of turtles and tortoises but keep snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders and axolotls as well.

From his 12 years of experience, Bradfield has shared some tips on turtle keeping for beginners.

Let’s go through them!

Say Hello to Mr. Bradfield Johnson

I have provided the whole interview with Mr. Bradfield later in the article. For those of you who are in a hurry, here’s a consolidated version of Bradfield’s advice on turtle keeping for beginners.

Mr Bradfield Johnson’s advice on turtle keeping for beginners

Selecting the Right Turtle

Bradfield Johnson, a seasoned reptile hobbyist from Maineville, OH, shares his insights for beginners. “For small spaces, a 40-gallon tank is a must,” he emphasizes.

“Painted turtles and Spotted turtles stay small, ideal for such settings.” He also highlights Razor back musk turtles for their diminutive size and less strict UV needs.

“They’re super cool and friendly,” he adds. For those averse to large water features, Johnson suggests Russian tortoises.

“They’re easy to care for with the right setup,” he advises, recommending a minimum of a 120-gallon tank for indoor care.

Identifying Turtle Gender

Determining a turtle’s gender can be challenging. “Male sliders and painted turtles develop long claws, unlike females,” explains Johnson.

He notes that male turtles have a cloaca further down the tail, while females have it closer to the plastron. “Sexual dimorphism varies across species,” he adds, mentioning that box turtles and tortoises take longer to show gender differences.

Dealing with Eye Issues

Johnson advises caution with eye problems. “Use saline solution and vitamin A drops for initial care,” he suggests.

He warns that while saline can help with box turtles, aquatic turtles often need antibiotic drops for infections. “Seek professional help if conditions persist,” he recommends.

Tankmates for Turtles

“Turtles can be aggressive,” warns Johnson. He suggests small fish or snails as possible tankmates but cautions that snails are likely to be eaten. “Avoid pairing turtles with other animals to ensure their safety,” he advises.

Essential Lighting for Turtles

Proper lighting is crucial. Johnson recommends a Reptisun T5HO UV strip and compact UVB bulbs. “Combine this with heat/basking bulbs for a healthy environment,” he says.

He stresses the importance of creating microclimates within the enclosure. For aquatic turtles, he highlights the importance of quality filtration, praising Fluval products, especially the FX-6 filters.

interview with Mr. Bradfield Johnson

Q1. If a beginner wants to keep a turtle that stays relatively small throughout its life (don’t have budget for a large tank), which one would you suggest? Why?

If a beginner wanted to keep a turtle that stayed relatively small with space limitations I would first say that a 40 gallon breeder sized tank is the absolute smallest size I’d be willing to use as even smaller turtles need space to exercise, explore or just to stretch out a bit.

Painted turtles (especially males) stay small with most being 5” or less in length. Spotted turtles also stay pretty small as well. Razor back musk turtles are incredibly small…even full grown adults are 2 1/2-4” from my experience.

They have less “strict” UV requirements as well since they are a species that spends most of their time buried in mud under the water! They are super cool too and become pretty friendly with their humans.

Sliders are tricky as the ladies get huge but the males are small. Now that list focuses on aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles…but there are some terrestrial options if you don’t want a huge water feature in your house (I have 7 big ones!). Russian tortoises are great and easy to care for once you achieve the proper set-up and you’ve got the husbandry knowledge.

Many people keep these in a 40 gallon breeder sized tank with no problems…but I recommend at least 120 gallon size for torts kept inside. Depending upon your climate they can be kept in pretty simply made enclosures when it’s warm enough.

Personally I don’t consider any aquatic turtle as a beginner turtle as keeping the water healthy alone is an intermediate task at the very least.

Q2. For a beginner turtle keeper, what is the easiest way to find out if a turtle is male or female?

Regarding determining the sex of the turtle. Right out of the egg and without knowing the incubation temps it’s extremely difficult to determine the sex of a turtle outside of a blood test. But most aquatic species start showing their sexual dimorphism pretty quickly (not 4 years like so many people say).

Male sliders, painted turtles, cooters, maps etc will grow their Freddy Kruger claws on their front feet and the girls have short nails. The cloaca on the male is located further down the tail where the female’s vent is very close to the plastron.

Sideneck turtles, pond turtles and other aquatic species differ from this group in their secondary sexual characteristics. With box turtles, tortoises and wood turtles it can take several years before it becomes easy to tell if they are male or female as they take longer in general to reach and adult size.

Q3. For any turtle eye issues such as puffy eyes or eye infection, what should be the first thing one needs to do before going to the vet? Any home remedies for primary treatment?

As far as “home remedies” for eye inflammation I don’t have too many. It is safe to flush the eye gently with saline solution and to use vitamin A drops.

Box turtles usually end up with swollen eyes if they get substrate in one or both eyes or irritated them environmentally. In my experience the condition resolves with the box turtles after rinsing the eyes with saline.

I must admit that I’ve only had to treat this in a box or wood turtle twice. . .but it worked both times. Now with aquatic or semi aquatic turtles the inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the nictitating membrane (I’m certain I’m spelling that incorrectly) or “third eyelid”.

Though the saline may offer some symptomatic relief, this will require an ophthalmic antibiotic drop like Gentocin or Ciprodex. The symptoms usually resolve within 48 hours of the start of therapy/treatment.

Q4. If someone wants to keep tankmates with turtles, which ones would you recommend?

I do not recommend having any tank mates in with your turtle or turtles aside from smaller fish like rosey red minnows or even snails…but where the fish may go untouched the snails will be eaten!

Turtles are brutal killers when it comes to eating and in the wild they will eat whatever fits in their mouth.

I know a lot of people that keep caimans in the same tub as their common snappers and there seems to be harmony…but I wouldn’t try it myself as I take ALL precautions to keep my animals safe.

Q5. What lights are important for a turtle setup? Which ones should a beginner get?

For lighting I recommend a Reptisun T5HO strip UV in the appropriate length to distribute the UV as much as possible. I use compact UVB in addition to the tubes to augment the light with Reptisun 3-in-1 bulbs…though they have become more difficult to get.

Then I use at least 2 heat/basking bulbs (and I try to get Arcadia or Mixjoy as they have UVA with the heat) and point them directly at the associated basking spots. It’s important to have a large enough enclosure to create microclimates. Reptiles like to be able to move in and out of the heat when they see fit.

If you have an aquatic set up then the water health directly effects the health of the turtle. That’s where I spend the most money…filtration…but it’s worth it because it reduces the number of vet visits for avoidable illnesses.

Fluval has fantastic filtration products. I use the FX-6 filters on everything aside from the hatchling tubs. In theory I’d like to continue to use UV Sterilization but I haven’t found any that don’t “electrify” the water!

Johnson’s experience and dedication to reptile care shine through in his advice, providing beginners with a solid foundation for responsible turtle keeping.

Thanks to him for his valuable time & effort from The Turtle Hub!

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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