This guide will take you through every step of setting up a turtle tank, from selecting the tank to ongoing maintenance and care.
Decided to get a turtle? Great choice!
Turtles really have a lot to offer as far as pets go, and they make excellent little companions for all types of people. They tend to be gentle and shy, yet highly interactive when they feel comfortable.
Turtles are small and quiet, making them especially ideal for apartment-dwellers who want a cool companion that doesn’t bark at the mail carrier or need to be taken out for walks.
Another great thing about turtles is that they generally live a very long time, up to 30 years in some cases – certainly much longer than most household pets! Because of this, getting a pet turtle truly is a long-term commitment.
Turtles are adorable and fascinating with an array of unique colors, markings, and other interesting features.
Even though turtles are generally considered to be somewhat low-maintenance, they still require the right environment in order to thrive. That’s your job. Giving your turtle a great place to call home is part of the fun of owning one! In fact, turtle tank building has become somewhat of a hobby unto itself, with some turtle enthusiasts taking their tanks above and beyond with elaborate rock arrangements, waterfalls, and other dramatic features.
Turtle habitats don’t need to be fancy, as long as they have all the necessary elements. You can customize your turtle tank however you like, as long as you’re providing a healthy habitat for your little buddy.
Choosing the Right Tank
The first thing to do is get a tank for your new pet. Don’t just grab the first one you see at a yard sale or pet store, either. It’s important to select just the right enclosure to make sure your turtle has a home that is safe and enjoyable.
Most people use glass aquariums to house pet turtles. Plastic tubs can also be suitable. Some turtle owner who live in warm climates even build outdoor open-air habitats.
For this guide, we’ll be talking about setting up a glass tank.
First and foremost, a turtle tank needs to be sturdy and well-built. Not just any glass enclosure will do. Reptile tanks generally don’t work as turtle habitats because many will not reliably hold water. If you’re thinking about repurposing an old tank instead of buying a new one, test it out by filling it with water and letting it sit for a few days while you watch for leaks.
What Size Should Your Tank Be?
To thrive, turtles need plenty of space to swim and explore. Here are the general guidelines for choosing the right size tank for yours.
- If your turtle is small (around 4-6 inches), you’ll need at least a 30-gallon enclosure.
- For medium-sized turtles (6-8 inches), get a 50-gallon tank – at minimum.
- To accommodate a large turtle (8 inches and above), choose a 75+ gallon tank.
Bigger is better when it comes to turtle tanks. If you’re in doubt, it’s usually best to go with the bigger size. Also, keep in mind that the size recommendations above are for a fully-grown turtle. If you buy a tank based on the size of your baby turtle, you may have to upgrade as it grows.
There are several reasons not to get a tank that’s too small.
- It will be harder to clean.
- It will get dirty more quickly than a larger tank.
- Your turtle will not enjoy full quality of life in an enclosure that isn’t big enough.
- Your pet may be unhealthy, and it might not grow to full size.
- Putting multiple turtles in a too-small enclosure usually results in territorialism and fighting.
About Tank Covers
Turtle tanks should always have a cover on top of them. This is to protect your turtle in a few ways. First, it will prevent outside objects from falling in. Plus, it helps provide a barrier between your pet and any heat or lighting sources you may have mounted above the tank. Finally, and just as importantly, a cover keeps your turtle from escaping its enclosure. Be sure to get a lid that interlocks with the tank or has some kind of locking mechanism so it can’t be pushed off by curious turtles.
Steel mesh covers are usually the top choice for turtle enthusiasts. The heat-proof mesh is suitable for setting heat lamps on top of, since it won’t melt or catch on fire. They also provide enough ventilation so that your tank doesn’t become too hot or humid.
Designing the Layout of Your Turtle Tank
While some aspects of designing your tank’s layout are really matters of personal taste, there are some essential components you must include.
Your tank should be divided into two areas, an underwater space where your turtle will likely spend most of its time as well as an above-water basking area.
At least half of your tank should be underwater. As aquatic and semi-aquatic animals (depending on the exact species), turtles need to swim and play underwater every day to be happy and healthy.
Above Water Area
The rest of your tank should be used for an above-water space where your turtle can dry out and bask (more about basking in a moment). If you have an aquatic turtle, you only need to dedicate about 25% of the total tank space to the above-water area. For semi-aquatic turtles, this dry area should take up about half of the space in the tank.
Some tanks come ready-made with designated areas for your wet and dry zones. You can also use rocks or logs, as well as pre-made ramps and platforms to configure these spaces yourself. If you plan to do it yourself, it can be helpful to make a sketch of how you plan to set up your tank. It’s also a great idea to look around online and check out some of the ways other people have set their turtle habitats up.
Gathering the Necessary Equipment
Once you have an idea of the way you’ll lay out the elements of your tank, it’s time to make your shopping list and gather up all the little things you’ll need to get going.
Turtle Tank Filters
A good filtration system is absolutely necessary for the cleanliness of your tank, and the health of your pet. Turtle tank water can get dirty quickly. This isn’t just unsightly. It’s also not good for your turtle.
Your filter will clean up old food, excrement from your turtle, and any other unwanted debris floating around in the aquarium. It also removes harmful substances that are by-products of those waste items.
Most often, canister filters are used for turtle tanks. They tend to work very well, even for large tanks. These are usually mounted under the tank and can be concealed by a stand or cabinet. Canister filters are multi-stage filtration systems. This means that they contain layers of different filtration media, which we’ll talk about in a few paragraphs.
Internal filters, also called submersible filters, can be placed inside the tank. They usually attach to the walls of your aquarium with suction cups. These filters tend to be small, and are only suitable for smaller tanks. Internal style filters can also be multi-stage filters, though there are limitations to the number of stages they can contain due to their size.
HOB stands for “hang on back.” This kind of filter is, as you might have guessed, hung on the back of a tank. Because this kind of filter is designed specifically for use in fish tanks, you may have to take special care if you want to use one for your turtle habitat. Since turtle tanks aren’t filled all the way with water the way fish tanks are, your tank will need a filter cutout to accommodate an HOB. Another thing to keep in mind with HOBs is that you’ll have to buy one that’s rated for a larger tank than you’re actually using. This is because turtles produce waste at a higher rate than fish, so fish tank-based size ratings aren’t accurate.
UGF is an acronym for Under Gravel Filter which is placed, like it sounds, underneath gravel substrate in a tank. While many turtle enthusiasts do not recommend these, there are some who swear by them. This kind of filter is installed on the tank floor, below a layer of gravel. Water is pulled through the gravel, which serves as part of the filtration system, before reaching the main filter. There are a couple different types of UGFs to choose from, but all work in essentially the same way. This kind of filter could be problematic for a turtle that likes to dig.
No matter what type or brand of filter you choose, make sure it’s designed to work with the size of tank you have. You can get the best filter on the market, but if it’s only rated for a 50-gallon tank and you have a 100-gallon tank, it’s not going to do a great job for you.
About Filter Media
Filter media is whatever materials are inside your filter. Each layer of a filter contains a different medium, which the dirty water passes through on its way to becoming clean. Some things that you might find in a multi-stage filter include sponges, activated charcoal, ceramic rings, lava rock, polyfill or fiberfill floss, and Bio Balls (specially designed spheres made for filtering water in aquatic habitats).
Turtle Tank Heaters
Turtles are cold-blooded, and so are not able to regulate their own body temperature. As a turtle-owner, you’ll be responsible for keeping your pet’s habitat within a healthy range. You will have to monitor and regulate the temperatures in both the wet and dry portions of the tank.
Here is our recommended heater for turtle tanks:
Heating the Water
The optimal water temperature for turtles is generally between 74-82 degrees. This varies depending on the species, the age of the turtle, and the health of the turtle. Talk to the pet store or breeder you’ll be purchasing your turtle from to get specific temperature recommendations.
You can use an aquarium heater to maintain the right water temperature in your turtle habitat. Here’s what you should know about them.
- Any submersible heater must be enclosed in a covering made of metal or heat-resistant plastic. Never use an aquarium heater with a glass shield. These are designed for use with fish only, as hard turtle shells could break through the glass.
- Submersible heaters have to be mounted about an inch below the lowest level your water will possibly drop. If this kind of heater is ever run without being submerged, it will burn out and break very quickly.
- Alternatively, you can use an external in-line heater for your turtle tank. These are installed outside the aquarium. Water is pumped through them and heated before it enters your tank. The water can be pumped directly from (or “in line” with) a canister filter. If you don’t have a canister filter, you will need an aquarium pump to do the job. Remember that some pumps are meant to be mounted outside the tank and will break if submerged, while submersible pumps will break if they are operated outside of water. Take care when selecting and installing them.
- Undertank heaters are not recommended for turtle habitats. They are usually designed for terrariums, not aquariums, and don’t do much to heat water. Also, heat rocks are not safe to use in a habitat that will be filled with water.
- You must select a heating unit that is strong enough to heat all the water in your tank. The following is a basic/general guide to figuring out how powerful of a heater you need
|Amount of Water in Tank||Minimum Heater Wattage Needed|
|20 gallons||75 watts|
|40 gallons||100 watts|
|65 gallons||150 watts|
|75 gallons||300 watts|
Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines. Depending on how warm your house is, you may need a less powerful heater than would normally be recommended. Conversely, if your house is cold, you might need a more powerful heater. If you’re unsure, you can talk to a veterinarian in your area.
Use a thermometer to monitor the water temperature in your tank. If the water is too hot or too cold, you’ll need to correct it right away. You can use an aquarium thermometer, just make sure it’s not made of glass (again, turtle shells can break glass). Strip thermometers can also work for this purpose.
Some turtle owners run two smaller heaters, and others even have a backup heater in case the main unit fails.
Heating the Basking Area
Just like the underwater area, your turtle’s basking space needs to be kept at just the right temperature.
Generally speaking, the hottest part of the basking zone should be somewhere between 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit (although veterinarians may recommend warmer temperatures in special circumstances, such as when a turtle is sick).
Make sure to find out the exact temperature range that’s recommended for your turtle species.
Heating the basking area is done by mounting a heat lamp directly above the space.
Your turtle should have a range of warm temperatures within the basking space, with the hottest spot being directly under the light. This way, your pet can move around as needed to better regulate its body heat.
When shopping for heat lamps, you’ll find different wattage ratings. Read the specifications about each bulb to figure out which one will provide the right temperature for the turtle species you have.
The closer you place the bulb to the basking space, the hotter it will be. Take care not to place it close enough that your turtle would be able to reach it and get burned.
Certain types of bulbs – incandescent, halogen, and mercury vapor bulbs, to be exact – can get very hot. They can even break if they come into contact with water. If you use one, make sure the cover on your tank is sufficient to protect your turtle from glass shards if this were to happen.
You’ll also need another thermometer to monitor the temperature in your basking area.
Turtle Tank Lighting
Aside from the heat lamp, you’ll also need to have UVA and UVB lighting for your turtle tank.
- Daily exposure to UVA light is essential to the turtle’s ability to regulate its mood, to feed properly, and to breed.
- UVB lighting is necessary for Vitamin D3 production, which is vital for healthy bone and shell growth. Without it, your turtle can’t process calcium and other key nutrients. As a result, it can develop metabolic bone disease, a painful and potentially fatal disorder. Note that UVB light cannot penetrate glass, another reason wire mesh covers work well for turtle tanks.
You have a lot of choice in bulb types. As long as they provide the right spectrum for your turtle’s health, the type you choose is up to you.
You can purchase fixtures such as the one below that accommodates both a heat lamp and a UV bulb, which can save space and money. These can be placed directly on top of your heat-resistant tank cover or mounted just above the tank.
Your little turtle also needs to have regular light cycles. You’ll have to mimic daytime and nighttime by turning the lights off and on accordingly. Generally speaking, turtles should have around 10 – 12 hours of “daylight” per day. Installing a simple timer can automate this process and ensure a consistent cycle for your pet.
While not necessary for the health of your turtle, you may wish to purchase a daytime viewing light. This is simply some additional lighting to help you get a better look inside your turtle tank. There are several options for this, but many turtle lovers recommend using an LED light for this purpose. This is because LED lights are usually crisp and bright, last a long time, and don’t use much electricity.
You can also get a nighttime viewing light if you want to check out your turtle and its habitat during nocturnal hours. Be sure you get a light made specifically for this purpose, as they are specially designed to illuminate the tank without disrupting the turtle’s day/night light cycle.
For more lighting information, check out our turtle tank lighting guide. It covers everything you need to know about setting up the right light system for a turtle tank.
Other Things You May Need
Here are a few other things you may need when setting up a turtle tank:
A ledge is a place for your turtle to come up out of the water to dry off and bask. As previously mentioned, you can create your own using logs, rocks, or other materials. You can also purchase ready-made ledges at pet stores or online. If you go the DIY route, be sure the materials you use are clean and sanitary. It’s also important to make sure there are no sharp edges that could harm your turtle.
If your basking platform doesn’t provide an easy way for your turtle to climb onto it, you may want to add a ramp to your setup. As with ledges, there are plenty of ready-made ramps available at pet stores and around the internet. You can also make one yourself – just follow all the same precautions you would with a DIY basking setup. If you make your own ramp, test it out to make sure it’s sturdy before allowing your turtle to use it.
Rocks and Decor
You may want to dress up your turtle tank with additional rocks, branches, and other decor items. This can help you make the tank more like your turtle’s natural habitat, and it can be more fun to observe your turtle in an attractive tank that has some interesting decor items.
Turtles enjoy having a couple of places to hide. You can use rocks, logs, other decor items as hiding place for your turtle.
Plants can look great inside a turtle tank. You can use real plants or fake ones, but keep in mind that it can be expensive and time consuming to try keeping real aquatic plants alive. On the other hand, some live plants can help support a healthy nitrogen cycle in the tank.
A Few Words About Tank Décor
Anything you put inside your tank will take up space that could otherwise be used for swimming or basking, so be sure not to crowd your pet with too many objects.
Fully enclosed decorations items aren’t ideal, since turtles can easily get stuck inside them. These items are designed for small fish, not turtles.
Substrate – Yes or No?
Adding substrate to your turtle tank is not necessary unless you’re using a UGF. Beyond that, it’s purely a matter of your personal preference.
Here are the different materials that can be used as substrate in a turtle tank.
- Sand: Sand can be a suitable substrate for turtles, though it can be difficult to keep clean.
- Gravel: Gravel, or small rocks, can look really nice and natural inside your turtle’s habitat. If you use gravel, make sure to use a variety that is at least ½ inch in diameter. Any smaller and your turtle could eat it and become injured.
- Fluorite: Fluorite is actually crystallized cubes of calcium fluoride, which can be beneficial for growing plants in the tank. Just like with gravel, make sure the crystals are not small enough for your turtle to ingest. You can also mix fluorite with gravel.
- Coral: Crushed coral is sometimes used as a turtle tank substrate, particularly for saltwater or brackish water turtles. However, crushed corals may not be the right substrate if you hope to grow rooted plants in the habitat. Coral can also change the pH of your water, so do make sure you know what you’re getting into if you choose to use coral for your substrate.
You will have to keep any substrate you use clean, which will add to the level of maintenance required to care for your turtle tank.
Cycling Your Turtle Tank
You’ve selected, purchased, gathered, and set up all of the elements of your turtle tank. Now what? Before you can introduce your pet to its new habitat, you will need to do what’s known as cycling.
What Does “Cycling” Your Tank Mean?
“Cycling” is a process by which you’ll cultivate the growth of beneficial bacteria in your tank, thereby keeping the water just right for your turtle’s health and well-being. In this case, “cycle” refers to the nitrogen cycle which occurs in a healthy aquatic environment.
Here’s how the cycle will work once it’s all set up:
- The waste from your turtle causes ammonia to be released into the water. (If allowed to accumulate, this ammonia would be toxic to your turtle).
- One type of bacteria (Nitrosonomas marina) will digest the ammonia and convert it to nitrite.
- Nitrite is also harmful for your turtle. That’s where a second type of bacteria (Nitrobacter and Nitrospira) come in to play. These gobble up the nitrite and turn it into nitrate.
- Nitrate, in small amounts, is not harmful to your turtle (and regular water changes will be sufficient to keep the nitrate levels within a healthy range).
When this process is complete and seems to be relatively self-sustaining, your tank is considered “cycled.”
Once cycled, the ammonia and nitrite levels in your tank should be at or very near zero.
Your nitrate level should be no more than 40 ppm. The pH should be between 6 and 8 to support these helpful bacteria and your turtle.
Your aquarium filter will contain some of these nitrifying bacteria, though not enough to support a healthy turtle habitat. You will have to grow the population of bacteria to optimal levels before you can introduce your turtle to its tank.
