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The UK reptile and amphibian blog, teaching you how to care for exotic pets.
Blog Added: October 30, 2016 12:48:27 AM
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Musk Turtle Food

To keep your musk turtle in the best of health it’s crucial that you offer them the right food. While musk turtles may eat the odd piece of pond weed in the wild, their diet is almost exclusively made up of meat. In captivity, this carnivorous diet can be supplemented with a number of specially-made […] The post Musk Turtle Food appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

To keep your musk turtle in the best of health it’s crucial that you offer them the right food.

While musk turtles may eat the odd piece of pond weed in the wild, their diet is almost exclusively made up of meat. In captivity, this carnivorous diet can be supplemented with a number of specially-made turtle foods, which can make feeding your musk turtle much easier.  

Here are some of the best foods for your musk turtle:

Frozen or Freeze Dried Fish Food

Many tropical fish benefit from a diet that is high in meat. Dealing with raw chicken or beef is far from pleasant, however. To this end, fish-keepers have developed frozen fish foods.

Suitable prey items are freeze dried or frozen into compact blocks. Simply pop out a cube or two and pop it into your musk turtle tank. A great example are blackworms, which are readily available online or from aquarium shops, and can be kept in your freezer to ensure you never run out of turtle food.

Commercial Turtle Pellets

A number of different specialist foods are available for turtles including those made by Zoo Med and Zilla.

While these aren’t cheap to buy, they do represent a carefully formulated diet that is ideal for ongoing maintenance. They’re also dry, and are sold in tubs, which can make them very practical to work with. I recommend that every musk turtle owner keeps a tub of this food on hand to cover any “shortfalls” when you run out of feeder insects etc.  

Have a look at the range on Amazon.

Catfish Pellets

An interesting observation is that musk turtles seem to crawl along the bottom of their cage looking for food, so food that sinks tends to be far more readily accepted than anything that floats.

Catfish pellets have been designed specifically for bottom-feeding fish. They can therefore represent a cheap and easy food source for your musk turtle.

Live Bloodworms

Also available from aquarium shops are live bloodworms. These small, red aquatic worms are typically bought in a sealed plastic bag. Just snip the corner off and pour the bloodworms into your turtle tank.


Crickets are routinely available from reptile stores or can be ordered online. A range of sizes are available and I would suggest you focus your energy on smaller crickets. Ensure the crickets you select will easily fit into your turtle’s mouth.


Adult locusts are certainly likely to be too big for your musk turtle to eat but hatchling locusts offer a suitable alternative to crickets.


Just as the previous two options, red runner cockroaches are being commercially bred and can make up another interesting part of your turtle’s diet. Be aware that these little insects can be very quick indeed, so can be challenging to handle. A good plan is to empty the tub into an unwanted aquarium or plastic tub, then individually pick out roaches using a long pair of forceps.


Earthworms wriggle and writhe in the water, making them very appealing to musk turtles. They can be ordered from some reptile suppliers. Alternatively, some garden centers sell them as a means to start vermicomposting. Try to select smaller earthworms if you can, or consider chopping up an earthworm into smaller chunks.

Chopped Fish

Most human-safe fish can be fed to your musk turtles – either raw or cooked. Note that marine fish can be very high in salt so it is advisable to only feed these occasionally. In contrast, freshwater fish like salmon or trout should be safe to feed routinely.


Some keepers have found that bivalves like cockles and mussels are also readily accepted by musk turtles. Once again, however, be sure to limit the intake to avoid increasing sodium levels too rapidly.

The Importance of Variety

Did you know that if you ate nothing but rabbit, you’d die? Not from hunger, but from a vitamin B deficiency. All of the above foods are suitable for musk turtles, but it’s also important to appreciate the importance of variety when feeding exotic pets.

There’s nothing wrong with having a few staple food items, but I would also strongly advise you to regularly swap around your musk turtle’s diet to ensure they receive the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for lifelong health.


Turtles require suitable levels of calcium and phosphorus in their diet to maintain a healthy skeleton and a strong shell. Turtles that have insufficient nutrients in their diet can end up with shells that are soft, or that don’t grow properly. Alongside a varied diet another crucial aspect of feeding musk turtles is therefore supplementation.

Unlike lizards, whose live food can be dusted with vitamin powder, this doesn’t work well in an aquatic turtle tank. A better alternative here is known as “gut loading”. A mineral-rich supplement is fed to feeder insects like crickets or roaches for 24-48 hours, before the insects themselves are fed to your musk turtles. When your turtle eats the insect, they also benefit from all the nutrients inside the gut.

I recommend you opt for a good quality gut loading supplement, and follow the manufacturers guidelines to the letter.

How to Feed Your Musk Turtle

Let’s be honest; like other chelonians, musk turtles can be messy feeders. So how do you feed a musk turtle in the most efficient manner possible?

Ensure the Water is Warm Enough

Observations in the wild have found that musk turtles do almost all their eating in the water – not on land. Furthermore, studies have shown that when the water temperature drops below 18’C musk turtles simply stop eating. The first step in feeding musk turtles is therefore ensuring that their water is warm enough. I’ve written about the best heaters for turtle tanks here – select a suitable water heater to bring the temperature up to around 22’C.

Place Food into the Water

Placing food onto dry land very rarely elicits a feeding response in musk turtles. Instead, drop the food into the water infront of your turtle. If your turtle is hungry then it should start feeding rapidly. Note that some musk turtles can be quite shy. Sitting there with your face pressed up against the glass may therefore not be the best bet; instead consider giving your pet a little privacy while they eat.

Remove Uneaten Food

Turtles are messy feeders, and this can quickly start to soil the water. To keep your turtle tank hygienic, and minimize your water changes, it is a good idea to remove any uneaten food when your pet has finished eating – normally just 10-15 minutes.

To ease this process some turtle keepers opt not to use gravel on the bottom of the cage. Use a kitchen sieve or an aquarium vacuum to quickly remove any uneaten food with the minimum of fuss.

Keep Records

Lastly, it can be a good idea to start a journal of feeding records. Over time you’ll gain a better understanding of how often your turtle needs feeding, which foods are most readily accepted, and any seasonal variations in appetite. This will mean less wasted food, a more accurate feeding regime, and represent a useful source of information for your vet if there are ever problems with your turtle.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

The post Musk Turtle Food appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

Giant Day Gecko Care Sheet (Phelsuma grandis)

The Giant Day Gecko has been on my “bucket list” of reptiles since I was a small boy. So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to buy an adult breeding pair of these beauties some months ago! How could I possibly say no? Since purchasing my giant day geckos I’ve done a ridiculous […] The post Giant Day Gecko Care Sheet (Phelsuma grandis) appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

The Giant Day Gecko has been on my “bucket list” of reptiles since I was a small boy. So imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to buy an adult breeding pair of these beauties some months ago! How could I possibly say no?

Since purchasing my giant day geckos I’ve done a ridiculous amount of reading, research and plain-old observation. Now I’m ready to tell you everything I’ve learned, so you too can keep your Giant Day Geckos in the best of health.

If you’re looking for the ultimate Giant Day Gecko care sheet then you just found it 😉

Let’s get started…


Day geckos are some of the most visually appealing of all lizards. As the name suggests, giant day geckos are the largest known day gecko of all – a genus known as Phelsuma. Depending on who you listen to day geckos can grow to between 10-12” in overall length, with over half of that being tail.

In terms of coloration giant day geckos tend to be a vibrant green with variable red markings. In the States a number of different “morphs” are being developed, with some specialist breeders selling “high red” individuals.  

phelsuma grandis photo

Wild Habitat

Most day geckos are found on the island of Madagascar and the giant day gecko is no different. They are most commonly encountered in the extreme north of the island, in a wide range of different habitats. While they are found in deep forest, they may also be found living peacefully alongside people, in orchards, gardens and houses.

Indeed, it is this flexibility in lifestyle that has helped them to spread far and wide. These days they are recorded thriving on a range of nearby islands such as Reunion, Mauritius and Nosy Be, not to mention further afield in Hawaii and the Florida Keys. Giant day geckos are therefore born survivors, which can help to make them ideal pets, capable to living in a wide range of different habitats.

