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Aquatic turtles are found throughout the world. Many of them are very suitable pets. They are long-lived pets who will learn to recognize their owners and respond to them. Red-eared sliders, map turtles, mud and musk turtles, and many other species are U.S. natives that are commonly available in the pet trade. Most aquatic turtles require a large aquarium and a lot of equipment by the time they are adults. Carefully consider whether or not you can meet a turtles needs before you purchase one.


Zeigler Monster Diets for aquatic turtles are designed to be a complete balanced diet for your turtle. This is a good staple diet for your pet. It can be fed daily for small turtles, and two or three times a week for larger turtles. Use caution when feeding your turtles, as overfeeding will foul the water and can be detrimental to your pet's health. Zeigler Monster Diets for turtles are floating pellets; if any of them are sitting in the tank long enough to sink, you have overfed the turtle. You should only feed as much as your turtle can eat in a few minutes.

As a treat, depending upon the species, you can offer live feeder fish, insects, crayfish, or dark green leafy vegetables. Most turtles will especially relish a treat of bunched aquarium plants, such as Anachris.

If you give your turtles treat foods, make sure it does not become a significant part of your pet's diet. Zeigler Monster Diets are designed to be fed as an exclusive diet, and if they get too many 'treat' foods their primary diet may not be nutritionally complete. Treats for your turtles should not make up more than 10% of their diet.


Most aquatic turtles require a lot of room. The cute, quarter-sized hatchling sliders that are sometimes available will grow into a ten inch turtle that will require a three to four foot aquarium. Be prepared for this if you purchase a hatchling turtle.

Water depth is very important. The water should be deeper than the width of the turtles shell. This will prevent them from drowning if they end up on their back in the water.

Hatchling turtles can live in a ten gallon aquarium. As they get larger, around 3-4", they should be moved into an aquarium of at least 20 or 30 gallons. As adults, most commonly available turtles will live in a 55 gallon aquarium, but larger species will require even more room than this.

Baby pools are excellent for raising turtles, either outdoors or indoors. Outdoor enclosures should be covered, as raccoons, opossums, dogs, etc. will happily make meals out of turtles. In southern states, turtles can be kept outdoors through most of the year. In northern states, the same baby pools can be moved into a basement during the cooler months.

Required Equipment

Aquatic turtles will require a semi-aquatic tank set-up, heating, lighting and filtration equipment.

Almost all aquatic turtles are basking animals. The aquarium must have a dry spot for the turtles to bask. This can be accomplished with a pile of rocks, a secured piece of cork bark, or with a tank divider siliconed into place to create a land area. The critical aspect is that the turtles need to be able to climb completely out of the water. If they cannot completely dry out they are prone to fungal infections.

A basking light is important for your turtles health. You should provide a basking light with appropriate wattage to create a hot spot of around 90-95� F. Make sure that the wattage is not so high that the entire tank overheats. Additionally, you may need to provide a submersible aquarium heater if the water temperature falls below approximately 75� F.

Full spectrum fluorescent lighting is also very important for basking turtles. There are numerous brands of full spectrum bulbs designed to meet the needs of basking reptiles. Choose a bulb that will provide UVB light for your pet. Check with a local pet store for their recommendations.

Filtration is essential to maintain proper water quality. Turtles produce a lot of waste. You may be able to keep up with small turtles in a small aquarium by changing the water every other day or so, but you will get much more enjoyment out of your turtles if you provide a good filtration system. Internal canister filters are excellent for turtle tanks. Because turtles create much more waste relative to fish, buy a filter larger than what would be recommended for fish in the same volume of water. As a very rough guideline, the filter's gallon per hour capacity should be at least ten times the volume of the tank. For example, a filter for a ten gallon tank should have a capacity of at least 100 gallons per hour, and 200 gallons per hour would be even better.

Tank decorations are the final bit of equipment to consider. Live or artificial plants are good tank decorations. Generally, live plants should do well with the sort of lighting that you will be providing for a turtle. They will, however, be eaten by many turtle species. If you put a lot of plants in a large tank with only one or two turtles, the plants may grow faster than they will be eaten. Hatchling turtles are less likely to eat all of your plants. Floating plants work very well in most turtle tanks. Artificial plants will also work well with turtles.


Standard aquarium gravel is appropriate for most turtles. Washed play sand is needed for soft-shell turtles, as they like to burrow into the substrate. Use a thin layer of gravel to avoid trapping a lot of waste products.

Species Notes

Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta): These are the most commonly available turtles. They are very colorful and very personable. They quickly learn to recognize their owners, and are very responsive. They make good pets, but be aware that their adult size is around 10", and they will require a lot of room as adults. They are omnivores, but are generally more carnivorous as juveniles, shifting to a more herbivorous diet as adults.

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta): Painted turtles are similar to sliders, but are generally a little more shy, especially in outdoor ponds. Their care is essentially the same as for sliders.

Map Turtles (Graptemys sp.): Map turtles are another group that can be more shy. They tend to feed heavily on crustaceans in the wild, and will relish crawfish as a treat.

Mud and Musk Turtles: These turtles are highly aquatic, and rarely bask. Their diet is more carnivorous than many species. While they are less colorful than many of the basking species, they do have the advantage that they are much smaller, so they are easier to house. They can live in a 20 gallon aquarium without any problems.

Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina): Snapping turtles are very large species that are not appropriate pets for most people. They can get up to nearly 20" in length with a weight of over 50 pounds. The related alligator snapper can get even larger. They do well in outdoor ponds, but it is rare that they can be appropriately housed indoors. They rarely bask, and are relatively easy to keep, although they do create a lot of waste matter. Their diet is more carnivorous than most other common species.

Side-necked Turtles (Family Pelomedusidae, Chelida): This is a very diverse group of turtles, with many different life styles.& African side-necks (Pelusios and Pelomedusa) are the most commonly seen species. These are highly carnivorous species, and should not be mixed with other species of turtles as they are known to eat them out of their shells. Other species are available from time to time, but it is difficult to make generalizations as to their care. Check the references for further information.


Gurley, R. Keeping and Breeding Freshwater Turtles. 2003.

For many natural history and reptile related references, check with www.zoobooksales.com

For help in finding a reptile veterinarian, check with the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians, at www.arav.org


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