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Fighting, Biting and Pestering


One of the most common questions I get is that someone has several turtles that they usually got as juveniles. They lived together happiliy for up to several years, and then one turtle (often but not always a male) starts biting the others. While young and juvenile turtles live together in harmony, once they enter puperty, their macho side comes out, and they not only have to show each other who is the best and strongest, they only have to be as rumbunctious as possible towards their chosen mate. Usually, an encounter starts out with some kind of show-off: dancing around each other, waving front-paws, gaping. This is the same for males being macho and males trying to impress females. If there is no resolution, or if the female is not responding, the next step is nudging or biting. Injuries are rare, since the "attacked" turtle will turn such that its side of the shell faces the attacker, or it will simply run away and hide. These kinds of behaviours are also part of courtship behavior, and males will often bite females on their paws and neck to get them into the mood. An uninterested female will run away or bite back. Since the females are usually bigger than the males, a female can easily put a pushy male in its place. An interested female will, after playing coy for a while, give in to the male's advances. Turtle copulation requires cooperation; unless the female is interested, the male won't get anywhere. In the wild, if one turtle starts pestering another, the weaker one will eventually run or swim away and hide. Turtles are not the fighting kind, and most of their fighting is really just bluffing and show. However, in captivity, where turtles are often kept in small enclosures--any indoor enclosure is too small by some measure--and there are no good hiding places, a bigger, stronger turtle can persue and snap at a smaller, weaker turtle until there are injuries. Often, what starts out as just a little bit of showing off, will later turn into more serious chasing and biting. After all, the turtles really don't have much else to do in a tank! In other words, the primary cause of injuries from fighting is CROWDING. So, what are you to do? * Unless you can provide a very large enclosure, you may consider only getting one turtle. * Don't crowd turtles. Give them the largest enclosure you can provide. * Keep turtles well fed. However, this can lead to obesity, and then you have to put them on a diet. So this only works some. * Give the turtles plenty of plants, rock caves, and other hide places to get away. * Give the turtles stuff to chew on, like carrots, other veggies, and a cuttle fish bone. * Build a separator screen into the tank that will keep the turtles away from each other. * Get a second tank, or give away one of your turtles. * Build a pond or buy a large tub and move your turtles outdoors, at least for summer. This is good for them anyway! If you have an injured turtle: 1) Evaluate the situation. How badly is the animal hurt? Do you need to see a vet? See: Veterinarians: When Is It Time to See One? 2) Separate the injured animal from your other turtles. 3) Keep the injured animal in a very clean, warm environment. Warmth helps turtles heal, because their immune system works better if they are warmer. 4) If the injury is an open wound, or if a piece of shell is broken off, keep the turtle outside the water for a few nights (put it into the water during the day) in a warm, non-drafty box. Drying out will help heal. If the injury is minor, you should see improvement within a day or two. Complete healing can take weeks, though. Be patient.

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