Housing / Cages

One of the things that makes giant day geckos such appealing pets is just how active they are.

Anyone who has kept snakes like ball pythons knows that you very rarely see them actually “doing” anything much. They spend most of the day hiding away, really only coming out to poop or to eat the occasional rodent.

Not so with giant day geckos, who are on the go all day every day. Indeed, since getting my geckos – which are housed in my living room for maximum visibility – I now spend more time watching the activity of my day geckos than I do watching TV.

It should be of no surprise therefore that a highly active lizard reaching up to 30cm in length requires a decent sized cage. Like other day geckos, they also climb well, so a tall cage can work very well. Broadly speaking I would suggest a cage of no less than 45cm wide, 45cm deep and 60cm tall either for an individual or a pair.

Having tested out a number of options in recent months the best solution I have found is a glass Exo Terra terrarium like the one below…

If you live in an area with a tropical climate then an alternative would be to use a net cage of a suitable size.

When choosing a giant day gecko cage the key factors to consider are:

Security – Giant day geckos can move rapidly, scale vertical surfaces and can leap further than you might imagine. A crucial consideration is therefore to ensure there are no gaps through which your gecko can slip.

Also put some thought into routine maintenance like changing the water and adding food – how will you do that with the cage you’re considering? Once again, the Exo Terra cages come in handy here because you can open one door rather than having the whole front of the cage open, allowing you to maintain security effectively.

Environmental Control – Coming from the more tropical regions of the world Phelsuma grandis requires a suitably warm tank with at least one basking spot. They also appreciate a spray once or twice a week to raise the humidity. Just as importantly, your giant day gecko cage should have suitable ventilation to allow water vapour to escape, preventingthe build-up of stale, stagnant air in which bacteria and fungi can thrive.

These requirements mean that wooden vivariums often won’t cope with such conditions, while net cages in cooler climates can get far too cold. In general, therefore, a glass vivarium works best for helping you to control these conditions.

Electrical Equipment – You’ll be needing some electrical equipment to keep your giant day geckos healthy. At a minimum I would suggest a UV light, an infrared or ceramic bulb and a thermostat. Some people also opt to include a heat pad to provide gentle background warmth. This means that you’ll need to put thought into how you’re going to fit all this kit into the cage.

Exo Terra’s are ideal in this respect for two different reasons. Firstly, Exo Terras have pre-made, closeable holes so that electrical cables can be fed into your vivarium. This saves you having to try and drill holes yourself.

Secondly, Exo Terra sell a bespoke hood that fits over the top of the cage. This hood can easily house UV bulbs in an attractive and practical manner.

Visibility – Lastly, of course, you’ll want to make sure that you’re able to fully enjoy your giant day geckos. This means that excellent visibility – such as with glass or plastic cages – is a benefit. You might even want to consider where you’ll place your tank for maximum visibility. Cabinets are available to raise them off the ground, creating an amazing focal point in your home.

Tank Decor

Keeping giant day geckos is a perfect opportunity to create a beautiful display in your home. I have found that whilst my own geckos spend much of their time “sunbathing” under their UV light or basking under their ceramic bulb, they still plenty of time exploring their cage. Investing time and money into creating a “mini rainforest” therefore provides just not visual appeal for you, but also a positive environment for your geckos.

Here some elements to consider…


A range of substrates can be used with day geckos, including orchid bark or coconut fibre. Personally, after doing some experimentation I have settled on Exo Terra rainforest substrate. This not only looks fantastic, but also serves as a useful medium for live plants to grow in, should you opt for this. Just buy a big brick of it, place it into a large container of water and leave it to expand for an hour or so. Drain off the excess water and place it into your cage.

Giant day geckos don’t burrow, so substrate depth is less of an issue than with many other exotic pets. Personally I have included around 5” so there is suitable depth to install live plants in the future, but a shallower depth is perfectly acceptable if you don’t want to use plants.


Giant day geckos are quite bold animals, and will readily explore their cage during daylight hours. All the same, all herptiles should have somewhere safe and secure to hide away from view. This is especially so if you are hoping that your day geckos will breed in the future, as the female will slink off somewhere private to lay her eggs.

Day geckos are arboreal, meaning they’re normally found above the ground, either resting vertically or horizontally on twigs and branches. I therefore think it makes sense to try and mimic this habit.

In my cage I use two different pieces of equipment. Firstly, I have added a number of large pieces of cork bark. Some of these are curved, while others are “tubes” of bark. These are positioned vertically, towards the back of the cage.

Additionally in the wild giant day geckos seem to have an affinity for bamboo, with the females laying eggs in vertical pieces. I have therefore sourced some bamboo pieces large enough for my day geckos to retreat into if they so desire. You might be surprised to hear that you can actually order this off Amazon, then use a saw to slice it up into the required lengths.

Climbing Branches & Perches

Your day geckos will climb up your cork bark and bamboo, together with the walls of their cage, but giving them more options is always welcome. Most reptile stores offer a range of different climbing branches that can also serve as perches for your lizards. Go wild and have fun, seeing what is for sale in your local store or on Amazon.


Coming from the forest areas of Madagascar it only seems natural to include some plants within your gecko cage. Many giant day gecko keepers use live tropical plants in their cages. If you opt to do so then ensure you buy plants from a reptile supplier – not a garden center or supermarket where they may have been treated with toxic chemicals.

Alternatively, of course, you can now buy a range of very attractive fake plants and avoid the risk altogether. So far, this is what I have done in my gecko cage. Here’s an example of what I bought.

Water Bowl

Your gecko will happily drink from the droplets left over after spraying their cage, but I think it is good practice to include a water bowl at all times to permit drinking. Change the water daily and scrub out the bowl at least once a week with boiling water or reptile-safedetergent to prevent a bacterial build-up.

Heating & Temperature

Located off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is a warm country. Therefore unless you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical area yourself your lizards will benefit from some artificial heating.

I suggest aiming initially for a hotspot of around 26’C. Try to position the heater over a perch, to make basking easy for your giant day geckos. In the first weeks of ownership pay attention to their behaviour, so you can modify the temperature at the basking spot as required.

For example if your lizards rarely move away from the hotspot then it is an indication to turn up the temperature a little. On the other hand if you find your pet constantly trying to avoid this area then they may find the hotspot too warm. Adjust as necessary until your day geckos seem happy.

When it comes to choosing the right kit I would suggest that you combine a ceramic bulb with a suitable bulb holder/reflector and a thermostat. Read my full reptile thermostat guide here.

Please note that ceramic bulbs can get very hot so it is important that your geckos can’t come into direct contact with it when it is on. Read about the safe use of ceramic bulbs here.

Fortunately, if you’ve followed my suggestion and invested in an Exo Terra vivarium then it is very easy to add heating. The top of Exo Terra tanks are made from tough mesh, and your ceramic heater can be rested in this, allowing the heat to permeate into the terrarium whilst preventing burns.

UV Lighting

As the name suggests, day geckos are diurnal. In nature they are therefore exposed to ultraviolet light, which is in turn used by the body to absorb calcium from the diet, leading to a strong and healthy skeleton. An absence of UV light can not only affect the behaviour of your day geckos but can lead to a health condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease.

Using an Exo Terra hood it is easy to add UV lighting to your day gecko cage. This is the bulb I’m using at the moment. I suggest keeping the light on for around 12-14 hours a day. Also, if you’re new to keeping reptiles then be aware that the UV output of bulbs drops over time. Even if the light looks absolutely fine experts recommend changing your UV light every six months or so for maximum output.

Feeding / Diet

Giant day geckos will eat a huge range of different food types. I suggest offering as broad a range of food as you can, which not only adds to the interest of keeping these fantastic lizards but also ensures they receive a wide range of nutrients. Here are the foods I’m using…


Repashy is a powdered food designed specifically for geckos like day geckos and crested geckos. Just mix one part Repashy with two parts water and stir. Some people claim that giant day geckos can live exclusively on Repashy for their entire lives, but I like to vary their diet regularly.

All the same, Repashy is a quick and easy solution for those evenings where you’re tired or have run out of livefood. Keep it in your fridge and a single pot will last for months; what could possibly be easier?

Jelly Pots

In the wild, day geckos have been observed drinking sweet nectar from tropical flowers. They certainly seem to be a reptile with a sweet tooth! Many reptile shops sell jelly pots, which you’ll see your day geckos licking on occasion.

Feeder Insects

The largest part of my day gecko’s diet is made up of live insects. I order my feeder insects online and I’m always trying them on something new. While almost anything of a suitable size (i.e. small enough to fit in your gecko’s mouth) should work here are the items that seem particularly welcome with my pair:

Curly Wing Flies

As the name suggests, these are house flies that have a genetic abnormality which gives them curly wings. So what? Well, the deformed wings mean that they can’t fly properly, so they’re a lot easier to handle than traditional flies. Just scatter a handful into the cage and watch your athletic geckos leap from twig to twig to hunt them down.


Juicy, delicious and packed with nutrients, waxworms aren’t maggots but actually moth caterpillars. The thing I love about waxworms is just how easy they are to feed to my geckos. I grab a shallow food bowl, sprinkle in some mineral powder (see below) then add some waxworms. Give it a gentle shake to cover the waxworms in the powder and pop the whole pot into the gecko cage.


To be clear, I’m not talking about adult locusts here, which would be far too large for even fully-grown giant day geckos. But I like to feed half-sized locusts regularly. One of the real benefits of locusts is that they climb and jump. This way, your gecko’s dinner can come to them, rather than your lizard having to come down to ground level as with waxworms.


In line with their sweet tooth, giant day geckos will happily accept ripe fruit. Some examples of suitable fodder includes bananas, papaya and mango. Slice or mash the fruit for easy eating, and be sure to remove any uneaten food later in the day to prevent spoiling.

Mineral Supplements

A varied diet will help to minimize the chances of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, but to stay safe I also recommend that you provide mineral supplements to your geckos. This is especially so for those of us (like me) who are expecting our day geckos to breed. After all, your giant day gecko will use a whole load of calcium to create those egg shells, not to mention the demands of producing baby geckos.

The best option here in my opinion is a dusting powder. If you’re feeding fruit then just sprinkle a little of the powder over the top. When it comes to feeder insects place them into a plastic sandwich bag, add the mineral powder and gently shake it to coat the insects in the powder. They can then be fed immediately to your lizards.

Cage Mates

Many commonly-kept species of reptile are kept alone. Giant day geckos, however, may be kept in pairs if you so desire. Having bought an adult breeding pair myself I have kept them together ever since, and haven’t had any issues so far. In fact, it is quite fun to observe the slightly smaller female wearing the trousers in that relationship!

Note that some keepers have found splitting up a pair, and then reintroducing them some time later, can result in fighting. Therefore if you want to keep more than one giant day gecko together either buy them at the same time, or be very careful about monitoring your lizards for some days after an introduction.

To minimize disagreements I try to provide multiple perches for my pair, so there are fewer disagreements over who has the “best” basking spot.


Since getting my pair of day geckos I’ve been fascinated by the range of behavior I’ve observed. Perhaps the fact that I have a breeding pair has also added to this, as the two lizards communicate with one another.

I’ve seen mating dances. I’ve watched them mating. I’ve smiled at how the smaller female is obviously “in charge” and won’t take any messing around from the male. I see them head bobbing, walking in a jerky way and sticking their tongues out regularly.

All this behavior adds further interest to these fantastic little lizards. Trust me – you’ll never tire of watching them going about their day.

Routine Care

The hardest (and most expensive) part of keeping giant day geckos is getting their vivarium set up right to begin with. However once this is done very little is needed in terms of ongoing, routine care. Here’s what I do:


While some people feed their geckos every other day, I personally feed mine almost daily (with the odd day off once in a while) and they seem tremendously healthy on this regime. Their water is changed daily.


If there is a downside to giant Madagascan day geckos it’s that they like to poop on the glass. Within a matter of weeks their vivarium looks dreadful. Therefore, as part of my ongoing routine I gently clean the glass doors of their vivarium each week. Just spray some water on and wipe it clean with some kitchen towel. Repeat as necessary to get them sparkling.

At the same time I like to give my geckos a heavy spray of water to raise the humidity, to scrub their water bowl clean, and to spot clean the floor of their cage for any faeces or dead insects.

This whole process takes only a matter of minutes each weekend, and keeps my giant day gecko cage hygienic and looking its best. They most certainly aren’t a “high maintenance” pet.


Giant day geckos are quick and athletic, especially when startled. If handled wrong day geckos will also drop their tail. While your lizard will survive, and their tail will grow back, it never looks quite the same and must be stressful for your pet.

While some people do opt to handle their giant day geckos I have decided not to do so in order to prevent escape or danger to my lizard. Only you can decide what you think is best in your own situation.

Photo by berniedup

The post Giant Day Gecko Care Sheet (Phelsuma grandis) appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

Poecilotheria rufilata / Red Slate Ornamental Care Sheet

Poecilotheria rufilata, commonly known as the Red Slate Ornamental, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula from the Indian subcontinent. It is generally considered to be the largest member of the Poecilotheria genus, with some keepers claiming a potential legspan of 8” or more. In appearance Poecilotheria rufilata broadly mimics it’s cousins like P. regalis and […] The post Poecilotheria rufilata / Red Slate Ornamental Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

Poecilotheria rufilata, commonly known as the Red Slate Ornamental, is an arboreal (tree dwelling) tarantula from the Indian subcontinent. It is generally considered to be the largest member of the Poecilotheria genus, with some keepers claiming a potential legspan of 8” or more.

In appearance Poecilotheria rufilata broadly mimics it’s cousins like P. regalis and P. ornata, being clothed in a rich pattern both on the legs and – most notably – on the abdomen. Besides it’s larger size the other thing that helps the Red Slate Ornamental tarantula to stand out is the color scheme. Unlike the more traditional Indian Ornamental, this species can look like it is being viewed through an Instagram filter, with a subtle green or red tinge. 

If you’re considering investing in one of these beautiful tarantulas read on for my detailed Poecilotheria rufilata care sheet…



Poecilotheria rufilata hails from India, where it is recorded over a very small area. Research has suggested that the species is only found within an area of roughly 5,000 square kilometers in the southern region of the Western Ghats. Indeed, field studies have reported the species in only five fragmented locations within the whole of India. With such a small distribution area, combined with continued habitat destruction, the Red Slate Ornamental is classified as endangered in the wild.

Fortunately, like other members of the genus, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species which can reach adulthood in between 12 and 18 months when fed well. It is therefore bred in captivity on a semi-regular basis, though tends to be far less common in the pet trade than many other Ornamental tarantulas.

In captivity it is wise to mirror the conditions experienced in the wild habitat. This can mean a warm and humid environment. As an arboreal species, which spends most of its life hiding behind the loose bark of trees, a tall cage is also recommended.  


Most tarantula keepers opt to keep Poecilotheria rufilata in a tall enclosure, allowing your tarantula to move around as it would in the wild.

For spiderlings, I use plastic food jars of around 4” in height. Once spiderlings start to outgrow these pots they’re moved up into plastic sweet jars of around 12”/30cm in height. Finally, my largest specimens are moved into “proper” cages for long-term care.

As these spiders can grow to a very large size I would suggest you consider a decent-sized cage for larger specimens. My adult Poecilotherias are kept in Exo Terra vivariums of varying sizes. Large juveniles go into Exo Terra Nanos, while larger specimens benefit from the 30cm x 30cm model. The very largest adult females are kept in even larger cages – 45cm tall by 30cm wide.

Let’s be clear that these cages are quite a bit bigger than some other keepers choose, however there are a number of reasons for this decision. Firstly, Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-moving tarantula which can quickly bolt out of the cage if you’re unlucky; a larger cage gives you a little extra time to close the lid if they make a break for freedom.

Secondly, I actively breed my tarantulas; not only increasing captive numbers but also helping to fund the expansion of my collection. In my experience it is easier to introduce the pair when the female is kept in a large cage – and it also makes it easier for the male to escape from her clutches should the need arise.

