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Painted turtle house pet issue

22 15:57:30

QUESTION: Our pet turtle that was found in our fresh water pond in our back yard when silver dollar size is what we would say "nesting".  We have never had a male in the tank with her and she is pushing away all the gravel at the bottom corners of the tank and there is now a black "sacklike" substance coming out of where she poops and getting sucked back in.  What is this and could she be pregnant?


ANSWER: Hi Brian,

No, she isn't gravid.  Are you positive she is female and not male?  If you're sure, then she needs a vet visit ASAP.  What you're describing could be a prolapse.  If she is under about 4", however, she may still be too small to sex and could be a maturing male.  In this case, you could be seeing flashing (showing the penis, which is normally held inside the body).  This is not problematic unless it doesn't retract back into the body, but if it doesn't retract you need to seek a vet's help because a penile prolapse is also a serious issue.  Can you provide me with more details?  How big is she and how do you have her set up (tank size, type of filter, what type of basking and UVB bulbs, water/basking temps)?  What is her diet like?  Are there any other symptoms (lack of appetite, lethargy, etc.)?  Is the "sack" disappearing completely, or remaining outside her body?  I can provide better help if I have more information.  Please post back with additional details, and I'll help you figure out just what it is and whether you need to see a vet.  

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turtle in tank
turtle in tank  

QUESTION: "She" is atleast four inches from front to back on the top side of her shell.  20 Gal. tank with floating basking rock and 50 Watt ZooMed light for sunning. Filtration system is a lg. size whisper EX 30 with charcoal filter. She used to eat the protein sticks with added vitamins but then we started giving her the dried shrimp and that became all she wanted to eat.  Since then we tried to get her off the shrimp and gave her the ZooMed floating nutrient pellets and she won't even touch them.  AT ALL. She also eats a steady diet of carrot shreds, collard greens and lettuce. Since she stopped eating and got severely picky about food, I took out a bag of frozen shrimp that I had for bait for fishing and have been feeding them to her.  All she wants to eat are shrimp... She is not lethargic and gets a lot of swimming and walking around in the grass outside.  
The "sack" is black and looks ballon-like but changes shape and always goes back inside completely.  We tried to put her in a bin with sand to see if she would try nesting on land but no dice. Attached are photos of our set-up and turtle.  Thanks again for your assistance and look forward to your response. Brian...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for getting back to me.  If she is female, she is definitely NOT nesting.  The only thing that could conceivably be protruding from a gravid female is an egg, so if female, there is definitely a problem going on.  The question is whether she could possibly be a sub-adult male.  Maturity depends on size, and generally at about 4" there should be some obvious clues to whether a turtle is male, typically showing in longer claws and a longer, thinner tail.  I couldn't really tell from the picture, but you should be able to sex her yourself using the pictures in the link below.  The other link has some pictures of a male turtle's penis--it's an RES, but a painted turtle would be similar.  Sorry to be graphic, but this is actually a very common question because the penis looks somewhat alien and people often don't know what it is.  So...  If, after checking the pictures, you still think she's female, then she needs to see a vet because something is going on.  If you think she's actually a male, then what you're see is likely flashing/fanning, and not something to worry about *unless* the penis remains outside the body for a protracted period of time.  In that case, vet attention is needed.

I do have some suggestions for improvement to her care, though.  A 20 gallon tank is too small for a turtle of her size.  At 4-5", she needs at least a 50 gallon tank--figure roughly 10 gallons of size per inch.  The filter should be able to handle at least double the tank capacity.  A rooomy tank and excellent water quality are both very important to turtle health.  I would also remove the gravel from the tank ASAP, because it's an ingestion/impaction hazard, and could possibly be reason behind the apparent prolapse (if female).  Substrate should be too large for a turtle to ingest.  You didn't mention a source of UVB, so I'll assume there isn't one.  UVB is important, because they can't adequately metabolize calcium without it.  My recommendation would be to get a 100 watt ZooMed Powersun heat/UVB bulb.  This provides a good level of UVB, but does need to be changed yearly.  It's the only UVB bulb I recommend right now, because other bulbs are not very reliable (according to friends who have solar meters and test various bulbs).  

I would get tough with the food and stop giving her shrimp.  She may refuse to eat for a while, but she won't starve.  Keep offering pellets along with a variety of animal proteins and greens (turnip, mustard, dandelion, kale, etc. along with the collards).  It's a good idea to always rotate foods and not let her have much of something she really likes to avoid this problem in the future.  Turtles can get addicted to certain foods and it can be difficult to get them to eat other things, but a good variety is important.  I'll give more care links with complete food lists below.  Please post back if you have more questions.

Picture of a male turtle's penis:
And pictures on sexing: