Razor-backed Musk turtles are a popular pet among herping enthusiasts. These small aquatic turtles are relatively docile and fun to watch as they explore their tank. While they are the largest member of the Musk turtle family, Razor-backed Musk turtles are still small enough to be easy to keep, even for beginners.
When choosing a Razor-backed Musk turtle, always try and adopt one from a local animal shelter if you can. If not, buy one from a registered captive breeder. Although Razor-backed Musk turtles aren’t classed as Threatened or Endangered, taking them from the wild can have a negative impact.
This comprehensive Razor-backed Musk turtle care guide will cover the ins and outs of owning these fascinating turtles.
Razorback Musk Turtle Facts
- Experience Level: Beginner
- Family: Kinosternidae
- Scientific Name: Sternotherus carinatus
- Other names: N/A
- Adult Size: 5 to 6 inches (12.5 to 15 cm)
- Average Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
- Average Price Range: $60 to $150
Razor-backed Musk turtles aren’t terribly good swimmers, so they prefer walking along the bottom of the riverbed or their tanks.
Razor-backed Musk turtles love to bask, typically on deadwood floating on the surface of the water or flat rocks jutting out above the water.
What does a Razor-backed Musk turtle look like?
Razor-backed Musk turtles have shells that vary from black and brown to gray or olive. The scutes look like a series of razor-like humps and are edged in black. Their brown or gray skin is usually covered in black dots, while black marking lines stretch across the shell.
How big do Razor-backed Musk turtles get?
Razor-backed Musk turtles are the largest member of the Musk turtle family, with a maximum carapace size of 6 inches (15 cm). Males and females are similarly sized, but males have noticeably longer tails.
Where do Razor-backed Musk turtles live?
Razor-backed Musk turtles are native to a few southern states of the United States. You can encounter them in:
What kind of habitat do Razor-backed Musk turtles need?
Razor-backed Musk turtles prefer warmer, more humid habitats. They need slow-moving waters such as ponds or swamps. They also need lots of underwater vegetation to give them somewhere to hide and hunt. They prefer rocky or sandy substrates for nesting.
How long do Razor-backed Musk turtles live in captivity?
Razor-backed Musk turtles typically live between 20 and 30 years in captivity, although some specimens have reached 50 years old in rare cases.
What do Razor-backed Musk turtles eat?
Razor-backed Musk turtles typically eat a carnivorous diet. They hunt by ambushing their prey in the water from the cover of vegetation.
Staple wild foods include small amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and mollusks such as snails and worms. They will occasionally eat aquatic vegetation such as duckweed.
How do Razor-backed Musk turtles breed?
Razor-backed Musk turtles usually breed in the spring. Once mating is complete, the nesting season spans May to June. Females can lay two to three clutches each season, each ranging from one to seven eggs. The eggs will take about four months to hatch.
What predators do Razor-backed Musk turtles face?
Razor-backed Musk eggs are often eaten by raccoons and skunks, while juvenile turtles can be eaten by birds of prey, large amphibians such as bullfrogs, and fish like largemouth bass. Alligators can sometimes eat adult Razor-backed Musk turtles.
Because Razor-backed Musk turtles are a small species, they don’t require a huge amount of space. Single adults can be happily housed in a 30 or 40-gallon tank. This needs to be set up as a fully aquatic tank with a water depth of between 8 and 12 inches.
This doesn’t sound like a lot, but Razor-backed Musk turtles aren’t great at swimming and often prefer strolling along the bottom of the tank.
A basking platform that offers a space completely out of the water is also required. This can be a commercial basking platform, a piece of driftwood, or flat rocks positioned above the water. Above the platform, a basking bulb should be provided.
If you want to house more than one Razor-backed Musk turtle, add between 5 and 10 gallons of water per turtle. Never house two males together as they will become territorial.
The enclosure can be decorated with things like basking rocks and plants, which can be both artificial and live. The plants will provide somewhere for your Razor-backed Musk turtle to hide.
Recommended basic products
Here are a few recommended basic products to get you started with your Razor-backed Musk turtle:
- Tank: SeaClear Aquarium
- Water heater: Aqueon Pro Adjustable Heater
- Water conditioner: API Tap water conditioner
- 2 Water thermometers: Vivosun aquarium thermometers
- Combo UVB/UVA (heating) Lighting: Zoo Med PowerSun UV UVB (160 watts)
- Light Fixture: Zoo Med Wire Cage Clamp Lamp
- Timer: Zoo Med Timer
- Thermometer (basking spot): Exo Terra Thermometer
- Laser thermometer for setup and spot checks (optional): Etekcity Lasergrip
- Filtration: SunSun HW-404B (525gph filtration)
- Automatic Feeder: Zacro Automatic Feeder
Although they need slow-moving water, Razor-backed Musk turtles also need very clean water. This is achieved by using a good-quality filtration system to keep debris out of the water. Canister filters or ones that can be submerged into the tank are ideal.
