Image Credit : Caverhill Photography
Known as “the turtle that smiles”, the Blanding’s turtles are medium to large sized as adults with males usually being a bit larger. A dark green to black carapace mottled with yellow spots, rays and flecks at a length of between 7 and 10 inches is typical.
The carapace is also oval and features no flaring of the marginal scutes except in some males. The yellow plastron with a black blotch on each plate has a single hinge. The head is somewhat flat with large “frog-like” eyes and the jaws reveal a big smile.
- Scientific name : Emys blandingii
- Distribution : Northern USA, Canada
- Average Size : 0.18 m (0.6 ft)
- Life Span : 60 years or more
- Difficulty : Intermediate
Blanding’s should only be housed indoors while they are young. A 20 gallon long aquarium will suffice for 1 to 3 hatchlings. A 40 gallon breeder is even better and Rubbermaid totes prove to be excellent enclosures as well. They are also easy to clean. Once the turtles are at a less vulnerable size (4” SCL or more) they can be moved outdoors. We recommend an outdoor, in-ground pond. These turtles need both swimming room and walking room. They will take to land more than often where they will continue foraging for food unlike other semi-aquatic turtles. Nesting females also require a large land area to search for an appropriate site for oviposition.
A 9 x 9 meters (30 x 30 feet) pen with a 4.5 x 4.5 meters (15 x 15 feet) water area in it will suffice for a small group of adults (1.3 or 2.4). The walls of the pen must be secure to keep the turtles in. This means, they should be at least 0.45 meters (1.5 feet) high and dug into the ground by about 0.15 meters (0.5 feet). The walls can be made out of pressure treated wood, cement blocking, landscaping timbers and other fencing materials. These turtles can climb well so be sure to take appropriate measures in preventing escapes. Logs, drift wood or planking can be added to the water area as basking platforms. Avoid using too many rocks because they can be abrasive to the turtles’ plastron.
Aquatic and land vegetation is an absolute must. Water hyacinth, water lettuce, lotus, various lilies, iris, cattails, frog bit and anacharis are all excellent choices for the pond itself. The turtles will greatly appreciate these items by hiding in them and searching for food. The land area can be planted with many different low lying shrubs, grasses and flowering plants. In the summer months, the turtles will leave the pond at times to hide under the foliage to escape the extreme heat and warming water. A gravel or sandy area should also be provided for the females to lay their eggs. This area should have little cover.
Indoors, I prefer to not use any substrate simply because without it, the enclosures are much easier to clean. I especially like to do this because I do not use filters. Instead, I choose to do frequent water changes with Blanding’s turtles. If you would like to use a substrate, pea gravel is a good option. Outdoors, the pond area should have a 0.3-0.6 meters (1-2 feet) layer of peat and mud for the turtles to burrow into and for the plants to take root in. Allow leaves to collect in the pond during the fall because they will aid the turtles in hunkering down for hibernation.
Lighting – Heating
Natural sunlight is of course unbeatable and even baby Blanding’s turtles should receive at least some outdoor time in predator protected units. However, there are several lighting options for keeping them inside. Mercury vapor bulbs, daylight spot bulbs, infrared bulbs and fluorescent tube lights are all available to keepers today. We prefer Mercury vapor bulbs which provide both UVA and UVB to the turtles. 100-150 watt bulbs over a dry basking area of drift wood or cork bark do the trick.
Do not use aquarium water heaters with Blanding’s turtles. They must be kept in cooler water no higher than 21-24 ºC (70-75 ºF). They do not care for excess heat and temperatures can drop well into 14-16 ºC (58-62 ºF) during the night with no additional heating requirements needed. The lights should be turned on in the morning and left on for 12 to 14 hours. It’s important to turn them off at night so that the turtles are exposed to a more natural, daily cycle like they would experience outdoors.
The water area should be made of 45 to 65 mil fish friendly, pond liner and must be more than 0.45 meters (1.5 feet) deep. This is where the turtles will spend the winter so an adequate depth is crucial to avoid a solid freeze. Be sure to gradually slope the pond basin when digging it so that the turtles can easily get in and out of the water. The deepest part should be in the middle. Filtration of the pond is optional. We prefer to use as many live plants as possible because they naturally filter the water. A peat based bottom is provided in which the plants are able to root in and grow. In combination with over flowing the pond bi-weekly, the plants help to keep the water in good condition.
Emydoidea blandingii are vigorous feeders. They accept a wide variety of items and are very carnivorous. I have only once witnessed a specimen attempt to eat something that was not “meat”. This was a strawberry and perhaps the turtle thought it was meat because of the red coloration. Baby Blanding’s will accept any of the commercial turtle pellets available in time. Adults prefer fish, frogs, tadpoles, mice, beef heart, chicken parts, crayfish and other animal matter.
We have success feeding our adults pinky mice (occasionally whole, adult mice), young bull and green frogs, beef heart, chicken hearts, gizzards and livers, smelt, silversides, tilapia, killies and frozen/thawed crayfish. We also offer them wet dog food but only brands that use whole/natural ingredients. Blandingii are comical and aggressive when feeding and will follow you around on sight in hopes that you have something for them!
Be careful to not overfeed. They will eat and eat and eat. They are known to stuff themselves to the point of regurgitation.
Due to their skittish nature, handling isn’t recommended for this species. However, handling will be necessary to conduct periodic health checks. Hands should be clean before handling and washed after handling them and their environment.
We clean the indoor Rubbermaid enclosures whenever the water gets dirty and we replace the water since we don’t use filtration. For outdoors we prefer to create a natural pond as mentioned above where the plants keep the water clean.
Potential Health Problems
Blanding’s turtles are extremely resilient animals rarely falling victim to major health issues however, they are sensitive to heat. They can become stressed, uncomfortable and severely dehydrated in periods of extended heat. They prefer cooler temperatures with cool water. They can fall victim to severe respiratory infections if moved during hibernation and so this should never be done.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.