Turtles are great! The Pond Gnome has lots of clients who adore their turtle pets. And just like any pet, turtles need certain conditions to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. We don’t profess to be herpetologists by any stretch, but we can help with some basics for our area of the country, as well as some references for more information.
Most Common Breeds Kept in Arizona
Turtles are well-adapted to our desert climate, and most species will live about 30 years given a proper habitat and diet. The most common turtle species we see in backyard ponds are the Red-Eared Slider. They are native to the southeastern United States and northeastern Mexico.
The second most commonly seen backyard turtle is the Mississippi Map Turtle, which is native to the Mississippi watershed, as the name suggests. These two species likely make up 80% of the pet turtles in Arizona.
Our native species is the Arizona Mud Turtle. There are three species of mud turtles that are found in and near creeks, rivers, lakes, stock tanks, and ciénegas in central and southeastern Arizona. Mud Turtles can be relatively common in their preferred habitats. A hunting license is required to lawfully collect and possess Mud Turtles in Arizona.
Security and Safety for Their Health and our Native Environment
The most important thing to remember about keeping exotic pets like turtles, is to keep them properly contained. Escaped exotic turtles do a lot of damage to our native species. Allowing them to escape into natural rivers and streams is an environmental disaster of sorts.
Proper fencing designed to contain them from both climbing out, and digging out, is crucial. Also keep in mind they are not the top of the food chain. If you live in an area with racoons, you must also keep the racoons out of your turtle habitat, or build you turtle pond large enough for your turtle pets to escape predation.
Turtles are omnivores. They eat whatever they can catch or find, including insects, small fish, frogs, and many aquatic plants, as well as dead fish or frogs. This makes an organic water garden a utopian environment for them! Just make sure it is large and diverse enough to handle their foraging activities, and the biological filters are designed to handle the ammonia production of your turtle pets.
Of course, lots of folks like to hand-feed their turtles various veggies. We know of a few really spoilt turtles whose owners interact with them every single day with treats and attention, and swear that they come when called.
Turtles will spend most of their life in the water. When active, they can hold their breath under water for up to 30 minutes! During the colder months, they can enter a state of torpor and remain under water for months at a time! Still, they should have a sunny rock to bask on in the middle of their pond where they can feel safe while soaking up the warm sunshine. They should also have a space of terrestrial dirt, and maybe event composted mulch and a shrub or two, to hang out under once in a while.
Turtles need a body of water to hang out in to stay hydrated. They cannot survive long without a healthy, organic, body of water. Having a filtered pond big enough to swim in, to hide in, and within which to forage is optimal. If you relegate them to an enclosure with a small water tub, know that the water in the tub will need to be changed frequently as turtles defecate mostly in the water. Thus, a properly built filtration system designed to handle their output is essential if you want to also enjoy that pond aesthetically.
Responsible Turtle Parenting
As with any pet, you should design and build a good habitat for the creature before bringing it home. Many folks get a turtle on a whim, or by gift, and don’t have a good environment in place, causing suffering, and sometimes even death. All the good intentions in the world fall short of proper planning.
Resources for More TURTLE Information
Arizona Game and Fish Department: http://www.gf.state.az.us/
Arizona Herpetological Association: http://www.azreptiles.com
Online field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Arizona: http://www.reptilesofaz.com/
Reptiles of Arizona: http://reptilesofaz.org/turtles.htm
Did you know that there are 950,000 species of insects? And that most of those are beneficial to our environment or food for other beneficial critters? Most people are really only trying to kill about 10 unwanted insects in their yard. When you take that into account, does it really make sense to broadcast poison over your entire property? And if you have beloved pets, that can be a serious issue! Let’s take a look at another option for the common “pest.”
This little blood-sucker is probably the most despised pest on the list. It’s been known to carry all kinds of diseases, and many people have a very bad reaction to the anti-clotting agent that they introduce when they bite. Would it surprise you to learn that a single dragonfly can eat its own body weight of these insects in just 30 minutes? Damselflies, too. And where would you find such great allies for your outdoor environment? Hanging out around a living water feature (pond, waterfall, stream), of course! Many biologists agree that a well-built ecosystem pond is actually the cure for the West Nile Virus!
In the Far East, it’s considered good luck to have a cricket in your house, and very bad luck to kill one, even by accident. But here in the States, we don’t really adhere to that superstition. So, what do we do about those? Well, frogs and toads LOVE crickets. And where can you find those? Hanging out around a living water feature (pond), of course!
Yikes! No one likes these guys around the house! Even our cat isn’t real fond of them. But scorpions are actually pretty resistant to the common pest controls out there, despite advertising claims to the contrary. So, what now? Believe it or not: frogs and toads. And where can you find those? Hanging out around a living water feature (pond), of course! Are you sensing a theme yet?
That covers the three top hated insects. There are others, but they can all be hunted and eaten by cool critters that will live around your yard happily if you have the right environment for them (pond, waterfall, stream, etc.).