Always use a filter that can process at least three times the water capacity of your tank. So for a 40-gallon tank, you’ll need a filter that can cycle 120 gallons.
Partial water changes once every fortnight will also be required to keep the tank clean. Change about a quarter to a third of the water each time and always use dechlorinated water.
Clean the entire tank once every month or so if you can, as bacteria can build up on the sides of the tank and any equipment or decorations within.
Razor-backed Musk turtles can be extremely messy while they’re eating. If you feed them in their main tank, this can make cleaning out a real pain. It’s often a good idea to move your turtle to a separate tub when you feed them to cut down on the mess.
Aquatic turtle tanks don’t really need a substrate. In fact, substrates like sand can make the tank very difficult to clean and can even cause harm to your turtle if they accidentally eat the substrate. You can happily leave the bottom of the tank completely bare.
If you do want to use something as a substrate to make the tank look more natural, some large flat rocks are a good idea. Always use rocks that are too large for your turtle to potentially swallow.
Like any turtle tank, you’ll need to keep an eye on the air temperature, basking temperature, and water temperature for your Razor-backed Musk turtle. Use thermometers to keep a track of all these temperatures.
Air temperature needs to be maintained between 75 and 82ºF (24 to 28ºC) because Razor-backed Musk turtles come from warmer parts of North America. The temperature of the basking spot needs to be kept at 85 to 90ºF (29.5 to 32ºC).
Water temperature should be kept between 73 and 78ºF (22.5 to 25.5ºC). If necessary, use a submersible water heater to maintain this temperature level in the water.
The humidity needs of your Razor-backed Musk turtle will be taken care of by the water in their tank, so you won’t need to do anything to alter this.
Razor-backed Musk turtles need two types of light – basking light and UVB light. You can use individual bulbs for each or use a mercury vapor bulb to provide both through one lamp.
Turtles need UVB light to process nutrients such as calcium and Vitamin D3. To maintain an effective level of UVB, replace these bulbs every six months. All lights should be kept on 12-hour day/night cycles to simulate the passage of a natural day.
There are a few accessories that can really make your Razor-backed Musk turtle’s tank more natural and healthier for your turtle. Plants are a particular accessory to consider. These can be artificial or live, but either will provide some cover for your turtle that replicates their wild environment.
Rocks are also a good thing to include, especially as a basking spot. Rocks create a natural-looking basking spot. You can also use a man-made basking platform or something like a basking log.
Razor-backed Musk turtles also like a few hiding places under the water, which you can create with aquarium caves, old flowerpot, or an arrangement of rocks and driftwood. Just make sure that nothing can collapse onto your turtle.
Razor-backed Musk turtles eat a mainly carnivorous diet in captivity that closely resembles their natural diet. The staple of their diet can be commercial turtle pellets such as Mazuri or Reptomin.
These can be supplemented by a variety of feeder fish, insects, earthworms, snails, and other protein sources. Duckweed can also be given occasionally to add some nutritional variety.
Here are some foods to choose from for your Razor-backed Musk turtle:
- Aquatic snails
- Black Soldier fly larvae
- Canned snails
- Chopped mussels
- Commercial turtle pellets
- Dubia roaches
- Feeder fish
To provide adequate supplementation for your Razor-backed Musk turtle, make sure to gut load any feeder insects to pack them full of nutrients. When feeding duckweed or feeding your turtle in a separate tub, you can dust foods with calcium and multivitamin supplements.
Feed adult specimens once every two days, providing as much food as the turtle can eat in a few seconds before slowing down. This helps to reduce the chances of overfeeding and obesity.
To keep feeding time clean and prevent food waste from floating around the main tank, feed your Razor-backed Musk turtle in a separate tub containing a bit of tank water.
Temperament and handling
Are Razor-backed Musk turtles good pets?
Because they’re an aquatic species, Razor-backed Musk turtles aren’t great for handled and shouldn’t be picked up too often. This can make them unsuitable for younger children. But for those who are happy to sit back and observe their turtle, Razor-backed Musk turtles make excellent pets.
Their small size means that they don’t demand too much space, while their care requirements are pretty easy to achieve. These turtles are also pretty calm when in the water, exploring their tank and providing endless hours of amusement.
If they feel threatened when picked up, Razor-backed Musk turtles will either try and bite your fingers or they’ll release a foul-smelling musk from their glands. These turtles don’t like regular handling, so you should avoid it as much as possible.
Razor-backed Musk turtles are suitable for beginner turtle keepers, although some prior knowledge of having an aquarium will help.
Signs of good health
When choosing your Razor-backed Musk turtle, you want to get a specimen that’s as healthy as possible right from the start, especially if you’re inexperienced. To help choose the right turtle, there are a few signs that you can look for to spot potential health problems.
