Aquatic Turtle

*There are many species of aquatic turtles. These recommendations are a good starting point for many species, but are most specific for red eared sliders and painted turtles. Always make sure to extensively research the unique needs of your turtle when creating a habitat and selecting a diet.




  • Turtles should be housed in large aquariums (50-100 gallon), small ponds or dedicated pools

    • Turtles can be housed in a 20-30 gallon aquarium or bin until they are >4 inches across

  • Water depth in the enclosure should be 3 times the width of the shell

  • A floating turtle dock, cork board, log or rock and silicone structure should be used to provide a ramp out of the water to an easily accessible basking spot

  • Decorative plastic plants or large rocks can be used to provide hiding and resting spaces and create an aesthetically pleasing enclosure (avoid rough rocks, bricks and cinder blocks)

  • Avoid gravel-this can harbor bacteria and prevent proper cleaning

  • In the summer, an outdoor enclosure can be used

    • Outdoor enclosures must be partially shaded and protected from predators and escaping

    • Never place a glass aquarium outside (they overheat very quickly)

Water Changes and Cleaning

  • A complete water change should be done every 2 weeks (90-95% of water replaced)

    • Scrub and rinse all surfaces during complete water changes

    • Buckets, suction systems and hoses are needed to complete necessary water changes

  • 50% of the water should be changed every 3-4 days

  • Filters designed for ponds or large turtle enclosures should be used at all times

Lighting and Temperatures

  • Use a water thermometer to ensure that water temperatures stay between 75-85 F

    • Submerged water heaters are often necessary to maintain water temperature

  • A heat lamp should be used to maintain a dry basking spot of 85-90 degrees F

  • A UVA/B bulb should also be placed over the basking area

    • Some bulbs offer both UVA/B and heat

    • UVA/B bulbs should be placed 12 inches above the basking spot with no glass obstructions

    • UVA/B bulbs must be changed every 6 months even if they are still on

  • All lights should be kept on a 12-14 hour light cycle with an automatic timer


  • Commercial floating pellets for aquatic turtles and mixed greens make up the bulk of the diet

    • Feed your turtle in a separate tank from their main enclosure

    • Turtles cannot swallow easily if they are not in water

    • Allow them unlimited access to pellets and shredded greens for 15-20 min every 1-3 days

    • Turtles less than 2 years old should be fed daily

  • Acceptable greens: Red and green leaf lettuce, kale, mustard greens, escarole, bok choy, turnip greens, dandelion greens, spinach, various aquatic vegetables (duckweed, waterlettuce)

    • Continue to offer greens with every meal even if they do not eat them- it takes time to adjust to a new diet if they have not eaten greens before and they eat more as they age

  • Occasional treats are acceptable (1-3 times/week): crickets, feeder fish, earthworms, insects

    • All insects and fish should be store bought to avoid introducing parasites

    • Treats/protein can make up 40% of the daily diet in turtles under 2 years old

  • Vitamins: Add extra calcium to the diet by placing a cuttlebone in the tank and adding a pinch of calcium/Vitamin D3 supplement to the feeding tank during meals

    • Add a pinch of a reptile multivitamin to the feeding tank every other week


  • Aquatic turtles are capable of hibernating, but we recommend avoid this, as it is very hard on the body and is difficult to do properly- keep temperatures and light cycles steady

  • Common signs of illness include weight loss, floating irregularly (one side higher out of the water), nasal discharge, swollen eyes, swellings on the side of head, lack of appetite and discoloration of the shell and skin

  • Weigh your turtle monthly on a gram scale (postal scale or food scale)

  • Pet insurance is available through "Nationwide Pet Insurance"

Human Health Risks

  • Turtles can carry salmonella on their skin- always wash hands after handling or touching water

    • This is especially important for children

  • Minimize fire risks

    • Make sure all lamps and heating elements are strongly secured in place

    • Keep flammable material far from heating elements and lamps

    • Do not over-burden power outlets with multiple lamps


  • All Creatures Animal Clinic:, 734-973-1884

  • Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection:

  • Nationwide Pet Insurance: