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Murray River Turtle

Emydura macquarii

  • Family: Chelidae
  • Adult Size: Up to 12 inches
  • Range: Most of the river systems of eastern Australia
  • Habitat: Rivers and streams with aquatic plants and plant along the river edges. Also in ponds and dammed portions of rivers.
  • Captive Lifespan: More than 20 Years
  • Dangerous: No
  • Care Level: Intermediate

Overview

Because of their size, they require a roomy tank. A tank measuring 48 inches long, 24 inches wide and 18 inches tall will easily house a pair. Babies can also benefit from a roomy enclosure, but you can start with anything from a 10-gallon tank or more for a hatchling, adding more room as the turtle grows. Fill the tank about two-thirds will dechlorinated water. Add a basking area at one or both ends. This could be made of bricks, cinder block, flat rock or any number of commercially produced turtle basking platforms. Over one basking platform, hang a heat lamp that generates a hotspot of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the secondary basking spot unheated. You may want to add an underwater heater if your ambient water temperatures get below 65 degrees. It’s more than likely not needed, but it’s an option. You will need a full UVB lamp running the tank’s length. Turn the heat lamp and UVB light on for 12 hours a day and off for 12 hours at night. 

Nothing is needed at the bottom of the tank. Remember, the more gravel or sand you put in the tank, the more work you have to do to clean it out. I recommend a powerful filter, such as an outside tank canister filter or a fully submersible filter, that can filter about 150 gallons of water per hour. 

These omnivores consume a large variety of food. Bits of fruit, chopped greens, mixed green vegetables and aquatic aquarium plants are all eaten with relish. They also do well on chopped fish, clams and commercial turtle diets. Feed no more then they will eat at one sitting, and always remove uneaten food to help keep the water clean.

Murray River and other Emydura turtles are becoming more common in captivity as the years go by. Although exportation from Australia is prohibited, some have made their way out of the country and are being captive produced in good numbers. Captive-bred hatchlings and larger are becoming easier to get hold of from reptile stores, reptile shows and on the Internet. Prices are coming down nicely, too. I know of no morphs.  

Murray River turtles have a pair of barbells on the chin. It is theorized that these sensitive organs are used to locate food. It is also theorized that these turtles communicate vocally with other turtles and map out their environment. 

A lovely turtle with a neat, smiling face (that reminds me of ET). They are smart and learn to respond to their owner’s presence. They do get to a large size, but not too large. They are easy to care for as long as their water is kept clean. One of the nicest turtle pets out there. 


Ken Foose produced his first captive-bred snakes at age 11. With a Master’s Degree in zoology, he has been both a zookeeper and curator. He opened Exotic Pets, which specializes in reptiles and amphibians, in Las Vegas in 1991. He is currently president of the International Herpetological Symposium.

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