Murray River Turtle

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Species group:

Other common names: Murray River Short-Necked Turtle, Thukubi

Scientific name: Emydura macquarii

The Basics:
This active Australian native has a shorter neck than its more “snake-necked” cousins, but is none-the-less quite unique among the world’s turtles. It makes a hardy, responsive pet, but does get too large for typical home aquariums.

The Murray River Turtle is native to southeastern Australia. A powerful swimmer, it may be found in the open waters of large rivers as well as in swamps, quiet lagoons and even temporary water-holes.

Appearance / Health:
Murray River Turtles be olive green, olive-brown or bronze in color. Females reach 12.5 inches in length and over 10 pounds in weight; males usually top out at just over half that size.

Well-cared-for Murray River Turtles are quite hardy, with captive longevities approaching and sometimes exceeding 40 years. Metabolic bone disease is common in animals that are not provided with ample calcium and/or UVB exposure. Females without access to a suitable nesting site may retain their eggs. Sub-optimal temperatures, an inappropriate diet, or poor water quality can lead to fungal/bacterial infections of the shell, skin, and eyes, and other ailments.

Behavior / Temperament:
Murray River Turtles are very active and alert, and quickly learn to associate people with food. They will feed from the hand, but dislike being handled and will bite when startled.

An adult female requires a 100 gallon or larger aquarium; a male might make due in a 55 gallon, but more room is preferable. Commercial turtle tubs or wading/koi pools are often better options, especially if outdoor housing is possible. Murray River Turtles are best kept in bare-bottomed aquariums, as gravel traps food and waste material, and may be swallowed.

Murray River Turtles need a dry surface on which to rest and bask. Commercial turtle docks, “tank toppers” and cork bark flats (wedged between the tank’s sides or affixed with silicone) work well.

Powerful filters are necessary unless the enclosure can be emptied and cleaned several times weekly. Even with filtration, regular partial water changes are essential. Removing your turtles to an easily-cleaned container for feeding will lessen the filter’s workload.

A source of UVB radiation is essential. A water temperature of 75-82 F and basking site of 90-95 F should be established. Large individuals may break typical aquarium heaters, so choose a model designed for use with turtles, or protect the heater with PVC pipe.

The Murray River Turtle’ appetite knows no bounds. The natural diet includes fish, tadpoles, snails, carrion, insects, frogs, shrimp, and aquatic vegetation.

Pets should be offered a diet comprised of shiners, earthworms, snails, pre-killed pink mice, crayfish and prawn, along with kale, dandelion, collard/mustard greens, and other produce. A high quality commercial turtle chow can comprise up to 50% of the diet. Spinach and various cabbages have been implicated in stone formation, and a steady goldfish diet has been linked to kidney and liver disorders. A cuttlebone should be available to supplement the calcium provided by whole fishes.

Mature males may be distinguished from females by their longer, thicker tails and smaller size. Breeding often occurs year-round.

Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless and may refuse food. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with 6-8 inches of slightly moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). It is important to note that females may develop eggs even if unmated, and that pets may produce 2-3 clutches each year. The 5-30 eggs may be incubated in a mix of 1 part vermiculite to 1 part water (by weight) at 82-84 F for 55-80 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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