While Exo Terras aren’t the only option for adults, if you opt for alternative housing I would advise you consider the following points:

Ventilation – Back in the early days of the tarantula hobby (I started in the hobby around 25 years ago) it was known that humidity plays an important role in the success care of tarantulas. We’d put a spider into a container that was almost airtight, then spray the cage with water. Unsurprisingly many tarantulas died from these stale conditions, and mould grew uncontrollably.

Over the years tarantula keepers have figured out that an occasional spray to increase humidity is beneficial, good ventilation is also crucial. If you choose an Exo Terra you’ll find a metal mesh grill in the lid, allowing excellent ventilation. If you opt for other housing then check to ensure plenty of air flow is possible. For example, I use an electric drill to cut numerous air holes in the plastic sweet jars that I use.

Ease of Heating – Unless you’re lucky to live in a more tropical area its likely that your Poecilotheria rufilata tarantula will benefit from some artificial heating – especially during the winter. The smaller a tub that you use, the less air there is inside, and so the easier it is to overheat. Larger cages can make it easier and safer to heat your spider in colder weather.

Access & Maintenance – These are fast-moving spiders which are considered to have quite potent venom so you don’t want to be messing about inside their cage. Doing so risks an escape or a bite. So think about how you’ll carry out routine maintenance like removing uneaten food, sloughed skins etc.

Height – As mentioned, the Red Slate Ornamental seems happiest when hiding above ground level. A cage with suitable vertical height is therefore recommended – I would suggest that the cage should be at least 2-3 times as tall as your tarantula’s leg span.

Heating & Temperature

During the summer months my Poecilotherias exist perfectly well at room temperature. However, my tarantula room gets cool enough at other times of the year that some form of artificial heating becomes beneficial.

I recommend that you heat just one part of the cage, while leaving the other unheated. This creates a thermal gradient, allowing your spider to move to an area which suits them best. This can be challenging to accomplish in an arboreal cage with under tank heating, as they typically have quite a small footprint.

For arboreal cages it can therefore be wise to place the heater on the *side* of the cage, rather than underneath it, to create this gradient.

My tarantula room uses two different types of heater at the moment – heat mats and heating cables. Both are controlled with reptile thermostats to prevent overheating. If you want to know more about thermostats then I have a detailed guide here.

Larger Poecilotheria specimens in their Exo Terras are generally heated with a heat pad. In contrast, spiderlings and juveniles in their smaller pots are placed into wooden snake vivariums. I can then just place one small heat mat within the vivarium to successfully heat dozens of babies.  

In terms of numbers I would try to keep the ambient temperature in your Poecilotheria rufilata cage above 20’C except for very short periods of time. Furthermore, I recommend that your spider has access to an area in the mid-twenties (24-26’C) so they can warm up when required.

While I am seeing trends of some keepers never heating their tarantulas I personally feel that a properly heated tarantula cage is closer to nature, is easier to manage and leads to healthier, faster growing spiders. I have also seen research to suggest that spiders kept at warmer temperatures also grow into much larger adults than those maintained at cooler temperatures.

Water & Humidity

Humidity levels in the Western Ghats can be high, but fluctuates with the seasons. I use a houseplant spray gun to gently mist my Poecilotheria rufilata cages once or twice a week. In between, the combination of good ventilation and warmth means that the cage gently dries out between sprayings, preventing the build-up of mould or fungus.

While I very rarely see my Poecilotheria rufilata actually drinking I think it is wise to give a water bowl to all larger tarantulas. While spiderlings seem fine just drinking droplets from their occasional spraying, juveniles receive an upturned soda bottle lid, while my adult specimens have a proper water bowl of around 2” in diameter.

Taking into consideration the warm conditions typically found in a Poecilotheria tank, it is advisable to change the water regularly. Bowls should be removed, scrubbed clean, treated with reptile-safe disinfectant, and left to dry before replacing them. I aim to do this weekly, and keep an “overflow” of spare water bowls to make the swap easier.

Cage Furnishings

There are two key considerations when it comes to actually setting up your Poecilotheria rufilata vivarium; substrate and hides. Everything after that is purely for your own visual interest.

Over the years I used a range of different substrates for my tarantulas. My preference now is for coconut fiber, sometimes known as “coir”. Coconut fiber is a renewable resource, it looks great, it absorbs plenty of water which is handy for maintaining humidity in your tarantula cage.

Of course, each keeper has their own preference. For a full discussion of the options available to you please read my guide here.

Most Poecilotheria rufilata care sheets online point out that the Red Slate Ornamental is an arboreal tarantula, so only a shallow depth of substrate is required. While there is some truth to this, I have found that younger Poecilotheria’s will often dig dig shallow burrows in which to hide. Even some of my larger specimens actually excavate the substrate from behind their hide.

The end result of this is that I like to give rather more substrate to my arboreal tarantulas than some other keepers do. Spiderlings and juveniles have a depth of at least their diagonal legspan. My adults receive at least 2”, sloping up towards the back to create a deeper area.

Once in a while I “soak” this substrate by gently pouring water into one corner. It quickly swells, absorbing the water, before slowly releasing it over the coming weeks. This can further help to raise humidity.

The other important consideration is one or more places to hide away. Poecilotheria rufilata can be quite a shy spider, spending much of its time out of sight. I believe that it is only fair to provide suitable places for your tarantula to conceal itself, and so feel safe.

The easiest and most effective option I have found is cork bark. Spiderlings receive a small piece of cork bark, while juveniles and adults receive a proper cork bark tube. These tubes are positioned vertically, with the open end at the top. In almost every case my Poecilotheria hide away within these during daylight, only popping out to grab a cricket.

I also like to provide more than one of these hides if the cage allows; one in the warmer area by the heater and one in the cooler area. This permits your spider to rest in the area that is most comfortable for them.

As stated earlier, once these basics are covered, you can always let your imagination run wild in terms of landscaping. Just be sure not to over complicate your maintenance. I personally use artificial plants in many of my Poecilotheria cages just to add a little more interest.


Here’s an interesting fact about Poecilotheria rufilata – they’re the only tarantula reported as eating bats in the wild. Scientists at the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala, India observed a large Red Slate Ornamental tarantula feasting on a Kelaart’s Pipistrelle Bat that it had caught. It seems unlikely that this is a normal part of the diet, and I’m certainly not suggesting you offer a similar diet in captivity!

Like other tarantulas, the Red Slate Ornamental is most easily fed on a diet of live insects. Popular options in the hobby include cockroaches (“roaches”) and crickets. My personal food item of choice, however, are locusts. I don’t like the way that crickets can nibble on an unsuspecting tarantula, and there have been cases of spiders dying when a rogue cricket has attacked them during a moult.

Locusts are available in a huge range of sizes. They’re easier to handle than crickets or roaches in my opinion, and they won’t nibble on your spider. Best of all they typically climb up towards the upper reaches of a cage, making it more likely that they’ll bump into your Poecilotheria rufilata.

Whatever option you choose, I like to vary what I feed from time to time (to maximize nutrient intake) and I feed insects up to the body length of my spiders. Poecilotheria rufilata is a fast-growing species, and therefore has an appetite to match. Unlike slower-growing spiders like Brachypelma emilia I have found that Red Slate Ornamentals will eat on an almost daily basis given the chance. Far from getting “overweight” this means that your spider will just grow much more quickly.

For spiderlings and juveniles I therefore feed them some 5 times or so a week. Adults get food 2-3 times a week. Be sure to check the cage the morning after feeding; any uneaten food should be removed. It may be that this is a temporary situation, suggesting that a moult is imminent (see my tips on moulting here) or it may be that you need to feed your spider less.

Lastly, I have found that Poecilotheria tarantulas are happy to take rodents on occasion. As someone who also has snakes, I find that a defrosted (and warmed up) pinkie or fluff mouse will be taken by most of my specimens. While there is an argument to say that this may result in even faster growth, be aware that tarantulas can make quite a mess of a mouse, so more regular cage cleaning may be required. Note that these are only therefore given occasionally as a “treat” rather than being a staple part of the diet.