Here are some great resources to learn more about integrated pest management:
For more general information on insects in Arizona:
Insects of the Southwest by Floyd Werner, Phh.D. & Carl Olson, M.S.
Draongflies & Damselflies of the Southwest by Robert A. Behrstock
You betcha! Many of our Phoenix pond clients enjoy their turtle pets! That’s the short answer. Turtles can provide hours of entertainment and education, and truly become members of your family. However, there are some considerations.
Types of Turtles for Phoenix Ponds
If it’s a non-native species, please remember that you need to be responsible about turtle ownership: it must remain contained, without the possibility of escaping from your yard into a natural riparian area. And since turtles do add a level of maintenance to your pond, be sure that you're okay with that decision. As long as you're fine with a little added maintenance, turtles are great pets!
There are many different species of turtles. Some are more welcome in Arizona than others. Please do your research before you get one. You can read more about turtles at www.azgfd.gov/turtle.
Phoenix Pond Design for Turtles
Your Phoenix pond should been designed in a way that would take good care of these pets. Proper filtration is a must! Turtles do add quite a bit more to the water, in terms of bio-load, than just goldfish and/or Koi. You will need a good biological filter, or better yet a constructed wetland filter, but at least some kind of regeneration zone. If you don’t have either of these, more bacteria treatments will be necessary to keep your water quality up to snuff. A basking island is also necessary for many species.
Turtles can also be somewhat destructive, and since they’re at the top of the food chain, this could mean wreaking havoc on your tidy pond. They have zero respect for what you may consider aesthetically pleasing. For example, if they’re swimming along, and there’s a lily pad in their way, they may simply munch right through the middle of it for no other reason than it was there, in the way.
Along with large Koi, we do NOT recommend adding turtles prior to the establishment of a healthy ecosystem in the pond. They are the most destructive and ammonia producing thing you can add to your pond. We don’t recommend them in anything less than a year old if things are going well in a well-designed and constructed Phoenix pond. You should plan on spending a couple of years building a healthy eco-system before you attempt to introduce turtles to the mix.
The depth of a turtle pond will vary a bit depending on the species, but should have a relatively large surface area (provides better oxygen levels in the water). Red eared sliders and some other turtles can handle a deeper pond, while some turtles prefer to be in shallower water, so again consider the natural habits of the turtle species when planning your pond. Try to have varied levels of water with slopes between them. A shallow area where the turtle can sit in the water with its head out of the water is desirable as well.
Phoenix Pond Maintenance with Turtles
Thirdly, with the bio-load that comes with having turtles, you should be adding some kind of bacteria/enzyme product on a regular basis to aid the micro-organism struggle to convert the nitrite and ammonia into plant food. This means that if you plan to be away for a while, you’ll need to enlist the aid of someone to do this while you’re gone so that you don’t come back to a big pea-green mess.
Outside of your Phoenix pond, turtles will want to dig into the soil for egg laying and over-wintering under plants. An area in which to forage, comprised of either a compost soil or sand next to the pond, is like heaven for turtles, especially for females looking to lay eggs. Therefore, be sure to have an area nearby where females can build a nest. This area may also serve as a basking spot.
If you’re considering a pond for your pet turtles, let us know – we speak turtle!
How Many Fish Can I Have in my Backyard Pond?
Having a pet-friendly pond in Phoenix is almost as important as having a kid-friendly Phoenix pond! Pet owners more often than not consider their pets to be their furry babies, and with good reason!
Pet-friend ponds in Phoenix should have many of the same features as a kid-friendly pond. For example, they should have easy ingress/egress so that if the pet gets in, it can also get out with ease. Not that we advocate EVER leaving your child alone around water! A pet-friendly Phoenix pond should also be a healthy organic water source because your pet WILL drink from it. In fact, you may never need to fill a water dish again – bonus!
Something to take into consideration with a pet-friendly Phoenix pond is allowing the pet unfettered access into the house. If your pup likes to swim, you may not want him/her jumping from the pond to your white sofa.
There’s also the durability concern. If you have a pet that likes to dig, then you’ll need to use a rock mix with mostly heavier rocks, and not just small gravel. Concrete ponds fall into this category, but don’t meet the ingress/egress test, nor are they easy to keep filled with healthy, organic water.
Your pond will likely provide hours of entertainment for your pet, as it does with kids. If you’re building your pet-friendly Phoenix pond specifically for your pet, make sure it’s size-appropriate. You don’t want to build a 5’ wide pond for water-loving Great Dane!
And you need to consider the compatibility of your pet with a Phoenix pond. If your pet likes to fish, and will destroy your plants and actually catch and eat the fish (or worse: leave little fish carcasses laying around; or even worse: bring them into the house!), then maybe a disappearing pondless waterfall or stream is a more appropriate water feature for your yard.
The Pond Gnome’s client list contains more pet owners than non-pet owners, and most of them are absolutely tickled with their pet-friend Phoenix pond. You can read about some of them on our Testimonials page. If they’ve left contact information, feel free to chat with them about their experiences!
To see a really cool kitty indoor/outdoor enclosure with a pond, visit our projects on Houzz.