Turtles have many endearing attributes: They are quiet, cute and unassuming. You’d be hard-pressed to find a child -- or even an inner child -- who denies their appeal. But, while people might feel affection toward the slow-moving creatures when they timidly poke their heads out from their shells, turtles don’t share the same friendly feelings about humans.
Turtles Are Not Affectionate
It’s almost a shame that people, especially children, are drawn to turtles. The novelty of watching them can quickly become old hat. Turtles prefer to be alone, and they never welcome being picked up and handled. Because turtles aren’t affectionate, don’t like to be held, stroked or cuddled and don’t play with toys, many people lose interest and cease to take proper care of them. Even worse, some folks who tire of the constant maintenance with little return in the affection department turn the poor turtles loose outdoors to fend for themselves.
Never Turn a Turtle Loose
If owning a reptile didn’t turn out like you expected because your turtle ignores you, don't just turn him loose. He could die. He also might kill native turtles if he carries a disease, or change the area’s natural biodiversity, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Red-eared sliders, for instance, are considered invasive species because people release them in areas where they aren't native. You don’t have to keep your turtle for the rest of his -- or your -- life. Turtles can live a long time, often up to 25 years, 50 years or more. If you no longer want your turtle, try to find him another home by placing an advertisement or calling a local turtle rescue league.
Understand Your Turtle's Needs
Understand that your pet turtle probably won't like you, isn't interested in you and will likely only come near you willingly at feeding time. If you still want one, you're on the road to being a responsible turtle owner. You can’t just keep a turtle in a box with a dish of water. Each species has specialized needs. All of them need heat because they're cold-blooded. They also need ultraviolet light. Some need a tank so they can swim. You need to find out what sort of diet your turtle needs. Some turtles are carnivores, and others are herbivores. If you don’t provide the right environment and food, your turtle is unlikely to survive.
Warning About Turtles
Turtles are notorious salmonella carriers. People have not been able to own turtles smaller than 4 inches since 1975 because of a ban instituted by the Food and Drug Administration -- not because smaller turtles are more likely to carry the disease, but because children are more likely to hold them, or even put them in their mouths. Salmonella causes diarrhea and abdominal pain and can be fatal for children under 5 years and people with weakened immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that households with small children do not have turtles. If you get one anyway, always wash your hands after contact with the turtle, and scrub any surfaces the turtle has touched.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Thinking of Getting a Pet Turtle?
- Animal Planet: Turtles as Pets -- Important Issues
- IN.gov: Turtles as Pets
- Biology at Davidson: What You Can Do To Help Save Box Turtles
- NPR: Bill Seeks to Lift Ban on Baby Pet Turtles
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Is a Turtle the Right Pet for Your Family?
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images