How to Cycle Your Tank
Cycling was once commonly done by simply adding a few live “feeder fish” to the tank to get the process started. Those first fish would create the waste necessary to grow the tank’s bacteria population. Unfortunately, they would often get sick and die as a result of living in water with high ammonia and nitrite levels.
What is a “Fishless” Cycle?
A fishless cycle is just a way of cycling your new tank without using live fish.
There are a couple of ways you can do this.
You can introduce ammonia directly into the tank to increase the bacteria population.
Alternatively, you can add fish food or just plain old fish from the grocery store to your tank; either will eventually break down and produce ammonia. The keyword in that last sentence is “eventually,” as cycling your tank this way will take longer than the straight-ammonia method. Also keep in mind that it can be messy (and a bit smelly).
Before you do either, make sure your filter is up and running and that you have a water testing kit on hand.
- A few days after adding either the pure ammonia or your chosen organic matter to the tank, begin testing the ammonia levels in the water.
- During the first stage of the cycle, you should aim to keep the ammonia level around 3 ppm. This level should periodically dip, as the bacteria grow and begin to consume more. Continue adding ammonia (or fish food, etc.) to the water to raise the ammonia levels back up.
- After a week or so, the ammonia-eating bacteria should begin to produce measurable levels of nitrites. When you see this happen via your testing equipment, you’ll know the cycle has really begun. Keep adding ammonia to maintain about 3 ppm.
- At some point after this, you should see a drop in nitrites and an increase in nitrates. This indicates that the tank has almost completely cycled. Now, keep testing until the ammonia and nitrite levels have zeroed out, and the nitrate levels are stable.
- If you detect elevated ammonia levels at any point after introducing your turtle, you can pick up an ammonia neutralizing product from the pet store.
Generally, cycling takes around 6-8 weeks. If you want to make things move a little more quickly, you can introduce bacteria from an already-established tank if you have access to one. The most common way of doing this is by placing used filter media from the healthy tank into yours. This does present the risk of introducing unwanted organisms into your aquarium, so be sure you know you’re using media from a well-maintained tank.
Introducing Your Turtle to the Tank
After you’ve successfully cycled your tank, it’s time to introduce your pet to its new home! Here are a few tips for minimizing stress during the process.
- Place your turtle gently into the tank; don’t drop it in.
- Never pick up a turtle by its legs or head. Like most living creatures, turtles don’t particularly enjoy this. Plus, you could cause a serious injury.
- Give your new pet some time and space to get accustomed to its new surroundings. Turtles don’t always love being handled, especially turtles that are already adjusting to being in a new place around new people.
- Keep your water testing kit handy, taking regular measurements to ensure that proper cycling has continued after introducing your turtle to the tank.
Caring for Your Turtle
Taking care of a pet turtle and watching it grow and thrive is an amazingly rewarding experience. Proper care is also necessary for turtles to live long, happy, and healthy lives. Here are the basics of turtle care.
Diet and Nutrition
Your turtle’s exact diet will depend on what species it is. Some are herbivores, meaning they only eat fruits and veggies. Omnivorous turtles like to have some meat with their salad (usually in the form of small fish or insects).
Produce: All turtles need plenty of fruits and vegetables in their diet. The following are safe for them to eat:
- Mustard Greens
- Collard Greens
Remember to chop or shred any fruit or vegetable you feed your turtle.
Fish and Insects: Omnivorous turtles should be given protein-rich food like crickets or small fish. You can also purchase freeze-dried insects, though it’s best to give your little buddy fresh food whenever possible.
Pellets: Ready-made pellets you find at the pet store can be a nutritious part of your omnivorous turtle’s diet. Not all turtle pellets are created equal, though. Check the label and select pellet food that contains a high percentage of protein (around 40% is good) and a low percentage of fat (shoot for less than 8%).
Supplements: You’ll need to make sure that your pet is getting plenty of calcium (it takes a lot of the stuff to build and maintain that strong, bony shell!). The best way to do this is by sprinkling a powdered calcium supplement on the fruits and vegetables you serve.
A Few More Things About Feeding Turtles
- For omnivorous turtles, around 50% of their diet should come from produce. Live food and pellets can make up the other half.
- Herbivorous turtles can eat an all-produce diet, but should have significantly more vegetables than fruit (about 80% veggies, 20% fruit).
- Omnivorous baby turtles will need a higher protein diet than adults, and may not eat much produce until they are older.
- If you’re not sure whether your turtle is getting all the right nutrients, it’s a good idea to check in with a veterinarian who can provide personalized advice for your pet. Always defer to your vet’s expertise when it comes to feeding and caring for your pet. He or she may recommend additional supplements or other ways to balance your turtle’s diet.
- Baby turtles will eat every day, but an adult only needs to be fed 4 or 5 times per week.
- Don’t feed your turtle table scraps (unless it happens to be some scraps of kale or shredded carrot sans dressing), and don’t give turtles dog or cat food.
Continue to maintain healthy temperatures within the different areas of your tank. Check your equipment often to make sure it’s all working properly.
Make sure humidity levels in your turtle’s habitat are optimal, too. Exactly what “optimal” means can vary depending on the kind of turtle you have. Keeping the humidity too high or too low in your tank can cause your turtle to develop health problems.
Maintaining Your Turtle Habitat
You’ll also be responsible for keeping your turtle tank clean and well-maintained. The water will need to be changed regularly, and you’ll also have to clean out your tank periodically – even if you have a really powerful filter.
Here are some tank-cleaning tips:
- Unplug any electrical devices, such as your filtration and lighting systems, before cleaning your tank.
- Make sure your turtle is in a safe place while you clean the tank.
- Kids should be supervised when cleaning a turtle tank.
- Never clean your filter or other tank components around places where food is stored, prepared, or eaten. Turtle habitats can harbor harmful germs and bacteria.
- Use rubber gloves when cleaning your tank, for the reasons stated above.
This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It takes some work, but the rewards of having a pet turtle are far greater than the efforts.
How to Set Up an Aquatic Turtle Tank
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Creating your Turtle's World
The place where something lives is called its habitat. If you live in a house, then the house is your habitat. This part of the site talks about how to set up a habitat, or home, for your turtle. For most new turtle hobbyists, the easiest kind of habitat to build is in a tank, like the tanks used to keep fish, so that's what we'll be discussing.
I hope you're reading this page because you're planning to buy or adopt a turtle, because the best time to set up a turtle habitat is before you get the turtle. Of course, sometimes things don't work out that way. Sometimes people get the turtle first (usually a baby turtle at a fair or carnival), and then realize that it needs a better home than that little plastic carrier.
If you already have a turtle and need to set up a habitat quickly because it's outgrown its home, then probably the best thing you can do is quickly set up a simple, larger habitat. The most important things an aquatic turtle needs are proper heating, proper lighting, clean water, and the right food. Concentrate on those things first and forget about substrate, plants, and other fancy things. Then once you have the important things done, you can work on making it fancy later.
You can also buy all-in-one turtle tank kits that contain everything you need to get started, at least for a hatchling turtle. Most of these kits are too small for even one adult turtle. But if you're in a hurry and need a tank for a younger turtle right away, they're a fast, easy way to get started in the hobby.
If you plan to keep more than one turtle in the tank, please read this page before you set up your habit.
What You Need to Set Up a Turtle Habitat
The most important things that you will need for your turtle habitat -- the things you absolutely must have -- are:
- A big enough tank and stand. You must use a tank designed to hold water, like a fish tank, not a tank designed to hold terrestrial (land-dwelling) reptiles like iguanas or desert tortoises. Terrestrial reptile tanks are not strong enough to fill with water.
- A way to get the water into the tank. An aquarium water-change kit is the most convenient way, but buckets work, too. You can also use a hose, but make sure it's a hose approved for drinking water.
- A basking area. This is a dry place where the turtle will "sun itself." Basking is something that aquatic turtles must do to survive and be healthy.
- Proper lighting to generate warmth and the different kinds of light that turtles need.
- One or more heaters to keep the water in the turtle's habitat in the correct temperature range. You should choose non-glass heaters like those made by Aqueon Pro, high-quality stainless steel aquarium heaters or heaters enclosed in protective heater covers. Turtles can shatter glass heaters and get electrocuted and die! You will also need at least two thermometers: One to measure the water temperature, and one to measure the air temperature at the basking area.
- A system to keep the water in the turtle's habitat clean. Almost always this means using a filter. If you don't use a filter, you will have to change all the water in the tank every few days.
- An aquarium water test kit or test strips to check the water chemistry and quality. Test strips are easier for beginners, but test kits are more accurate when used properly.
