Signs of Parasites in Aquatic Turtles

Aquatic turtles often get parasites from their environment.
Aquatic turtles often get parasites from their environment. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Aquatic turtles are plagued by a number of internal and external parasites. As in the case with all reptiles, these parasites can cause severe health issues and possible death, unless treated. In almost all cases, aquatic turtles contract parasites through unsanitary environmental conditions. Aquatic turtles which are housed in overcrowded conditions are also susceptible to parasite infestations.


Nematodes are commonly encountered internal parasites in aquatic turtles. They are similar to roundworms that infect mammals and occur when a turtle ingests the parasitic eggs that have been passed from the system of infected animals. Larvae, which hatch from these eggs, mature into adult worms within the digestive tract of the new host turtle. These adult worms continue to thrive and to reproduce within the body of the animal. Infected aquatic turtles begin to lose weight and develop diarrhea. These turtles may also begin to vomit adult nematodes. The presence of this parasite can be diagnosed after seeing evidence of the worms in the turtle’s vomit or feces.

Tapeworms and flukes

The presence of tapeworms is verified after finding the adults in the feces of an infected animal. A heavy tapeworm load will cause the turtle to loose body condition. A diagnose can also be made through a microscopic fecal examination. Flukes frequently infect aquatic turtles. This internal parasite requires an intermediate host, which is the aquatic snail. Turtles become exposed to the larval stage of this fluke while feeding on aquatic snails. These larval parasites migrate from the turtle’s mouth into its lungs, where they mature into adult flukes. These parasites cause lesions in the lung tissue, and infected turtles will begin to lose weight.


Flagellates are frequently found in otherwise healthy aquatic turtles, but will cause intestinal problems if present in large numbers. Flagellates are typically found in the turtle’s kidneys and in the urinary bladder, but may also colonize the bile ducts. These parasites are microscopic organisms which need to be identified through a microscopic fecal exam. Infected turtles will show signs of diarrhea and dehydration. They are also likely to lose weight and become noticeably lethargic. Undigested food will be noticeable in their feces, which becomes slimy. If left untreated, aquatic turtles can die from this parasitic infestation.


Leeches will be visible on the skin of aquatic turtles. These external parasites attach to the turtle host and feed on body fluids. Unless removed, the individual leeches will increase in size as they feed off their host. Turtles are unable to get rid the parasites without assistance.

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