Wild vs Pet-Store Turtles
Caught vs bought, which turtle is for you?
Normally when people decide they want a pet turtle, they don't grab a net, go to their local pond and wait to catch one. No, most people who decide they want a turtle as a pet go to the pet-store. Catching a turtle in the wild is usually a fisherman's mistake or an off-chance of a civilian who comes across one and decides to nab it. Word of warning: never take a turtle when it is traveling on land; they are females needing to bury their eggs at an exact location.
So what is the difference between the turtle from the lake and the turtle from the aquarium? Well, I say there is very little difference if it's the same species, but that small difference does matter when a person wants to buy or keep an animal. Here's the main difference:
Wild turtles are meant to stay in the wild
Pet-store turtles, sadly, are meant to stay in artificially simulated environments.
Pet-store turtles should not be released into the wild if they did not start out that way. If you are wanting to buy a turtle that shares its environment with other pet-store turtles, then it most likely carries diseases that it would not have in the wild. So if you were to release a bought turtle into the wild (even if its species lives there), you're probably introducing a new bacteria that may harm the ecosystem.
By keeping turtles so close together in less than perfect conditions, sickness is common in pet-stores. In the wild, turtles have all the space they desirably want, so it is rare for a turtle to catch something from another turtle. Receiving all their needs in nature, wild turtles are healthier than those in the market place.
So, am I saying wild turtles are better pets?
Neither turtle makes a better pet. Like I said before, they are pretty much the same, only one gets food easily and recognizes its owner as "bringer of food" while the other does not have it so easy. Besides that, they have the same instincts, the same goals in life.
I cringe when I hear someone say they just caught a turtle and want to keep it, because I don't know if that person knows what they're doing. I am not against keeping a wild turtle for a while (obviously, for I am guilty of this), but to permanently remove it from its natural habitat and place it in a glass box for the rest of its life is kind of depressing, and it happens a lot. People also have the tendency to decide they want to keep the turtle before they even know its necessities, or worse, they never look up the information. This is what really gets me.
I once had a chat with a kid online, telling me he has had this one turtle for six years. When I asked if he gives it twelve hours of UV-B a day, he asked me what that is. The poor thing was less than half of the size it should have been at that time; its growth deprived by the years of no Vitamin D3. The boy's parents should have looked up the necessities for that animal, but they clearly did not. How can someone own an animal for six years and not know its basic needs? Sadly, this happens all the time, which is why I advise people to let the animal go where they found it (and a reason why children should not own turtles- you can't expect them to research thoroughly).
If a person does know what they are doing and wants to keep a wild turtle (especially a vulnerable baby) for a few months to a few years, I think this is okay. As long as they take care of it and then release it back into the wild as it gets older (while avoiding contact with other turtles or foreign animals) then it's perfectly safe; the turtle is not going to forget how to survive in the wild.
But if a person does not want to let their turtle go, and as long as they have the required space, then a pet-store turtle is for you. Because when you buy a turtle, you're buying it for life. And if for some reason you cannot keep it any longer, it will have to be handed off to another pet owner (do they refund turtles?). Pet-store turtles are not temporary pets. And if you buy a baby, you may regret it later on when it grows (as it should grow, a lot).
So be weary of buying a turtle if you don't plan to keep it forever. And be weary of keeping a wild turtle when it deserves much better.
And in general, don't keep a turtle if you cannot provide all of its needs, including space, temperature, nutrition, and UV-B lighting. These things vary between turtle species, so I can't overemphasize the need for diligent research and cross-reference on the Web.
Wild turtles can go a few years without hibernation and it won't affect their health, but beyond that, it can shed some time off their lives (much like depriving ordinary sleep from any living thing). This is why I do not recommend keeping a wild turtle more than a few years. I suspect this may be the reason why wild turtles live longer than pet turtles. It's something they are biologically engineered to do, so depriving them of this natural ritual can shorten their lifespans in the long run. I also discourage the attempt of artificial hibernation. It can be done and has been done, but it is a big risk for those who have never tried it before. I've heard many tragic stories about well-intentioned owners trying to hibernate their turtles.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.