How to Care for an African Side-Necked Turtle


The West African mud turtle, known colloquially as the African side-necked turtle, belongs to a family of basking semiaquatic turtles that has become popular in the pet trade in recent years. Caring for this turtle requires providing both outdoor and indoor enclosures and a wide variety of foods.

Enclosures and Habitats

Things You'll Need

  • 10-by-10-foot outdoor enclosure area
  • Pressure-treated wood or cement block walls
  • Live plants and grasses
  • Basking rocks or logs
  • Pond filter
  • 60-gallon or larger aquarium
  • Basking dock
  • Full-spectrum reptile lighting
  • Submersible aquarium heater with guard
  • Aquarium filter

Step 1

Prepare an outdoor enclosure area not smaller than 10 feet by 10 feet for up to eight turtles. Dig out a pond that covers 75 percent of the enclosure. Design the area so that the land slopes gently into the water. The water should be at least as deep as the turtle's shell is long, but should not exceed 1 foot. If you're using a tarp bottom, make sure to place some dirt back on top of the tarp so there are several inches of mud for the turtle to dig in.

Step 2

Use pressure-treated wood or cement blocks to create walls around the enclosure, at least 18 inches high and 6 inches deep into the ground, to prevent both climbing and digging. In an area where potential predators like dogs and raccoons are present, cover the entire area with a lid made from chain link or wire mesh and wooden supports.

Step 3

Plant live plants on the dry quarter of the enclosure to provide shade and cover, but make sure there is enough land area for the turtles to get some sun, too. In the water, provide plenty of plants like hyacinth, water lettuce, iris and lilies. Turtles are omnivorous, so prepare to replace these plants periodically as they are eaten. These plants will also provide hiding spaces for more timid turtles to evade dominant aggressors.

Step 4

Use a pond filter or overflow the pond at least once a week to cycle in new water.

Step 5

Bring the turtles indoors during the winter, as these turtles do not hibernate. Provide a 60-to-100-gallon aquarium for a single adult turtle. Up to four turtles can live in an aquarium or breeder tub measuring at least 6 feet by 3.5 feet, with 6 to 8 inches of water. More turtles will require additional housing space.

Step 6

Provide enough basking space for all of your turtles, using a turtle dock or a platform supported by stones or blocks, and use a heat lamp to bring the basking spot to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Use full-spectrum, UVB-emitting light over the rest of the enclosure. Ensure that the water reaches 72 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit by using a submersible aquarium heater, with a guard, if necessary. Use aquarium filtration systems or change the water every two to three days.

Step 7

Move the turtles back outside during the summer.

Feeding Time

The West African mud turtle is a ravenous eater who should be offered a healthy mix of both plants and meat. Your turtle can eat:

  • Mice, pinkie or whole adult, skinned
  • Turtle pellets
  • Chicken
  • Fish and shrimp
  • Beef heart
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Dark green lettuce
  • Collard greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Strawberries occasionally as a treat.

Food should be dusted with a calcium supplement, which is especially important to promote a healthy shell when the turtles are kept inside. Allow turtles kept outdoors to catch their own food, including worms, insects and frogs. Feed your turtles every other day and remove uneaten food after the turtles leave the feeding area to keep the water clean.

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