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Turtles and Tortoises

John Mack//April 30, 2015//

Turtles and Tortoises

John Mack //April 30, 2015//

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In our article last month, we looked at one of the best-selling segments of the reptile industry: the voluminous category of colubrids. While colubrids can easily serve as a strong component of your store’s reptile sales, a different set of reptiles easily rivals colubrids in terms of both overall and residual sales. That category? Turtles and tortoises.

The vast majority of turtles and tortoises in the pet trade today are small- to moderately-sized species and these creatures are notably hardy and long-lived. However, the largest tortopises can exceed 200 pounds and require massive enclosures. Therefore, most pet stores focus on Russian or Greek tortoises, as well as red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises. In terms of turtles, sliders, painted turtles, and cooters tend to sell best.

Most turtles within the pet trade are semi-aquatic, requiring aquatic features similar to an aquarium but coupled with elements similar to a terrarium. Tortoises, in contrast, are entirely land-based—they should not be kept in water! Even smaller breeds of tortoise prefer to have a great deal of space, with areas set aside for digging. To meet this need, consider setting up a tortoise table in a premier location. Featuring tortoises in a premier area in your store will not only best serve the animals themselves but also provide a unique, engaging experience for your customers.

Of course, any elements that you provide for a turtle or tortoise enclosure should also be available in your store for purchase. An appealing display not only increases sales of the animal being displayed but also increases the sales of displayed enclosure items. Be sure to stock necessary lighting and heating elements. Both turtles and tortoises require additional enclosure elements, which can help bolster your sales.

Somewhat unfortunately for pet store owners, most turtles and tortoises don’t typically require a large amount of food. Many turtles can subsist on pellet-based food, with occasional supplements to this diet. Treats can be offered to turtles in the form of earthworms, various insects and even feeder goldfish, though these should not form the basis of a pet turtle’s diet. Tortoises, on the other hand, are primarily herbivorous, feeding on leafy vegetables. While your patrons likely will pick these up at their local supermarket, stocking leafy greens such as dandelion can provide a solid point of sale, in addition to calcium and other vitamin supplements.
Stocking turtles and tortoises in your establishment can sometimes cause two primary stumbling blocks. First, some areas have ordinances regarding the sale of turtles as native species. The most notable of these ordinances stems from the Food and Drug

Administration’s Code of Federal Regulation: Title 21. This code states that turtles and tortoises for sale must have an outer carapace of at least 4 inches before being sold. Certain states, such as Ohio, have sales restrictions based on the nativity of given species. As always, you must be aware of the legality of the animals you’re selling.

Second, turtles and tortoises can take a significant amount of time and care. Tortoises, especially, require a significant amount of space and stimulation. Be sure that your staff is well trained on proper care before stocking them. And be sure that your staff can relay their knowledge to your customers; a well-trained, knowledgeable staff is your key to repeat sales.

One last thing that bears mention regarding turtles and tortoises is the consistent (and often overblown) threat of salmonella. As with most reptiles, both turtles and tortoises are known carriers of the salmonella bacteria; in fact, many purport that the 4-inch rule mentioned above was set to prevent small children from placing small turtles in their mouths. While the truth of that matter is suspect, reality dictates that our shelled friends can transmit salmonella. Because of this, ensure that hand washing becomes standard practice for anyone handling reptiles or their enclosures. Consider installing a hand sanitizer dispenser near open enclosures, and encourage your customers to sanitize their hands both before and after handling any reptiles.

Despite these few niggling details, turtles and tortoises can provide your store with a fantastic addition to the more common snakes and lizards. Give them a try.