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My family and I found a turtle crossing our street a few days ago. We took it in and are considering keeping it as a pet for the following reasons:

Firstly, we live in a suburban area of Massachusetts and there are quite a lot of roads where we live, so it doesn't seem like the safest area for a turtle to be wandering around in. Secondly, I looked online and identified it as a Red Eared Slider, which is apparently an invasive species in our area. So, I thought we might be doing the local ecosystem a favor by taking it in.

We don't have any experience of keeping turtles as pets; however, we are aware that this species is very commonly kept as a pet. It is possible it may have been someone else's pet in the past, which escaped or was released. However, it has clearly been in the wild for at least some time, as it seems to have a busted right eye and the back portion of its shell looks like something has tried to chew on it.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I saw it trying to dig a hole in the lawn with its claws. So, it appears to be a female that is trying to lay eggs. I did some reading online and I understand that if it has eggs then it needs to lay them, otherwise it can be bad for its health. So, going by a video on YouTube, I have tried to make a nesting box for it out of a cardboard box that I have filled with soil. Over the past couple of days, I have put her in the box and left her for an hour and a half several times, but I haven't seen any sign of her trying to dig into the soil. She seems a lot happier trying to dig in the middle of the lawn; however, our soil is quite firm and I'm not sure if she will be able to dig a good enough hole there.

So, to summarize, my questions are:

  1. What can we do to help/encourage this turtle to lay its eggs?
  2. Is it feasible to keep this turtle as a pet, or should we just release it? As far as I can tell, it doesn't seem stressed out and seems calm enough when one of us handles it.

Any advice would be appreciated!

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Your reasoning for taking care of the turtle is a good one.

But you should be aware of some facts about red eared sliders:

First: they live their whole live in water. They feel safe there and stay close to their "pond". Only for mating do they change location and could go for miles to find the right partner. So you need a pond or tank

Second: they grow all their live long. The shell of female red eared sliders becomes the size of a toilet seat. Male ones becomes only a hand width shorter. To live a good life they need a water depth between one and two times their shell length and if it is a tank it has to be 7 times as long and at a minimum 2 times as wide as their shell (so the turtle could turn around comfortably). So you need a big tank/pond

Third: they can climb very good. If you think about a pond in your garden, you need a fence around it. But the turtles can climb mesh wire. Search on YouTube for it, it is unbelieveable... you need a fence

For the behavior that you discribe: turtles dig a whole to hide in it, if they cannot find water to do so. They turn around and make swimming like moves to get dirt over their back. Maybe you saw this? You wrote nothing about water...

If the turtle really wants to lay eggs, she needs water to wet the ground where she may lay their eggs. You could test the soil: if you dig a hole with a spoon and the walls don't collapse into the hole, then the soil is right. And the place has to be near the water, so the young turtles could reach it easily. The turtle would choose the place according to these criteria.

I have a similar turtle too. We found him on the street too, but in our area he would not survive in the nature. Now he lives with us since 10 years in a bathtub sized tank. We choose to buy one big tank instead of a increasing tank sizes every year as he grows.

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  • Thanks for your answer, this is really helpful. In terms of water, right now we are keeping it in a plastic storage container that we have part filled with water. I am letting it out a couple of times a day to walk around the garden and get some exercise. I am feeding it some mulberries from a tree we have, which it seems to be eating. I think we will have to make a decision soon about whether we will keep it. We don't have a pond in our garden and I don't know if we have space for a tank that large in the house. There is a large pond close to our house, which is probably where it came from. – Time4Tea Jul 7 at 11:59
  • As for the digging, it seemed to be trying to dig with its hind legs into the lawn, trying to make a hole. It is possible it was trying to make a hole to hide in, as you suggest. I will look into how to identify the gender and whether or not it is carrying eggs. – Time4Tea Jul 7 at 12:01
  • @Time4Tea I do not know what temperature you have where you live. Please have a look that the turtle get no cold when it is wet out of the water. Wind on the ground could get dangerous if it is too cold. – Allerleirauh Jul 7 at 17:53
  • Ok, I hadn't thought about that. It's summer right now, so quite warm. It seemed like it was digging more when I took it out of the water in the evening, so I was thinking "ok, it prefers to lay its eggs in the evening." But, maybe I misunderstood and it is not trying to nest after all - perhaps it is colder in the evening, so it is trying to dig a hole to keep warm? Thanks again. I will identify the gender and probably stop taking it out as much in the evening, in case it is getting cold. – Time4Tea Jul 7 at 19:35
  • If the storage container have space for a stone/wood/flower pot: you could use one of this three to build an island and the turtle will use it for sunbathing. Then it could choose itself when it wants to come out of the water. This island should be in full sunlight for some hours of the day. I will ask a question about "first aid cage for a aquatic turtle" and answer it, when I have time for it :) – Allerleirauh Jul 8 at 5:25

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