The shell of a healthy Razor-backed Musk turtle should be nice and smooth. If there are any strange bumps or if the shell looks like it’s pyramiding, this can be a symptom of Metabolic Bone Disease. Flaking of the shell is also indicative of serious health conditions.
Make sure that the turtle is alert and has eyes that are clear and bright, with no clouding or mucus around the eyes or nostrils. When you pick up the turtle, it should actively squirm and try to escape, which is a healthy response. Healthy Razor-backed Musk turtles love to actively explore their tank, so a lethargic turtle could have health issues.
Always ask to watch the turtle eat. Healthy specimens should be eager for food, so if the turtle refuses food that could mean that it has a serious health problem.
Razor-backed Musk turtles may be small, but this species is also quite hardy. However, they can still suffer from various health concerns like any turtle. Here are a few of the main ones to look out for.
Metabolic Bone Disease is a common and debilitating problem for turtles. This happens when the turtle doesn’t get enough UVB light, making it unable to efficiently produce the Vitamin D needed to absorb calcium. This causes the bone structure of the turtle to deteriorate and grow abnormally.
If you spot irregular bumps on the skin or signs of pyramiding, your turtle may be experiencing Metabolic Bone Disease. Other indications of this condition include eye irritation or strange open cuts on the skin.
Respiratory infections can also become a problem if the humidity and temperature of an enclosure are too low for your Razor-backed Musk turtle. Symptoms of respiratory infections include lethargic movement, nasal mucus, watery eyes, and a loss of appetite.
Make sure that any rocks or equipment in the tank doesn’t have any sharp corners sticking out. Your Razor-backed Musk turtle could catch itself and receive cuts or scratches, which can become infected quickly.
Razor-backed Musk turtles may also pick up these kinds of injuries when housed in a communal tank with other turtles. While some squabbling is inevitable, repeated attacks are something much more serious. If one or more individuals are fighting repeatedly and causing damage to other turtles, remove them from the enclosure.
If your turtle has been wounded, pat them dry before applying a topical iodine solution (such as Betadine solution) to the wound with a cotton bud.
If your turtle looks like it’s suffering from any of these symptoms, take them to a specialist vet right away.
An interesting YouTube video about Razor-backed Musk turtles
Breeding Razor-backed Musk turtles
It is certainly possible to breed Razor-backed Musk turtles. The breeding season begins in the spring, so pair a male and female together to see if they try to breed.
Provide a nesting box with enough substrate and room for the female to dig in. A good choice of nesting substrate is Exo Terra Soil Mix.
If breeding is successful, the female will dig a nest in the box and lay between one and seven eggs. Razor-backed Musk turtles can have as many as three clutches per season.
High humidity and a temperature of about 84ºF need to be maintained for successful incubation. An incubation medium such as HatchRite Incubation Medium is recommended.
The eggs will typically take around four months to hatch, or 110 to 120 days.
Razor-backed Musk turtles Hatchling Care
If you’ve successfully bred Razor-backed Musk turtles, you’ll then need to take care of the hatchlings. While many of the same requirements that you’d follow for adults do apply, there are a few differences.
Hatchlings require less tank space, but crucially also need a much lower water depth or they could drown. For newly-hatched turtles, provide just a few inches of water. As the hatchlings reach the juvenile stage, raise the depth to 4 to 6 inches.
Hatchlings will also need temperatures that are a few degrees higher than adults in terms of water and air temperature.
When feeding hatchlings, feed them once or twice a day and cut larger foods up into small chunks to help them digest them easier. Maintain this schedule for six months before switching them onto an adult feeding schedule.
Frequently Asked Questions about Razor-backed Musk turtles
Baby Razor-backed Musk turtles can eat the same foods as adults. However, these meal items need to be chopped up into smaller pieces to allow for easier digestion.
A selection of commercial turtle pellets, insects such as crickets and dubia roaches, mollusks such as earthworms, and small strips of feeder fish work well.
Razor-backed Musk turtles can be quite calm, but shy turtles. They may prefer to hide within vegetation in their tanks, but will also be quite active when exploring. They aren’t great swimmers, so will usually walk along the bottom of their tank. They also like to bask a fair amount.
They will attempt to flee if you pick them up, often trying to bite you or releasing a foul-smelling musk. But as pets to be observed and enjoyed rather than handled, Razor-backed Musk turtles are a great choice.
Razor-backed Musk turtles are great for large community ponds or tanks. They’re typically quite docile, but also shy and will often hide behind cover. They can be housed with other turtle species such as Cooters, Painted turtles, and Sliders. They can be housed with other Musk turtles as long as males aren’t kept together.
Well, that concludes our comprehensive Razor-backed Musk turtle guide. We’ve covered every aspect of caring for these shy but super fun turtles. While they aren’t an ideal choice if you want to handle your pet, they are a lot of fun to just sit and watch as they explore their tank.
Remember to try and adopt a turtle from an animal shelter wherever possible, or buy a healthy captive-bred specimen from a registered breeder.
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