Turtles and Ponds

Having turtles in a pond isn’t for everybody. While good for an ecosystem when added at the right time, they aren’t necessarily vital to it. Only add turtles to established ponds, especially with oxygenating plants. Turtles don’t need these plants to breathe but they voraciously feed on them.

Yellow belly turtle | Natural Pond Lover

I really enjoy turtles and have a few different species in my bass pond. They include yellow bellies, terrapins and map turtles. If you’re thinking of adding some to your pond, here are a few points you should take into consideration.

Turtles and the food chain

Turtles are at the top of the food chain meaning they can tear stuff up. Some pond owners have a concern about turtles damaging their liner. After all, they have sharp claws and are powerful diggers. If you’re going to keep turtles, be certain the pond liner is completely covered both in and out of the water. The sand in my bass pond is about a foot deep which is enough room to bed down in during winter. I know there is still some risk involved, but it’s minimal.

It’s best to get turtles that stay smaller like terrapins, map turtles and painted turtles. Remember, even though musk and mud turtles stay small, they love to burrow deep in into the bottom medium. Spotted turtles would be a very good choice, but they’re protected in several states. Know your state laws before adding any species of turtle and avoid invasive species.

Pond Turtles | Natural Pond Lover

Problems turtles cause in a pond setting

Various species of pond turtles have been known to wander away from their pond in search of a new one. Females also leave the water when it’s time to lay their eggs. It surprises me how far away females travel which makes me wonder how the babies find their way back to the water. If they go the wrong direction, they will most likely perish.

Turtles are messy in an artificial pond setting

Here’s another point to take into consideration when considering whether to add turtles to your pond. They’re messy!  They dig up the bottom making the water cloudy. Besides stirring things up, they also eat oxygenating plants which I refer to as grazing.

Never add turtles when you first start your pond. Instead, wait until the pond has fully acclimated. That means the bacteria is healthy and your plants are well established. Otherwise, adding turtles too soon is extremely counterproductive. It’s not a bad idea to wait until the second or third season to add them. That’s certainly what I would recommend.

Turtles and pond liner

Are you concerned about the safety of your liner? I don’t blame you. Many people who keep turtles in their pond say they never cause any issues. I have them in my bass pond and never had a problem but also understand that anything’s possible. 

Soft shell turtle | Natural Pond Lover

You should also keep this in mind if you live close to other bodies of water. Turtles may end up in your pond uninvited so make sure to cover the liner well. Remember they eat whatever they can catch. Bugs, fish, frogs, tadpoles and more. If introduced correctly and without overstocking, they make a nice addition to a natural pond when the liner is properly protected. I wouldn’t take any shortcuts when it comes to protecting my pond liner from turtles. Be meticulous.

Feeding turtles in your pond

The same basic rules of feeding the fish in your pond also apply to turtles. If you choose to feed them, don’t overfeed them. You may think that feeding babies make them grow faster. When babies are the size of a quarter, it’s important that they grow fast if they are to survive in an ecosystem full of predators. That much is true, babies are very vulnerable.

I’ve never fed the baby turtles in my bass pond, yet most survived. They still grew very fast. I never added adults because I felt they were more likely to wander from the pond since it’s not their original birthplace. Adults may stay or leave which is why I’ve only added hatchlings to my pond. It’s the better way to go in my opinion. If you keep game-fish such as large-mouth bass, be sure you add the babies before you add the bass. Wait until they gain some size before adding large predatory fish.

Be wary of the following turtle species

There are a few species of turtle that simply get too big for averagely sized ponds. They’re non-invasive too. Imagine that, non-invasive animals causing problems for pond owners. Your pond liner is also more at risk with these species.

Snapping turtle

Snapping turtles are impressive. They look like dinosaurs. I’ve kept a few as pets in my lifetime. They’re common with an extensive range throughout the United States. These turtles are powerful and a large specimens jaw is powerful enough to bite through a wooden oar.

More worrisome for pond owners that use an artificial liner are their sharp claws. Their fondness for burrowing down in the mud sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I would never intentionally release a snapper in any of my ponds. It’s just not worth it. They also eat a lot which puts other pond inhabitants at risk. I will say that they’re hardy and probably the hardiest species of turtle.

If you really want to keep a snapper as a pet, get a large, hundred-gallon stock tank. In warmer climates, snapping turtles are kept outside, in a shaded area. You can also add a filter to the stock tank. I used to keep goldfish and mosquito fish with mine. This is one of the few setups that I would recommend goldfish for. You can buy feeder goldfish cheap, so it doesn’t matter if one or two gets picked off on occasion. The stock tank is high enough that even a full-grown snapper won’t be able to climb out of it.

Softshell turtle

Here we have another fairly common turtle that grows to a surprisingly large size. Similar to snappers, the softshell turtle likes to burrow down into the bottom medium. This species of turtle prefers a sandy bottom. They also have extremely sharp nails and powerful legs.

I once found an adult softshell turtle that was much larger than I ever expected. A female softshell was crossing a road across from a large pond looking to lay her eggs. I picked her up and brought her back over to the pond area. When a turtle lays eggs across a road it’s doubtful that she or the babies will make it back to the pond. They’re also aggressive and deliver a nasty bite. These are the reasons why I wouldn’t recommend adding this species to your pond.

Conclusion

Snapping and softshell turtles are the two species I would steer clear of. Sometimes aquatic turtles from other continents become available through the pet trade. They could be invasive and I would avoid adding them to your pond. There are plenty of native pond turtles to choose from. Adding turtles to a pond is a matter of taste. They’re not for everyone and they’re not for every pond.

If you have exposed pond liner, or if it only has an inch or two of a bottom medium, I wouldn’t add any species. My large pond off the patio has no turtles and I don’t plan on adding them. Make certain that a well-functioning ecosystem is in place to safely add any turtle species to your pond.

Turtles and Ponds