Poecilotheria rufilata are big, fast moving and likely have potent venom. I would therefore suggest that you don’t attempt to handle this species. If you need to move your spider from one tank to another I would suggest you take a more “hands-off” approach. Either gently catch the spider in a clear plastic tub (like an empty cricket container) or simply place the old cage inside the new one, open the lid, and let your spider come out in its own good time.

If this isn’t possible then place the cage into a room with no hiding places (bathrooms tend to work well) and gently coax it out of the cage with a long pair of forceps. Keep calm, move gently and don’t get impatient. With care, and a little luck, you’ll manage to herd your spider into the new cage without issue.

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Musk Turtle Tanks & Setup Tutorial

Musk turtles require very specialist housing if they are to thrive in captivity. The good news is that once your musk turtle tank is setup correctly then caring for musk turtles becomes quite simple. In this guide we’ll therefore take an indepth look at the best musk turtle tanks and how to setup your tank. […] The post Musk Turtle Tanks & Setup Tutorial appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

Musk turtles require very specialist housing if they are to thrive in captivity. The good news is that once your musk turtle tank is setup correctly then caring for musk turtles becomes quite simple. In this guide we’ll therefore take an indepth look at the best musk turtle tanks and how to setup your tank.

Selecting a Musk Turtle Tank

Musk turtles may only grow to a modest size but they can be surprisingly active. This means that they require quite a generous tank. Larger tanks can also cut down in the cleaning that your musk turtle requires – simply because there is more water present.

Broadly speaking a 20 gallon (~60cm/2 foot long) tank is suitable for single musk turtle, whilst two turtles require a 30 gallon home.

Turtle tanks come in a range of different sizes, shapes and materials. In most cases a glass tank is the ideal solution, offering ease of cleaning, excellent visibility and a beautiful display.

musk turtle photo

Here are some aspects you’ll need to consider when selecting a musk turtle tank:


Your musk turtle have suitable space to move about their tank in a natural manner. While musk turtles typically spend the vast majority of their time in the water they should also be able to haul themselves out onto dry land to bask when they choose. Therefore it is wise to consider whether you’ll have room for a “dry land” area in any cage you’re considering.


Musk turtles don’t grow too large. They often “hang” in the water, with their heads above the water, and their lack feet resting gently on the tank bottom. Selecting a cage that permits a suitable depth of water to allow this behavior is therefore a good idea.

Water Heater

Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical part of the world then your musk turtle will require their water to gently heated to around 22’C. While this is easily achieved with the right turtle water heater (read the guide here) you do need to consider where the heater will go, and how you’ll fit the wiring that such equipment needs.

UV Light

Like other chelonians, musk turtles require strong ultraviolet light. This UV light allows your turtle to generate vitamin D, which in turn is used to absorb and utilize calcium from the diet. Without a suitable source of UV light you may well find in time that your turtle’s shell or skeleton fails to grow properly; a potentially fatal problem.

UV lights are available readily online, but you’ll need to consider how you’re going to install such a light in your turtle tank. Appreciate that UV light doesn’t travel through glass so you’ll need to install the light in your aquarium hood somehow.  

Basking Spot

It is generally agreed that musk turtles should have a basking spot in their tank – somewhere that simulates the warmth of direct sunshine. Most typically a powerful heat lamp (like a ceramic bulb) is positioned above the basking area. Just as with our UV light and our water heater, therefore, you’ll need to consider how and where you’ll fit such a heater. If you want more guidance on using ceramic heaters then please read my guide here.


Turtles can be messy creatures, so a powerful filter is required to remove faeces and uneaten food from the water. Consider where you’ll place the filter and how you’ll power it.

Ease of Cleaning

You’ll regularly need to clean your turtle cage. Use an aquarium vacuum to remove detritus, rinse the filter media clean, and most likely use a magnetic aquarium cleaner to polish the glass. Make sure that any musk turtle tank that you’re considering makes this process as easy as possible.


Musk turtles can climb surprisingly well. Just as importantly, however, other animals may be able to get into your tank. The last thing you want is a neighbour’s cat slipping in through an open window and taking off with your precious turtle. An enclosed tank can therefore be a good idea.

The Best Musk Turtle Tanks

If this is your very first musk turtle then the obvious question is what is the best tank for musk turtles? Where do you even start?

Here I have two suggestions to start your search…

Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit

The Tetra Deluxe Aquatic Turtle Kit has a lot going for it. The tank itself is 30 inches long (2.5 feet) by 12” (30cm) deep. This is therefore an ideal size for two smaller musk turtles or one adult.

The tank is built from solid glass and features a handy mesh lid. This lid means that you can shine a heat lamp and a UV light through it easily. Alongside the tank, however, this is a complete musk turtle setup, which includes a filter, basking platform, artificial plant, UV light, basking lamp and more. In other words you get virtually everything you need in one neat package. This is the ideal “starter” option.

Take a look on Amazon.

Glass Aquarium with Screen Cover

An alternative musk turtle setup can be made by combining a standard glass aquarium with a mesh lid. Exo Terra make a huge range of these mesh tank toppers, giving you more choice on the size of the tank that you select. Larger screen covers are even hinged, or include a small access door.

The flexibility of this option means that you have far more control over your musk turtle tank. You can select a larger tank, and cherry-pick the equipment that you use. You can hand-select the basking platform, your choice of UV light and so forth. This can be a lot of fun.

On the other hand, having to individually select each item for your turtle tank can be rather intimidating for some people.

The conclusion here is that neither option is necessarily better than the other. Either select the “all in one” kit, or get a little more creative with an Exo Terra mesh lid on a traditional fish tank.

Musk Turtle Shopping List

Let’s assume you’ve selected your tank now. What else do you need to tick off before actually setting up your turtle terrarium?

Water Heater

Choosing the right water heater for your turtle is important. I’ve written about this topic in detail here. In brief you’re looking for a heater that comes with a tough outer guard to prevent damage by your turtle’s claws. Buy your heater after (or at the same time as) your tank. This is because aquarium heaters differ in their power output, so you’ll want to choose one designed for the size of tank you’ve chosen.

Aquarium Filter

I don’t recommend an undergravel filter for turtles, primarily because so few people actually use gravel with turtles. Instead, a good quality canister filter will do a great job. Once again, select a filter designed for your size of tank.

UV Bulb

A range of UV bulbs are available. In my collection I now exclusively use so-called “compact fluorescent” bulbs. These are small in size but have a high output. I would suggest you opt for a 5% bulb like this one. UV bulbs need to be changed every six months, as their ultraviolet output drops over time.

Basking Lamp

A basking lamp will provide direct heat for your basking spot. In the past incandescent bulbs were used, but this can be a risky proposition when water is concerned. A splash of water on a hot bulb can cause it to shatter instantly. Instead I recommend ceramic bulbs, which are far sturdier. They also don’t produce light, so can be left on during cold nights without keeping your turtle awake.

Bulb Holders/Reflectors

Your UV light and ceramic bulb need to be housed in a bulb holder. These holders then plug into the mains to power the bulbs. Ceramic bulbs get very hot so be sure to select a holder with a ceramic fitting; plastic alternatives can melt. For ease, I would suggest that you buy two identical holders to use for your two lights. This is a good option if you’re unsure.

Reptile Thermostat

Getting cold can be bad for reptiles; but getting too hot is just as dangerous. Ceramic bulbs can provide a crazy amount of heat, and you’ll need to control this carefully. A thermostat does this. Be sure to choose a thermostat that is designed to (a) work with your chosen basking lamp and (b) can control the power of your chosen basking lamp. Learn more about choosing a thermostat here.

Water Conditioner

Tap water is filled with additives like chlorine. This, in turn, can be bad for your turtles. A reptile-safe water conditioner will remove this chlorine, rendering the water safe. This is a good option.


With all this technology running, it is wise to keep an eye on everything. I would suggest that you invest in an aquatic thermometer to monitor the water temperature. A second thermometer can then help you to assess the basking spot temperature. Personally I use a handheld digital thermometer like this one.

Basking Platform

Musk turtles spend the vast majority of their time either swimming, or resting in the water. All the same, they should have the option to climb out and bask. The easiest way to achieve this is to install a simple basking platform like this one.

