Tiny organisms such as algae, barnacles, and small crabs are natural hitchhikers on sea turtle shells, also known as epibionts. In their natural habitat, they use the carapace as a home or a food source. In turtle tanks and ponds, algae can also populate the turtle shell, often without causing any harm to the turtle.
While a bit of algae on the carapace is natural, a thick layer of algae on your turtle’s shell should be cleaned off as it could block sunlight, or hide injuries on the carapace that could rarely lead to more serious conditions such as shell rot.
In this article, we will give you some tips and tricks for the proper cleaning of your turtle’s shell. You will get some insights about diseases caused by algae and how to prevent excessive algal growth in your turtle tank or pond.
Why should I clean algae off my turtle?
Algae can provide benefits for your turtle. Exactly like plants, algae can photosynthesize and use nitrogen from turtle waste as a nutrient. That can benefit your pet by minimizing the levels of toxic nitrogen forms and adding more oxygen to the water.
However, under specific conditions algae can thrive and reproduce like crazy! A turtle’s shell covered in a thick algae coat is definitely a matter of concern. The algae layer can block the sunlight.
Therefore, the turtle will not be able to raise its internal temperature while basking and will move slower. In addition, cracks in the carapace can stay hidden. If you can’t detect the damage and treat it in time, pathogen bacteria or fungi might infect your pet.
That might result in developing a shell rot.
What is shell rot?
Shell rot is an infection of the blood vessels in the turtle shell. In aquatic turtles, you can recognize the disease by white or grey spots on the carapace and the plastron (belly). If not treated in time, the lesions can spread towards the underlying bone.
Eventually, shell rot causes soft, rotten spots in the shell. Algae on the carapace might not only hide damages. In rare cases, they can also promote fungal growth and accelerate the disease. Treatment of shell rot is not impossible.
However, it is better to prevent it. Clean turtle shell and excellent hygiene in the pond or tank will do the job!
How often should the carapace be cleaned?
It’s a good idea to clean debris and algae from your turtle’s shell occasionally. You don’t need to set up a schedule. You can just take a look at the carapace once a week. If the turtle shell feels slimy, but you observe no algae, that’s probably a biofilm of bacteria.
You would want to get rid of it since most bacteria are pathogens. There is a simple treatment that can help you remove both algae and bacteria from your turtle’s shell.
Treatment for algae on the turtle’s shell
You need just a few things to make a turtle carapace shine again:
• Soft brush
• Small container
• Water at a room-temperature
There are four simple steps that you need to follow:
1. Take a soft toothbrush. Please avoid using one of your old toothbrushes. Instead, dedicate a new one for this purpose. The human mouth is a source of many bacteria that might not be beneficial for your pet.
2. Choose a plastic container that is big enough for your turtle and will not be used by anyone else. Fill the container with lukewarm water and let your pet swim for a few minutes. Pick the turtle up and gently scrub its shell. Be careful when cleaning more sensitive areas like legs, tail, and neck. Don’t forget to brush the turtle’s plastron (belly) between the scales as well!
3. After cleaning your pet, it is a good idea to check for any damage on the shell, body, and skin to prevent the development of diseases in the early stages. Once the turtle is clean, you can rinse it and bring it back to its tank or pond.
4. Make sure you flush the water down the toilet and disinfect your hands after bathing your pet to avoid contamination.
How to prevent crazy algal growth?
Too many algae are an indicator of imbalances – either in light or in nutrition. Since nitrogen supports algae growth, that could be a sign that you need to clean your tank more often.
Tip: Take a razor blade and scrape algae off the tank’s walls. To prevent further growth, use a stronger filter and change the water regularly.
Another reason for algae bloom can be direct sunlight. Light is fuel for all organisms that know the secrets of photosynthesis. If your turtle tank is next to a window, consider putting a curtain or moving the tank away from the sunlight.
Don’t keep the lights on the turtle tank on for more than 12 hours.
To reduce the algae growth in your tank or pond, you can also add freshwater aquarium salt to the water twice a month. However, do not use any chemicals to kill algae, since they can harm your pet.
Besides, you don’t want to eradicate the invaders. You just want to prevent excessive growth!
Introducing algae eaters
Do you want to experiment a little more? You can also introduce algae eaters to your tank or pond. You probably wouldn’t want the turtle to feast on the algae eaters. Therefore, get one that’s similar to the length of your pet.
You can drop some plecos (suckerfish) into your turtle’s home since they become long and might even clean algae off the turtle’s shell. To make your tank or pond more colorful, you can also add some Nerite snails. They love algae and have beautiful shell patterns!
Add live plants to your turtle’s home
Another way to make your pet’s habitat more beautiful and algae-free is to add aquatic plants. Good choices are the Hornwort, the Java Fern, and the Amazon Sword Plant. Since both algae and plants use carbon dioxide to survive, you will create competition between the two species.
As a result, algae growth will reduce. The ammonia will be filtered out of the water by the plants. The abundance of oxygen in the water can also prevent the growth of anaerobic bacteria (oxygen haters) such as Salmonella.
However, you might need to re-introduce your plants occasionally, since turtles love to snack on them.
Algae are part of your turtle’s natural habitat and can grow on your pet’s shell without causing harm. However, you should prevent excessive growth by keeping your turtle tank clean.
It is a good idea to brush off your turtle’s shell occasionally to prevent the development of a thick algae coat that can lead to serious conditions.
There are different methods to keep algae away from your tank or pond. Introducing algae eaters and aquatic plants will help you create a home for your turtle that’s closer to its natural habitat.