Other things that are nice to have, but that you don't absolutely need, include:
- A substrate, which is something to line the bottom of the turtle tank, like aquarium gravel, pebbles, Caribsea, or Flourite. Unless you plan to use live plants that need something to root in, or to keep digging turtles like soft shell turtles, you don't absolutely need a substrate.
- An aquarium air pump to aerate the water. This helps discourage the growth of anaerobic bacteria, and turtles seem to like the bubbles. If you also have fish or other animals who breathe with gills (like ghost shrimp), then you must have aeration, or else those animals will die.
- Decorations, such as artificial plants or an aquarium background. Decorations can make the habitat less boring for both people and turtles.
- Live plants.
If you're lucky enough to be planning your turtle purchase or adoption before getting a turtle, however, then you can take your time and create a habitat to be proud of. After all, building your turtle's little world is part of the fun of the hobby. You are creating your turtle's entire world! So unless you have a turtle impatiently waiting for the keys to his or her new place, take your time and enjoy the experience.
Turtle Habitat Starter Kits
If you plan on raising your turtles from hatchlings, you may want to start with an aquatic turtle habitat starter kit. But there are two things you'll need to remember if you choose this option.
The first thing you have to consider is that your turtle is going to outgrow a starter-size tank very quickly. You will need at least a 15-gallon tank to start to raise one hatching, and at least a 20-gallon tank to start to raise two. But once they get much bigger than 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) in carapace length, you'll need to start setting up a new habitat for them. As a general rule, you should have at least ten gallons (forty liters) of water for every one inch (2.5 cm) of cobined turtle carapace length. One might call it a "rule of shell".
Also remember that a 15-gallon tank doesn't hold 15 gallons of water unless you use an above-tank basking area. Otherwise, with the basking platform mounted inside the tank, you're losing one-third to one-half the water capacity. With too little water in the tank, the water will get quickly get fouled by the turtles' poo and pee, making it unhealthy for your turtle, smelly, and impossible to keep clean.
The second thing you have to do is look at what's included in the kit and "fill in the blanks" with the rest of the things you'll need, especially a heater and a UVA/UVB light source if they're not included (and they're usually not). Most species of hatchling turtles need water temperatures of between 80 - 85 F (26.7 - 29.5 C) until they're about 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) in carapace length order to thrive, and the UVA/UVB lamp is a must in any case. Please refer to the pages on lighting and heating for more information.
If you are raising hatchlings and you don't want to have to upgrade the tank when they grow up, you can start with an large aquarium of the size you'll need when your turtles are full-grown. Just make sure to start with a low water level while your turtles are hatchlings. Baby turtles' lungs aren't very well-developed, so they need shallow water when they're very young.
The water should always be deeper than the turtles are wide, however, otherwise they may not be able to right themselves if they get turned upside-down. If they get stuck upside-down underwater, they can drown and die. So if you want to start your habitat in a big tank right from the start, that's fine. Just start with a lower water level and gradually raise it.
I like the water level for hatchlings to be between two and three times as deep as the turtles' shells are wide. Once they develop the lung capacity to handle deeper water, you can gradually increase it. That happens pretty quickly. When they can easily swim to the surface of the water from the deepest point, you can start raising the water level a little bit at a time.
Setting Up a Turtle Habitat in a Tank
This page deals with setting up an indoor habitat in an aquarium tank or "fish tank." Many people build outdoor ponds (or even indoor ponds) for their turtles, and that's an excellent idea if you have the room, the money, and the right kind of climate. But for most people, building a pond isn't very practical. (If you're a renter, the landlord might be very unhappy.)
Most aquatic turtle keepers who keep their turtles indoors use aquarium tanks designed for fish. Others prefer large storage containers, others use small-sized children's wading pools, and still other people have tanks custom-designed to fit some spot in their homes. Some people even build indoor ponds for their turtles, which are really cool if you have the space -- and the money.
But most people use fish tanks, so that's what we're going to talk about. There are several things to think about when planning a turtle habitat in a tank. Let's look at the most important factors.
Tank Size, Shape, and Type
When deciding which tank to buy, the first and most important thing to consider is that the tank is able to hold water. This may seem silly and obvious, but some reptile tanks are designed for terrestrial reptiles (reptiles who live on land), and they will break and make a huge mess if you try to fill them with water. So use a tank designed to hold water, like a fish tank. (And if you use a previously-used tank, make sure it doesn't leak!)
The next most important thing to consider is the tank's size. If you can, try to get a tank big enough that your turtle will have ten gallons (forty liters)of water for every inch (2.4 cm) of carapace (upper shell) length when it reaches full size. This way you won't have to buy a bigger tank down the line when the turtle grows.
A tank that is too small will be much more work to keep clean. The water will be fouled much more quickly and will become unhealthy and smelly. Your turtle won't have enough room to swim in a too-small tank, and if you have more than one turtle, they will be more likely to fight.
The shape of the tank you select is also important. A tank with a low profile, like a 20-long, may be fine while your turtle is very young; but it won't provide nearly enough vertical swimming room for turtles who like deep water, like Painted Turtles and Red-Eared Sliders. For turtles who are poor swimmers like Musk, Mud, and Reeves turtles, however, a shallower tank is better and safer.
It's very important that the water in the tank be deeper than the turtle is wide so your turtle can flip itself upright if it gets turned upside-down in the water. If your turtle gets turned upside down in the water and there's not enough water for it to flip over and right itself, it probably will drown and die. So if your turtle is five inches wide, you must have at least five inches of water depth in the tank -- minimum.
Land Area / Basking Area
Aquatic turtles need a dry basking platform where they can sun themselves (although the "sun," in this case, is usually a turtle basking lamp). The basking area can be a commercially-made one like the Turtle Dock shown here, a log, or even just a rock. But whatever it is, it has to be big enough for the turtle to comfortably fit on, easy for the turtle to climb on to from the water, and high enough that the basking area doesn't stay wet.
One of the easiest types of basking areas to use are the floating, shelf-type basking areas like the turtle dock in the picture, which looks like a rock, but is really made of plastic. Floating docks are easy to use, automatically adjust to the water level and don't waste the swimming space underneath. They're a very good choice for beginners.
But a rock or log will work just fine, too. If you use something from nature, make sure to boil it first to kill any algae, germs, or harmful microorganisms. And always avoid anything with sharp edges in a turtle habitat. Your turtle could seriously hurt itself. Another option is to use an above-tank basking area, which will let you fill your tank closer to the top to give the turtles more room to swim. You can buy them ready-made or build one yourself like I did. I made it from wood, Plexiglas, and a piece of "egg-crate" light diffuser. You can't see it in most of pictures on the site because they were taken before I built it, but you can see a picture of it here.
Most turtle keepers use heat-proof metal tank covers on top of their tank. These screens are inexpensive and are important mainly because they help protect the turtles from things like broken glass from exploding lamp bulbs. The lamps used for turtle habitats get very hot and tend to explode if they get splashed with water, and sometimes even if they don't. The covers also help keep the turtles from climbing out of the tank, which they do tend to try sometimes.
Tank covers can also be clamped to the tank to help prevent larger turtles from climbing out, which they can sometimes do if the distance between the top of the water or basking area and the rim of the tank is within the turtle's reach.
Don't use glass or Plexiglas as a tank cover. Either one will filter out UVB rays that the turtle needs to survive, and the heat from the lamps may cause glass to shatter or Plexiglas to melt.
Because even screen-type tank covers block some light and heat, you should adjust the lighting to be correct with the tank cover on the tank. When you have to remove the tank cover (for example, to feed your turtle or clean the tank), replace it as soon as possible so you don't overheat the habitat. If you're going to leave it off for more than a few minutes, turn off heat-producing lamps or move them a little farther away to keep the basking temperature from getting too hot.
I also recommend that you use the widest-mesh screen you can find, or better yet, just make one out of hardware cloth of at least 1/4-inch mesh. It blocks much less light. Otherwise consider using a 7.5 or 10.0 UVB lamp rather than a 2.5 or 5.0 to compensate for the loss of some of the light.
Lighting is so important a subject for turtle keepers that it has its own page, which can be found here. But basically, you are going to need lights to provide visible light (artificial daylight), warmth, UVA, and UVB light. We talk more about these different kinds of light and the lamps needed to make them on the turtle lighting page.
Choosing a Tank Substrate
The substrate is the stuff that covers the bottom of the tank or habitat, and there are lots of different opinions about what are the best and worst substrates to use. What follows here is my opinion. Others may disagree.