Musk Turtle Tank Setup

Now we’ve discussed musk turtle tanks, and the equipment you’ll need, let’s now put all this information together. In this final section we’ll actually looking at setting up your musk turtle tank so that your pet has everything it needs to thrive.

Fill With Water

Start off by adding the required depth of water. Broadly speaking the water should be slightly shallower than your turtle is long, so they can easily reach the surface while standing on the floor of the tank. Add your water conditioner to remove the harmful chlorine.

Water Heater

Following the instructions on your water heater place this under the water surface and firmly attach it to the side of the tank.


Insert the aquarium filter you’ve chosen, being careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Basking Platform

Install the basking platform at one end of the tank, ensuring that your turtle can easily access it from the water.

Basking Lamp

Install the basking lamp over the top of this basking platform. Ensure that your turtle cannot touch the lamp, and that it is attached to a thermostat to prevent overheating.

UV Light

Install the UV lamp. Be sure to use a reflector to shine the ultraviolet light down into the turtle tank. Be aware that UV light is harmful to your eyes so try never to look directly at the bulb when it is on.

Turn On and Monitor

By this point everything should be setup correctly. All the same, it is advisable that you don’t pop your musk turtle straight in. Instead, turn everything on and spend a few days monitoring your tank. You’ll want to make sure, for example, that the water temperature is correct. Check the basking spot is warm enough. Make sure the filter is doings its job. Only when you’re confident that everything is working properly should you gently introduce your new musk turtle.

Photo by Laurent Lebois ©

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Musk Turtle Care Sheet

Musk turtle care certainly isn’t complicated, but these beautiful animals do require far more specialist care than the average pet. In this guide I’ll be breaking down every step in turn so your musk turtles remain happy and healthy for life. Musk Turtles as Pets When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the big screen […] The post Musk Turtle Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

Musk turtle care certainly isn’t complicated, but these beautiful animals do require far more specialist care than the average pet. In this guide I’ll be breaking down every step in turn so your musk turtles remain happy and healthy for life.

Musk Turtles as Pets

When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the big screen in the 1990’s countless kids around the world decided that that they wanted a pet turtle. At the time thousands of baby red eared sliders were bought by unsuspecting parents, without realizing that these cute little critters soon grew into adults of up to 30cm.

A large terrapin like this can not only give a nasty nip when upset, but comes with a range of practical limitations; the need for an enormous tank, continual cleaning and more. No wonder so many were released into the wild or “donated” to rehoming centers.

Since then the reptile trade has moved on. Dealers and pet owners are better informed than ever before about how to keep turtles as pets, and a far broader range of species is available. Musk turtles represent one of the turtles best suited as pets.

One of the most appealing aspects of keeping musk turtles is that they obtain a far smaller adult size; adults normally reach a shell length of around 3.5-5” in total, with males typically being slightly larger than the females. This makes them far easier to accommodate in captivity.

Alongside this more modest size, however, musk turtles are also very attractive animals. The Common Musk Turtle is the species most commonly found in pet stores. These chelonions (the name given to all shelled reptiles) typically have bright yellow stripes across their heads, though these tend to fade as they grow up. The youngsters can also have a “razor back” appearance with some of their shell scales sticking up into the air. Again, as musk turtles grow up these scales tend to flatten out somewhat to give a more traditional shape to their shell.

The first message here is therefore that if you’re looking for a beautiful pet turtle that obtains only a modest size then the musk turtle is a great option. So – how do you keep musk turtles as pets? That’s exactly what we’ll be covering in this musk turtle care sheet…

musk turtle photo

Musk Turtle Tanks

Choosing and setting up your musk turtle cage is arguably the most important step of all. It is also the most expensive and, for first time reptile keepers, the most complex. However, when you get this right you’ll already be 80% or more of your way to success.

The perfect musk turtle tank is a modified glass aquarium. Experts recommend that a 20 gallon (~60cm/2 foot long) tank is suitable for a single musk turtle, whilst two turtles will require a 30 gallon home. If you’re buying hatchlings, as most people do, they may look a little “lost” in such a large tank. All the same, buying and setting up a tank isn’t cheap, so it is normally easiest to start with a tank suitable for adult turtles rather than having to upgrade after a few months.

Rather than leaving the tank open at the top, instead buy a suitable mesh lid. Amazon sells a huge range of sizes here. This lid serves a number of purposes, from keeping out other household pets and children’s fingers. Possibly of most importance to new turtle keepers this lid also allows you to install the various pieces of electrical equipment that you’ll need to keep your pet healthy. Don’t worry – we’ll be covering all of these in the coming sections.

Click here to read more about the best tanks for musk turtles.

Electrical Equipment

Once you’ve bought a suitable tank and a mesh lid (click here to view on Amazon) then the next step is to choose your electrical equipment. The various pieces of kit you select will keep your tank suitably warm and hygienic, providing the conditions for your pet.

UV Light

Calcium is a crucial mineral for you and me – and it’s just as important for your turtle. Why? Calcium makes up a huge percentage of both your turtle’s skeleton and its shell. Insufficient calcium can therefore lead to growth problems, a soft shell and even paralysis.

Sadly, however, it’s not as easy as just providing enough calcium in your diet. Turtles also require suitable vitamin D to absorb calcium from their diet. Vitamin D is made in the skin when it comes into contact with sunlight. We therefore need to mimic the ultraviolet rays that a wild turtle would encounter, and we do this using a UV light.

Reptile equipment has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and a range of great quality UV bulbs are available these days. I suggest you choose a 5% UV bulb, which can then be housed in a bulb holder/reflector like this one.

The reflector is then placed on top of the mesh lid, so that the ultraviolet light radiates down to your turtle. Aim to leave this on for roughly 12 hours a day, which is easy to do with a simple digital timer.

Turtle Water Heater

Like tropical fish, musk turtles require warm water to thrive. Indeed, when the water drops below around 18’C most turtles will stop eating. Therefore you’ll need an aquarium heater to maintain a comfortable temperature. An ideal target to aim for is a continual 72-78’F during both the day and night.

While it is possible to use a standard aquarium heater for musk turtles there can be some risks. Many turtles like to rest on their aquarium heater, which can bring with it a number of risks. Sharp claws can scratch and scrape your fragile glass heater, while direct contact also has the potential to cause burns. The best turtle water heaters address these issues by using a plastic or rubber “sleeve” around the outside.

I’ve written extensively about the best options here, but if you’d like a quick recommendation then I suggest the LINEBA glass aquarium heater.

Be careful when selecting a turtle water heater that you choose a model suitable for the tank size that you have chosen.

Heat Lamp

Musk turtles spend the vast majority of their life in the water. Only very rarely will you see them climbing out of the water to bask. All the same, it is considered best practice to give them somewhere where they can climb out of the water, dry out and benefit from basking in the “sun”.

This is particularly important in colder weather, where your turtle may appreciate a little extra warmth.

The easiest and safest way to provide this is with a basking lamp. The best option is to invest in a ceramic bulb and holder/reflector. These can then be fitted just like your UV light, ensuring that the heat produced gently radiates down through the mesh lid.

I have a full guide on choosing and using ceramic heating bulbs here.

The goal when positioning your overtank heater is to place it over a basking area. While some keepers opt to carefully divide their turtle tank into a “water” and a “land” area this can make cleaning far more difficult. Turtles constantly moving from land to water will move substrate into the water, potentially blocking up filters and making for more regular cleaning.

A more practical alternative is to purchase a turtle basking platform. You can then position the ceramic heater above this basking area, giving your turtle somewhere warm and dry to relax.

Note that ceramic heaters can get very hot indeed, so it is advisable to always use a thermostat to prevent accidentally cooking your turtle. If you’re unsure about choosing and using a thermostat then I have a detailed guide here.

Aquarium Filter

The final piece of electrical equipment you’ll need for your musk turtle is a suitable water filter. This will help to remove uneaten food and faeces from the water, keeping your turtle tank in a more hygienic condition. Remember that this waste, if not properly removed, can slowly poison your pet.

The easiest solution is an internal filter like a Fluval. They’re cheap, efficient and have been around for years. Just as when selecting a water heater, be sure to choose a filter that is designed to handle the volume of water in your turtle tank.

