You may have heard the Japanese Pond Turtle referred to by a variety of different names. Sometimes simply called the Japanese Turtle, and occasionally referred to by its scientific name, Mauremys japonica, the Japanese Pond Turtle also has a Japanese name: nihon ishigame. This translates to Japanese Stone Turtle in English.
Whatever name you might refer to the Japanese Pond Turtle by, the fact remains that this turtle species is one of the most unique and fascinating in the animal kingdom.
Keep reading for an overview of the physical characteristics, behaviors, and care requirements of the Japanese Pond Turtle.
Male vs. Female
The Japanese Pond Turtle follows a common trend in terms of physical differences between male and female turtles.
Similar to most turtle species, female Japanese Pond Turtles are larger than males. In fact, female Japanese Pond Turtles can grow as much as 7 cm longer than males.
However, what they lack in overall body size, males of this species make up for with their longer tails.
Japanese Pond Turtles are moderately sized turtles, usually growing to a maximum of 18 cm for females, while males don’t typically surpass 14 cm in length.
Their shells are a combination of yellow and brown, although they can sometimes appear darker. A ridge can be seen running down the center of the shell.
These turtles have olive skin and orange stripes on either side of their legs.
As a Pet
Japanese Pond Turtles cannot be legally exported, so it’s very rare to find them as pets in the U.S.
The reason for this, which we’ll delve into in more detail shortly, is that the Japanese Pond Turtle population has been declining for a variety of reasons.
Therefore, involving this species in the pet trade is definitely something to be avoided to prevent the population in the wild from dropping any lower.
The lifespan of the Japanese Pond Turtle can vary significantly depending on whether it is in the wild or in captivity, as well as several other factors.
However, on average, Japanese Pond Turtles can live for anywhere between 20 and 40 years, which means that the mathematical average would be roughly 30 years.
It is interesting to note that the females of the species, despite reaching maturity later in life than males, tend to live for longer periods.
In addition to their webbed toes, which help them to swim in various bodies of water, Japanese Pond Turtles have developed prominent tails.
These tails enable them to absorb oxygen underwater, which means that they can comfortably hibernate at the bottoms of streams, lakes, and ponds.
The breeding season for Japanese Pond Turtles spans from September to April, which is quite a long window compared to many other turtle species.
Female Japanese Pond Turtles have been known to lay up to 4 clutches of eggs in a single breeding season.
The clutches can vary in size, with some consisting of only 3 eggs and others comprising up to 8 eggs. The size of each clutch very much depends on the size of the female turtle.
Japanese Pond Turtles emerge from eggs as hatchlings and will soon start finding their own food in streams and ponds. As juveniles, they will frequently start by eating larvae and worms before progressing to more substantial prey such as insects, and then eventually frogs, crustaceans, and fish.
Once they reach adulthood, these turtles will breed between September and April, with females laying up to 4 clutches of eggs yearly.
Japanese Pond Turtles can live according to this cycle for up to 40 years.
The Japanese Pond Turtle has been listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Near Threatened.
This means that the species is not yet considered threatened and is not currently endangered, but it does indicate a concerning decline in the population of this turtle species in the wild.
Japanese Pond Turtles are omnivores. Their diet consists of animal protein, fruits, and vegetables.
The Japanese Pond Turtle’s favorite animals to eat are fish, frogs, crustaceans, insects, and worms.
While they will often instinctively gravitate towards eating protein, Japanese Pond Turtles also eat weeds, lettuce, and algae, in addition to vegetables such as carrots, green beans, and green peppers.
Fruits that the Japanese Pond Turtle will happily eat include grapes, strawberries, melon, and plums.
Japanese Pond Turtles that are kept in captivity can also eat formulated turtle food, although it’s best not to rely too heavily on these products. Any commercial turtle food should, where possible, be supplemented with food that they could naturally source in the wild.
Japanese Pond Turtles are often the most dominant predator in their environment, so they don’t usually have too much to fear when it comes to predation.
However, dogs and raccoons may pose a threat to the turtle if they end up in the same environment.
The Japanese Pond Turtle population in the wild is limited to Japan and its adjacent islands, including Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu.
Like most aquatic turtles, Japanese Pond Turtles can become sick if they come into contact with parasites in the water. They can also develop respiratory illnesses if they are left in unclean water or water of the wrong temperature.
Injuries to the skin of the Japanese Pond Turtle can, naturally, lead to infection, although there is an even greater risk of disease and general health issues if the shell is damaged.
Similar to the majority of turtles and other reptiles, Japanese Pond Turtles may carry the very dangerous disease, salmonella.
Japanese Pond Turtles have dark eyes that are usually brown with black pupils, but can often appear entirely black in certain lighting.
Japanese Pond Turtles do hibernate. They usually do so at the bottom of their chosen body of water, which is usually a stream or, as their name suggests, a pond.
These turtles are capable of staying underwater for long periods of time without breathing because they can actually absorb oxygen from the water through their tails!
Can They Swim?
Japanese Pond Turtles, as you might expect considering their common name, are excellent swimmers. With that being said, these turtles are best suited to living in slow-flowing bodies of water such as smaller streams and calm ponds. Therefore, they may not be able to cope with strong currents.
It’s also important to remember that the Japanese Pond Turtle is only semi-aquatic as opposed to fully aquatic, so it cannot live its entire life in the water and is not suited to a life of constant swimming.
Although it’s best not to keep Japanese Pond Turtles as pets (in fact, it’s illegal to export them to the U.S.), some turtles of this species are kept in captivity for conservation and research purposes.
In these situations, it’s important to understand how best to care for a captive Japanese Pond Turtle.
The first thing you’ll need to provide is a tank or aquarium large enough to hold at least 40 gallons of water. This means that the tank will have to measure at least 50 square feet.
Because these turtles are only semi-aquatic, you’ll need to provide an elevated basking area.
To keep both the water and the basking area at the correct temperatures, you will need to invest in a water heating system as well as a UVB lighting system. You should keep the water at roughly 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure the basking area is warmer, aiming for 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make sure to keep the lighting on for 12 hours during the day and remember to turn it off at night so that your turtle’s sense of day and night doesn’t become disoriented. The exception to this is if you’re in an area where there is lots of sunlight naturally.
You should feed your turtle daily while it is still a juvenile, but when it reaches adulthood, you’ll need to reduce feeding to once every 2 days.
Because Japanese Pond Turtles can’t be exported and kept as pets, there is no available information on the average cost of purchasing one of these turtles.
With that being said, if you are involved in the care of a Japanese Pond Turtle for research or conservation, you can expect to spend a significant amount of money per year in order to provide the turtle with the correct environment, diet, and healthcare.
An aquarium alone can set you back a couple of hundred dollars, and UVB lighting systems don’t come cheap.
- Unlike many other turtles, which seem to have a strong preference as to whether they eat in the water or on land, the Japanese Pond Turtle can consume food both in and out of the water equally happily.
- In Japan, it’s not uncommon for Japanese Pond Turtles to be kept in ponds outside or inside temples and shrines because they are seen as a symbol of good luck.