First of all, unless you are going to use live plants, there's really no reason to have a substrate at all for most popular aquatic turtle species like Sliders and Painteds. A glass bottom is easiest to clean and eliminates the possibility that your turtle will eat the substrate and be injured by it (which does sometimes happen).
Another easy-to-clean option is to use large, flat rocks. Remember to boil them first to kill any algae or germs.
If you're going to use live plants (except floating plants), or if you just want a substrate because you think it looks nice or creates a more natural environment, then you have several choices.
Fine sand is a popular substrate that many turtle hobbyists like. But I think sand is a terrible substrate. I find it very difficult to keep clean even with frequent vacuuming. In my opinion, the only reason to use sand is if you're keeping turtles who dig in it in their natural habits, such as soft shell turtles. But that's just my opinion. Many other turtle keepers disagree with me and think sand is a great substrate that's easy to clean.
If you do choose to use sand, use clean, fine sand (like the sand they sell for children's sand boxes) and clean it thoroughly before putting it in the tank. You also have to clean it very frequently once the habitat is set up, or else pockets of poop and debris will cause your entire tank to become a big, stinky mess.
Aquarium Gravel is another substrate that I don't like. It's not a very good plant substrate because it contains little or no nutrient value for the plants. Also, turtles sometimes eat gravel; so unless it's very smooth and the pieces are large enough that a turtle can't eat them, I don't think it's worth the risk.
Fluorite. Personally, I think Flourite is the best choice for a planted turtle tank. Fluorite is a porous clay gravel that's designed for use in planted aquariums. It's an excellent root medium for plants, it looks very natural and attractive, and I've never seen a turtle eat it. However, when you first fill the tank, it will make the water look like mud. I just let the dust settle, and then then let the filter run for a few days with nothing in it except aquarium filter floss or polyester pillow stuffing (which is basically the same stuff, only less expensive). It usually takes a day or two and several floss changes before the water is clear.
Crushed coral. If you're planning to keep saltwater or brackish-water turtles, then crushed coral is another good substrate. It can also be used as a partial substrate (that is, mixed in with another substrate) in a freshwater habitat if you live in a place where the pH of your tap water is <u>always</u> low. The calcium will leach out of the coral and raise the pH of the water, as well as help buffer it to keep the pH more stable in the future. Crushed coral is not a very good substrate for rooted plants, though.
You can also use crushed coral as a filter medium to correct low pH conditions, which usually is a better solution to low pH than mixing it with the substrate, especially if the low pH problem is temporary. It's easier to change the filter media than it is to change the substrate.
Other Things You'll Need
In addition to the above, there are other accessories you'll need for your turtle habitat, like a heater (or better yet, two heaters in case one stops working) to heat the water, thermometers to measure the temperature, a stand for the tank or habitat, and lights and a way to attach them.
All of these things can be purchased at Amazon, at pet shops that sell aquarium and reptile supplies, or on eBay; and some of them (like the stand) can be home-made or improvised.
You can find all kinds turtle supplies at Amazon. That's where I buy most of the things I need for my turtles. I also buy a lot of turtle supplies on eBay. Part of the reason is because I live in the country far away from any pet supply stores, but the other reason is because Amazon has a wide selection and fair prices.
Please read the pages about heat, lighting, and water quality before setting up your turtle's habitat. If you're planning to include live plants, also read our plants page. And remember: This is a hobby, so it's supposed to be fun. Take your time and build a habitat that your turtle will love and that you will be proud of.
The dilemma of what size of red eared slider tank to get is one that plagues every new turtle owner. Let’s face it; pet stores are looking to make a quick buck in the most efficient way possible. To that end, they are going to try to sell you a moderately-priced tank that appears to be of the appropriate size for your turtle. Unfortunately, what you are going to get probably won’t be anywhere near big enough. The guys at the pet store know you’re not going to buy a turtle if they tell you that you need a giant tank, so they’re trying to get you out the door with a nice and neat little kit to go with your turtle. Rest assured, however, that it won’t be enough.
The general rule when it comes to determine the size of red eared slider tanks is that you need 10 gallons of water for every 1 inch of turtle. So yes, that means a full-grown 12-inch slider will need a 120 gallon tank. Don’t forget that turtles are very messy and have to drink and swim in the water that they eat and expel waste in. A filter is great, but only this large amount of water will allow the waste to be diluted enough to make the water healthy. While this doesn’t mean that you have to have a 120-gallon aquarium when you first get your little 4-inch slider, it is optimal and eventually you are going to have to upgrade. The very minimum you should have with a 4-inch youngster is a 30-gallon tank. Bigger, of course, is better and will give you more time to get a larger tank while planning ahead.
Although sliders are decent climbers, your red eared slider tank should be of the “long” variety, rather than “tall.” A long tank will better accommodate the fairly shallow water that you will have in it. A tall, deep tank will end up being too short and just have a lot of wasted space at the top. You should have some sort of screen at the top to keep your slider in and to keep unwanted things (other pets, children, etc.) out. Even if you’ve never seen the different varieties of tanks, you should have no trouble discerning which is which. Tall, deep tanks are not as common as long tanks and stand out like a sore thumb. Long tanks are the kinds you see every time you go to a pet store or visit someone who has a fish aquarium in their home, in general.
Proper red ear slider tank size is the basis for a healthy and happy pet!
Recommended: TetraFauna Viquarium For Red Eared Slider Turtle
Tank tall turtle
How to Set up a Tank for Your Red-Eared Slider Turtle
In their natural habitats, red-eared slider turtles are semi-aquatic, meaning they spend a good deal of their time in the water, but also spend a significant amount of time basking in the sun. While this basking may look like the turtle is just lounging around, it's actually important for the animal's health.
When kept as a pet, a red-eared slider needs a tank that is large enough to provide both water for swimming and an area where it can dry off and enjoy the sun. When cared for properly in the right tank environment, red-eared sliders can live a long time (over 30 years!) and be very entertaining pets.
Before You Begin
Plan on a tank size of 10 gallons of water per inch of the turtle as a general rule of thumb, with a minimum size of a 20-gallon for hatchling red-eared sliders. Keep in mind that red-eared sliders can grow to be 10 to 12 inches as adults, so it's likely that you'll eventually need a very large tank.
What You Need
Gather a few supplies to set up a tank for your red-eared slider:
- 20-gallon aquarium or plastic container (minimum size for a young turtle, adults may need 40 gallons or larger)
- Basking area supplies such as rocks, stones, or a plastic floating shelf
- Heat light and ultraviolet light
- Good quality aquarium water filter
Large plastic containers or storage tubs are good alternatives to aquariums as long as you don't mind being unable to view the turtles from the side. You won't need a lid if the container is tall enough and the basking area is positioned so that the turtles can't climb out.
Fill the Tank With Water
Red-eared sliders need an adequate amount of water in which to swim. At a minimum, the water should be about twice as deep as your turtle is long—a 4-inch turtle should have a minimum water depth of 6-8 inches.
Red-eared sliders are strong swimmers, so you don't need to worry about drowning as long as the turtle can get out of the water and there is no place it can get trapped underwater.
Create a Basking Area
The basking area for your turtle can be provided by stacking smooth rocks and sloping large smooth gravel to one side to make a land area. You could also use wood or a plastic "turtle dock." Whatever you choose to construct a basking spot, make sure your turtle can climb onto it easily and that it allows your turtle to completely dry off.
Add Tank Decorations
When designing a tank, it's a good idea to keep it uncluttered and easy to clean. Remember that turtles can knock things over and push stuff around. Plants may be a nice aesthetic touch, but turtles are likely to make a snack of them or uproot them. Plastic plants will likely be dug up and just make cleaning more difficult.
The best tank accessories for a red-eared slider are larger rocks and stones, and driftwood. If using driftwood, make sure to purchase it from a pet supplies store rather than using driftwood you find on the beach. The kind sold in the store is parasite free and will not harm your turtle.
Maintain Tank Heat
The water in a red-eared slider turtle tank should be kept at about 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit, and up to 80 F for hatchlings. The daytime ambient air temperature in the tank should be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a basking spot between 90 and 95 F over the land area of the tank. The basking spot lighting can be turned off at night and the air temperature can drop down to as low as 60 F.
A submersible aquarium water heater can be used to keep the water warm if necessary. Glass aquarium heaters may become damaged by large turtles and could cause a potentially lethal situation if it heats up the water up too much.
You can protect the heater so the turtles can't bump it by placing it behind something (a brick is one idea) or by fashioning some sort of cover (a piece of PVC pipe could be used). Be sure to install a good aquarium thermometer and monitor the water temperature.
Provide a reptile heat lamp over the basking area to keep your turtle warm when it gets out of the water. A reptile bulb/heat lamp in a reflective lamp can serve this purpose, but make sure there's no way the turtle can touch the light or that the light can fall into the water. Use a thermometer to check the surface of the basking site to be sure it is reaching the correct temperature. The basking light will help heat the air in the tank as well.
Install an Ultraviolet Light
In addition to the basking light for heat, provide a full spectrum reptile Ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light. Exposure to UVA/UVB is necessary for proper calcium metabolism and also appears to have other benefits to overall health such as improving appetite. It is also nice to take your turtle out into the natural sunlight in warmer weather if you can. Just be sure it can't escape or become overheated when in the sun!
Get a proper reptile UVA/UVB bulb and follow the manufacturer's guide regarding placement of the bulb. UV rays diminish with distance from the bulb, so it's important to place the bulb where the turtle can be close to benefit best. Replace the bulb as recommended by the manufacturer, since the intensity of UV produced diminishes over time. If your turtle lives outside, this light is not necessary.
Cleaning the Tank
Between feeding and defecating, turtles are pretty messy creatures. Your turtle tank should include a good filtration system such as a power filter or canister filter to keep the water clean. Choose a filter rated for at least double the volume of water you will be filtering since turtles are such messy pets. Filtration will reduce the frequency of water changes but your turtles will still require 25 percent water changes weekly and a thorough cleaning once a month or more.
Preventing Problems During Tank Setup
Avoiding common problems during tank setup will help your turtle stay healthy and prevent issues in the future.
- Keep in mind that if you want to use gravel in your tank, it can make the tank harder to clean. Additionally, you must make sure the pebbles are large enough that they won't be accidentally swallowed by your red-eared slider.
- The most common mistake when it comes to creating a habitat for your turtle is using a tank that is too small. Double check your turtle's measurements and make sure there's enough room for them in the tank. If you're unsure what size tank to purchase, err on the side of giving your pet extra space.
- To help minimize mess, feed your turtle in a separate container to reduce the workload on the filtration system.
- If decorating with driftwood, be aware that it can sometimes turn the water brown. In order to avoid discoloration, soak your driftwood in a separate bucket of water for several days before adding it to your turtle's tank. Adding a carbon media to your filter will also help keep the water clear, but the carbon needs to be replaced periodically, usually once a month.
If you are thinking about adopting a pet turtle, you may be wondering what size tank do you need? How do you set it up? What makes a good tank?
Turtles need a properly sized tank that is well-lit, heated, filtered and clean. It is important to provide them with the best aquarium possible to keep them healthy and happy.
There is a lot of conflicting information about turtle tanks. So we made a complete guide covering: buying, setting up, and maintaining one.
Continue reading for reviews, setup tips and beginner mistakes.
Table of Contents
All About Turtle Tanks
Many pet turtles (e.g. painted turtles, sliders, and map turtles) are semi-aquatic. This means they need an area for swimming and a land area for basking and resting.
For turtles who love to swim their tank must be:
- Deep enough for your turtle to submerge and swim.
- Strong enough to hold 55 gallons of water.
- Be a top-open enclosure to stop water from leaking out.
Land loving species that do not swim (e.g. box turtles) can live in a front-open aquarium.
Fish tanks and purpose-built reptile tanks are suitable for keeping turtles, as long as they are fitted with lights, filtration, and have enough land area.
A turtle tank can be glass or acrylic. The material will normally depend on your budget and preference. Acrylic is lighter than glass, but it is more expensive and easier to damage. Glass is heavier, sturdier, cheaper and more widely available.
Any tank should have a screen top or no top (if the sides are high enough to prevent escapes). This will let air circulate and it also maximizes heat and light exposure for basking, though it will also increase the rate of evaporation.
Tanks are generally the most expensive part of an enclosure. It is a good idea to pick a sturdy, functional, and appropriately sized one from the start.
What Size Tank Do I Need For A Turtle?
Turtles are active reptiles and need a lot of space. Pet turtles normally need a tank size of 55 to 100-gallons depending on their species. A good rule of thumb is to buy a tank that has 10 gallons for every inch of your turtle’s shell length.
Some pet turtle can grow over 10 inches long and so will need tanks over 100-gallons:
|Turtle Species||Tank Size|
|Yellow Bellied Slider||100-gallon|
Male map turtles reach no more than seven inches, while females can grow to ten inches. An 80-gallon tank is a good choice.
Painted species are one of the smaller species of turtle and only grow to five or six inches. A 55-gallon tank will work for single, mid-sized painted individuals.
Box Turtles are terrestrial so do not need a swimming area. Also, they only grow to a maximum of seven inches. They can live happily in a 70-gallon aquarium that is longer than it is tall.
Both yellow-bellied and red eared sliders can grow to 12 inches long. Most get to 10 inches, so they’ll need at least a 100-gallon tank.
Turtles can be kept in all-female groups, though it is generally best to keep them on their own.
What Size Tank Do I Need For 2 Turtles?
The rule of 10 gallons per inch of shell only works for one turtle. For each turtle added to an enclosure, increase the tank’s surface area by at least another square foot. For example, one 7-inch spotted turtle can live in a 40.5” x 32” x 24” tank. Two should be kept in at least a 52.5” x 44” x 24”. In general, bigger is better.
They will happily use as much space as you give them.
Smaller aquariums limit the range of natural behaviors your pet can express. They also become dirtier faster which leads to a higher risk of stress and illness.
Best Turtle Tanks
Best for Beginners: Tetra 55-Gallon Turtle Aquarium Kit
This Tetra 55-Gallon Turtle Aquarium Kit is a glass tank that is solid and heavy. It will not warp over time and is resistant to scratching. As a standard rectangular aquarium, it is not seamless, but the glass is clear enough that seeing the corners is not a major drawback.
One of the best features is its double hinged top. This allows you to clean, reach your turtle, or replace food and water without having to open or remove the entire top. You can also place lights on one side of the tank and keep the other side closed to minimize evaporation.
Along with the tank, this kit comes with a 200-watt heater, a thermometer, pump, and water conditioners.
Except for the pump (which is too weak for a turtle) all the other extras are excellent additions to any turtle setup.
- Comes with all the extra equipment to get started.
- Double hinged hood lets you open one side at a time.
- Glass is strong and will not scratch or warp.
- Editor’s choice for best beginner tank.
- Heavier than acrylic.
- The included pump is not strong enough for a turtle.
Shop Tanks on Amazon
Best Overall Tank: SC Aquariums 150-Gallon Turtle Tank
SC Aquariums 150-Gallon Turtle Tank
Your turtle will love the size of this tank! The SC Aquarium is strong, attractive, and well built. It is a good size for any large turtle, but would also work great for 2-3 members of a smaller species like bog or spotted turtles.
See Price on Amazon
This SC Aquariums 150-Gallon Turtle Tank is a fantastic model that measures 60” x 24” x 24”.
It is built with 12 millimeter thick glass for durability. Although thick, the glass is clear and we had no complaints about its ease of cleaning or aesthetic quality.
We highly recommend this tank for reptile owners who want to provide their turtles with a spacious enclosure for diving, swimming, and basking.
There is also a built-in overflow box and plumbing for an aquarium pump. This extra room is perfect for creating a more complex setup.
This aquarium has an open top which is perfect for a turtle setup. It lets you easily hang lights and heaters above the tank.
The back is covered with a black vinyl sheet. This is a nice, minimalistic backdrop. Alternatively, it can easily be removed and replaced as it isn’t glued. Some owners prefer all four sides clear.
- Huge tank that is perfect for one large turtle or several smaller species.
- Built-in overflow box and plumbing for connection to an aquarium pump.
- Strong, attractive design with thick 12mm glass.
- Very heavy both empty and filled so it needs a very strong stand.
- Overflow box and plumbing may be confusing for first time keepers.
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Runner-Up: Landen Rimless 60-Gallon Turtle Tank
This Landen Rimless 60-Gallon Turtle Tank has a seamless design with four clear, 10 millimeter glass walls.
The enclosure measures 35.4” x 19.7” x 19.7” but seems much larger due to its lack of visible seams. The corners line up perfectly with each other and bring out décor in the aquarium. The depth of this tank provides plenty of room for substrate and plants.
Because this tank requires you to set up all the equipment yourself, some people may not its simplicity. But, we found it provides a solid base to get creative with.
The glass holds up well against a turtle’s scratching and is highly resistant to gouges or nicks. The clarity of the glass is the best out of all the tanks we reviewed.
- Extremely clear glass on all sides and no visible seams.
- Thick sides are resistant to scratching, gouges or nicks.
- A great size for most adult turtle species.
- Does not come with any equipment (e.g. top or stand).
Shop Tanks on Amazon
Turtles need proper lighting, heating and filtration. Any equipment installed in their tank should be functioning properly before adding your turtle. For a tank that is already cycled, or a terrestrial enclosure, wait three days after installing the equipment before adding your turtle.
- UVB light.
- Full spectrum basking light.
- Floating islands, bridges or a land area.
- Aquarium heater.
- Aquarium pump and filter.
To properly grow and strengthen their shells turtles need to metabolize lots of calcium. This is similar to most pet reptiles (leopard geckos are a good example).
Turtles that have access to a UVB light have higher levels of vitamin D in their blood. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium. Because of this, they are less likely to develop shell infections and metabolic bone disease. As most UVB bulbs do not put off much heat a basking bulb is also needed.
Basking bulbs are high-powered light bulb that provide a “hot spot” for basking.
Aquatic turtles will spend most of their time swimming. But, they do come out of the water to rest, eat and bask. Most turtles will bask for several hours each day to keep their body temperature of 82°F.
Since they cannot bask in the water, you will need to add “floating islands”, bridges or a land area in the tank. This land area should be positioned under both light bulbs and large enough for you turtle to fully come out of the water.
Just as turtles need warm air temperatures, they also need warm water temperatures.
Basking bulbs are great for heating air, but not water. You will need an aquarium heater too.
The aquarium heater should be strong enough to keep your turtle’s swimming water between 78-82°F. Heaters must also be secured to the side or bottom of the tank to prevent them from being dislodged by a swimming turtle.
Finally, turtles create a lot of waste for their size.
You will need a powerful aquarium pump and filter to clean and circulate water.
Turtles are messier than most fish. We recommend using a filter that is at least twice the size of your turtle’s tank. A 100-gallon filter is a good choice for a 50-gallon tank.
Now that you have an idea of the size, equipment and tank style, you can start thinking about décor. This is the most fun and flexible part of preparing a turtle tank. There are so many ways to do it!
If you are looking for setup ideas, check out ours below. Slider Setup Sliders, like most species of turtles, need deep water to swim. Rocks or gravel can be used as a substrate, though many owners prefer to use no substrate for easier cleaning.
Aquatic plants can still be used in pots, though they may be chewed on. Java ferns, anubias, and anacharis are great additions that add a natural flair to the enclosure.
The terrestrial part of their tank is not as important as the water section. The land section can be cork, driftwood or a plastic turtle island. Box Turtle Setup While most pet turtles are aquatic, box turtles are not. They do not need to swim and are happy with a wide, shallow water bowl.
Making a natural-looking box turtle setup is simple.
Organic topsoil and leaf litter are excellent substrates (provided anything taken from outdoors is sterilized).
Non-toxic houseplants like hostas, ferns, and spider plants mimic a turtle’s native forest environment. Finally, use hollow logs, woven branches, or baskets to create hiding spaces.
How To Set Up A Turtle Tank
- If you are using any underwater décor or substrate, add this first.
- Fill the tank with tap water deep enough water level to allow diving. This should be about twice as deep as the shell is long.
- Use a fish-friendly dechlorinate to remove chlorine and chloramines from tap water after filling.
- Add the equipment: floating island, aquarium heater, and pump and filter.
- After the pump and heater are up and running, the next step is to cycle the tank (see guide below).
- While the water is cycling, install the lights and basking bulb.
- Monitor the air and water temperatures and ensure they remain consistently within target temperatures.
- After your tank is cycled, add your turtle.
- Observe them carefully for the first few days to monitor for any health problems.
Cycling is a process where bacteria break down toxic ammonia from a turtle’s waste. This ammonia is turned into nitrite and then nitrate, which is much less toxic.
To start cycling, add a small amount of turtle food to the water. You will need to use an aquarium testing kit to monitor the levels of ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites in the tank once a day.
After a few days to two weeks, you should see a big spike in ammonia levels, followed by a spike in nitrates. This is a sign that the bacteria are beginning to grow in the filter and break down the waste. After a period of several weeks, the ammonia and nitrate levels should decrease to zero.
Once your tank is cycled it should remain below the following targets for five days:
- Ammonia should be at 0 parts per million.
- Nitrites below 0.5 parts per million.
- Nitrates below 40 parts per million.
Cycling a large enclosure takes time and patience, but it is necessary for the health of your reptile.
How To Clean A Turtle Tank
A common myth with turtle aquariums is that you do not need to clean them if you use an aquarium filter. This is false! A filter will help to keep the water clean from day to day, but they still need to be cleaned.
Cloudy water is a sign of a dirty tank. Dirty tanks can introduce harmful bacteria to your turtle. This not only bad for their health, but it also increases the risk of salmonella transmission between your pet and you.
Doing regular water changes, removing uneaten food, and using a powerful pump will keep a turtle’s water clear.
Once you get into the habit of cleaning your turtle’s tank, you will find that it is easy. Each Day Remove any uneaten food, empty and refill the water bowl (if applicable) and scoop out any visible waste. Each Week Replace 25% of your aquatic turtle’s water with tap water treated with a water conditioner. This is also a good time to test ammonia and nitrite levels in the water. Each Month Deep clean you turtle’s tank. This is a more involved process that involves cleaning everything in the aquarium and replacing the pump filter.
Do not rinse the filter media with fresh water or soap, as this will kill off the beneficial bacteria. If you are using a strong enough pump, you should only need to fully replace the filter every 3-4 months.
Take out all rocks and décor and wash them with white vinegar or a 1:10 solution of bleach and water.
The three most widespread problems with turtle tanks are:
- Using an aquarium that is too small.
- Not cleaning regularly.
- Using a reptile terrarium not meant for turtles.
Turtles need more space than other similarly sized pet snakes or lizards. The bigger the tank, the healthier they will be. Remember to provide at least 10 gallons of water per inch of turtle shell.
Just as a small tank accumulates waste quickly, not cleaning it will cause a build-up of toxic ammonia and nitrites, even if the tank is cycled properly.
A dirty tank will have cloudy water and a film developing on the surface.
Finally, some first-time owners assume that all reptile tanks are suitable. This may be true for some terrestrial species, but most need an enclosure that can hold water.
Many reptile terrariums are too small for adult species and are also not completely watertight. This is why most turtle owners prefer to house them in fish tanks. Can Turtles Be Kept In A Fish Tank? Yes, turtles can be kept in a fish tank.
A fish tank is a great choice, provided it has all the necessary heating, lighting, and basking elements.
Keep in mind that aquatic turtles are omnivores and will eat most fish they live with. Is It Okay To Put Gravel In A Turtle Tank? Putting gravel in a turtle comes with a risk. Some individuals may accidentally ingest gravel while feeding or swimming, which can cause a blockage in their gastrointestinal tract.
If you do use gravel, use pieces that are too large to fit in their mouth.
Turtles make excellent and fun pets for anyone who is willing to put in the work to care for them.
Keeping a turtle is a rewarding experience, but they need a large tank.
They should have a tank that is 10 gallons per inch of shell length. You will need to add an extra 1-square-foot of surface area per extra individual added. With enclosures, it is better to go bigger than smaller.
Aquatic species especially are messy pets. Their tanks will need regular cleaning.
You will need to perform weekly partial water changes as well as a monthly deep-clean of the entire aquarium. To help keep the water clear, cycle the water prior to adding your turtle and invest in a powerful filter. Ready to set up your own turtle tank? Let us know in the comments!
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The Best Tank for a Red-eared Slider
Aquatic turtles need big tanks with lots of water. In this quick article, you’ll learn how to find the best red-eared slider tank for you.
This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my links, at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Red-eared sliders are excellent pet turtles. They’re tough, personable, and extremely popular.
But you need to know how to house them properly.
Best indoor setup for a red eared slider turtle
The best indoor setup for a red eared slider must include a proper tank. I have seen so many people make so many basic mistakes with these turtles that I felt I just needed to write this article.
In my opinion, the best red-eared slider tank for most people is going to be a glass aquarium. It will look nice, be easier to install your turtle tank filter, basking spot, etc. and will save you a little bit of space versus a stock tank.
Red-Eared Slider Tank Size
I’ll get straight to the point here. A Red-Eared Slider tank size should ALWAYS be very large.
Now, I know this doesn’t tell you exactly how big your tank needs to be, so instead, I want you to follow a simple rule.
You should have at least 10 gallons of water for every 1 inch of shell length, measured vertically. So, if your red-eared slider’s shell is 6 inches long, the tank size of your red-eared slider should be at least 60 gallons of water.
In my opinion, it’s best to simply get the biggest tank you can afford as soon as possible. Even if your turtle is still a hatchling. It doesn’t take long for a red eared slider baby to grow to their full-size.
That means you should be looking at large turtle tanks, around 80-100 gallons.
If you have one red-eared slider, I don’t recommend anything smaller than a 55-gallon turtle tank.
Red Eared Slider Turtle Tank
Below are some great options for buying big Red Eared Slider Turtle Tanks.
55 Gallon Turtle Tank
If you are looking for a 55 gallon turtle tank, you have two options. You can either buy the tank by itself, which ranges from $75-$90, or you can buy the 55 gallon aquarium kit for $229. The kit comes with a bunch of turtle tank essentials including a LED low profile hood, quiet flow power filter, submersible heater, water conditioner, and a setup guide. You can click on the photos below for more info.
75 Gallon Turtle Tank
You can buy this 75 Gallon Turtle Tank from Petco. You can order it online and have it shipped to you, or you can pick it up at a nearby store.
120 Gallon Turtle Tank
The only 120 gallon turtle tank for sale online is from Amazon. The tank is made from Starfire glass, which does a better job of controlling temperature inside your tank.
150 Gallon Turtle Tank
If you want to go really big, you can check out this 150 Gallon Turtle Tank from Amazon.
There’s another reason you need to get a large turtle tank.
Your tank needs to be filled with enough water so that your turtle will not drown.
This means that there needs to be enough water in the tank so that your red-eared slider can rotate 360 degrees, while still being totally submerged in the water.
Believe it or not, red-eared sliders can sometimes drown. This can happen if they get stuck in the water. This usually happens in 1 of 2 ways:
- The turtle gets caught in or under something, like a pipe or stone.
- The turtle gets stuck after flipping, under a few inches of water and can’t flip back over.
If you are looking for the best food for your Red Eared Slider, I recommend the Freeze Dried Shrimp & Mealworms for Aquatic Turtle.
So, know that you know that red-eared sliders need large tanks, you need to know what you need for a basking platform, as well as what type of tank you should get.
Best basking spot for Red Eared Sliders
Below are the 3 essentials for a red eared slider basking area. You need to have a basking platform, light, and replacement bulbs. All three of these products cost around $20.
Red Eared Slider Tank
When it comes to a Red Eared Slider Tank, I recommend one of the two tanks:
- Glass aquariums.
- Stock tanks.
Each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
Glass Turtle Tanks
I love traditional glass aquariums. They have a few key advantages, in that they are:
- A lot more pleasing to look at. You can also easily see what your turtle is doing.
- Easier to set-up equipment in. This is because most equipment is built with glass tanks in mind.
- Available in a variety of sizes AND shapes.
Glass red-eared slider tanks are a good option if you are looking for something pleasing to look at and easy to setup equipment in.
My Recommendations for Glass Red-eared Slider Tanks
I have done a bit of searching and tried to find some good, well-reviewed glass tanks that are not going to cost you your entire paycheck. If you’re looking at glass tanks, check out and see if some of these are up your alley:
- Tetra 55 Gallon Turtle Tank– It might get a little cramped inside. However, if you’ve just got one and you want to go with a bare-bottom (no substrate), this will definitely suffice. It’s super affordable, reliable, and best of all, has really good dimensions for a red-eared slider environment as its a wide and shallow rather than deep.
- 90 Gallon Seapora Turtle Tank (click to learn more on Amazon) – To be honest, I don’t have any personal experience with Seapora products. However, if you are looking for something a little bit bigger than the smaller 55-gallon tanks, but not as large as the 100 gallons, this could fit the bill. It’s pretty inexpensive for a 90-gallon tank and has really good dimensions for a turtle environment (48 inches long by 24 inches wide by 16 inches tall).
With traditional glass tanks, your options are more plentiful. Besides coming in a lot more sizes, literally from a single gallon all the way up to 400 or more gallons, you’ve got a lot of options with regard to shape, as well.
Besides a good-looking red-eared slider turtle tank set-up is absolutely amazing to look at.
Most aquarium equipment, such as filters, water heaters, and more, are built with these types of tanks in mind.
Another great advantage of glass tanks is that you can put in ornaments and make your turtle tank a special theme. If you are into Star Wars, I recommend checking out this star wars aquarium decor.
Disadvantages of Glass Tanks
With every advantage comes a disadvantage. And with these kinds of tanks, there is a big one; price.
The bigger your tank, the more you are going to pay the big bucks. These tanks can easily cost hundreds of dollars, with some going well over $1,000.
If you are dead-set on getting a tank but a little cash-strapped I would suggest checking out second-hand goods websites such as Craigslist to see if anyone is selling one for a decent price. You can usually get them quite a bit cheaper that way.
Otherwise, you’re probably going to end up shelling out at least a few hundred bucks on a tank.
The other big disadvantage with these tanks is that they can break easily during shipping.
Now, when they are all set-up, in a stable, good location they are quite reliable and safe.
Rubbermaid Turtle Tanks
The other type of red-eared slider tank I would recommend is something called a stock tank. More specifically, I would recommend looking at stock tanks made by Rubbermaid.
They aren’t necessarily pretty, but stock tanks are durable, super-easy to clean, and deep enough for your turtles to swim in.
Rubbermaid tanks (click to learn more on Amazon) also have a lot of advantages. For example, they are:
- Good quality, durable and will not smash easily like a glass tank.
- Easy to drain water out of.
- Available in a variety of sizes, from 50 gallons all the way up to 300.
- Deep and wide, giving your turtles a lot of space to swim.
Rubbermaid stock tanks are a good option if you are looking for something super durable and tough. If looks aren’t particularly important to you, and you simply want something comfortable for the turtles, these things rock. In my experience, they are also easier to clean.
They come in a variety of sizes: 50, 70, 100, 150, and 300 gallons. I would probably not opt for the 50-gallon stock tank simply because it is not deep enough, at around 12 inches.
The build quality on these is very good. They are thick, tough, and built to last. They are nearly indestructible.
Another useful feature of these tubs is the conveniently placed oversized drain plug, which lets you quickly drain water for changes and cleanings.
Drawbacks of Rubbermaid Stock Tanks
There are a few drawbacks to stock tanks.
- Firstly, they aren’t exactly eye-pleasing! If you are thinking of placing your tank in an area of your house which often receives guests, such as your living room, it’s probably going to be a bit of an eye-sore. These tubs are generally better suited for basements or a place away from high-traffic areas.
- Secondly, you will need to do a little bit more work in terms of outfitting the tank with all the necessary gear your red-eared slider needs. I’m talking about things such as a water heater, filter, UV lamp, basking area, etc. Most equipment is built with glass aquariums in mind.
In particular, the basking area might be problematic for you if you aren’t good at building or custom designing things yourself. You will basically be limited to a dock that you will need to create yourself.
Whether you have a glass or plastic tub tank, you can always add some plants to your turtle’s ecosystem. To learn more, check out my article on turtle safe plants.
The Best Indoor Setup for a
Red-eared Slider Turtle
If you want to properly care for a red-eared slider, you need to know that these animals need to be in lots of water!
In fact, the typical red-eared slider will live around most of its life swimming, floating, eating, and sleeping in water. The remainder of its time is usually spent basking in a warm spot somewhere.
It is crucial that the red-eared slider turtle tank you setup prioritize water. I have seen so many photos of friends’ and family members’ red-eared sliders where the aquarium is just too small or there isn’t enough water.
Overall, the choice that you make should depend on what are the most important factors for you.
- Easier to drain and clean.
- Much more durable.
- Much deeper and wider than most tanks, allowing your sliders to have a bigger swimming area.
- Not really pleasing to look at.
- They will require a bit of handy work in order to install things.
- Much more pleasing to look at.
- Easier to hook up equipment with, and fit things like basking tanks with no modifications.
- Come in a variety of sizes and shapes.
- More expensive.
- Much easier to break.
If you are interested in the diet of a Red Eared Slider, check out my article on Red Eared Slider Food.