Tank Decor

If there’s one downside to keeping turtles of any kind it is that they can be messy animals. They eat almost exclusively in the water. They grab a piece of food with their mouth, then claw away at it with their front feed in order to bite off a suitably-sized chunk. This means that the food you provide – which is typically some form of meat – essentially gets shredded in the water. This can create quite a mess if not properly managed.

Even small turtles like musk turtles can be surprisingly strong. They will often damage and kill live plants, knock over or rearrange rocks and more.

As a result, only minimal tank decor is recommended. While some turtle keepers place aquarium gravel on the floor of the cage, it is more common to keep the base of the tank bare. This makes it easier to use a gravel cleaner to hoover up uneaten food and so keep things smelling sweet.

The one exception, as mentioned earlier, is that it can be a good idea to provide an area where your turtle can crawl out of the water to bask. Turtle basking platforms are a cheap and practical option here. Position your ceramic basking lamp directly over this platform.

Environmental Conditions

By now you understand the basic equipment that you’ll need. So let’s quickly run through the environmental conditions that you’re aiming to provide with this setup…

Water Quality

Ammonia is your enemy when it comes to keeping aquatic pets, be that turtles or fish. Ammonia comes from rotting food and from the normal waste that your pet passes. This should be controlled through the use of a good quality aquarium filter and regular partial water changes.

As a rough guide, consider changing around ¼ to ⅓ of the water in your turtle tank each week. For a more accurate guide consider investing in an water testing kit designed for fish keepers. A weekly test will help you to ascertain whether your water quality is suitable.

When changing the water be careful not to expose your aquarium heater, which can overheat and fracture. It is best to turn the heater off in advance and let it cool suitably before water is removed.

A second consideration when it comes to water quality pertains to the chlorine that most tap water contains. It is best to treat fresh tap water with a dechlorinator – available very cheaply from most good aquarium shops or from ecommerce stores like Amazon.

Water Temperature

Seek to maintain a water temperature of around 72 to 78’F at all times. This is done with your aquarium water heater. While virtually all water heaters come with a built-in thermostat I strongly recommend that you invest in a separate thermometer to monitor the water temperature and ensure your heater is properly calibrated.

Basking Temperature

Your basking platform should have a heater above it which creates a basking spot of around 85-90’F. This should be carefully controlled using a thermostat to prevent overheating. The basking spot can be turned off at night to create a gentle, natural fall in temperature.

UV Lighting

As musk turtles spend much of their time in the water it is a good idea to place their UV light over the water area. Note that UV bulbs have a very short life. Even though they can provide visible light for years, their invisible UV light output will drop over time. Manufacturers therefore recommend that these bulbs are changed every six months, even if they seem fine.

Feeding Musk Turtles

Musk turtles are almost exclusively carnivorous. In captivity they’ll eat a range of different foods, and varying the diet of your musk turtle can help to avoid deficiencies. Some of the most popular foods are:

Turtle Sticks or Pellets – A number of manufacturers now produce commercial dried turtle pellets. These turtle diets have been designed to offer a balanced diet to your pet, and they often have a very long shelf life. I will admit that not all turtles will accept these foods, but I feel they’re definitely worth considering as a “staple” to keep on hand.

Invertebrates – A range of live foods as sold for other exotic pets will often be taken by musk turtles. Earthworms seem to be particularly popular, though they may take almost anything from crickets to mealworms. To ensure maximum nutrition consider gut loading invertebrates where possible with a good quality mineral supplement like this one.

Seafood – You might be surprised to hear that musk turtles will take a variety of aquatic foods. This can include strips of fish, some bivalves like cockles and mussels, through to shrimps and prawns. Due to the salt content of these foods some experts recommend limiting their intake to an occasional treat.  

Commercial Fish Food – From frozen fish blocks to bags of live bloodworms, a visit to your local aquarium shop can give you all sorts of potential options for your musk turtle.   

Click here for a full list of food recommendations for musk turtles.

Do Musk Turtles Get Lonely?

We humans love to project our own emotions onto our pets. A common question is whether musk turtles will get lonely if kept on their own, or whether they should be kept as a group.

As male musk turtles start to mature they often have only one thing on their minds. If a pair is kept together the female can become almost overwhelmed with his advances, and may start to lose condition. Equally, two males may well start to fight for dominance in time. While two or more females may live together in peace, this is most easily achieved in a much larger tank, where multiple basking spots and platforms can reduce competition.

In general, therefore, it is wisest to think of musk turtles as solitary animals for their own safety.

Cleaning & Maintenance

While turtles can be messy animals the right maintenance process will help to keep their tank looking good. Here are some crucial elements to consider…

Food Removal – Don’t leave uneaten food to rot in the tank. Firstly, spend some time getting used to how much your turtle will eat in one sitting. Unlike some other pets turtles don’t need to graze throughout the day – instead feed them just what they will eat in a 10 minute eating window each day. Use a soft fish net to scoop out any uneaten food after each feeding.

Water Changes – Monitor the water quality in your turtle tank. Change ¼ to ⅓ of the water each week, using a gravel cleaner to easily remove old water. New water should be dechlorinated before being added to the tank.

Filter Cleaning – Filters can become clogged over time and will require some maintenance. The filter should be turned off, removed and opened up for cleaning.

Broadly, most popular filters use a “sponge” to filter sludge out of the water. Over time a colony of “helpful” bacteria will begin growing in your filter sponge, helping to break down unpleasant chemicals. Fresh tap water can kill these useful microorganisms. Therefore don’t just rinse the filter under a tap. A better option is to collect some of the turtle water from a water change, then flush your filter in this dechlorinated water.

Algae Elimination – The strong UV light in your tank combined with natural waste can sometimes lead to algae growing on the walls of your tank. Aquarium shops sell simple magnetic cleaners which can easily scrape this unsightly algae off the glass.

Environmental Checks – With a water heater, a UV light and a basking spot there are many ways in which your turtle’s environment can go awry. I therefore feel it is a good idea to regularly check these elements to ensure everything it is order. Use a digital thermometer to check water and basking spot temperatures, and place a reminder on your phone to replace your UV bulb every six months.

Health Checks – Regular ongoing maintenance isn’t just about your turtle tank – it’s also about your turtle itself. Try to spend some time each day simply observing your pet in their habitat. Over time you’ll get used to what is “normal” for them. Anything out of the ordinary may therefore suggest a problem. Do they spend all day under the basking lamp? If so, they may be too cold. Do they never come out of the water? If so, it may be wise to check that they can access the ramp up. Keeping a simple journal can be useful for your vet if anything goes wrong in the future.

Handling Musk Turtles

Turtles are a pet to enjoy from a distance, rather than something to hold like a bearded dragon or a ball python. They can be surprisingly fragile, and the result of a fall can be fatal.

All the same, there may be times when you need to move your musk turtle. If so, appreciate that while musk turtles may be smaller than many other pet turtles, they can still give a nasty nip to the unfortunate.

Here there are a number of options. Smaller turtles can simply be scooped up in a plastic tub or a soft aquarium net. When it comes to physically handling your turtle the best solution is to hold them at the very rear of their shell. Aim to place your thumb beneath the shell, pinning the turtle in place with your other fingers on the top of the shell. Holding your turtle so far back means that it will be unable to reach around to nip you. Your hand will also be far enough away from their legs to prevent them pushing away from you.

Photo by Laurent Lebois ©

The post Musk Turtle Care Sheet appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosures

Blue tongue skinks are one of the most popular pet lizards currently available, but they do have some quite specific requirements when it comes to housing. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the natural habitat of blue tongues, examining how to replicate this in captivity, and therefore how to select the best […] The post Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosures appeared first on Keeping Exotic...

Blue tongue skinks are one of the most popular pet lizards currently available, but they do have some quite specific requirements when it comes to housing. In this article we’ll be taking a look at the natural habitat of blue tongues, examining how to replicate this in captivity, and therefore how to select the best blue tongue skink enclosure.

Blue Tongue Skinks in the Wild

Blue tongue skinks tend to be active during the day (“diurnal”) and have thick, heavy bodies with relatively small legs. This body shape means that they spend the vast majority of their time on the ground; they are rarely if ever found climbing like a chameleon or gecko might. As a result, floor space is a far greater concern than the provision of vertical space.

Blue tongue skinks have evolved to thrive in the typically hot and arid desert-like conditions of Australia. This means that your pet requires access to strong ultraviolet light combined with a low humidity and warmer temperatures than many other reptiles. Fortunately, with the right enclosure all these requirements are quite simple to achieve.

Growing to almost two feet in length (18-24” is normal) these are quite large, stocky animals. This not only means that your blue tongue skink will require a larger cage than many other popular pet lizards, but furthermore that it should be sturdy enough to handle the weight and power of such a good-sized reptile. Fragile tank decor, for example, can become damaged, and rocks used for landscaping are at risk of tumbling. Safety is therefore a key consideration.

blue tongued skink photo

Scientific Research on Blue Tongue Skinks

While herpetology is still quite a “niche” research area, there have been a number of studies that point to the proper housing of blue tongue skinks. I don’t want to go over the finer details for risk of boring you but let’s quickly discuss some of the most useful findings…

Firstly, a group of scientists attached radio transmitters to blue tongue skinks in Australia to learn more about their lifestyle. They found that on average blue tongues bask for between one and four hours each morning, until they obtained a body temperature of 32’C. Once they reached this critical threshold they were then active for most of the day.

Another study found similar results; they claimed that blue tongue skinks in the wild maintain a body temperature of between 30’C and 37’C by actively moving between hot, sunny areas and cooler places.

Finally, researchers looking at captive blue tongue skinks experimented with a range of different types of environmental enrichment. Their study showed that “hiding” live food like mealworms around the lizard’s cage increased activity throughout the day. They found that larger cages led to more exercise being taken, and that lizards in hotter cages spent more time basking rather than hiding.

The takeaway points here are really that larger cages are better than smaller cages for the health of your blue tongue skink, that the inclusion of free-running prey items can be beneficial and that your skink will be happiest with a very hot basking area at one end of their cage.

Important Considerations When Selecting an Enclosure

Lets now gather together all the points so far and turn these into an actionable “shopping list” of what the best blue tongue skink enclosure will offer. In this way, when you’re weighing up the options you’ll be ideally placed to make an informed decision.


First and foremost you’ll want to prevent your lizard from escaping, as well as children or other household pets from getting in. Cats, for example, can find lizards a fascinating potential prey item. Taking into consideration the strength of larger blue tongues, you’ll therefore want to be absolutely certain that your lizard can’t push open a cage lid or a sliding door. If necessary consider using a cage lock for additional security.


As we’ve seen, larger cages tend to result in happier blue tongued skinks. Sadly, when it comes to cage sizes, there is no “right” and “wrong” answer – it is more a case of opinion. I would suggest that an adult is kept in a cage no smaller than 36” in length and 18” in depth. Personally I would consider this to be and absolute minimum, and I would suggest that a 48” long enclosure is far more appropriate.

Remember that as blue tongue skinks don’t climb the vertical height is less of an issue. Indeed, some might argue that a lower cage is actually preferable because more UV light will then reach the cage floor.

Also be aware that these recommended cage size dimensions apply only to a single blue tongue skink. While a handful of keepers opt to keep two females together, or a breeding pair, this can result in fighting. In almost all cases then, for the safety of your lizard, blue tongues should be kept alone. Two males should certainly never be kept together as serious fighting is almost inevitable.


Enjoying a dry, semi-desert environment, ventilation is a crucial consideration. Blue tongue skinks kept in tanks that are too moist or humid can suffer from a range of health-related issues; fortunately proper ventilation is simple to provide.


Your blue tongue skink is going to need high temperatures. However they’re also going to need a “temperature gradient” – some parts of their cage cooler than others so they can move about and thermoregulate as in the wild. A good option is to use a ceramic heater at one end of their cage, leaving the other end cooler.

With a recommended basking temperature of around 100’F (37’C) you’ll need to be confident that any enclosure you choose can cope with this heat, and that there is a safe way to install such a heat source. If you want to learn more about using ceramic heat emitters for reptiles then please read my guide here.

UV Lighting

Strong UV lighting will be required by your lizard on a daily basis. It is therefore wise to consider how you will offer this. It is important to remember that UVB light doesn’t pass through glass or plastic effectively. As a result, the bulb that you select will need to either be placed within your blue tongue skink’s cage, or above it but shining through mesh.

Best Caging Options for Blue Tongue Skinks

Now we understand the environmental conditions required for a healthy blue tongue skink the next step is to look at some real-life examples. Here are some of my top recommendations for the best blue tongue skink enclosures currently available to hobbyists…

Exo Terra Glass Terrariums

If you spend some time reading other articles on this site then you’ll see me talking about Exo Terras time and again. There’s a reason for that; I think they’re fantastic vivariums which offer a whole host of practical benefits as well as looking fantastic.

When it comes to blue tongue skinks the Exo Terra (Large Wide model) comes into its own in a number of ways. Firstly it has a metal mesh grill on the top. This makes it very easy to attach a suitable ceramic heater just above your lizard’s basking spot. Exo Terra also produce vivarium hoods which can fit over your tank, and into which UV lights fit. This, combined with the mesh grill, makes them an easy and practical option for reptiles that require lots of ultraviolet light.

When using high powered heating equipment it is crucial to use a thermostat to prevent overheating. You’ll need to find a way to feed a sensor into your blue tongue skink vivarium and position it under the basking spot. With Exo Terras this is easy; each cage comes with closable holes for this exact purpose.

For those readers living in colder areas, the base of the Exo Terra is raised slightly off the ground on plastic feet, which makes it easy to also slip a small heat pad underneath should you need to increase the temperature slightly more.

While I will admit that Exo Terras aren’t the cheapest option on the market, the range of practical benefits combined with their looks means they’re my number one choice in most instances.

Modified Aquariums

Glass aquariums have many benefits as cages; they’re readily available, they’re cheap and they’re able to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. The downside has always been finding a suitable lid for pet reptiles, and finding a way to install the required electrics.

This has been solved thanks to Exo Terra’s mesh aquarium lids. Available in a wide range of sizes, these are very similar to the mesh lids found in Exo Terra vivariums. Simply slide one over the top of your blue tongue skink cage and attach all the electrics necessary.

The nice thing about this option is that it gives you more choice when it comes to cage sizing. If you want to be really generous and give your skink a five foot long tank then it becomes easier than relying on Exo Terra terrarium sizes.

For some people, modified aquariums may represent a better option due to the lower price point. On the other hand, be aware that you’ll always need to access your skink from the top, having removed the lid. For some people (such as myself!) this is less practical than the other caging options that offer access from the front.

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden vivariums have always been very popular in the UK, but I see them far less regularly used in the US. Wooden vivariums tend to be quite cheap to buy, offer sliding glass doors at the front and can be much easier to keep warm in winter (meaning a happier skink and a lower electricity bill for you).

They do, however, have a number of potential downsides. Firstly, be sure to choose a model that offers suitable ventilation. You don’t want an entirely enclosed tank. Secondly, installing electrical equipment like UV lights and heaters can require a rather more “DIY” approach than with other enclosure options. Be prepared to drill holes, take the vivarium apart and install your own equipment. For the less DIY-savvy reptile keeper therefore one of the previous options may prove to be more practical.

Of course, for the serious craftsman it is possible to build your own wooden vivarium. It’s something I’ve done before on numerous occasions, and with a little patience it can be a really fun project. You get to design and build the cage from scratch, getting everything just right. If you have the time then this is certainly an option to consider, which can also save you a boatload of money.

Conclusion: What’s the Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosure?

I think it would be wrong to say that there is such a thing as a “best” cage. Each option has its own strengths and weaknesses. The right answer for you will depend on the cage size you decide to give, your budget and how handy you are at DIY. The key, really, is figuring out the best compromise between these elements so you can offer your blue tongue skink the ideal conditions in which to thrive.

Photo by Eric Kilby

The post Best Blue Tongue Skink Enclosures appeared first on Keeping Exotic Pets.

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