Aquatic turtles can be found in or near water all over the world and make wonderful pets. Most aquatic turtles will leave the water to bask on dry land, but spend most of their time in the water. Aquatic turtles can in groups, and with larger fish (they’ll eat small fish). These guys are strong swimmers and need an aquarium that’s at least 55 gallons in volume.

4 things to know about aquatic turtles
  • Experience: Beginner
  • Size: They grow about 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) long
  • Lifespan: Turtles live as long as 15 to 25 years
  • Habitat: Turtles live in semi-aquatic environments
How do I handle my turtle?

Prior to handling your new turtle, give them 3-4 days to adjust to their new environment. Once accustomed, lift them at the midsection, not by the legs. Keep an eye on kids around your turtle, and always wash your hands before and after handling your turtle.

Diet

A well-balanced aquatic turtle diet consists of:

  • Aquatic turtles need a pelleted commercial diet.
  • Commercial turtle treats and freeze-dried krill may be given as treats.
  • Painted wood, map and red ear – Dark, leafy green veggies and finely chopped vegetables. They also benefit from comet goldfish, earthworms and insects as treats.
Aquarium

Aquatic turtles need an aquarium that’s at least 55 gallons in volume. Use a larger aquarium for multiple pets. It should have a screened lid and a filter. Line the aquarium with gravel, which you can vacuum clean.

  • Substrate – Slate, rock or gravel that is too large to eat is optional; water for swimming area; some aquatic turtles require a shallow area they can rest in the water with their head sticking out and they all require a turtle dock area to bask out of the water. Create basking areas for easy entry and exit to water.
  • Temperature – Temperature gradient (95°F for the warm end/basking area and 75°F for the cool end/water).
Heating and lighting

Your turtle’s habitat should have two thermometers (one for water temperature and another for the dry side of the tank).

  • Hang a heat bulb over the dry side of the habitat if tank temperature dips below 70 F overnight, you’ll want to get a night-specific heat lamp for your reptile friend.
  • Use an underwater heater to maintain water temperature.

These are the best temperature ranges for turtles:

  • Water temperature should be kept between 72 and 77 F (22 to 25 C) day and night
  • The wet side of your turtle’s habitat should be kept at 75 to 85 F (24 to 29 C)
  • The dry side with a basking spot should be 85 to 90 F (29 to 32 C)
  • At night, when the basking light is turned off, the temperature inside the tank should remain 65 to 75 F (18 to 24 C)

Lighting

  • Aquatic turtles are most active during the day. If you keep them away from daylight, light their home with a UVA or UVB bulb for 12 hours a day.
Water

Aquatic turtles produce a large amount of waste. They drink the water they swim in, so it needs to be changed frequently. Change a small amount of aquarium water (10-25%) once a week and replace all of the water monthly.

What to watch for
  • Eye, nose or mouth discharge
  • Discoloration, bumps or spots on shell or skin
  • Lethargic
  • Frantic swimming
  • Abnormal feces
  • Sneezing, runny nose
  • Overgrown beak
  • Swelling behind the tympanum

If you have more questions about your pet’s health, talk to a veterinarian familiar with reptiles.