top of page

Caring for an Aquatic Turtle



Aquatic turtles make great pets and require minimal care once set up in the house. There are many species of turtle commonly kept as pets such as Red Eared Sliders, Cooters Turtles, African Sidenecks, Painted Turtles, Map Turtles, Softshell Turtles and many more. Although aquatic turtles can range in specific needs depending on the species, they all have some of the same general requirements. These include a water-tight tank, water heater, basking bulb, dock, and filter. All turtles have a relatively long lifespan ranging from 15-40 years.



Aquatic turtles require an environment that allows them plenty of space to swim while also supplying them with a dry basking area. When choosing a tank for your turtle, be sure to pick one that has a width of at least 3 times the length of the turtle's shell. This is important because the turtle needs to be able to turn at any angle in the tank without getting jammed between the glass and any other tank accessories. A 4 inch turtle should be kept in a minimum of a 20 gallon (long) tank to ensure it has enough room to move around and exercise. The water level should be at least half that of the tank itself. The turtle should be able to submerge itself in the water completely and swim comfortably. A basking area must be provided for the turtle to completely dry its shell and skin and warm itself. Basking temperature can be kept stable using a full spectrum incandescent bulb. Choosing a wattage for the bulb depends on the size of your tank and the distance from the bulb to the basking area. For most aquatic turtles, a basking area between 80-85 degrees is ideal, while the temperature of the water should stay stable around 76-78 degrees using a submersible heater. Most importantly, make sure to turn off the basking light at night! In order to maintain their circadian rhythm, the turtle will need a day time and a night time just like everyone else. Turning the basking bulb off at sundown allows the turtle to relax and go to sleep for the night.



When choosing a substrate, keep in mind that your turtle is going to be very curious about its new home and may try to eat some of the substrate. This means you have two options: either a large stone gravel with pebbles too large for the turtle to swallow or a fine, sandy gravel that if swallowed can be easily passed through the turtle. Typical aquarium gravel (such as the colored pebbles) are easily swallowed by turtles but are not easy to pass, which would cause impaction and eventually death of the turtle. Cover the bottom of the aquarium in about 1 inch of the gravel you chose.



For most turtles, feeding should be done once every other day to keep from overfeeding. Whatever your turtle eats within two minutes is all that they need, anything else is excessive eating. As a general rule, turtles will only feed in the water. Turtle sticks and other foods will float along the surface allowing the turtle to easily grasp its food. They will beg for food, but don't be fooled; they are not starving, they are just smart! Your turtle may begin to understand that whenever you come near the tank, it is getting fed. This leads to begging behaviors because the turtle will assume that you are about to feed it whenever you walk up to the tank. A healthy turtle diet should consist of turtle sticks, crickets, live fish, and can be offered dark, leafy greens on occasion. Turtles also love cranberries as an added and occasional treat, either fresh or dried. 



Water should be clean and clear, and waste removed whenever it is found. A 25% water change should be done once per month. Adding water to replace evaporation is never a substitute for a water change. About a week after performing a water change, the filter cartridges within the filter should be replaced. Wastewater that has been removed from the tank should never be poured into a sink used for food preparation or personal hygiene. After performing maintenance on your tank or handling your turtle, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly! The bacteria found naturally on turtles can be harmful to humans, including salmonella. 

bottom of page