Hi! My name is Phoebe, and I just got an African aquatic sideneck turtle from Petsmart. His name is Tannîn, and I love him. He is my only pet right now, and he is also my first turtle. I have experience with cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and even budgies, but never a reptile. So I"m very excited, but I have a TON of questions about him, most of all because I don’t understand what he means by his behavior.

My main thing is that it’s hard for me to know if he’s happy. Cats, for example, express their emotions very clearly and intuitively. Tannîn is much more enigmatic. When I first brought him home, he was very active and started acting like he was swimming into the glass. He watched me closely and even puffed up his neck like a bearded dragon. He hasn’t done the neck thing since, so I’m wondering if he was just really stressed out about having moved? But after an hour or so, he went under his turtle dock and remained there for almost the whole first week. I had imagined that he would sort of hang out in one corner of his tank, then mosey on to another corner and hang out there, and basically enjoy his whole house peacefully. But it seems like he only has two modes: either he hides under his dock and pretends to be a rock, or he swims around frantically and acts like he’s trying to swim through the glass.

He mostly pretends to be a rock (is he depressed when he does that, or just chilling?), and when he IS active, it’s mostly at night. I gave him a partial water change yesterday evening, and as soon as I put him back in his tank, he started swimming around like a maniac again. I was wondering if this meant that since the water was clearer, he could see his reflection in the glass and he was responding to that. If so, is there any way for me to know whether he’s trying to defend himself against his reflection or whether he’s really lonely and wants a friend? (I hate to imagine him being lonely!) My other thought was that maybe he really just wanted to be able to move around. But when I picked him up and put him on the floor on the other side of the glass, he just hid inside his shell instead of staying active. I even put him in the bathtub once so he could have a nice swim, but he didn’t seem too interested. I want him to be able to move around, but it almost feels like taking him out of the tank makes him think he’s not in his territory anymore and does him more harm than good?

Let me know what you think. I can’t tell if when he acts like he’s trying to swim through the glass, he’s actually trying to tell me that he needs something. He is only in a ten-gallon tank which is DEFINITELY not ideal, I know, but it’s only until summer when I move into an apartment with a more sympathetic landlord who will allow me to have a bigger aquarium. I was worried about the size, so instead of getting a pre-made aquarium, I built him one that’s about 18” by 18” and 7” tall. I figured that way he’d get the most use out of the space, by having lots of width instead of depth.

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If he’s just miserable, I could covertly build him a bigger tank, but what’s driving me crazy is that I just can’t tell how he feels! Any input would be MUCH appreciated!

I put up a YouTube video of him and it’s really long, but if you just watch the first few seconds it can give you a picture of what his aquarium looks like. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebwqUoKErx0&feature=youtu.be