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One of the more fascinating behaviors of aquatic turtles is their incessant need to dig and move things about in their tanks. Many owners are confused as to what causes this digging behavior, especially when they have spent time arranging their turtle’s tank only to see their pet pull everything about or make piles in the gravel at the bottom.
The truth is that aquatic turtles love to dig in their tanks if the opportunity presents itself. However, there can also be other reasons apart from the sheer joy of it.
When aquatic turtles are hungry, they might search around the gravel and rocks in the bottom of their tanks for food. Some will even eat the small rocks, but it is not really understood why they do this. Turtles are not the only animals that do this though. Lizards, birds, and crocodiles are also known rock eaters, with many individuals believing it is a way to get some of the nutrients they require while others think it aids digestion.
Either way, eating small rocks could end up being harmful for your aquatic turtle, particularly if it eats stones or that are too large to pass through its digestive tract. There is a risk that your pet could become impacted, meaning the stone is obstructing the intestines and the creature is unable to pass feces. This can become very serious if left untreated.
If you notice that your pet is eating the stones at the bottom of the tank, you can either remove the substrate entirely or choose stones that are too large for the turtle to eat.
Another reason for digging is a desire to find a place to lay eggs. If you have a female aquatic turtle, it is important to ensure that she has an area where she can deposit eggs. Some owners neglect this because they do not have a male turtle and therefore believe there is no need for such an area. However, female turtles can retain sperm from previous mating with a male, and some can even produce eggs that have not been fertilized.
Without an appropriate place to deposit the eggs, female turtles might retain said eggs, which is extremely harmful to health. Unless the turtle releases the eggs, there is a risk of infection that could end up being fatal.
Perhaps the main reason for digging is boredom. Digging offers your aquatic turtle something to do. Indeed, in some cases it can be caused by a tank that is simply not stimulating enough. That being said, some owners have reported digging even with the most elaborate of settings.
Aquatic turtles like to dig, and they enjoy doing it. In most cases digging is not something to worry about, however annoying you might find it. Be sure to provide a nesting area if you have a female aquatic turtle and be on the lookout for your turtle eating stones. Otherwise, a little digging should not be a major problem.
- Featured Image (Spotted Turtle): John J. Mosesso, NBII – public domain
- Chinese Pond Turtle: Mark O’Shea – CC BY 3.0
- Stinkpot Turtle: Ontley – CC BY 3.0
- Wood Turtle: Wilfried Berns – CC BY-SA 2.0 DE
- Mississippi Map Turtle: A. Lange – CC BY 3.0
- Western Painted Turtle: Gary M. Stolz/U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – CC BY 3.0
- Eastern Box Turtle: Stephen Friedt – CC BY 3.0